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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Bush, other leaders to promote interfaith dialogue at UN

The gathering follows a successful Muslim-Catholic forum at the Vatican.

The global effort to build a “culture of peace” among Christians and Muslims and other faiths is gaining some momentum this
month, both symbolically and substantively.

a groundbreaking meeting between Roman Catholic and Muslim religious
leaders last week, world political leaders this week are meeting to
heighten the visibility and broaden the commitment to interfaith
dialogue. On Nov. 12 and 13 at the United Nations, President Bush
gathers with a dozen heads of state and other leaders to lend political
backing to interfaith initiatives. The prime minister of Britain,
leaders of several Muslim nations, and the presidents of Israel,
Lebanon, and Palestine are among those participating.

idea is to send a unified clear message that the world community is in
consensus in promoting interfaith dialogue and speaking against
extremism, intolerance, and terrorism,” says Rayed Krimly, special
envoy of Saudi Arabia, whose king, Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, was the
driving force behind this week’s meeting. Heading a nation that has
restricted other religions, King Abdullah “felt very strongly he needs
to put his moral and political authority on the line.” The king began
calling for interfaith dialogue at a Muslim summit in Mecca in June and
organized a multifaith conference in Madrid in July.

Human Rights Watch called Tuesday for world leaders to press Saudi Arabia to end religious discrimination at home.

meeting follows a separate interfaith initiative – the first
Catholic-Muslim forum at the Vatican – hosted by Pope Benedict XVI. The
talks on Nov. 4-6 led to a 15-point declaration that leaders of both
faiths say exceeded their expectations (see www.acommonword.com).

“We’ve turned an important page in the whole
history of Christian-Muslim relations,” says Fr. James Massa, head of
interreligious affairs for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. “What
this conference has done is make the connection so clearly between core
commitments of faith and respect for religious freedom and other human
rights, and this is a remarkable achievement.”

Among their commitments, the top leaders agreed
on: the right of individuals to choose in matters of conscience and to
practice their religion in private and public; that religious
minorities are to be respected and are entitled to their own places of
worship; that human dignity and respect should be extended on an equal
basis to both men and women.

They agreed to hold a second forum in a
Muslim-majority country and to explore “establishing a permanent
Catholic-Muslim committee to coordinate responses to conflicts and
other emergency situations.”

Such a crisis-management effort could help deal
with events like the Danish cartoon crisis or the recent attacks
against Christian communities in Iraq, says Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman
for the Muslim delegation and director of SETA Foundation in Ankara,

The Rome forum constitutes the third phase of
meetings growing out of “A Common Word,” the invitation to dialogue
sent to all Christian churches in October 2007 by top clergy from
across the Muslim world. The Muslims urged that dialogues be based on
the shared principles of “love of God and love of one’s neighbor.”

Protestants met with Muslim leaders at Yale
University in July. Anglicans hosted sessions at Cambridge University
in Britain in October during which the participants read sacred texts
together. Next spring, religious and political leaders will meet in
Washington to consider political and social actions that might follow
from the three dialogues.

The Catholic-Muslim interaction seemed most
problematical. Two years ago, the pope’s speech at Regensburg, Germany
– in which he seemed to suggest Islam was a violent and irrational
faith – shocked the Muslim world. Though his subsequent visit to Turkey
quieted concerns to some degree, the Vatican was slowest to respond to
the Muslim invitation to dialogue.

Under Pope Benedict, the Vatican had pulled back
from the idea of theological discussion with Islam and emphasized
“reciprocity,” seeing that Christian churches got the same rights in
Muslim countries as Muslims had in the West. Some Muslims worried the
forum might be difficult. But participants were more than satisfied.

“The pope’s reception was very warm,” says Dr. Kalin. “The consensus was we don’t have to have uniformity [in theology] in
order to develop common strategies to deal with problems of the world. Overall, it was a very successful event.”

[Editor's note: The original headline didn't express the full scope of the gathering.]