The Fountain was among the organizers of an important conference in Ghana. Many participants described the conference as “first of its kind.” Professor Scott C. Alexander was one of the speakers. The following is a short report on the conference he wrote for The Fountain, and we are publishing it on the editorial page to reiterate our commitment to working harder for peaceful coexistence in our world. We believe “building a society of noble ideals” – as the lead article states – is possible when we can cultivate a generation who can celebrate each other’s differences, as Michael Samuel describes in “A Festival of Dialogue,” and leave behind our prejudices to learn to offer one another a cup of tea, as in the memoir by Thomas Petriano.
“Historic” was a word I often heard a number of Ghanaian dignitaries used to describe the international conference on “Love & Tolerance: Peaceful Co-Existence in Diversity” which took place in Accra, Ghana on April 30, 2015. Sponsored by the National Peace Council (Ghana), and the Ghana-Turkey Cooperation and Development Association (TUDEC), along with The Fountain Magazine, the conference was a cooperative venture between Ghanaians and Turks. Over 300 men and women were in attendance as both speakers and participants, many of whom were distinguished religious, governmental, academic, and business leaders from Ghana and other parts of West Africa, as well as from Turkey and the U.S. The conference was intellectually stimulating and deeply moving, on so many levels. But perhaps the most memorable moment for me--as someone involved in building bridges of understanding, mutual respect, and cooperation between Muslims and Catholic Christians--was when the beloved Archbishop of Accra, Palmer Buckle, eagerly approached the revered Chief Imam of Ghana, Shaykh Nuhu Sharbatu, embraced him and said to me: “This is my father! This is my dear spiritual father!”
As the conference title indicates, its general theme was “love and tolerance,” especially among people of different faiths. But one name that came up over and over again was that of M. Fethullah Gulen, the spiritual inspiration behind the global Muslim spiritual renewal and social reform movement known as Hizmet. More than a few of the speakers discussed various aspects of Mr. Gulen’s teachings on dialogue and on education as the key to personal and social development in an increasingly inter-cultural and interdependent world. Particularly memorable, for me, in this regard were the presentations of Shaykh Khalid Abubakar Aliyu of the Jama`a Nasril Islam of Kaduna, Nigeria, and Prof. Jon Pahl of the Lutheran School of Theology in Philadelphia. Shaykh Khalid spoke of the way in which Gülen’s thought and educational philosophy are implicitly calling for a “psychological revolution” whereby human beings unashamedly recognize and celebrate as their strongest qualities their capacity for altruism, service, and openness to personal transformation in their encounters with the other. For his part, Prof. Pahl presented two very thoughtful images: the first being the “iceberg of violence,” and the second being “the garden of peace.” Pahl divided each image into three distinct dimensions moving from the personal to deeply embedded social structures. He explained how the methodologies of the Hizmet movement attempt to create a three-tiered “peace garden” in an attempt to “melt” the three-tiered “iceberg of violence.”
The conference breaks were marked by the artistry of a highly-skilled traditional Turkish music ensemble which served to elevate the atmosphere of fellowship by adding a dimension of aesthetic beauty to the already engaging analyses offered by the speakers. In the final minutes of the gathering, the distinguished chairman, the Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Asante, invited the HON. ABDUL-RASHID HASSAN PELPUO—the Minister of State in the administration of President John Dramani Mahama – to the podium. The minister spoke of how intellectually engaging and personally moving he found “this historic conference" to be. He also made a point of congratulating the conference organizers and emphasizing the degree to which Flagstaff House (the Ghanaian presidential residence) "strongly supports” and endorses this conference and its aims.
Scott C. Alexander
Director, Catholic-Muslim Studies, Catholic Theological Union in Chicago