Christian, Muslim Leaders Offer No New Remedies Against Extremists

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut (AFP) — A conference of Muslim and Christian leaders aimed at promoting interfaith dialogue ended here sidestepping the thorny issue of religious fundamentalism.

The four day event hosted by the Yale University Divinity School is the first of a series of Christian-Muslim talks to be held around the world. Future events will be hosted in Britain, at the Vatican, and in Jordan.

Some 150 religious leaders and academics gathered for the event — mainly protestant theologians and evangelical leaders on the Christian side, and Shiites, Sunnis and Sufis on the Muslim side. Six Jewish guests were present as observers.

“The practical issues included world poverty, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation in Palestine and Israel, the danger of further wars, and the freedom of religion,” said Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan, describing the closed-door meetings.

The final declaration, approved by consensus, states that Muslims and Christians “affirm the unity and absoluteness of God.

“We recognize that God’s merciful love is infinite, eternal and embraces all things. This love is central to both our religions and is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic heritage.”

Yale theology professor Miroslav Volf said that the ‘absoluteness of God’ should not be understood as that of an all-powerful divinity, but rather as that of a being that irradiates love.

“It is not just the love of God, but love of neighbor also,” Volf, the event organizer, told AFP.

That view of God excludes any extremism, Volf said. “You might die but you will die sacrificing your life on behalf of others rather than killing yourself so that others may die as well,” he said.

In September Volf is scheduled to co-teach a course at Yale with British former prime minister Tony Blair titled “Faith and Globalization.”

The final text of the meeting avoids mentioning Christian or Muslim fundamentalist ideologies, though the final declaration does “denounce and deplore threats made against those who engage in interfaith dialogue.”

A similar dialogue between Anglicans and Muslims is scheduled for October at Cambridge University in Britain, and between Catholics and Muslims at the Vatican in November.

In March there will be another conference at Georgetown University in the US capital to look at social and political issues, and a final gathering will be held in October 2009 at the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Jordan.

The idea behind the inter-faith conferences followed the October 2007 publication of an open letter to Christians signed by 138 Muslim leaders in 40 countries.