The first annual observation of a worldwide Interfaith Harmony Week, under the aegis of the United Nations, is underway and will last through this week.

Three of the groups that have endorsed the initiative hosted a global consultation of Muslim and Christian organizations addressing the topic “Transforming Communities” in November 2010.

The consultation was convened at the Ecumenical Center here and was jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the World Islamic Call Society and A Common Word.

In his opening speech on Nov. 4, Jordanian Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad bin Talal invited participating organizations to become involved in the U.N.-supported Interfaith Harmony Week, noting that the idea was first proposed to the U.N. by Jordan’s king, Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein.

 On Oct. 20, 2011, the UN General Assembly unanimously approved the resolution and adopted the first week of February as Interfaith Harmony Week. Ghazi described the concept as “an idea which epitomizes the best of what this conference is striving to do.”

The goal of the interfaith week, which is to be celebrated each year in February, is to recognize “the imperative need for dialogue among different faiths and religions in enhancing mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people,” according to the U.N. resolution, which is posted on the World Interfaith Harmony Week website.

“This is an important time for all of us involved in interfaith dialogue,” said the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches. “By recognizing this week in our faith communities through prayer, public statements and other expressions we will move toward promoting inter-religious and intercultural dialogue.”

In comments made at the beginning of the inaugural emphasis week, Tveit said, ”This is vital in times when there are many who seek to divide people of faith instead of finding ways to enhance our lives together through the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination.”

The effort has received wide-spread support including endorsements from religious and political leaders around the world.

Events being held around the world this week include interfaith luncheons in Australia, prayers for peace and bell-ringing in Austria, inter-religious seminars in Pakistan, and an interfaith breakfast in Canada with Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Lutheran and Hindu leaders.

“We invite all member churches of the WCC to celebrate this week of interfaith harmony by reaching out to people of other faiths in their communities and thus showing the love of God and love of neighbor, the primary themes of the week,” Tveit said.