There’s one thing you have to say about the World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace — when they disagree about something, they don’t mind saying so. The final session of their third conference in Paris on Wednesday was the stage for an exchange of dramatic charges and counter-charges abut the perennial problem of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The atmosphere was tense in the UNESCO conference room where the 3-day session took place and several participants spoke up to calm down their more agitated colleagues. Since this was the only session the media was allowed to witness, it would have been easy to conclude that the imams and rabbis needed to seek peace among themselves first before preaching it to others.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which the U.S. State Department lists as a “country of particular concern” because of its severe restrictions on religious freedom, is sponsoring talks at the United Nations in New York today and tomorrow on improving interfaith dialogue. Is this a credible exercise?
“Christians and Muslims routinely mistrust, disrespect and dislike each other, if not popularly and actively rubbish, dehumanize, demonize, despise and attack each other.”
Hmmm … this doesn’t sound like your usual speech at a conference on Christian-Muslim dialogue.
Arab Media and Society has published an English translation of the Arab League’s Satellite Broadcasting Charter approved by Arab governments at a meeting in Cairo in February, along with contrasting opinions of the charter widely criticised by advocates of media freedom. In essence, the charter incorporates restrictions which most Arab governments already apply to their own terrestrial broadcasters and to satellite broadcasters which operate from their territory. But the governments have tended to give the satellite broadcasters a little more freedom than they allow terrestrial broadcasters, most of which are state-owned.
Rising tension between Christians and Muslims in the Arab world have come out in the open with the expulsion of foreign Christian charity workers from Jordan and the conviction of a Catholic priest in Algeria. Although the cases seem different, the background is similar. Evangelical Christians have been increasingly active in the Islamic world, doing charity and development work and also seeking to convert Muslims. The missionary part is usually a crime in Islamic countries and local authorities — rightly or wrongly — often suspect the charity part is a cover for this proselytism. This sets the stage for clashes over religious freedom, national laws, Christianity, Islam and modernity — an increasingly frequent mix in a globalised world. It also has serious effects on the long-established but fragile Christian communities living in those Muslim countries.
Karen Armstrong, the best-selling British writer and lecturer on religion, has given a long interview to Reuters in Islamabad after addressing a conference in the Pakistani capital. A former Catholic nun who now describes herself as a “freelance monotheist,” she has written 21 books on the main world religions, religious fundamentalism in these faiths and religious leaders such as Mohammad and Buddha. Her latest book is The Bible: A Biography. The short version of what she said is in the Reuters story linked here. We don’t publish the Q&A text of our interviews on our news wire, but we can do it here on the blog.
It would have been a first. The imam of Rome’s mosque was due to visit the city’s synagogue on Wednesday, but unexpectedly called off the meeting on Tuesday, citing unspecified logistical problems. Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni visited the mosque in 2006, so Imam Ala Eldin al Ghobashy would have been returning the compliment. It would have been an important symbolic step forward for inter-religious dialogue, right in the Vatican’s backyard.