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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Blair Joins Muslim-Christian Conversation at Conference

Tony Blair visited Georgetown on Wednesday to participate in a conference discussing
Muslim-Christian relations.

Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and other
foreign officials
discussed Christian-Muslim relations and religious intolerance
in Gaston Hall on Wednesday

This discussion was the
first half of the fourth A Common Word conference, a global initiative designed
to bridge religious differences in the 21st century. The first three
conferences were held at Yale University, Cambridge University and the Vatican.

“We, Christians and
Muslims, represent around half the world’s population,” Blair said. “In an era
of globalization, when nations are interdependent, change happens at a rate
unsurpassed in human history and people of varied races, colors and creeds are
thrown together as never before, getting on together matters.”

Riz Khan, longtime
journalist and Al Jazeera host, moderated the discussion. The panelists
included Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for
Muslim-Christian Understanding John Esposito, Bosnia-Herzegovinian Grand Mufti
Mustafa Ceric, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, former
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and Blair.

The A Common Word
conferences were initiated after a group of leading Muslim scholars wrote a
letter in 2007 — titled “A Common Word Between Us and You” — to Christian
leaders all over the world. The letter said that Christians and Muslims should
strive for peace based on their doctrines’ common themes of “love God” and
“love thy neighbor.”

The conference at Georgetown focused on practical plans
of action to make these common themes reality. Georgetown’s commitment to pluralism and interreligious dialogue
served as a backdrop for the most recent step of the global enterprise.

“In the next two days we
will address the ‘so what?’ factor,” Esposito said. “How do we respond to and
put ‘love of neighbor’ into action to address the many shared challenges and
threats we face in our world?”

Blair said that the most
important aspect of the conference is to translate words into action.
“If we show by our actions that we are engaged in understanding and respect and
justice, that is how we will succeed,” Blair said. “And that is what will
overcome not just the extremism within the religion, but the cynicism outside
of it.”

The panelists also
addressed the relationship between politics and religion. Ibrahim cited
Malaysia as an example of a country with political legitimacy and democracy. He
said that the “underlying principle” of religious discussion must be justice.

“Muslims [who are
politicians] themselves have to better corruption and arrest moral decay,”
Ibraham said. “We have to strengthen the institutions of society to ensure
order and stability, as well as to protect the individual from unwarranted
denial of his or her rights.”

Bondevik said responsible
politics are just as necessary as interreligious dialogue in combating
religious intolerance.

While the panelists’
comments touched upon all people of faith, the discussion primarily focused on
Christian-Muslim relations — thus, many talked about the specific challenges
facing Muslims today. Seventy percent of the world’s refugees are Muslim and
most of the wars taking place now involve Muslims, according to Ceric, who was
one of the leading Muslim scholars who sent the original “A Common Word”

As a result, he said,
Muslims fear that their rights are not protected.

Bondevik said people
should be wary of “humiliation” of Muslims and “double agendas” while combating
religious intolerance.

“We have our war on
terror, but at the same time, in our war on terror, we have violated human
rights — that is a double agenda, and we have to be aware that this is
naturally making reactions in the Muslim world,” he said.

Esposito emphasized the
importance of awareness. He cited a Gallup World Poll in which 57 percent of
people surveyed answered the question “What do you admire about Muslims?” with
either “I don’t know” or “nothing.”

He said that one of the
challenges faced today is to broaden modern conceptions of pluralism and

“… The meaning of
tolerance that many of us grew up with and has come down through the ages … is
a kind of begrudging coexistence rather than a sense of relationship based on
mutual understanding and respect,” Esposito said.

Blair said that the best
way of attaining this understanding is to confront the issues together. “Our
coming together will allow us to speak in friendship to one another about our
own faiths, but also to speak to the world about faith,” Blair said.

The conference continued
on Thursday, with several panels featuring a diverse group of scholars and
theologians. The panels were focused on specific topics of discussion,
including “The Role of International NGOs in a Pluralistic World” and
“Religion, Violence and Peace-Building.” Each panel consisted of remarks by
panelists and roundtable discussions. The final discussion addressed the
purpose and key ideas of the conference and further steps to be taken after the

“We’ve started our
discourse on how to build an even deeper and stronger engagement between
Muslims and Christians based on our shared commitments to love of God and love
of neighbor,” University President John J. DeGioia said at the closing of the
panel on Wednesday morning. “As we continue our discussions today and tomorrow,
I’ve no doubt that we will build on the foundation we’ve laid at this opening