The U.S. State Department launched on Tuesday its second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, a three-day summit being touted as the largest religious freedom event ever held.
Featuring remarks from survivors of some of the most recent religious-based massacres, around 1,000 global civil society and political leaders are expected to gather in the Harry S. Truman Building for a week filled with testimonies, relationship building and dialogue about strengthening religious freedom worldwide.
“Much effort has been put into making this a very special week,” U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said during his introductory remarks.
“This is the largest human rights event ever hosted at the State Department and the largest religious freedom event ever done in the world. I hope you can sense and feel the importance of this moment in time. A global human rights movement centered on religious freedom is being launched from this meeting.”
At a time in which 80 percent of the world lives in a place where religious freedom is restricted, the Trump administration has made it a priority to advocate for religious freedom abroad.
Although Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today, religious-based attacks are impacting people of all faiths.
Survivors of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, synagogue shooting last October and the New Zealand mosque shootings in March addressed the hundreds gathered for the ministerial’s opening session.
Additionally, a leader from the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka shared the trauma that the Sri Lankan Christian community has dealt with in the aftermath of the 2019 Easter bombings that killed 250 people and injured 500 others at three churches and three hotels.
Dr. Farid Ahmad, a survivor of the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, made headlines in the days following the attacks when he said that he forgives the attacker who took the lives of 51 people.
Ahmad explained at the ministerial it was his faith and teachings from the Quran that influenced his decision to forgive the attacker even though the man took the life of his wife while she was trying to rescue other worshipers.
“I had to respond and my response was that I offered my love and forgiveness for the killer,” Ahmad said of suspected perpetrator Brenton Tarrant, followed by an ovation from the crowd.
“’Why did I do this?’ I receive this question frequently. The first reason is that I love him because he is my human brother. Quran has taught me that each and every human being is my brother or sister.”
Tarrant reportedly issued a manifesto which claimed that he wanted “revenge for the enslavement of millions of Europeans taken from their lands by the Islamic slavers.”
Ahmad said that each person is like a beautiful flower that together comprises the “garden” that is God’s kingdom, no matter what their differences may be.
“You may have one faith and I may have a different faith but you are a beautiful flower. I am a beautiful flower and she is a beautiful flower. And together as humanity, we make one beautiful garden,” Ahmad said.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith