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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Muslims and Catholics stand firm against violence

VATICAN CITY // An historic meeting between Muslim and Roman
Catholic scholars at the Vatican concluded yesterday with a joint
declaration calling for an end to violence in the name of religion,
respect for both faiths and a commitment to help solve international
crises together.

The religious leaders agreed to meet again in
two years in a Muslim country and to consider creating a permanent
Catholic-Muslim committee.

Their 15-point final declaration also
called for the establishment of an ethical international financial
system, equal rights for men and women and the need for each religion
to disseminate accurate information about the other.

The Vatican
seminar was organised in response to a Muslim call for dialogue – known
as the Common Word – issued in Oct 2006, a month after Pope Benedict
XVI delivered a controversial speech in Regensburg, Germany, which was
widely perceived to have linked Islam with violence.

Each delegation to the meeting included 24 participants and five advisers.

The meeting was held at a time of increased interfaith activity, often led by key figures in the Arab world.

this week King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the country’s foreign
minister, Prince Saud al Faisal, will host a two-day interfaith summit
in New York.

The event is expected to be attended by up to 30
heads of states – including the outgoing US president, George W Bush,
and King Juan Carlos of Spain – who will discuss how to bridge cultures
and faiths. It follows similar interfaith events attended by Muslim,
Christian and Jewish leaders in Madrid and at Yale University in the US
earlier this year. Last night Muslim delegates at the Vatican event
spoke of the importance of the historic meeting.

“The Pope was
very gracious in receiving us, and in quoting our Prophet and
recognising his message,” said Yousef Hamza, an Islamic scholar from Al
Ain, who is now the director of the Zaytuna Institute, an Islamic
education centre, in Berkeley, California. “The Common Word initiative
was born out of a sense of urgency,” said Ingrid Mattson, professor of
Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut, and the
president of the Islamic Society of North America, at the announcement
of declaration.

“We feel a sense of shame that our sacred
faith is the reason or the justification for the conflict [between
Islam and Christianity]. Sceptics might say that religious people are
the least suited to resolve these issues because we created them, but
every day, people engage in acts of piety, generosity and through
institutions made for that purpose, through love of God and love of
neighbour. We are committed to understand why that is sometimes not

The final declaration also called on people from
both faiths to “to work for an ethical financial system in which the
regulatory mechanisms consider the situation of the poor and
disadvantaged”. “We call upon the privileged of the world to consider
the plight of those afflicted most severely by the current crisis in
food production and distribution, and ask religious believers of all
denominations and all people of goodwill to work together to alleviate
the suffering of the hungry and to eliminate its causes.”

declaration also said that “we commit ourselves jointly to ensuring
that human dignity and respect are extended on an equal basis to both
men and women”. It addressed concerns over the treatment of religious
symbols, such as the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed published in
Danish newspapers. It called for respect for “founding figures and
symbols” considered sacred. These should not be “subject to any form of
mockery or ridicule”.

It also tackled concerns about religious
extremism: “We profess that Catholics and Muslims are called to be
instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a
whole, renouncing any oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism,
especially that committed in the name of religion.”

that young people living in multicultural societies will be important
figures in the future of both faiths, the declaration said it was
important that they be well-informed about other cultures and

“Genuine love of neighbour implies respect of the
person and her or his choices in matters of conscience and religion,”
it said. After the Common Word was issued, delegates met at Yale and
Cambridge universities to agree on talking points for this week’s
Vatican meeting.

Last week, at the eighth General Conference
of Islamic Call meeting in Tripoli, Libya, more than 460 Islamic
organisations and associations representing various continents and
constituents endorsed the Common Word. The Vatican meeting was
unprecedented not only because it brought Muslims and Catholic leaders
together, but also because the Islamic tradition shies away from
hierarchy and representation of Muslims by any one organisation.

Common Word managed to build a consensus among Muslim leaders. In
another show of unity in July, King Abdullah convened talks between
Muslim, Christian and Jewish clerics in Madrid, where religious and
political leaders discussed ways to reduce religious intolerance.

conference came less than a year after King Abdullah met the Pope in
the Vatican that was criticised by some religious hardliners in the
Kingdom. The Saudi monarch’s inclusive approach also reportedly
attracted threats from al Qa’eda. A few months later in August,
scholars from across the faiths met again.

This time at Yale,
where more than 150 religious leaders unanimously agreed to sign a
resolution on similarities of faith. They agreed to respect one
another’s “sacred symbols” and to preach of commonality. The attempts
at dialogue have been praised by religious and political leaders, but
many have warned that there are many hurdles to be overcome before the
faiths can reach accord.