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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Can religious differences help unite?

“In a world of hatred and mistrust only the world’s religions can help.”

So declared the United Nations General Assembly
last fall when it passed an unusual resolution. Although it has not
received adequate notice, the resolution declared that the first week of
February each year will be World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Introduced by Jordan
and co-sponsored by 29 other nations, the resolution calls on all faith
groups to unite in mutual understanding and cooperation to create a
culture of peace.

Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad,
one of the world’s great idealists, created and presented the
resolution. He has gained notice from various initiatives designed to
promote interfaith reconciliation.

The most extensive, “A Common
Word,” is an open letter to Christian leaders from the Muslim world.
Hundreds from both faiths have endorsed the letter, and a series of
conferences and publications encouraging mutual respect have followed.

The U.N.
resolution and Ghazi’s other efforts are compelling. Muslims and
Christians alone account for more than half of the world’s population.
If major religions found the common ground Ghazi
encourages, think what could be done to address the world’s problems.
Judging by the extent of both popular hopes and unrest, such unity could
have welcome impact.

But will this call for understanding fall on
deaf ears? Despite the warm response in some religious and academic
circles, next steps are uncertain. The effort to overcome such issues as
war, poverty and disease easily falters. Translating ideals into daily
realities may be too stiff a challenge.

There may be too much
cynicism. Too many people may prefer faith to be an oasis, not the place
for innovative cooperation. It becomes easier to be silent and to
suspect the motives of people whose faith is different. Too few accept
the risks faith demands.

Ironically, the word “religion” comes
from an ancient reference to being bound together. Words like “ligament”
have similar origin. Like a ligament, religions bind people together
with a certain amount of tension. The tension permits not only
connection but also coordinated movement.

Similarly, people of
different faiths will never be entirely alike, and they will deal with
one another amid a certain level of tension. But they can be linked and
can move in ways that awaken shared possibility.

Rather than cynicism and suspicion, faith can unite people to build a better world. By founding the Faith Forum, a group of Richmond’s religious leaders is moving in that direction. The Faith Forum will sponsor periodic events to build understanding and practical forms of cooperation across lines that can easily divide.

Religion may yet be able to help.


 

Source: Richard Times-Dispatch.