FaithWorld

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

20091007commonword3 (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.

ghazi-and-pope (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.”

Webcast for Common Word final news conf. on Thursday

Sign outside Yale Divinity School, 25 July 2008/Tom HeneghanAn announcement about the Common Word conference we’ve been following here (and will cover on Thursday):

    FYI Yale Divinity School tells us there will be a live web stream of the final news conference of its Muslim-Christian dialogue conference on Thursday, July 31, at 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. EST/1530 – 1700 GMT. The stream will be available at the conference web site at:  http://www.yale.edu/divinity/commonword/index.shtml.   Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan, chairman of the royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, will present a summary document from the conference and will take questions from the media. Members of the media unable to attend may submit questions to Volf and Ghazi via e-mail, beginning at 11:45 a.m. EST, to: gus.spohn@yale.edu.    Sign at Yale Common Word conference, 25 July 2008/Tom HeneghanVideos of several of the conference sessions, including an opening address by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts on Monday evening, are currently available online at:http://www.yale.edu/divinity/video/commonword/video.shtm

“Common Word” Christian- Muslim talks kick off at Yale

Yale Common Word conference sign, 25 July 2008/Tom HeneghanAnd they’re off!

Readers of this blog will know we have been following the “Common Word” initiative for Christian-Muslim dialogue from its beginning last October. We already have a long list of blog posts about how the 138 Muslim scholars invited Christian leaders to a new dialogue, how some churches responded promptly and positively while others (especially the Vatican and some evangelical Protestants) were more wary but came around, how the preparations for their dialogue have progressed, etc. Now the first in their series of dialogue conferences, with a Christian side made up mostly of United States Protestants (including some evangelicals), has kicked off at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut.

The conference started with a closed-door meeting among theologians from Friday to Monday for an initial round of discussions of how Christianity and Islam view what the Common Word says are the two core principles they hold in common, i.e. that love of God and love of neighbor are the foundations of both faiths. This is one of the novel aspects of the Common Word initiative, identifying core concepts that many Christians and Muslims did not think they shared so closely. This half of the meeting is partly a getting-to-know-you session, since most of the Muslims come from the Middle East and Europe while most of the Christians come from the United States. But it is also a forum to test out some theological ideas in debates without television cameras or journalists hanging on every word. The journalist in me would like to be in there following the debates, Sign outside Yale Divinity School, 25 July 2008/Tom Heneghanbut it’s obvious the participants need a little time warming up before they can discuss these issues in public. The second session, from Tuesday to Thursday, will be open to the public.

Since I’ve been in New York all this month at Union Theological Seminary attending a research colloquium run by CrossCurrents magazine, I was able to dash off to New Haven for the start of the conference and will be covering it this week. Here is my opening report on the meeting.

Update on the “Common Word” call for Muslim-Christian dialogue

a-common-word-2.gifJust because an issue has disappeared from the headlines doesn’t mean nothing’s happening with it. The “Common Word” appeal by 138 Muslim scholars for a dialogue with Christianity kept us busy late last year. It looked like the issue would rest until a Muslim delegation goes to visit the Vatican around March. But more comments keep coming up that add to the debate.

On the Muslim side, more scholars continue to sign the appeal, bringing the total up to 221 so far. More statements of support have come in from Christians as well. Three Christian responses stood out this month and highlight some potentially difficult points to discuss:

Church tower and mosque minaret in AmmanFr. Daniel Madigan S.J., a leading Catholic expert on Islam not heard until now on the appeal, has published “some initial reflections” in a new online journal called Thinking Faith. A few excerpts:

Guestview: What we will all lose if Christians flee the Middle East

(Iraqi Christians attend a mass on Christmas at St. Joseph Chaldean church in Baghdad December 25, 2011. REUTERS/Saad Shalash)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Archbishop Louis Raphael Sako is the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad and Patriarch of Babylon. This is adapted from his speech to a Rome conference on “Christianity and Freedom,” sponsored by Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Project.

By Archbishop Louis Raphael Sako

 For almost two millennia Christian communities have lived in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. These groups have contributed economically, politically, and intellectually, and have helped shape their respective cultures. Unfortunately, in the 21st century Middle Eastern Christians are being severely persecuted. When they have the means, many are fleeing the region.

