Christian Communities Urged To Be Good Neighbours To Muslims

Christian communities should improve their knowledge of Islam, be good neighbours to Muslims and bear witness to their faith in an appropriate manner, according to an international group of church leaders and experts on Christian-Muslim dialogue.

These were some of the recommendations put forward at an 18 to 20 October consultation aimed at developing an ecumenical Christian theological understanding of dialogue with Islam.

Convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the meeting gathered some fifty church leaders and experts on Christian-Muslim dialogue in Chavannes-de-Bogis, outside Geneva, Switzerland.

Participants acknowledged a history of “mixed” relationships between Christians and Muslims, with both positive and negative dimensions. On their part, Christians have seen Muslims both as friend and rival, neighbour and stranger.

However, participants agreed, Christianity teaches to love the neighbour regardless of race, gender or religion. Even more, Christian self-understanding is challenged and deepened through relationships with Muslims, while Christians themselves are renewed by entering into dialogue with them.

For this dialogue to be fruitful it needs to be sensitive, including a careful use of traditional Christian language like mission, witness and conversion. And both church leaders and communities need to be educated in the knowledge of Islam as Muslims live and present it.

While attitudes among Christians towards Islam are diverse and rich, different contexts and experiences of living together with Muslims inspire different theological approaches.

The consultation identified a number of issues to be addressed in further dialogue with Muslims, among others: human rights, conversion, concepts of secularism, pluralism, and citizenship, as well as the use of religious symbols for political ideologies and religiously motivated violence.

Participants also recommended further Christian-Muslim collaboration on issues such as social and economic justice, climate change, peace and healing of memories.

Organised by the WCC together with a number of Christian World Communions, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and the Roman Catholic Church, the consultation is a continuation of an ecumenical process launched by the WCC in response to “A Common Word”, a letter signed by 138 Muslim scholars and addressed to Christian leaders around the world in October 2007.

Rather than producing a written response to the letter by the Muslim scholars, the goal of the consultation was to provide a space for churches and communions of churches to share their initiatives and theological resources for engaging with Muslims, and to identify substantial issues for Christian theology in relation to Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Participants agreed on the need for further ecumenical exploration of theological issues pertaining to Muslim-Christian dialogue and invited the organisers to facilitate the process. A report on the consultation, including the presentations delivered and an account of the findings will be published by the end of the year.