World Interfaith Harmony Week is an annual event observed during the first week of February (February 1–7) after General Assembly designation in 2010. Recognizing the imperative need for dialogue among different faiths and religions to enhance mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people, the General Assembly encourages all States to spread the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week, on a voluntary basis and according to their own religious traditions or convictions.
World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW), conceived to promote a culture of peace and nonviolence, was first proposed by King Abdullah II of Jordan at the United Nations in 2010. This was quickly adopted by the UN General Assembly (resolution A/RES/65/5), declaring the first week of February each year as World Interfaith Harmony week, calling on governments, institutions and civil society to observe it with various programs and initiatives that would promote the aim of the WIHW objectives.
The United African Congress and Give Them a Hand Foundation heeded the call by organizing an interfaith forum at the UN in 2012 and have continued to be involved every year ever since. They chose for their theme “The Diaspora-a Force for Positive Change” citing the ability of immigrant communities of diverse backgrounds, faiths and ethnicities in the United States to live side by side harmoniously bound together by shared values, love of God and love of neighbor. The interfaith forum gathered Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist faith leaders to talk about the teachings of their respective faiths as it relates to peace and harmony.
They followed this up in 2013 by extending this gathering to include the faith and value systems of indigenous peoples by inviting an African spiritual leader who flew in from Guinea to participate. The core of his message was not only the need for people to live in peace but also the interdependence of humans with nature, hence the need to be good custodians of our environment.
For the 2014 WIHW the theme was “Tolerance, Reconciliation and Forgiveness” in honour of the late Nelson Mandela, who led South Africa during its critical transition from Apartheid to a thriving multicultural all-inclusive democracy, thus helping his country avoid what could have been a disastrous racial war. His personal example of forgiveness for the sake of peace among his people resonated throughout the world.
In the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Sandy many homes were destroyed in and around New York City. The United African Congress and its partners organized hundreds of interfaith volunteers to help clean up flooded homes and deliver food to affected communities. Recognizing the power of prayer and interfaith collaboration, the theme for the 2015 WIHW program became “Interfaith Prayer, Healing, and Community Services in the Cause of Peace”.
Noting the interconnectedness of the quest for peace and harmony with the global health emergencies, such as the Ebola pandemic spreading across boundaries and with the 2030 UN agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, the theme for the 2016 WIHW was “Building Bridges across Boundaries.” To underscore the significance of the theme they invited Native American Spiritual leader, the ceremonial ritualist from the Mohawk Nation to participate with the other faith leaders. The spirituality that the Native American speaker imparted – through chants and dance- the need to protect ‘Mother Earth that nurtures and sustains us’ was warmly and widely embraced.
Our world continues to be beset by conflict and intolerance with rising numbers of refugees and the internally displaced in a hostile and unwelcoming world around them. The theme for the observance of the Interfaith Harmony Week for 2019 was, therefore, “Sustainable Development through Interfaith Harmony.”
For more information visit: www.un.org/en/observances/interfaith-harmony-week