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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Speech by Honourable Advocate Jacob Mudenda at the Parliamentary interfaith dialogue

The General Debate on “Parliaments and Religious Leaders: Promoting Dialogue, Working Together For Our Common Future” is a complex phenomenon which is not easy to unravel in its nuances. From the onset, it can be conjured that Parliaments or indeed Parliamentarians share a symbiotic relationship with religious leaders.

Both Parliamentarians and religious leaders are creatures of the citizenry. Citizens elect Parliamentarians to constitute the institution of Parliament which plays the tripartite roles of legislation, representation and executive oversight in the secular mould of serving the citizens as guided by constitutional and/or parliamentary democracy and the rule of law applicable to the citizenry.

On the other hand, religious leaders are also chosen or anointed from the same populace but on the basis of theocracy and theological praxis. The legislator, through Parliament, shares the hallowed responsibility with the religious leader to promote dialogue and collegiate interface to ensure that citizens obey the rule of law, including those who profess their religion or belief, so that the normative morality of the law and that of religious tenets or beliefs creates beneficial mutual co-existence among citizens of a State. In that way, our common future of co-existentialism will be well grounded.

On that score, let me extol some of the country torch bearers in promoting dialogue between and among Parliaments and religious leaders. Indonesia has a fully-fledged Ministry of Religious Affairs which continues to take an active role in promoting interfaith dialogues both within Indonesia as well as in the world’s arena.

The Thai Parliament has Standing Committees which endeavour to significantly accentuate interfaith and intercultural cooperation in Thailand.

Furthermore, the Australian Parliament has established various interfaith councils for dialogue. Additionally, the Ugandan Parliament has pioneered the establishment of Interreligious Council for interfaith dialogue in the country.

Lest we forget, the Kingdom of Morocco has also been in the forefront in promoting dialogue between its Parliament and religious leaders since World War II. It is, therefore, imperative that our conceptualisation of the interfaith dialogue must be predicated on the individual’s freedom of conscience.

That is why in Zimbabwe, Parliament promulgated the National Constitution through Amendment No. 20 in 2013. Section 60 of the Constitution affirms the sacrosanct nature of religion and beliefs as a fundamental right based on the freedom of conscience when it peremptorily opines that:
”60 Freedom of conscience
(1) Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, which includes –

(a) freedom of thought, opinion, religion or belief; and

(b) freedom to practise and propagate and give expression to their thought, opinion, religion or belief, whether in public or in private and whether alone or together with others.

(2) No person may be compelled to take an oath that is contrary to their religion of belief or to take an oath in a manner that is contrary to their religion or belief.

(3) Parents and guardians of minor children have the right to determine in accordance with their beliefs, the moral and religious upbringing of their children, provided they do not prejudice the rights to which their children are entitled under this Constitution, including their rights to education, health, safety and welfare.

(4) Any religious community may establish institutions where religious instruction may be given, even if the institution receives a subsidy or other financial assistance from the State”.

How can we advocate for interreligious dialogue between Parliamentarians and religious leaders in a sustainable manner?

Both must embrace common values such as the fundamental rights of democracy, the rule of law and the recognition of human dignity which espouses our humanness, the BEING OF PERSONHOOD embraced by the African anthropological and philosophical tenet of UBUNTU – I AM BECAUSE YOU ARE and YOU ARE BECAUSE WE ARE!!!

How can this be possible where today there are around 10 000 religions worldwide with more than 50% of the world’s population affiliated with Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and others against several distinctive Parliamentary dispensations?

It is possible through the faith based diplomacy such as the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions which met to “educate participants for global peace and justice by examining religious conflict and globalisation, budding community and cross-cultural networks and addressing issues of religious violence”.

Remember the 1972 Sudan peace agreement brokered by the World Council of Churches and the All-Africa Conference of Churches. Further, the Rome-based Community of Sant’ Angelo mediated the end of the civil war in Mozambique between FRELIMO and RENAMO forces. Thus, it can be done to achieve our common future of unity in diversity in our expansive religious persuasions. Accordingly, Parliaments, and indeed Parliamentarians and religious leaders, are duty bound to be apostolic in the quest for interreligious dialogue at law and in law as well as theocratically and theologically.

Asante Sana!!

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