Can Muslims and Christians (and people of
other faiths) live together in peace? And what will be the principles
upon which this goal can be achieved?
To answer these questions, Georgetown
University hosted a major conference on Muslim-Christian relations on
Oct. 7-8, 2009. Titled “A Common Word between Us and You: A Global
Change for Change,” the conference brought together prominent political
and religious leaders from both traditions to improve relations between
Islam and Christianity. The Georgetown conference builds on “A Common
Word” initiative, which was launched on Oct. 17, 2007 by a leading
group of 138 Muslim scholars, academics and leaders to improve
relations between Muslims and Christians. The three major conferences
that occurred since 2007 were held at Yale Divinity School, Cambridge
and Rome, where the Muslim delegation met Pope Benedict XVI. (see the
official website of A Common Word at www.acommonword.com )
Common Word initiative begins with the premise that there will be no
world peace unless there is peace between Muslims and Christians, who
together make up about 55 percent of the world’s population. The two
commandments to love God and to love one’s neighbor provide a solid
context for a serious theological engagement and social interaction
between the two faith communities. Despite various interfaith
initiatives, Muslims and Christians have negative images of each other.
They treat each other with suspicion, mistrust and at times hatred
rather than compassion, understanding and respect. Part of the reason
is prejudice and bigotry but part of it is also ignorance and the lack
of context for relations and engagement.
participants at the Georgetown conference reiterated the need for
further contact between Muslims and Christians to prevent conflict and
build on good practices. The Georgetown conference was organized by
President of Georgetown University John DeGioia, Jordan’s Prince Ghazi
bin Muhammad bin Talal and John Esposito, the founding director of the
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Participants included former Prime Minister of the UK Tony Blair,
former Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Deputy
Prime Minister of Malaysia and the current opposition leader in the
Malaysian Parliament Anwar Ibrahim, the twentieth sultan of Sokoto,
Nigeria, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, Patriarch of Jerusalem Theofilos III,
Egypt’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the raisu’l-ulama of Bosnia,
Mustafa Ceric, the bishop of London, Richard Chartres, Bishop Mark
Hanson, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, John Voll, Sherman Jackson, Miroslav Volf,
Ingrid Mattson, Aref Ali Nayed and many other academics, intellectuals
and community leaders.
following themes stood out in the discussions. A Common Word is the
most important platform for Muslim-Christian relations to date. These
two communities, together with others, need to talk and work together
to address the world’s urgent problems, from poverty and epidemics to
communal violence, intolerance and racism.
has made all of us more interdependent, and this forces the world’s
major religions to recognize each other. The world is enriched by
faith, not impoverished by it, notwithstanding those who manipulate
religion. But dialogue and tolerance is not enough; we need action and
cooperation on the ground. While theological and intellectual
principles are very important, at times it is action that provides the
best context for both religious and social interaction and dialogue.
Some speakers pointed to the importance of the media and stressed that
freedom of expression should be exercised with responsibility.
Georgetown common word conference was held at a time when the need for
serious engagement and cooperation between Muslims and Christians is
more urgent than ever. Political and religious leaders have a
particularly important role to play in easing tensions and building
bridges of understanding without giving up on honesty and integrity.
There is no doubt that the theological and political problems between
Muslims and Christians are not easy, and no one should try to sweep
them under the carpet in the name of religious tolerance. A serious
theological engagement requires honesty as well as intellectual
integrity and religious orthodoxy. But this is all the more reason why
Muslims, Christians, Jews and people of other faiths need to work
together for the common good of humanity.