Dialogue between Islam and Christianity: Opinions of Six Experts

Dialogue between Islam and Christianity: Opinions of Six Experts

Azerbaijan, Baku, 19 March /cor. Trend R.Hafizoglu, A.Gasimova, D.Khatinoglu/ The conference of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on 14 March in Senegal discussed the ways of possible dialogue between the Christian and Muslim worlds. The experts answered two questions of Trend : 1. How is the dialogue real between the Christian and Muslim worlds? Currently is there a necessity for such a dialogue?

- John Esposito, a professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University . He is also the director of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal center for Muslim-Christian understanding at Georgetown University .

We increasingly live in a globally interconnected world in which all of our futures, political, economic, religious and cultural are intertwined. The OIC's call for greater dialogue between the two largest and most global of the world's religions come at a critical time in world history. It is important that an international Islamic organizations like the OIC, which represents some 57 Muslim countries, stress the need for dialogue between Muslims and Christians.  Post 9/11 the international community has increasingly recognized the importance of international dialogue. The World Economic Forum created a Council of 100 Leaders and now with Georgetown University issues, Islam and the West: Annual Report on the State of the Dialogue. The United Nations launched the Alliance of Civilization, under the patronage of Spain and Turkey, which issued its final report in 2006 and now continues its work and projects internationally. At the same time, previous efforts and projects of interreligious dialogue have been increased as the Vatican, Archbishop of Canterbury the Greek and Russian Patriarchs, major Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee and major Muslim religious leaders like the muftis of Egypt and Bosnia-Herzegovina and institutions l have doubled their efforts. Most recently, A Common Word, a remarkable document issued by major Muslim religious leaders and intellectuals called for a dialogue with the world's Christian leaders based upon our shared commitment to Love of God and Love of Neighbor, is a very positive step. It has received an unprecedented response from major Christian leaders.

A regrettable fallout from the threat of global terrorism is a dangerous increase in America, Europe and elsewhere of Islamophobia (discrimination against Muslims on the basis of their faith and/or culture). 

Islamophobia has become a very serious problem and threatens to become the new anti-Semitism. Muslims in America, Europe and globally have deep and justified concerns and resentment about the denigration of Islam and Muslims. This fact and many insights that shed new light on the perceptions, beliefs and attitudes of Muslim globally is reflected strikingly in my just published book, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. In the Gallup World Poll of 95% of world's population, and several previous polls, Gallup conducted more than 50,000 hour-long, face-to-face interviews with residents of more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have substantial Muslim populations. The result is the largest and most comprehensive poll of the Muslim world, representing the voices of more than 90% of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, young and old, educated and illiterate, female and male, living in urban and rural settings, makes this the largest, most comprehensive study of contemporary Muslims ever done.

The importance of religious and cultural identity among majorities of Muslims across the world is clear. The most frequent response to what they admire most about themselves was "faithfulness to their religious beliefs" and the top statement they associate with Arab/Muslim nations is "attachment to their spiritual and moral values is critical to their progress". They emphasize preservation of their culture, traditions and principles as well as their holy places and Islamic values as admirable aspects of the Islamic world. Belief in the Islamic heritage, which is critical to their progress, is also perceived to be in danger of being weakened by the West's denigration of Islam and perception of Arabs and Muslims as inferior.

At the same time a minority of Muslims associate "respecting Islamic values" with Western nations.  The West's "Disrespect for Islam" ranks high on the list of what they most resent. Therefore, as one might expect, when asked what the Arab/Muslim world could do to improve relations with Western societies, the top response from both the politically radicalized and moderates who offered a response was "improve the presentation of Islam to the West, present Islamic values in a positive manner."In the 21st century, globalization of travel and communications has meant that we are all citizens not only of our specific countries but also global citizens. Both global security and global harmony are dependent on mutual understanding and respect.

- Merve Kavakchi, expert of George Washington University ( USA), former Turkish MP

- It is wrong to assess the beginning of the dialogue that Islam is weaker than the Christian world. It is very important to reach true Islam to the Christian world. Using dialogue between the religions, the Muslims can remove wrong opinions about Islam.

- Omid Safi, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill where he specializes on Islamic mysticism (Sufism) , contemporary Islamic thought, and medieval Islamic history

We live in an age where we are much aware of our own inter-connectedness, the fact that we all share one existence, and one planet.    As religious people we have further bases of commonality, having faith in one God, notion of revelation, and day of judgment. I personally am not convinced that there are separate "Muslim worlds" and "Christian world".  Ultimately, there is one world and we are all sharing in it.But of course recently there have been important theological initiatives--many of them initiated and led by Muslims--towards interfaith dialogue and conversation.   That is an exciting phenomenon. I think those theological conversations (like the Amman initiative, A Common Word, etc.) are real, and needed.At the same time, the tensions are mainly political:   the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the 60 year atrocity that is the Palestine/Israel.  It is these conflicts that today account for much of the tension among our peoples, and until and unless we bring a just end to them, it will not be possible to solve our tensions. God willing, insha'allah, we will come to see that we have no choice but to learn to live together.

- Abdulvahid Alvani, religious researcher ( Saudi Arabia)

- Dialogue between Islam and Christianity has historical and religious roots. The Koran also sufficiently speaks about the dialogue with the Christians. The issue that the Koran remembers necessity of dialogue only with the Christians results from its closeness with Islam.

Irrespective of existence of several problems between the Muslims and Christians, the dialogue is unavoidable. The existence of the real dialogue between the two religions may be considered as a beginning settlement of many problems.

- Carl W. Ernst, William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies Director, Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations

I have some problems with the way the question is phrased: I do not believe that there is a separate Muslim world or a separate Christian world.  Such phrases imply that there are separate planets which have never been in contact.  In reality, there is a single world, in which both Muslims and Christians live; for centuries, these different religious groups have been interacting on the levels of politics, economics, philosophy, and culture.  As long as people talk about a separate Muslim world, a separate Christian world, or even "the West," they are reinforcing and creating conflict.  These phrases are not accurate descriptions of current or historical social realities.

Dialogues are taking place between Muslims, Christians, and others in places around the world.  At the same time, there are groups and interests that attempt to stop any dialogue between members of different religious groups, either because conflict is seen as desirable or because one group hopes to win advantage and even domination over another group.

The OIC is not a very appropriate place for serious discussion of inter-religious issues.  Governments do not represent religions, and in fact the nation-state always redefined religion to suit its own paramount political interests.  Neither are communications media appropriate venues for dialogue between members of different religions, since the media like to exploit conflict for the purpose of advertising and sales.  Genuine interreligious dialogue must take place on a level of academic and cultural exchange, outside of governmental and media networks.

I myself am frequently involved with academic and cultural organizations in majority-Muslim countries; in the past year, I have visited half a dozen countries ( Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, Iran, Malaysia) where I have had serious discussions on religious and cultural issues with Muslim scholars.  I encourage others to engage in this very important activity; there is nothing to prevent it, and much to be gained from practicing it.

- Heydar Jamal, Chairman of the Islamic Committee of Russia

- The dialogue between religions serves the interests of the Masons. Ordinary people will not benefit from the dialogue. The Muslims need dialogue between flows of Islam more than the dialogue between the religions. For the first time, the dialogue between religions was suggested by the Turkish Thinker Fatullah Gul. However, this of Gul was accepted in different ways in the Islamic world.

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