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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Leaders and Scholars Discuss Interfaith Challenges

World political and religious leaders — including former British prime minister Tony Blair
called for believers to seize upon interfaith commonalities to address
global issues of peace and security at a two-day conference on
Muslim-Christian relations this week.

best hope for faith in the 21st century is that we confront all of this
together,” Blair said during the opening panel of the conference on
Oct. 7. The conference, sponsored by Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin
Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and the office of
Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, will run through Oct. 8.

is not because we intend to have the same faith — we don’t. Our
separate beliefs will remain. But our coming together will allow us to
speak in friendship to one another about our own faith,” added Blair,
whose Tony Blair Faith Foundation promotes interfaith respect and

The conference, “A Common Word Between Us and
You: A Global Agenda for Change,” stems from an October 2007 letter
from Muslim leaders to Christian churches and communities. The letter
called for the two faiths to reach a better understanding based on two
common principles: love of God and love of one’s neighbor.

year’s conference, the fourth such gathering of the Common Word
initiative, seeks to move the conversation forward from words to
action, said John Esposito, director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

great to have conferences, but the question is, ‘So what?’ The question
is what happens after it,” Esposito said. “How do you get a
trickle-down effect? How do you implement? That’s part of what we’re
challenged to deal with today.”

The opening panel in Gaston Hall
set out to chart the progress and challenges within Muslim-Christian
relations. Blair and Esposito were joined by Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Norwegian prime minister; Sheikh Mustafa Efendi Ceric, grand mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina; and Dato’Seri Anwar Ibrahim, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia.

Religious and world leaders face an uphill battle in bringing
faiths together so long as people’s minds are not in tune with their
souls, Ceric said.

“Today’s world has a great amount of
knowledge. It possesses a surplus of information, but lacks the
insightful sense of wisdom,” he said. “There is a deep discrepancy
between the mind’s perception and the human soul’s insight. … The soul
is almost choked by the knowledge of the human senses.”

noted that 70 percent of world refugees are Muslim, most of the current
wars are in Muslim lands and Muslims believe their rights are not
secure, he said.

“We are serious about Common Word. We are
serious about dialogue,” Ceric said. “For us, it’s not a political game
– it’s a question of existence. And we believe we have the right to
exist in this world.”

The Common Word conference continues
Wednesday and Thursday with panels on religious pluralism in the 21st
century; religion, violence and peace-building; and the role of
international nongovernmental organizations in a pluralistic world.

think the single most important thing is the translation of words into
action,” Blair said of the conference. “If we show by our actions that
we are committed to understanding and respect and justice, that is how
we will succeed. That is how we will overcome not just the extremism
within religion but the cynicism outside of it.”

Lauren Burgoon

(October 7, 2009)