PARIS (Reuters) – Christian-Muslim contacts are multiplying around
the world as networks of religious officials and scholars confer in
parallel to improve ties between the world’s two largest faiths, a
leading Muslim participant says.
Aref Ali Nayed of the Common Word dialogue drive launched by 138
Islamic scholars said the Internet was making contacts among experts
quicker and easier while serving as a paradigm for the decentralised
dialogue that suits the information age.
A senior Vatican official recently said there might now be too many
Christian-Muslim dialogues and they risked overlapping, but Nayed said
the opposite was the case in the information age.
“There can never be too many dialogues,” said the Libyan
theologian, who is senior advisor to the Cambridge Interfaith Programme
in Britain. “This network of networks needs to continue to grow.”
Normally pursued in occasional formal conferences, top-level
contacts between Christian and Islamic leaders have stepped up since
the Sept. 11 attacks rekindled long-standing tensions. The Common Word
group was only launched last year but has already held productive talks
with many different church leaders.
“That’s the power of the Internet,” Nayed told Reuters. “In the old
days, it would have taken years to reach the consensus we’ve reached
quite quickly through modern communications.”
The Vatican and the Common Word group held a pioneering meeting on
Nov. 4-6 that pledged religious freedom for faith minorities. Saudi
King Abdullah has visited the Vatican and held interfaith sessions in
Madrid and at the United Nations.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical
Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told Reuters after meeting the
Common Word group that the current profusion of dialogue efforts “sows
a bit of confusion”.
Several Catholic delegates at the talks saw Abdullah’s interfaith
campaign as a move to outflank the Common Word group, but Nayed said
the two were coordinating their efforts.
Common Word signatories are working with Muslims active in
long-established Vatican dialogues with Iran, with Cairo’s Al Azhar
University and with the World Islamic Call Society (WICS).
Nayed is the group’s contact with the WICS, a network of more than
250 Islamic organisations around the world, and has briefed WICS
delegates planning to meet Vatican officials in December so they build
on the discussions the Common Word had in November.
Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa keeps contacts with Al Azhar while a
Tehran University professor coordinates with Iranian officials and
another signatory is also a member of the Saudi committee organising
King Abdullah’s interfaith project.
“The idea is to keep multiple channels open and each channel keeps pushing the process forward,” Nayed said.
The Common Word group held talks with United States Protestants and
British Anglicans before its Catholic-Muslim Forum at the Vatican.
“The meeting in Rome helped to a large extent to overcome the
rupture caused by the Regensburg lecture,” Nayed said, referring to
Pope Benedict’s 2006 speech that angered the Muslim world by implying
Islam was irrational and violent.
The upswing in interfaith meetings has prompted Christians to
consult each other more as well. About 50 representatives of Catholic,
Protestant and Orthodox churches met near Geneva in late October to
compare notes on how they dialogue with Islam.
After the Vatican-Common Word session, at least three local
Christian-Muslim groups in France organised meetings to discuss its
results and what they meant at the grass roots level.
“Nobody owns this, it’s growing on its own — like the Internet,” Nayed remarked.
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