Muslims and Christians seek common ground in dialogue

“Our theology is not the same,” Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan said to Christians, “but we are all in the same boat.”

The prince was addressing an assembly of Christians and Muslims gathered in Geneva, Switzerland this week as part of a four-day international consultation on relations between the faiths.

People of faith face the same problems and opportunities in the contemporary world, according to Prince Ghazi. Coming together to fulfill our shared commitment to love God and love one’s neighbour, he added, “is the right thing to do.”

Prince Ghazi was one of two keynote speakers on the theme “Transforming Communities: Christians and Muslims Building a Common Future.” The prince serves as personal envoy and special advisor to King Abdullah II of Jordan and as chairperson of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.

The second keynote address was given by the Rt Rev Dr Anders Wejryd, archbishop of Uppsala in the Church of Sweden. He affirmed the two great commandments of love as common teachings of the religions descended from Abraham, although he suggested that people of different cultures could also find inspiration in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “a grand achievement and a piece of good theology.”

Archbishop Wejryd observed that “there is no relevance for our religions without identity – but on the other hand, there is no identity without relevance. It is part of the identity both of the Prophet and of Jesus Christ that they were totally relevant for the people they met.”

The “Transforming Communities” consultation has been organised under the leadership of the Consortium of A Common Word, the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute of Jordan, the World Islamic Call Society based in Libya and the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The dialogue is taking place at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, site of the WCC central offices. Delegates to the conference and diplomats invited to the opening session were joined by representatives of Christian world communions who are meeting in Geneva this week. Church bodies and organisations represented on Monday included the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal traditions.

At the start of the proceedings, a welcome was offered by the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the WCC. He commented on the varying situations of the many societies from which participants have come.

Dr Tveit remarked, “We are living in communities locally, nationally and globally that are changing rapidly. More than that: as religious leaders we are ourselves transforming communities. The question to all of us is not whether we have an influence in the transformation of communities, but what kind of influence do we have? We are here to talk to one another to discover the kind of influence that we want to have together.”

Another welcoming statement was read from Dr Muhammad Ahmed Sharif, General Secretary of the World Islamic Call Society (WICS), whose arrival at the consultation had been delayed. The statement was read by Dr Ibrahim Ali Rabu, the WCIS director of conferences and institutions. Dr Sharif encouraged participants in the dialogue to express their concerns clearly and frankly: “Make sure that we understand each other.”

Greetings also were offered to the consultation members by leaders of the Protestant and Muslim communities in Switzerland. Sheikh Yousef Ibram, imam of the Geneva mosque, and the Rev Dr Thomas Wipf, president of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches as well as of the Swiss Council of Religions, welcomed participants and briefly described the current state of Muslim-Christian relations across Switzerland.

On Thursday 4 November 2010, the Inter-religious Platform of Geneva will facilitate orientation sessions on local interfaith relations during group visits to St Pierre cathedral (Protestant Church of Geneva) and the Geneva mosque.

The opening events were moderated by Metropolitan Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, archbishop of Aleppo in the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch.