RELIGIOUS scholars, politicians and experts agree that a Muslim dialogue initiative for the Christian world needs action to address all the challenges still standing between the followers of the two Abrahamic faiths.
“I think what we are addressing is how to develop out of A Common Word, a common work together and common partnership,” John Esposito, professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, told IslamOnline.net.
Esposito was among a galaxy of international religious scholars and experts participating in a two-day conference sponsored by Georgetown‘s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and the office of the Georgetown University President.
The conference, “A Common Word Between Us and You: A Global Agenda for Change”, is a follow-up on an October 2007 letter from Muslim scholars to the world’s Christian clergy urging dialogue to declare the common ground between Islam and Christianity.
But many believe that it is high time to move forward from ideas and initiatives to action.
“I think what’s missing is that the ideas being discussed need to be brought to the masses,” Dalia Mogahed, an advisor on President Barack Obama’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighbourhood partnership, said.
“It is something that has been discussed over and over, though it is the difference between success and failure.”
The 2007 letter, signed by 138 Muslim scholars and dignitaries from 43 countries, called for the two faiths to reach a better understanding based on two common principles: love of God and love of one’s neighbour.
Esposito says memories of conflicts and extremist elements in both sides remain a major challenge.
Evangelical Lutheran Church Bishop of Palestine and Jordan Munib Younan recognises the need for an action plan.
“What we have to put together is a programme over action,” he said.
“We have to speak together for example on how can we Christians and Muslims work together to eradicate poverty and combat extremism, all kinds of extremism Muslim Christian and Jewish,” he asserted.
“The more we have joint activities the more we can show a love of God and love to our neighbour.”
But the scholars and experts are under no illusions that despite the strenuous efforts for dialogue, the road still has many blocks.
“The main challenge is the lack of trust between the two communities,” regrets Mohamed Elsanousi, Director of Communications & Community Outreach for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
He believes that the two sides on the dialogue table are still not speaking with one language.
“We also do not need to have hidden agenda or hidden intentions. Our dialogue should be based on honesty,” insists the Muslim activist.
“It must say to the other it is not my intentions to convert you to Christianity but my intentions is to reach with you a level of understanding and trust that let us together serve humanity at large.”
Mogahed, a senior analyst and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, believes history and the lack of trust could be a very dangerous combination for interfaith dialogue.
“These things that we found in our research shape the perception of the other more than theological problems.
“We found in our research that in the Muslim world, people say that they want better relations with the West but don’t believe the West cares about them. In the same time, Americans and Europeans, while they care about better relations, they don’t believe the other side cares.”
Dr Esposito recognises that history is one of the issues that separate followers of the two faiths.
“There are also memories of conflicts. There are the fundamentalists, those who are very dismissive of the other side. We have people who are anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish and anti-Christian.”
But Sheikh Mustafa Ceric, the grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina who has won international recognition for his efforts to promote understanding among the world’s religions, remains optimistic.
“The idea of A Common Word is more of opening the door for challenges more than closing the door on challenges,” he said.
“Dialogue is a process of life.”