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Too many interfaith dialogues: Vatican

DUBAI (Reuters, AlArabiya.net)

are now so many efforts to improve relations between Christians and
Muslims that they risk overlapping and creating confusion, the
Vatican’s top official for interfaith contacts said just days before a
United Nations interfaith conference organized by the Saudi king was to
start in New York.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for
Interreligious Dialogue, said a conference between Catholics and
Muslims last week was a fresh bid for mutual understanding that could
become a “favored channel” for the Vatican.

But there is now so much interest in Christian-Muslim dialogue that it
is getting hard to see where it is going, said Tauran, who was
preparing to fly to New York for United Nations talks linked to another
drive led by Saudi King Abdullah.

The broader impact of interfaith dialogue remains to be evaluated
Gurharpal Singh, University of Birmingham

Saudi king and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are organizing a
special session of the U.N. general assembly on Wednesday and Thursday
for talks on “interfaith” issues and the “Culture of Peace.”

“In my opinion, there are too many Christian-Muslim initiatives.
Everybody’s doing it,” he told Reuters in an interview. “One doesn’t
know where this will go. That proves there is a great interest, but it
shows a bit of confusion.

“There’s a risk of overlapping… It may be the price to pay for all this interest that interreligious dialogue incites.”

But Saudi liberals say such high-profile events pressure the
conservatives at home who created the ideological environment that
feeds Islamist militancy.

“This hits at the extremists, who we say are wrong in terms of Islam,”
said Mohammed al-Zulfa, a liberal member of the consultative Shura
Assembly. “There is opposition (to reform) from conservatives who have
spent three decades controlling education, media, mosques and the

Dialogue between Christians and Muslims is nothing new, but the Sept.
11 attacks and sharpened tensions between western and Muslim states
have given it a new urgency and sparked concern about a growing gap
between the world’s two largest religions.

A Common Word, an informal group of religious leaders and scholars
across the Muslim world, gave interfaith dialogue a new impetus last
year by inviting Christians to examine how both faiths have shared core
principles of loving God and neighbor.

On Nov 4-6, a Common Word delegation held an unprecedented meeting at
the Vatican called the Catholic-Muslim Forum, a bilateral exchange due
to be held every two years.

But whether such interfaith dialogues will result in tangible results
remains unclear, according to sime, since there are few ways to measure
their impact.

“As an ideal, an objective it’s a wonderful thing (interfaith
dialogue), it’s absolutely imperative,” Gurharpal Singh, a political
scientist working on issues of management of religious diversity at the
University of Birmingham, told AlArabiya.net. “But at the point of
impact it may not have policy objective in terms of changing attitudes
and behavior at ground level.”

He noted that after Sept. 11, 2001 Western countries adopted policies
of engagement with faith leaders to put forth collective responses,
which may have been more useful for reducing tensions but less so in
the policy arena. “The broader impact of interfaith dialogue remains to
be evaluated,” he said.