This Sunday the world will celebrate the “World Religion Day”. The day aims to build awareness of different cultures and religions and promote mutual understanding and tolerance between peoples from different backgrounds. This is especially important in contemporary times, as hatred, racism and intolerance are growing and causing more and more issues, such as hate crimes, terrorism and discrimination.
By Valtteri Nurminen, COCO volunteer
As long as there have been humans on earth, there has been many different cultures and religions. This means that diversity is an essential part of history and humanity. The World Religion Day is celebrated on the third Sunday in January every year, to endorse this diversity and to build harmony between different religious groups around the world. The day encourages people, no matter whether Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Shinto or other, to share one’s own culture and religion with others but also to eagerly learn about the religions and cultures of others.
Another key function of the day is to recognise the many similarities that all different religions have with each other. Most fundamentally, all religions share the principles of: speak only the truth, love your neighbour/conquer with love, do no harm and do not judge others. Additionally, forgiveness, patience and spirituality are common elements as well.
The “World Religion Day” traces back to 1947, when Firuz Kazemzadeh organised an event to discuss the value of every religion and equality between all of them. Three years later, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States established the day. The fundamental reason that drove the Baha’ites to celebrate this day was their belief that everyone in the world is born equal and should have the same rights and opportunities irrespective of their religious or cultural background.
The two main religions of East African countries are Islam and Christianity. Christianity was brought and enforced to the East Africans by the United Kingdom during colonialism. Islam came through the sailors and traders who ruled parts of the East African coastline – most importantly in Somalia. Before this, the main religions in East Africa were different types of indigenous religions. During this time, almost every community had their own religions, meaning a very high diversity.
Each of the East African countries faces difficulties with accepting religious diversity, achieving equality between different religious groups and more fundamentally, peacefully coexisting with each other. In Tanzania, people who practice indigenous religions have been under attack by conservative Christians. Indeed, during the last 20 years, thousands have been killed due to “wrong” belief and even during the first half of 2017, almost 500 women were killed in a “witchcraft”. In Uganda, there is a very widespread antagonism between Catholics and Protestants, and this, every now and then, causes open hostilities. In Kenya, there is a very serious division between Christians and Muslims, which has been fuelled by the radicalization of Muslims in the form of al-Shabab terrorist organization and the widespread discrimination and “secondary citizen treatment” of Muslims. Now more than ever, tolerance and dialect between different religions is needed to guarantee the peaceful coexistence of different social groups in the communities of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
COCO is extremely committed to promoting religious equality and harmony between different religious groups. It is in our core values and goals to ensure the equal access of children to education, no matter their ethnical, religious or economic background. Indeed, COCO has a proven track record: “73% of respondents… feel that COCO’s work in ensuring people of all religions and tribes [to] have equal access to education is very effective.” COCO has strict non-discriminatory policies, which ensure that there is no segregation in the schools and that no children are excluded from receiving an education because of their religious or other back