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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Blair says Christians, Muslims both face ’challenge of relevance’

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Christians and Muslims alike face “the challenge of
relevance” in today’s society, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
said Oct. 7 at Georgetown University.

The challenge includes
“showing how faith can be a force for the future, for progress, that it
will not fade as science and technology and material prosperity alters
the way we live,” Blair said.

“We face an aggressive secular
attack from without. We face the threat of extremism, often from
within,” he added. “These challenges are not for Muslims alone or
Christians alone or Jews, Hindus or Buddhists for that matter. They are
challenges for all people of faith.

“Those who scorn God and
those who do violence in God’s name both represent views of religion.
But both offer no hope for faith in the 21st century,” he said.

who became a Catholic months after he stepped down in mid-2007 after a
10-year run as Britain’s prime minister, spoke at a
Georgetown-sponsored conference, “A Common Word Between Us and You: A
Global Agenda for Change.”

The conference has been held annually
in different world capitals — including Vatican City — since Pope
Benedict responded to an offer for dialogue by a group of Muslim
scholars who wrote to the pope following remarks he made about Islam
during his 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany. The remarks,
referencing Islam and violence, were regarded in Muslim circles as

“How do we make our relations, so fraught in the past, fruitful in the future?” Blair asked.

we need to understand each other, learn about our roots, how and why we
are as we are, learn the essential spirituality, peacefulness and
goodness of the others’ faith,” he said. “This means we educate each
other about each other.”

Second, Blair said, “we need to respect
each other. … One reason why peace between Israel and Palestine
matters so much is: that it is a test, not just of conflict resolution
but of even-handedness and respect.”

In response to a question
following his remarks, Blair added that he is told that the
Israeli-Palestinian stalemate is “not really about religion, but about
politics,” just as he had been told about the situation in Northern
Ireland. While that may be, he said, “a lot of people in those places
do think it’s about religion,” and their views have to be taken into

“Third, we must act,” Blair declared. “Our relationship
with each other … will best be judged in action, in the work we can
do together in relieving poverty, fighting injustice, preventing
disease and bringing hope to those in despair.”

established the Tony Blair Faith Foundation last year and this year
launched the Faith and Globalization Initiative to deliver a
postgraduate program in partnership with the foundation. He also serves
as the official envoy to the Middle East on behalf of the U.S., the
United Nations, Russia and the European Union.

Sheikh Mustafa
Efendi Ceri, grand mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina, echoed two noted
American speechmakers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Rev.
Martin Luther King Jr., in his remarks.

He noted that the first
two days of last year’s “Common Word” dialogue were spent with
complaints members of one faith had about the other faith. But the
third and final day was different, because of “what Martin Luther King
said: ‘I have a dream,’ not ‘I have a complaint.’”

Sheikh Ceri,
while lauding freedom of expression as necessary in society, recalled
some of Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” during his remarks. “We must go
from freedom of expression to freedom from want, freedom from fear,
freedom from hatred,” he said.

Georgetown professor John
Esposito, who has specialized in Islam for the past 40 years, said the
question of “who is my neighbor?” has a different answer than it once

“Before, the neighbor was in our own tradition,” Esposito
said. But through dialogue, we can express solidarity with “the
neighbor of today,” he said.