A topical film covering the ground-breaking global Muslim-Christian inter-faith initiative, ‘A Common Word’ will premiere during this year’s Cambridge Festival of Ideas on Monday, 28 October.


Professor David Ford OBE, Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge and Director of the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, described ‘A Common Word’ as, “The most important inter-faith initiative ever taken by Muslims towards Christians.” The Rt Revd Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, and Timothy Winter (Abdul Hakim Murad), two University of Cambridge alumni involved in the initiative, will be in conversation following the screening of the film.

The film charts an initiative that began following Pope Benedict’s University of Regensburg address in 2006, in which he quoted an unfavourable remark about Islam made at the end of the 14th century by Manuel II Palaiologos, the Byzantine emperor. As the English translation of the Pope’s lecture was disseminated across the world, many Muslim politicians and religious leaders protested against what they saw as an insulting mischaracterisation of Islam.

On 13 October 2007, 138 Muslim clerics, intellectuals and political leaders wrote a letter entitled ‘A Common Word between Us and You’. The letter was addressed to the leaders of the world’s churches and ‘to Christians everywhere’. It called for peace and understanding between Christians and Muslims around the world, and aimed to address misunderstandings about Islam.

After the letter was written, Muslims met different Christian denominations around the world. The first one was at Yale with a group of evangelical Christians, which is shown in the film, as well as meetings at the Vatican with the Pope, at Lambeth Palace with the Archbishop of Canterbury and many others.

A letter was subsequently written by Christians as a response to the original letter and published as a full page in the New York Times, welcoming the Muslim letter. There were also a number of filmed workshops and discussions at various locations. Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote a detailed response to the letter.

The film explores all of this and importantly deals head on with many of the major problematic issues, such as extremism and Western military occupations in predominantly Muslim countries. It depicts voices from the majority, traditional, pluralistic Muslim position. For instance, in the film a major Iranian Ayatollah mentions that the Prophet Mohammed said that Jews and Christians are brothers and sisters to Muslims and Muslims must love them as their neighbours. The final part is about possibilities for resolution and positive outcomes on the ground.

Director Mustafa Gouverneur of Ten Thousand Films said: “A lot of people are very cynical about interfaith initiatives being a bit removed from reality on the ground, but the ‘Common word’ initiative has brought a number of concrete results. It has also led to many other movements: there is now a UN World Interfaith Harmony week because of it, the ‘Love initiative’ taught at universities, 20 new books used in universities and schools, and other interfaith initiatives including one between the Bishop of London and the Grand Mufti of Egypt.”

Three organisations will be hosting this event – The Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, The Centre for Islamic Studies and the Matheson Trust.

Further information about the initiative can be found at: www.acommonword.com, which outlines the story of the project.

Now in its sixth year, the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, which celebrates the rich contribution the arts, humanities and social sciences make to our culture and understanding of the world, encourages visitors to explore the world around them on a local and global scale. Subjects range from the economy to international development and smart drugs to conspiracy theories, presented by an eclectic mix of speakers including researchers, journalists, politicians, philosophers, poets and artists.

The theme this year is ‘Frontiers’, which explores how borders, boundaries and margins are being either challenged or reinforced around the world with a programme of events to suit people of all tastes and ages.

Some of those taking part include artist Quentin Blake; writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg; George the poet; leading academics ranging from David Reynolds and Noreena Hertz to Mary Beard, Anthony Giddens and Richard Evans; journalist Michael White; author MJ Hyland; columnist Owen Jones; teen writer Anthony McGowan; and Paralympian Claire Harvey.

The University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas is sponsored by Barclays, Cambridge University Press and Anglia Ruskin University, who also organise events during the Festival. Event partners include Heffers Classics Festival, University of Cambridge Museums, RAND Europe, the Goethe-Institut London and the Junction. The Festival’s media partner is BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and its hospitality partner is Cambridge City Hotel.

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