Gil Smolinski
Entrepreneur, diver, reader, mensch

Kazakhstan hosts Conference on Interfaith Relations in Jerusalem

Last month, the Republic of Kazakhstan hosted the Roundtable on Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the David Citadel in Jerusalem, Israel. The conference saw religious leaders, political officials, and academics gather together under one roof with the goal of strengthening inter-religious relationships and promoting tolerance and understanding.

The Roundtable was established in 2003 in Astana, Kazakhstan and has been held every three years since then. It is sponsored by the International Cultural Centre of Natives from Central Asia.

This year’s conference reached 100 delegations from 50 countries and was attended by Israel’s chief rabbis, Muslim, Druze and Baha’i community representatives, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, and more.

Roundtable Speakers

The Roundtable’s first panel, “Interfaith Dialogue: Promoting Understanding and Cooperation,” was opened by Mordechai Kimyagarov, Chairman of the International Cultural Centre of Natives from Central Asia, and Bulat Sarsenbayev, Commissioner for the Promotion of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. They stressed the importance of understanding people of different religions and the moral obligation of religious leaders to promote tolerance.

The Roundtable’s keynote speaker was Mäulen Äşimbaev, Chairman of the Kazakhstani Senate and head of the Secretariat of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

Other speakers included Bishop Dr. Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Latin Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem and representative of the Roman Catholic Church, Dr. David Rustein, Secretary General of the Baha’i International Community, Sheikh Muwafak Tarif, spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Father Igumen Nikon Golovko, representative of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem, Bishop Dr. Munib Younan from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, and Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Nagen, head of Ohr Torah Stone’s Blickle Institute for Interfaith Dialogue, among others.

Israel and Kazakhstan: Partners for a Tolerant Future

Israel and Kazakhstan established diplomatic relations after the fall of the Soviet Union more than 30 years ago. In 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Kazakhstan and met with then-President Nursultan Nazarbayev, cementing positive ties. Despite pressure from Iran to minimize ties with Israel, Kazakhstan leaders recognize shared values and seek to continue a fruitful relationship with Israel.

Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world and it, itself, is quite diverse and tolerant. Its diversity stems partially from Stalin’s mass deportations of ethnic groups from various territories in the first half of the 20th century. Today the main religion of Kazakhstan is Islam, but there are a total of 18 religious denominations in the country, including about 3,000 Jews and a strong Chabad presence.

Regarding the Kazakh conference that was held in Jerusalem this year, Satybaldy Burshakov, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Israel and Cyprus said, “We believe that harnessing the collective efforts of religious leaders around the globe will serve to counter current challenges to world peace, as well as advance trust and progress among different nations and communities.”

Burshakov also said that he expects the current president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, to visit Jerusalem in the future.

Key Takeaways

Dr. Iyad Zahalka, General Director of the Sharia Courts in Israel and a judge on the Sharia High Court of Appeals, read verses from the Koran saying that God created human diversity “so that we could come to know one another.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Elefant, Chief Rabbi of Dimona, read a verse from the Torah, “The ways of the Torah are pleasant, and all of its branches are peace.”

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz, a member of the Chief Rabbinical Council of Israel, quoted the Talmud that begins and ends with a call for peace. He also stressed the importance of leading by example, i.e that religious leaders should not only preach love and tolerance but exemplify these traits.

Dr. David Rustein, Secretary General of the Baha’i International Community said religion is a source of truth, and it’s the task of religious leadership to make sure it stays that way.

The beauty of the conference is that it gave religious leaders from all walks of life the chance to speak, share their thoughts, and pursue a common goal of peace and tolerance. As Sheikh Muwafak Tarif, spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, said, few today have the courage to host an interfaith conference such as this, but Kazakhstan leadership has been steadfast in its mission of promoting diversity and peace.

About the Author
Gil Smolinski is a business developer, entrepreneur, and advisor to startups. He is a loving husband and father of two, who enjoys the depths of books and the sea and tends to dive into both.
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