Eliminating Religious Intolerance
Of all the factors which give rise to human rights violations throughout the world, prejudice -- simple prejudice -- is surely one of the most pervasive. And prejudice -- whether of race, religion, nationality or sex -- is notoriously difficult to eradicate simply because it has no basis in logic or reason. It cannot be legislated out of existence. Even though enlightened legislation may prevent the gross and overt victimization of individuals or groups, it has no power to remove the seeds of prejudice from men's hearts -- and as long as those seeds of prejudice exist, the danger also exists that, sooner or later, they will produce the poisonous fruits of intolerance, discrimination, and even persecution.
In the view of the Baha'i International Community, the only sure means of eradicating prejudice is through education, for education dispels ignorance, and blind ignorance is at the root of all prejudice.
We, therefore, believe that education is the essential factor in securing implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief. It is necessary not only that the declaration be disseminated as widely as possible, but that it should most particularly be brought to the attention of schools and other educational bodies, and that determined steps should be taken, at both national and international levels, actively to promote understanding, tolerance and respect in matters relating to religion or belief.
Baha'is believe that religious revelation is continuous and progressive and that, from the very beginning of human history, God has periodically sent divine educators to the world to guide mankind. The appearance of these divine educators -- Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muhammad and, in our own age, the Bï¿½b and Bahá'u'lláh -- has signified the founding of a new religion, and yet none of these religions is really new; they are stages in the unfoldment of the same religious truth proceeding from the same God. They teach the same, unchanging spiritual principles, and they differ only in their social teachings, which vary according to the needs of the age in which they were revealed.
Baha'is accordingly believe in the divine origin of all the major religions and honor and revere their founders as prophets of God. The reason that Baha'is are Baha'is is solely because they believe that Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of their Faith, is the latest -- but not the last -- of the divine educators sent by God, and that his teachings have been sent by God specifically to meet the needs of our own age.
Mr. Chairman, our purpose in this statement is to call attention to something which has always existed -- the essential oneness and unity of all religions.
The elimination of all forms of divisive prejudice is a fundamental tenet of Baha'i belief. We condemn intolerance or discrimination of any kind. We firmly uphold the right of every man and woman freely to have and to practice the religion or belief of his or her choice.
It is tragic that religious intolerance should so frequently be the cause of dissension and strife in the world, since the stated purpose of every religion is to promote unity and peace. To quote from the Baha'i Writings:
"O ye children of men! The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity."
It must therefore be a contribution of religion to educate humanity in "the spirit of love and fellowship," and thus eradicate divisive prejudices.
The major stumbling block which stands in the way of universal tolerance in matters of religion is the fact that the religions of the world are generally viewed as entirely separate entities. They are identified by their differences, rather than by their similarities, and this inevitably means that they are seen as being in conflict with one another.
In the Baha'i view, there is no conflict at all between the different religions of the world, for religious truth is essentially one. It is the voice of one God speaking to one humanity.
Mr. Chairman we would like to commend Mr. Angelo Vidal d'Almeida Ribeiro for his excellent work as Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance over the past years and regret that he is unable to pursue the mandate he has so skillfully carried out.