“Common Word” aims for “common deed” for peace

October 7, 2009


(Photo: Common Word conference with (from left) former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Georgetown University Professor John Esposito, Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, 7 Oct 2009/Georgetown University – Phil Humnicky)

Will a common word lead to a common deed? That’s the challenge that the “Common Word” group of Islamic scholars has posed at its fourth major Muslim-Christian dialogue conference now underway at Georgetown University in Washington. The group, which next week marks the second anniversary of its launch, has broken the ice with Christian leaders and fostered a lively and fruitful interchange with them. But it always said its goal was not simply to have more harmonious conferences among theologians. They want to make a real impact lessening tensions between Christians and Muslims out in the real world.

blairFormer British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, clearly endorsed this aim at the opening session on Wednesday. “The single most important thing is the translation of words into deed,” he told about 600 people attending the conference. “We’ve got to show — not by a dialogue among the elites, although it is very important that the key people come together — but actually building bridges among people.”

(Photo: Tony Blair, 14 May 2009/Jason Reed)

Blair reminded his audience that many people think religion is not a solution but rather the problem in conflicts around the world. To counter this, he said, people of faith must not only foster understanding among believers but also refute the critics of faith.  “If we show by our actions that we are engaged in understanding and respect and justice, that is how we will succeed,” he said. “And that is what will overcome not just the extremism within religion but the cynicism outside of it.”

Readers of this blog may remember our reporting from the Middle East last May, when we pointed out that the same Pope Benedict who had hinted at a deep suspicion of Islam in his 2006 Regensburg speech had changed his tune and was borrowing the Common Word group’s arguments to argue for deeper Christian-Muslim dialogue. That was no small achievement itself — just ask yourself: how many Catholic theologians were able to change Cardinal Ratzinger’s mind? — but the group has higher ambitions.


(Photo: Prince Ghazi and Pope Benedict at the Jesus Baptismal Site on the River Jordan, 10 May 2009)

Our present conference is not idly – I hope! – entitled ‘A Global Agenda for Change’,” Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Muhammed, chief architect of the Common Word project, said in a message to the conference. “Rather, its purpose is to examine and chart out some concrete, practical, and, more importantly, actionable ideas that we can bring to fruition based perhaps on the principles of ‘A Common Word’ and the Two Greatest Commandments. In other words, we want to move, God Willing, from ‘traction’ to ‘trickledown’, and we want to start this here.”

Reviewing the first two years of the Common Word initiative, Prince Ghazi noted, on the positive side, “the apparent thaw in relations between Muslims and the Vatican, coupled with H.M. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia’s interfaith initiative, and President Obama’s Cairo Speech on June 4th 2009 – all this being reflected in the latest Pew polls which show a slight lessening of animosity between Christians and Muslims globally.” He also praised initiatives by supporters of the Common Word such as London Church of England Bishop Richard Chartres’s St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation or Miroslav Volf’s Reconciliation Program at Yale University. He said a Common Word “sub-office” had opened in the Pakistani capital Islamabad to promote Muslim-Christian understanding in a country where the Christian minority is under attack.


But he added that “Muslims and Christians as a whole still harbour deep and dangerous animosities and prejudices towards each other. Moreover, even if we were to agree that the situation is better in Iraq now than two years ago, we must admit that it is worse in Afghanistan and that a new war has opened up in Pakistan, which in turn has been manipulated to commit murders against the native Christians there, such as recently happened in Gojra.” In the southern Philippine province of Mindanao, he said, the collapse of a planned peace deal had led to renewed fighting with thousands killed and around a million refugees or displaced people. “In short, we are still a long way away from where we could and should be,” he said.

(Photo: Pakistani Christians bury victims of attack by Muslims in Gojra, 2 Aug 2009/Mohsin Raza)

What do you think? How can Muslims and Christians use interfaith understanding to foster practical steps towards peace in the world?

Click here to watch the video of the first session, with addresses by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Georgetown University Professor John Esposito, Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, as well as a Q&A session.

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Can interfaith understanding create practical peace?No.Because the underlying concept of religion is social, political and cultural control over a population. And the sole desire to increase this control, both over current and potential believers.It is a factor that all theistic beliefs have in common.And because it is a common aspect, it is the largest cause of friction between groups of people.Religions can put on this show, but it cannot change what it is. Otherwise it would cease to be what it is, and would quickly fade away. Like a virus that suddenly stops infecting cells.The only true way to make practical steps towards peace is simple. More education in the third world. Teach people that religion is not a reason to enslave, control or harm others. Teach them that just because religion says something, doesn’t make it true.Will religion do this? No.All this window dressing is just a show for the more educated theists. People who get a bit worried when the curtain slips, and the brutal nature of theistic belief is briefly flashed before their eyes.Nothing to see here folks. We are all friends…

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

When Tony Blair said:”Blair reminded his audience that many people think religion is not a solution but rather the problem in conflicts around the world.”I was thinking it can only be Westerners who think religion is not the solution, and who question or believe that religions cause conflicts around the world – as Muslims are not permitted to question anything about the rights and wrongs of their faith.And what is more troubling – Muslims seem to be in denial as to the reality that it is their faith – that is at this time the cause much of the world’s troubles.Tony Blair won’t have to worry about questions being posed about the validity of religion’s role in the world – from Muslims. Muslims are most controlled people on earth outside of those living in communist countries. If they were to openly challenge religion – they would be imprisoned, tortured or put to death.The real discussion in this respect will only take place in the western / free world. Muslim leaders will not permit their populations to consider – such concepts.For many in the west – this means that we are arguing/ dealing with largely superstitious and backward people – and those who aren’t – are controlled in a way Westerners find unacceptable.The solution to Muslim radicalisation could lay in those in the Muslim world having western style debates on religion – that way everyone is not forced to be Muslim – as in the Christian world those who wish to be Muslim can be. At the moment Muslims are only allowed to work within a limited intellectual scope. And it not surprising that they begin to act like children – with most information forbidden to them.

Posted by Rebecca | Report as abusive

Watch these people carefully.What they are attempting to establish here is the fascist-religious element of the New World Order; with, significantly, the assistance of Tony Blair (with regards to whom some people argue there is evidence that he is a war criminal).Their discussions are based upon the categorical denial of *one* fundamental Truth: that the Doctrine of “resurrection” taught by Isaiah, Daniel, Jesus and Mohammed (and implied in the Torah) is a Doctrine of ‘Rebirth\'; a corollary to which is that Mohammed was Elijah and John the Baptist ‘raised from the dead’–something they will *never* discuss because it would threaten their claim to a knowledge of the Revelations; and, thus, their economic interests.Oh, by the way, if they are *seriously* looking for a “common deed”, they should support the conclusions of the Goldstone Report and assist in the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity during Operation Cast Lead.

Posted by Michael Cecil | Report as abusive