The coordinator of a Muslim initiative to promote common ground with Christians says that leaders of the two religions have a duty to protect adherents of the other faith against followers of their own.
“For both our religions harming religious minorities among us is evil, is absolutely forbidden and is ultimately a rejection of God’s love and a crime against God himself,” Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad Bin Talal of Jordan said on the opening day of a Nov. 1-4 meeting of Muslim and Christian leaders and scholars in Geneva.
Speaking at the Ecumenical Center, which houses the World Council of Churches and the World Communion of Reformed Churches, Ghazi urged leaders of the two faiths to “defend the other against followers of our own religion when the other is weak and oppressed, especially in a social minority context.”
Prince Ghazi is the coordinator of the “Common Word” initiative, a document released in 2007 by 138 Muslim scholars seeking common ground between Christian and Islamic religious traditions.
The Geneva meeting has been convened by the WCC, the Libyan-based World Islamic Call Society, the Jordanian-based Royal Aal al Bayt Institute and the Consortium of “A Common Word.”
Organizers told ENInews it is intended to address issues of common concern and provide guidance for cooperation between Muslims and Christians, including joint action involving the world’s two largest faiths.
Addressing participants, WCC general secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit said religious leaders need to provide “moral leadership” in their communities.
“Many conflicts in our world today are related to religious identities even if these conflicts have primarily political, economic or cultural reasons,” said Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran theologian. “It is our task to make sure that religion is not a synonym with conflict in the eyes of people, but a synonym for justice and peace.”
The WCC, with its headquarters in Geneva, groups 349 churches, primarily Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member but works with the WCC on a number of issues.
Tveit praised the churches in Switzerland as “an outstanding example of what is needed” by raising their voice against the ban on building minarets that was approved by the Swiss people in a referendum in November 2009.
In the referendum, Swiss citizens voted against allowing the construction of any more than the four minarets currently in their country. Some commentators viewed the vote as more against Libya, which was having a diplomatic spat with Switzerland than against Islam, but others saw it as growing antipathy to Muslims.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi called for a Jihad against Switzerland in a speech held on the occasion of the Islamic feast of Mawlid, four months after the vote, and said that “any Muslim in any part of the world that works with Switzerland is an apostate.”
The Rev. Thomas Wipf, president of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches and the Swiss Council of Religions, noted in his speech to the Muslim-Christian gathering that the proportion of people from other cultures and religious traditions is particularly high in his country.
“With some 350,000 members, Islamic communities make up the third-largest religious group in Switzerland, following the major Christian churches,” said Wipf.
“In the light of increasing cultural and religious diversity, this conference is focusing on a challenge facing us both here in Switzerland and throughout Europe: To be transforming and transformed societies and communities in which Christians and Muslims can shape our future together,” he said.
The president of the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation, Palestinian Bishop Munib Younan, who is attending the conference, told ENInews in advance of the meeting, “The World Council of Churches is an organization that is ideally situated to facilitate interfaith dialogue. It should do more of it.”
When Younan, as a Lutheran leader who is on a number of inter-faith bodies, was invited to attend a special Vatican meeting of all its leaders from the Middle East, he commented in his speech, “Our challenge is nothing less than loving our neighbors as ourselves.”
In his speech to the Muslim-Christian gathering in Geneva, Prince Ghazi noted, “Whilst there are places where Christians are clearly several oppressed by Muslims, such as Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan, and places where Muslims are clearly severely oppressed by Christians, such as the Philippines, there are a lot of other places where it is not clear who is oppressing who, such as the Muslim-Christian ‘fault line’ in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Moreover, “religious leaders in different places have various and varying degrees of political power or social influence and … they have different degrees of responsibility ranging from merely denouncing oppression to mobilizing social awareness and action against it,” said the Jordanian prince.
In his speech, Prince Ghazi noted that the United Nations general assembly had supported an initiative of Jordanian King Abdullah II to declare the first week of each February as World Interfaith Harmony Week.
The prince referred also to the “mixed blessing” of the world’s media. “Most of what the public receives about Muslims as such is news of terrorism, violence and demonstrations, however statistically insignificant these may be relative to other activities Muslims engage in, and most of the news about Christians as such … involves controversy, schism and scandal.”