Reuters blog archive
(Photo: Christian and Muslim leaders at Nov 1-4, 2010 Geneva conference/WCC - Mark Beach)
Christian and Muslim leaders agreed on Thursday to set up "rapid deployment teams" to try to defuse tensions when their faiths are invoked by conflicting parties in flashpoints such as Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt or the Philippines. Meeting this week in Geneva, they agreed the world's two biggest religions must take concrete steps to foster interfaith peace rather than let themselves be dragged into conflicts caused by political rivalries, oppression or injustice.
Among the organisations backing the plan were the World Council of Churches (WCC), which groups 349 different Christian churches around the world, and the Libyan-based World Islamic Call Society (WICS), a network with about 600 affiliated Muslim bodies. They would send Christian and Muslim experts to intervene on both sides in a religious conflict to calm tensions and clear up misunderstandings about the role of faith in the dispute.
"We call for the formation of a joint working group which can be mobilised whenever a crisis threatens to arise in which Christians and Muslims find themselves in conflict," the leaders said in a statement after their four-day meeting. "Religion is often invoked in conflict creation, even when other factors, such as unfair resource allocation, oppression, occupation and injustice, are the real roots of conflict. We must find ways to disengage religion from such roles and reengage it towards conflict resolution and compassionate justice," said the statement issued in Geneva.
Jordan's Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought and the Common Word group of Muslim scholars promoting interfaith dialogue also backed the plan, which the scholars have been discussing with several Christian churches for the past two years.
How does a rabbi get involved in dialogue with Muslims? On this blog, we often write about interfaith dialogue, for which personal contact is crucial, without talking much about the background of the personalities involved.
Given the constraints of journalism, that's not surprising. But it does leave out some of the insights I gain from talking at length with rabbis and imams about themselves and their work.
The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday in Oslo. What are the odds that a religious leader will win? I checked with our bureau in Oslo for the latest buzz.
"The Peace Nobel is basically a guessing game," chief correspondent Wojciech Moskwa warned. A total of 205 individuals and organisations were nominated this year and a record number remained on the secret short list late last month, he learned in an interview with Geir Lundestad, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute. Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, French-Colombian politician and former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do and various U.N. organisations have gained traction as possible nominees, but Lundestad firmly declined to comment on the speculation.
The Swiss Council of Religions, which is composed of leaders from the country's Christian, Jewish and Islamic organisations, has issued a statement rejecting a proposed ban on minarets. A group of right-wing anti-immigrant politicians has gathered more than 100,000 signatures to support the so-called Minaret Initiative, saying the minarets threaten law and order. The vote is due on November 29.
The Swiss federal government has warned that the referendum vote was organised legally but a ban would violate international human rights and the country's constitution. "Such a ban would endanger peace between religions and would not help to prevent the spread of fundamentalist Islamic beliefs," its Department of Justice and Police said in late August.
Beer, which as an alcoholic beverage is forbidden in Islam to its believers, has long had it easy in mainly Muslim Malaysia. The country's population of 27 million is made up of about 55 percent Malay Muslims and mainly Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities who practice a variety of faiths including Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism. The personal right of the non-Muslims to drink alcoholic beverages is legally recognised, a sign of tolerance despite the special status of Islam under Article 11 of the Malaysian constitution. So beer is not difficult to find in convenience stores, supermarkets and entertainment outlets. (Photo: Beer drinkers, 20 July 2009/Nguyen Huy Kham)
But this easygoing attitude towards beer has hit the rocks of late amid what some suspect has been a growing religiosity of the country’s Muslims. Last month, 32-year old Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarnor very nearly became the first woman to be caned in Malaysia for drinking alcohol under rarely enforced Islamic criminal laws. Caught drinking beer in a hotel lobby in the eastern state of Pahang by religious enforcement officers, she was sentenced to six strokes of the cane and a fine. This was possible because Malaysia practices a dual-track legal system. Muslims are subject to Islamic family and criminal laws that run alongside national civil laws.