Harmony and Dialogue at the Interreligious Iftar in Vienna

More+Events ♦ Published: March 20, 2024; 19:27 ♦ (Vindobona)

In an impressive demonstration of unity, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg and the President of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGÖ), Ümit Vural, hosted an unprecedented interfaith iftar. The event, which took place in the historic Palais Niederösterreich, brought together representatives of different religious communities and personalities from politics, science, and diplomacy.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (right) and the Viennese rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister (left) broke the Islamic fast and demonstratively shook hands with Foreign Minister Schallenberg (center left) and IGGÖ President Vural (center right) at the end of the iftar. / Picture: © BMEIA Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres / Michael Gruber

Ramadan, a time of reflection, prayer, and solidarity, provided the perfect setting for this event, according to the Islamic Religious Community in Austria. IGGÖ President Vural took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of interfaith dialogue and community across religious boundaries. In a world that is often marked by conflict and division, Vural emphasized the importance of treating each other with kindness and respect and seeing the diversity of our faiths and cultures as an enrichment.

The President appealed to the common values that believers of different religions and citizens of the world share, such as compassion, tolerance, and respect for the dignity of every individual. He encouraged the participants to reflect on these values and commit to living them in their daily lives to create an atmosphere of harmony and understanding.

Foreign Minister Schallenberg addressed the alarming rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism since October 7. He made it clear that such attitudes are not only unacceptable, but also detrimental to social cohesion. Schallenberg praised the Muslim community in Austria for taking a clear stance against the appropriation of their faith by those who wish to misuse it for divisive purposes.

Solidarity with the victims

A particular focus of the event was on the current humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Both Vural and Schallenberg expressed their solidarity with the people in war and crisis zones and emphasized the need to work for justice, peace, and a sustainable solution in the Middle East. The iftar provided a platform to raise awareness of the urgency of humanitarian aid and at the same time, spread hope for a more peaceful future.

Israel has the right to defend itself and protect its citizens, Schallenberg stated. But much more must be done to make a clear distinction between Hamas fighters and the civilian population, he said. "Let me be very clear: humanitarian law applies to everyone, everywhere. It is non-negotiable," emphasized the Foreign Minister. With this in mind, Austria would not accept any expulsion or expulsion of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. "Gaza must remain Palestinian." Austria will continue to speak out against settlements and settler violence and against all attempts to change the status quo at the Holy Places.

Guests of all denominations

The guests at the interfaith iftar included well-known personalities from various fields. Among the 130 or so participants were representatives of various religious communities, including Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, and Community Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister. The list of guests also included important personalities from academia, diplomacy, politics, the media, and society.

Among others, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, as well as high-ranking representatives of the Catholic Church such as Military Bishop Werner Freistetter and Prof. Markus Ladstätter from the World Religions Commission of the Bishops' Conference should be highlighted. The Secretary General of the Bishops' Conference, Peter Schipka, also took part. From the ecumenical sphere, the Chairman of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria (ÖRKÖ), the Armenian Apostolic Bishop Tiran Petrosyan, the Reformed Regional Superintendent Thomas Hennefeld, and Walter Hessler from the New Apostolic Church were present. Representatives of other religions and faith communities, such as the President of the Buddhist Religious Society, Gerhard Weißgrab, were also part of the event.

Guests from the diplomatic corps and international organizations were also invited, including Ghada Waly, Director General of the United Nations Office in Vienna, OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais, and US Ambassador Victoria Kennedy. Representatives of the academic world such as university rectors Sebastian Schütze and Hubert Philipp Weber as well as Barbara Krenn, head of the ORF "Religion and Ethics" department, completed the illustrious guest list. This broad spectrum of participants from a wide range of fields underlined the importance and scope of the event

A proud sign for Austria

The joint event of Schallenberg and Vural was not just a breaking of the fast; it symbolized the close connection and cohesion of the religious communities in Austria. The event showed how mutual respect, dialog and understanding can create a strong foundation for peaceful coexistence.

This interfaith iftar illustrated once again that despite global tensions and conflicts, the power of dialog and cooperation can lead the way to overcoming differences and building a more inclusive and understanding society. In these difficult times, it is all the more important to work together to find what unites us rather than what divides us.

Austrian MFA