There were interesting words on interfaith dialogue from Mecca and Rome today and London yesterday. Efforts to improve contacts and understanding among the main monotheist religions have been gaining steam recently and we’re starting to see some concrete steps. But, as a meeting in Mecca showed, the road ahead could still be quite rocky.
The Mecca meeting, organised by the Saudi-based Muslim World League, is supposed to draw up guidelines for the inter-faith dialogue that Saudi King Abdullah says he wants with Christianity and Islam. “You are meeting here today to say to the world with pride that we are a fair, honest, humanitarian and moral voice, a voice for living together and dialogue,” the monarch said in a high-minded speech.
But former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the few prominent Shi’ites at the conference, rained on his parade with broadsides against the United States and Israel. But he also said: “To have a dialogue with other religions we need to start talking among ourselves. The call needs to be directed at ourselves first of all, and all the sects need to agree on shared points. As a Muslim and a Shi’ite … I say the things we agree on are many.”
That may have been a reaction to a statement this week by a group of independent Saudi clerics saying that Shi’ites, including Lebanese group Hezbollah, were posturing against Israel to hide an anti-Sunni agenda.
On the same day Abdullah spoke, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran said his Vatican department for inter-religious dialogue was drawing up its own guidelines for Catholic dialogue with non-Christian religions. He told Vatican Radio (here in Italian) the guidelines for priests and lay people would be based on the Ten Commandments, which he called “a kind of universal grammar that all believers can use in their relations with God and their neighbour.” This approach neatly links Christians with Jews and Muslims such as the “Common Word” scholars who’ve called for a dialogue based on the principle of love of God and neighbour.