FaithWorld

More activity on the Christian- Muslim dialogue front

Saudi King Abdullah at a cabinet meeting in Riyadh, 24 March 2008//Ho NewThe dust had hardly settled from the Magdi Allam baptism story when Saudi King Abdullah announced he wanted to promote dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jews. The World Council of Churches came out with its endorsement of the Common Word dialogue appeal after consulting member churches (many of which have already responded positively). And the World Economic Forum issued a study that says, among other things, that fewer than 30% of Muslims and Christians polled thought the other faith was sincerely interested in better understanding and cooperation. What’s going on?

The first thing to say is that these all seem to be different developments. We’ve already covered the Magdi Allam baptism story. That incident looks like a bit of unexpected turbulence that should calm down now that Common Word signatory Aref Ali Nayed criticised the Vatican for it and L’Osservatore Romano said the baptism was not a hostile act towards Islam. For more on this, see Nayed’s statement, his El Pais interview today (English, Spanish) and the L’Osservatore Romano editorial (Italian).

King Abdullah’s comments popped up in the Saudi press on Tuesday. He has been making positive comments and taking interesting steps such as his November visit to the Vatican and a recently announced plan to retrain Saudi imams to preach moderation. But what this latest statement really means is still unclear. It is not connected to the Common Word initiative, which has some Saudi signatories but otherwise no link to Saudi Arabia. It is not clear whether the Saudi religious establishment, which is usually more conservative than the royal family, has signed on to this. And it is not clear whether the foreign Muslims who Abdullah says he wants to lead to dialogue with Christians and Jews really want to be that close to a Saudi project. It is certainly interesting to hear the Saudi king speak of inter-faith dialogue, especially when he includes Jews in it, but there are still a lot of question marks over this plan.

World Economic Forum reportThe World Economic Forum report “Islam and the West: Annual Report on the State of Dialogue” was actually unveiled back in January, but the annual Davos summit — with all its politicians and business leaders — is not exactly a place where religion takes centre stage. So the World Economic Forum has turned the spotlight back on it again with a symposium in London. Here’s our original story and the PDF of the full report.

This dialogue activity is going on while there are continuing protests about the reprinting of the Danish “turban bomb” cartoon of Mohammad and a countdown to expected protests about an anti-Islam film by Dutch MP Geert Wilders. It makes it hard to talk about “Christian-Muslim relations” when they’re going in opposite directions at the same time.

Pope breaks “silence” on Tibet with carefully worded appeal

Pope Benedict XVI delivers his blessings at the end of his weekly general audience in Paul VI hall at the VaticanAs readers of this blog will have noticed, I posted a note yesterday about calls by Italian intellectuals for Pope Benedict to break his supposed silence over Tibet. On Wednesday he did so at his weekly general audience, making a carefully worded appeal (here in Italian) for an end to the suffering of the people there.

Given the delicate nature of relations between the Vatican and China, the appeal seemed to strike a balance between his concern for the people and Vatican diplomacy. He mentioned the violence without mentioning China.

In fairness to the Pope, the accusations of “silence” made by some in Italy were perhaps, as was noted by his defenders in yesterday’s blog, a bit premature. Unless he is saying a Mass on a Church holy day or a similar occasion, the Pope only has set days in which he can make a public appeal that the Vatican believes is most effective — Sunday at the Angelus prayer from his window and Wednesday at the general audience.

Arab states’ guidelines for sat TV coverage of religion

Satellite dishes in Algiers, 3 April 2004/Jack DabaghianArab 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.

The operative clauses for religious broadcasting are clauses 9 and 10 of article 6:

9. To comply with the religious and ethical values of Arab society and maintain its family ties and social integrity.

In God’s name — The Economist surveys religion in the world

The Economist cover, Nov. 3, 2007The Economist, which printed God’s obituary in its millennium issue, has produced a long and very interesting survey on religion and politics around the world in its latest issue. There’s also an editorial on the separation of church and state and an audio interview with the author John Micklethwait.

As the editor of one of the leading journals of the globalised world, it’s interesting to hear what he says about religion:

“Religion is a bulwark against globalisation for a lot of people. I think you see this particularly in the Islamic world,” he said. But there was also a positive side, which he said could be seen in the United States where so many people read Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life. “They’re saying, look, here’s a lifestyle that helps you get the best out of globalisation. I think a long time ago, we made this sort of category mistake, which was to associate modernity with secularism. I think, really, modernity goes much better with pluralism.”

Muslim scholar questions Vatican understanding of Islam

Cardinal Jean-Louis TauranThe cautious Vatican reaction to the dialogue appeal from 138 Muslim scholars has prompted one of the signatories to question whether the top Catholic official for relations with Muslims understands Islam. More specifically, Aref Ali Nayed has asked how Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran can say that a serious theological dialogue with Muslims is not possible because they will not discuss the Koran in depth. This debate (discussed in an earlier post here) is dense and highly specialised. But it may be at this level that this unprecedented dialogue could take off or fail to ignite.

Nayed, a former professor at the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome and main spokesman for the 138 scholars, flatly refutes Tauran’s view. He says Muslims have always interpreted the Koran and studied it both historically and linguistically. Their methods were even the forerunners of the “historical-critical” method that Christians use with the Bible, he says. Protestants began applying this “higher criticism” to the Bible in the 18th century and Catholics accepted it only in 1943, making them latecomers to this exercise in Nayed’s view. I am no specialist on these details and will need to hear reactions from Christian theologians.

Readers interested in Nayed’s argument can read it on the website of Islamica magazine or read Cindy Wooden’s story for the Catholic News Service on it. I’ll just quote the crisp conclusion:

Rapid change as Turkey strives to match Islam and democracy

President Abdullah Gul accompanied by Chief of Staff General Yasar Buyukanit, August 31, 2007It is now clear that Turkey, a country to which Western visitors have often applied adjectives such as “timeless” and “slothful”, is changing profoundly, and with un-Oriental speed.

Anyone who’s been following the news out of Turkey this year has to nod in agreement when reading the lead to Christopher de Bellaigue’s interesting article in the New York Review of Books. It was only last April that the army issued a veiled threat to intervene if the governing AK party — usually called a “party with Islamist roots” — tried to overturn Turkey’s secular system.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called their bluff and won a snap general election, allowing his AK partner Abdullah Gül to be elected president. The AK-led government now plans to replace the military-era constitution with a new document that will confirm “our democratic, secular and social state and guarantee basic rights and freedoms”, as Gül told parliament early this month.

Why is Reuters starting a religion blog?

keyboard.jpgThere are so many blogs about religion. Does Reuters need to start another one?

Yes, there are plenty of religion blogs out there. Most focus on one religion or look at the world through one faith’s eyes. They can be informative, combative and often fun to read. But that’s not something a news agency can or should do. Our strengths lie elsewhere.

Reuters covers news around the world. Religion is in the news almost anywhere we look – sometimes as a story purely about religion, sometimes as a story that mixes faith with politics, diplomacy, lifestyle or terrorism. So our correspondents are increasingly covering religious leaders, following trends and examining the role of faith in public life. They have also widened their scope to deal with other areas connected to people’s deepest beliefs, such as divisive social issues, bioethical challenges, even brain research into why and how we think.

This blog will let us reach beyond the news stories we now write about faith. With our global network of correspondents, we want to bring a new dimension to our religion reporting. Sometimes we’ll add more information to a story, especially by bringing you closer to the source with links to background material. Sometimes we’ll tell the reporter’s “story behind the story.” Sometimes we’ll point out someone else’s story if it helps readers understand the issues.