Muslim, Christian Leaders Take Up Global Issues At High-Level London Meeting

A multi-national group of Christian and Muslim leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Grand Mufti of Egypt, concluded a three-day meeting at Lambeth Palace October 15 with a firm recognition of the need for deeper understanding and mutual respect as they increasingly find themselves drawn together by globalization and interdependence.

During the meeting, titled “A Common Word and Future of Christian-Muslim engagement,” the leaders addressed issues such as the global economic crisis and the persecution of minorities in Iraq, and identified education as a priority for both faiths.

The group, which included 17 Muslims and 19 Christian participants, also discussed other topics, including different understandings of scripture, shared moral values, respect for foundational figures in the respective faiths, religious freedom and religiously motivated violence.

Held at Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ London residence, the meeting marked the first anniversary of the issuing of “A Common Word Between Us and You,” in which 138 Muslim leaders declared common ground between Christianity and Islam.

“In this conference we are celebrating the shared values of love of God and love of neighbor, the basis of A Common Word, whilst reflecting self-critically on how often we fall short of these standards,” the group said in a communiqué released at an October 15 press briefing.

Following a period of worldwide consultation within the Anglican Communion and across Christian denominations — including a June meeting of Christian leaders and scholars in London — Williams issued a July 15 statement welcoming A Common Word as a “significant development in relations between Christians and Muslims.” He accepted the document as a timely initiative “given the growing awareness that peace throughout the world is deeply entwined with the ability of all people of faith everywhere to live together in peace, justice, mutual respect and love.”

The October 15 communiqué noted that the declaration and Williams’ response represent “a generous spirit” that has enabled the leaders of both faiths “carefully and honestly to begin exploring areas of potential agreement as well as some of the difficult issues which have sometimes become the focus for misunderstanding and hostility.”

During the press briefing, Williams said that the leaders recognized education as a priority, including the forming of the next generation of Christian and Muslim leaders and the production of better and fairer education resources from both faiths.

Concerning the current financial crisis, Williams said that both religious traditions have ethical and spiritual perspectives. “We believe that we have things we can say together about the search for economic justice in our world,” he said.

The group urged world and faith leaders “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. We must seize the opportunity for implementing a more equitable global economic system that also respects our role as stewards of the earth’s resources.”

Williams was joined at the briefing by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheik Ali Gomaa; Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church; Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America and professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut; and Professor David Ford, Regius professor of divinity at the University of Cambridge, England.

Gomaa told the media that the conference had been a great success “and together we are now on the right path towards the benefit of humanity…We hope to make this world a better place for our children and grandchildren; a place where there is mutual cooperation.”

In the communiqué, the leaders expressed their deep concern for the recent threat to the Christian community in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul, where 14 deaths have been reported in the past two weeks and an estimated 8000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

“We are profoundly conscious of the terrible suffering endured by Iraqi people of every creed in recent years and wish to express our solidarity with them,” the communiqué said. “We find no justification in Islam or Christianity for those promoting the insecurity or perpetrating the violence evident in parts of Iraq.

The leaders also called upon religious, political and community leaders “to do all in their power to promote the return of all persons and communities, including the ancient Christian communities, and ensure a stable environment in which all citizens can flourish.”

Calling the meeting “the most significant gathering of international Muslim leaders ever to take place in the United Kingdom, matched by a similarly wide diversity of traditions and geographical backgrounds amongst the Christian participants,” the 36 religious leaders resolved that “the spirit of collaboration, mutual respect and desire for greater understanding may be the mark of our relationship for the benefit of all humankind.”

During the coming year, the leaders have committed themselves to:

  • “Identify and promote the use of educational materials, for all age-groups and in the widest possible range of languages, that we accept as providing a fair reflection of our faiths
  • “Build a network of academic institutions, linking scholars, students and academic resources, with various committees and teams which can work on shared values
  • “Identify funds to facilitate exchanges between those training for roles of leadership within our religious communities
  • “Translate significant texts from our two traditions for the use of the other.”

The full text of the communiqué, including a list of participants, is available here.

– Matthew Davies is editor of Episcopal Life Online and Episcopal Life Media correspondent for the Anglican Communion.