The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for more “just” rates of interest as he blamed greed for the global financial crisis.
Dr Rowan Williams said Christians and Muslims should work together to decide what might constitute a fairer system of borrowing, and suggested an alternative to the current banking system.
It comes just weeks after he called for tighter regulation of the stock markets to prevent a repeat of the excesses of recent years, and claimed Karl Marx was correct to warn of the power of “unbridled capitalism” over workers.
Speaking at the end of the biggest ever conference in Britain devoted to improving understanding between the two faiths, Dr Williams acknowledged that while Islam still forbids the charging of interest, Christian leaders watered down their opposition to the practice centuries ago.
He said: “The Christian tradition has always been cautious about interest.
“For many centuries it was very much of one mind with the Islamic tradition but after the 16th century that changed.
“I think the question has been since then what are just rates of interest rather than absolute prohibition.
“I would like very much to see a dialogue developing with Islam about this question of what a just, a reasonable rate of interest might look like in the light of a religious ethic but this is work, reflection, very much in its infancy to put it mildly.”
Asked what he thought was to blame for the current economic crisis gripping the world, which has seen governments forced to use trillions of pounds’ worth of taxpayers’ money to bail out failing banks while consumers suffer from soaring inflation and rising unemployment, the Archbishop joked: “I was going to suggest Satan.”
He went on: “Clearly as religious leaders we want to say that the root problem is human greed which is not specific to any one nation or even to the governing class or any one religion.”
The Archbishop highlighted the growth of organisations such as the Grameen Bank, which makes small loans to the poor around the world, as an “alternative to large-scale borrowing and lending”.
The conference at Cambridge University came a year after 138 Islamic scholars and clerics wrote to the Pope and other Christian leaders to warn that Muslims and Christians must make peace with each other, in an open letter called A Common Word Between Us and You.
A statement issued by the scholars following this week’s conference said: “It is out of an understanding of shared values that we urge world leaders and our faithful everywhere to act together to ensure that the burden of this financial crisis, and also the global environmental crisis, does not fall unevenly on the weak and the poor.”
The religious leaders also spoke of their concern about the situation in Mosul, northern Iraq, where hundreds Christian families have fled their homes fearing for their lives.
“These threats undermine the centuries-old tradition of local Muslims protecting and nourishing the Christian community, and must stop,” they said.
“We are profoundly conscious of the terrible suffering enduring by Iraqi people of every creed in recent years and wish to express our solidarity with them.”