Interfaith collaborative launched to promote peace and religious freedom

A damaged statue of Jesus Christ is seen inside a church in the town of Qaraqosh, south of Mosul, Iraq, April 11, 2017.REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Christian relief and development charity Tearfund is partnering with other charities in the launch of a new faith-based programme to promote peace and religious freedom.

The Joint Initiative for Strategic Religious Action (JISRA) will work together with faith-based organisations across Iraq, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Mali and Uganda over the next five years.

JISRA is similar to the Arabic word Jisr, meaning 'bridge', and symbolises the aim of the programme to heal divisions by strengthening connections between religious communities and promoting inter-religious action.

The coalition has been established out of concern over the misappropriation of religion to justify violence, and the threat to religious freedom from extremism.

According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2020 report, there are 29 countries where freedom of religion or belief is under severe pressure, home to over half (57%) of the world's population. 

The coalition comprises Mensen met een Missie, Tearfund, Faith to Action Network and Search for Common Ground, and is being funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mariam Tadros, Peacebuilding Lead at Tearfund said: "Across the world, religion has often been mobilised to incite social division, discrimination, and even violence. But at the same time, emphasis on the importance of working for peace and justice is an integral part of most religious beliefs and traditions.

"Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental human right that is coming under increasing pressure in many countries across the globe. An estimated 84% of the world's population has a religious affiliation, yet about 57% live in places where religious discrimination or violence are commonplace and freedom of religion is restricted."

The programme will seek to create interfaith peace-building coalitions to promote freedom of religion and belief, address religious violence and discrimination, and reconcile divided communities.

This work will include challenging discrimination, hate and extremist tendencies at the community-level. 

The coalition will also engage with governments to strengthen action aimed at protecting religious freedom, and challenge divisive policies or practices. 

"JISRA will convene faith leaders and communities in pursuit of greater freedom of religion and belief where this is restricted or shrinking," Tadros said. 

"Tearfund works with peacebuilders and faith leaders across different faiths to build relationship and friendship as an antidote to division.

"Through our work with the JISRA consortium over the next five years, we hope to play a part in promoting acceptance and inclusion across faiths, a keystone of lasting peace."