Western and MIddle Eastern media are reporting on an interfaith conference hosted by Yale University that is being billed as ” the first public dialogue launched by Muslim intellectuals in the Common Word group”, an organization involving many members of the global Muslim Brotherhood. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor:
Senior Christian and Muslim scholars and leaders are meeting in the United States this week seeking common ground in their different faiths to foster better understanding between Islam and the West. Hosted by Yale University Divinity School, the conference is the first public dialogue launched by Muslim intellectuals in the Common Word group that appealed to Christian leaders last year for discussions among theologians to promote peace. Most U.S. participants are Protestant theologians and church leaders, including some prominent evangelicals, but some Catholics and Jews also are taking part. The Muslims, both Sunnis and Shi’ites, hail from around the world. Their conference comes just more than a week after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, home of Islam’s strict Wahhabi sect, hosted an unprecedented meeting of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists in Madrid and pledged to pursue interfaith dialogue. “We have broken the ice of mistrust between the West and Islam with this initiative,” said Mustafa Ceric, grand mufti of Bosnia. “In world affairs today, the rule should not be the argument of force but the force of argument.” Ceric, whose homeland in former Yugoslavia was torn apart by ethnic and religious strife in the 1990s, said it was time for serious dialogue among mainstream faith leaders after years in which violence by Islamist radicals has dominated the headlines. Miroslav Volf, a Yale theologian co-hosting the sessions, agreed this and other recent interfaith encounters in Europe and the Middle East pointed to a growing interest in seeking more Christian-Muslim understanding. “There’s definitely something in the air,” the Croatian-born Protestant said. The Common Word project, started last October by 138 Muslim scholars, says Christianity and Islam share two common core values — love of God and love of neighbor. The group says discussions on this among experts can help defuse tensions between the faiths. Christian leaders have responded positively to the appeal.
A previous post has discussed the background to the Common Word group which came about in connection with a letter to the Pope drafted by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Jordan. Last year, the Institute also sponsored the so-called “Amman Message” that was signed by many Muslim Brotherhood leaders. The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute is headed by Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal who, according to a blog covering Christian affairs, asserted at the Yale conference that Western societies are in a “pre-genocidal” phase with respect to their Muslim populations:
First was the remarkably articulate and charming Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan (who attended Princeton for his undergraduate work and holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge). Prince Ghazi characterized the “Common Word” document issued in 2007 by 138 Muslim scholars and clerics as “our extended global religious handshake.” This was not a concession to Christians, he said. The statement was “about equal peace and not capitulation.” The first item on his list of tension-producing factors between Muslims and Western Christians was “the question of Jerusalem and Palestine” and during a break in the meetings he re-emphasized the issue of the control of and access to Jerusalem as a factor that would have to be resolved before any lasting détente could be achieved. Did Ghazi go over the top when he claimed that hostility to Muslims in Western countries was at a high enough level to warrant worries about internment camps—or even concentration camps—in the near future? It was encouraging that he treated the Holocaust as a historical fact and cited the standard six-million figure (things that often get denied by Muslims in the Middle East). But it was shocking that he claimed that Western societies were, with respect to Muslims, now comparable to the pre-genocidal prejudices among Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis in 1994.
A Gulf newspaper alluded to further tensions at the conference:
The atmosphere darkened somewhat also when Sheikh Tayseer Rajab al Tamimi, chief Palestinian Islamic justice, told Jewish attendee Rabbi Douglas Krantz that his coreligionists should “apply the Torah, stick to the scriptures and tell the government of Israel that what they are doing is completely against Judaism”. Tensions were too much for some delegates to handle, with one evangelical academic, who wished to remain anonymous, complaining: “After several days of hearing attacks on Christianity, I started to get a little tired. We certainly weren’t making those kinds of comments about Islam. “I would have much rather had a constructive conversation about how we can help Palestinians and tackle poverty in the Middle East.” This point was echoed by Mr DeGioia, who cited statistics from UN reports that “about 65 million Arabs are illiterate” and that “no generation of young Arabs has been as large as today’s – 100 million new jobs will be required by 2020”. The academic’s figures formed an unspoken backdrop to Yale’s discussions: that the bulk of Islam’s adherents hail from the developing world while Christianity, through its associations primarily with the secular and developed West, carries with it, wittingly or unwittingly, true global temporal power. In this context, the meeting became an opportunity for Islam’s scholars to air frustrations, while Christendom – supported by its implicit hegemony – acquiesced to a central tenet of its faith and turned the other cheek. Nevertheless, the congregation of ayatollahs, priests, sheikhs and academics departed with a sense that something – however intangible – had been achieved.
Tensions were also on display at the recent interfaith conference held in Madrid, Spain and organized by Saudi King Aballah in conjunction with the Muslim World League.