Pope Benedict wins over German Muslims in first meeting since Regensburg speech

Pope Benedict XVI (2nd L) talks with professor of Islamic theology Ali Dere (R), during a meeting with representatives of the Muslim community at the Papal Nuncio in Berlin September 23, 2011. The Bavarian-born pontiff is on a four-day visit to Germany, his third visit to his homeland since he took over as head of the Catholic church. REUTERS/Wolfgang Radtke

Pope Benedict told German Muslims in Berlin on Friday they can expect cooperation and support from Roman Catholics as long as they respect Germany’s constitution and the limits it sets on pluralism. Meeting representatives of the country’s four million Muslims, he said the constitution drawn up in post-war West Germany was solid enough to adapt to a pluralistic society in a globalised world and make room for new religions as well.

It sounded like the Bavarian-born pontiff was making a veiled reference to a debate in Germany over the past year over Muslim integration in Germany and whether  Muslims wanted sharia here, an issue discussed mostly on the conservative end of the political spectrum. Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Muslims last year that Islamic law had no place in Germany. “What applies here is the constitution, not sharia,” she declared. When he took office in March, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the idea that “Islam belongs to Germany” — first mentioned by President Christian Wulff last year — “is not substantiated by history at any point.” A recent book “Richter ohne Gesetz” (Judges without Law) argues that Muslims are setting up a “parallel legal system” that is undermining German justice.

Christian-Muslim crisis response group to defuse religious tensions

wcc 1 (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.

Why did the U.N. proclaim World Interfaith Harmony Week?

unga 1 (Photo: United Nations General Assembly hall, 23 Nov 2006/Jérôme Blum)

The United Nations General Assembly passes a stack of resolutions every year and many of them go all but unnoticed.  One such document just approved in New York established a new World Interfaith Harmony Week. High-minded resolutions put most news junkies to sleep, so it’s probably no surprise this one got such scant media coverage (see here and here). But there’s more to this one than meets the glazed-over eye.

muslims at synodThe resolution, accepted by consensus on Wednesday, urged all member states to designate the first week of February every year as the World Interfaith Harmony Week. It asked them to “support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week based on Love of God and Love of the Neighbour, or based on Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions.” (Photo: Mohammad Sammak, secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, addresses Vatican synod of bishops, 14 )ct 2010/Osservatore Romano)

Amid the standard legal wording of U.N. resolutions, that phrase “Love of God and Love of the Neighbour” stands out both as a rare example of religious belief in an official document like this and an unmistakable hint at the authorship of this text. Readers of this blog will recognise it as a trademark phrase of the Common Word group, the Muslim scholars who have been pursuing better interfaith understanding through dialogue with Christian churches. They’ve held a number of conferences with different churches and two of the manifesto’s signatories last week became the first Muslims to address a Vatican synod of bishops. Now the group is pursuing its mission on the diplomatic stage with an appeal to governments to help foster interfaith contacts.

GUESTVIEW: The Qur’an cannot be burned!

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Aref Ali Nayed is Director, Kalam Research & Media, Dubai.

koran

By Aref Ali Nayed

Years ago, in Toronto, I read on the concrete walls of a highway bridge the following bold and sacrilegious message: “God is dead! Signed: Nietzsche,” and under it “Nietzsche is dead! Signed: God!” (Photo: A woman reads the Koran in Srinagar , India, September 11, 2009/Fayaz Kabli)

Silly as the street message may be, it brings home a simple fact: God cannot be killed! Even as all else, including Nietzsche, dies, God remains. This is because for all theists, to put it starkly: God is God. God lives. Man dies.

Muslim scholars recast jihadists’ favourite fatwa

magnifying koran

An Indonesian Muslim uses magnifying glass to read Koran verses printed on lamb parchment, Jakarta, July 27, 2005/Beawiharta

Prominent Muslim scholars have recast a famous medieval fatwa on jihad, arguing the religious edict radical Islamists often cite to justify killing cannot be used in a globalized world that respects faith and civil rights.  A conference in Mardin in southeastern Turkey declared the fatwa by 14th century scholar Ibn Taymiyya rules out militant violence and the medieval Muslim division of the world into a “house of Islam” and “house of unbelief” no longer applies.

Osama bin Laden has quoted Ibn Taymiyya’s “Mardin fatwa” repeatedly in his calls for Muslims to overthrow the Saudi monarchy and wage jihad against the United States.