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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Muslim-Christian dialogue needs action

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

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

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

“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.”