So, following on from my previous post – what have been the
genuine outcomes of inter faith relations over the past 10 years? In my humble
opinion it has undoubtedly been Christian-Muslim relations. Although there have
been countless attempts to present a contrary image the last 10 years has an
unsung story of Muslims and Christians trying their hardest to avert mistrust
between their different communities.
It did not feel like that at times however! Stories of
Christian persecution in some Muslim
countries, extreme Islamist language such as “Western Crusaders”, books and
articles making absurd claims that Europe would soon be “Islamicised” and
claims that Shariah Law was being established in Britain have all contributed
to a false sense that the relationship between Christianity and Islam is a
major problem. And of course the implication has been that religion itself is
part of the problem not the solution!
However away from this hyperbole the reverse is true. Let me
give you some examples.
In the days after 9/11, Churches Together in Britain
and Ireland and the Muslim Council of Britain issued a joint and unequivocal
statement which condemned unreservedly the attacks in America, expressed sympathy
for the victims and a resolve to continue to work towards mutual understanding
between the two religions. Just words? Not at all! This sent a powerful message
that Churches and Mosques were standing together against the violence and would
not allow extremists of any kind to create an atmosphere of mistrust. This was
alongside similar statements from leaders of all faiths and this set the scene
for many local initiatives where Muslims and Christians would come together for
the good of their own community.
The Christian-Muslim Forum, the seeds of which
were sown many years before 9/11, has done a huge amount of important work: the
bringing together of clergy and imams, teachers of both faiths, perspectives on
faith and finance, and ethical
guidelines for Christian and Muslim witness in Britain.
“The Building Bridges” programme, sponsored by
the Archbishop of Canterbury has facilitated important international theological
conversations between Christian and Muslim scholars. The fruits of these
important dialogues are available to us to study and ponder. Just ‘ivory tower’
academicia? Not at all! They help us understand that whilst we follow different
and distinctive faiths, there is much to be learned from each other and about
“A Common Word”. This was an important
initiative from Muslim leaders and scholars. Originating in Jordan, it asked
Christian leaders to join with them in a dialogue on aspects of our two faiths.
Although there was much cynicism at the time, it was set against the background
of the second half of the decade when we had witness further terrorist
atrocities, not least in London, and a catastrophic war in Iraq, all of which further
polarised the issues. It was in my view a brave and courageous initiative and
it was to the immense credit of many Christian leaders (not least some of the
Orthodox Churches of the Middle East) who responded with such warmth. Just a
bit of PR? I believe not – indeed as Christians we are called to believe the
best in our neighbour, not the worst!
This is just some of the high
profile things that have come to my attention over the past decade. And there
is much more besides! I do not deny that there have been many worrying things
and it is true that Christians in some Muslim countries have come under
enormous pressure. Muslims in the West have not always had an easy time, viewed
so often as a security problem rather than communities of individuals following
a noble faith. But during the past ten years Christian-Muslim relations has
flourished. Surely this is a far better response to the peddlers of hate than
bombs and bullets?