Adviser to Iranian president praises inter-religious dialogue



An adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has hailed inter-religious dialogue as the way forward, while another official has said Jews living in Iran are prepared to stay in the country.

Speaking to Ecumenical News International during the Third Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana, Kazakhstan, on 2 July, the adviser, Mahdi Mostafavi said, "We are involved in dialogue with different religions and traditions for two reasons."

Mostafavi explained, "One goal is to get to know better the other religions and traditions, and to understand them better and remove any misunderstanding of them. The second goal is to find common points between our [religion] and theirs, and to enrich our knowledge about the other religions and traditions, especially when we are talking and dialoguing with the Abrahamic religions [Christianity, Islam, Judaism]."

Mostafavi is chairman of Iran's Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue and a former Iranian ambassador to Austria. He also represented his country in Germany. The inter-religious dialogue centre opened in Teheran 15 years ago, and in 2007 hosted a U.S. churches' delegation. It has also received Jewish delegations.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, during a State visit to Kazakhstan, spoke at the opening ceremony of the Third Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions but his presence proved uncomfortable for some of the Muslim religious leaders in the room.

The Iranian delegation, led by Mostafavi, walked out of the plenary session when Peres, who is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, took the floor to speak.

Explaining the decision to leave, Mostafavi said, "We were not informed that a politician would participate in this congress. The name of the congress was a religious leaders congress, and [it was] not for politicians. Shimon Peres himself is very conservative and belongs to Zionism, in our opinion.

"We listened to the [Israeli] rabbis from the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions because they were religious leaders from their community but we left the congress because Shimon Peres is not a religious leader," said Mostafavi.

Rasoul Rasoulipour, the director of the Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue in Teheran, said, "The problem is with Zionism, the extremism of Judaism, not the religion of Judaism itself, because we believe that Judaism is one religion of the Abrahamic religions. We believe in Moses and the other prophets of the Jewish community; we believe in the Old Testament, the kings and the prophets that they have. However, Zionism, the extremism, we do not accept this version of Judaism."

Leaders of the world's main religions attended the two-day inter-religious conference, which happens every three years. This year's event took place in the Pyramid of Peace and Accord, a 62-metre-high building designed by British architect Norman Foster in the form of an Egyptian pyramid. It opened in 2006.

At a 1 July evening reception hosted by Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, himself a Muslim, a number of Middle Eastern Muslim leaders moved away as soon as Peres and Nazarbayev approached them.

Rasoulipour said that in addition to meeting Christian leaders during the congress, the Iranian delegation had also met Jewish religious leaders but he did not name any of them.

He said that Iran had the third largest Jewish population in the world, after Israel and the United States. By contrast, Jewish organizations record Iran as having less than 40 000 Jews and not ranking in the top 12 countries with respect to the size of their Jewish populations.

Jews have lived in Persia for nearly 3000 years.

"They are living peacefully, we have co-existence with them and no problem with them, and they are not ready to leave the country. They have very good living. They have synagogues, they have schools, they have newspapers. They even have a member of parliament. Our country is an Islamic country but the Jews have one member of parliament, in our Islamic parliament," Rasoulipour added.

The Jerusalem Post newspaper on 6 July reported, "Despite unrest and violence following last month's presidential elections in Iran, some Jewish Iranians living in Israel and abroad say life in the Islamic republic is better under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than it would be under challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi."

Some of Iran's, laws however, favour Muslims over Jews, for example those regarding inheritance. Further Jews cannot become officers in the security forces.

All articles (c) Ecumenical News International