Reclaiming ‘language of belief’

Published January 1, 2002

New York

President Mohammad Khatami of the Islamic Republic of Iran told a panel of U.S. interfaith religious leaders meeting here that they must wrest the language of belief away from those “who concoct weapons out of religions.”

Mr. Khatami, who has been president of Iran since 1997, spoke at a symposium convened by the World Conference on Religion and Peace (Religions for Peace) in November.

He was in New York for a special session of the United Nations General Assembly on the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations, which he proposed in 1998 with the goal of achieving greater understanding and respect among the world’s diverse peoples.

Referring to terrorists, Mr. Khatami said, “What we are witnessing in the world today is an active form of nihilism in social and political realms, threatening the very fabric of human existence. This new form of active nihilism assumes various names, and it is so tragic and unfortunate that some of those names bear resemblance to religiosity and self-proclaimed spirituality.

“Vicious terrorists who concoct weapons out of religions … are utterly incapable of understanding that, perhaps inadvertently, they are turning religion into the handmaiden of the most decadent ideologies,” he added.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and in a world that he said is “on the verge of social chaos,” Mr. Khatami noted that “the role of religious scholars has become even more crucial, and their responsibility ever more significant. … Religion goes beyond philosophy, theology and rituals. Religion provides both an origin and an end, a safe haven.”


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