World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Prince El Hassan bin Talal

14 February 2006

Prince El Hassan bin Talal was the crown prince of Jordan from 1965-1999 and is uncle to the present King Abdullah II of Jordan

The Reverend Dr. Samuel Kobia, Honourable delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

It is appropriate that I deliver my message of peace from Mount Nebo which houses the mosaic from the Church of St. Georges at Khirbat al-Mukhayyat on Mount Nebo where, an inscription in a mosaic, the first evidence of Arabic script in the mosaics of Jordan, was found with the same message: bisalameh meaning "in peace".

I had the privilege of accompanying his holiness Pope John Paul on his visit to the Holy Land, to this very site. And I thank you for inviting me to address this 9th assembly of the World Council of Churches. I regret that I cannot be with you in person. Sadly I had already accepted an invitation to be in Brazil in the second half of March to deliver the 2006 Aula Magna at the Candido Mendes University in Rio de Janeiro and, in my capacity as the moderator of the World Conference on Religions and Peace, I would like to pay my respects to you, the servants of your respective communities and to say, as a servant of the servants, that to participate in a special forum dedicated to reconciliation and understanding and indeed good governance of our shared resources - human, spiritual, aesthetic - is an extremely important recognition of shared universal consciousness and shared humanitarian values.

No doubt the term "ecumenical" will be used numerous times over the course of the next few days. It is my humble opinion that it is a word that should be used in both senses of the meaning; there should not only be a concern for promoting the unity of churches, but also the unity of religions, and indeed in that context, the unity of values.

In an address at Lambeth Palace some years ago, I had the opportunity under the rubric of Face to Face to meet and to greet, to remind the participants that Muslims and Christians believe in God, who created the world to whom they owe their lives. Muslims, Christians, and Jews believe in one God. The ethical and moral codes of our faiths centre on justice, equality, freedom, charity and faith in God. We believe, we believe as in the monotheistic faiths, that the "other" represents the core problem between our respective faiths. Problem in the sense of challenge; how do we comprehend each other? How do we develop understanding? The religious groupings tend not ask themselves why it is that the "other" thinks of us the way that he or she does. I would like to quote from Abdullah Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardi's compilation of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. The Suhrawardi Sufi lineage is that of my wife who was born in Calcutta and having just come from India myself, I would like to start by quoting the preface by Mahatma Ghandi. As you will see ladies and gentlemen, pluralism for my family is not a theoretical or academic exercise, but reality; we do believe in and respect and love the "other". Ghandi says, "I am a believer in all the great religions of the world. There will be no lasting peace in the world, unless we learn not merely to tolerate, but to respect the other faiths as our own. A reverent of the different sayings of the teachers of mankind is a step in the right direction of such mutual respect."

On the subject of neighbourliness, I would like to say that in this troubled world of misunderstanding of the "other" and the rise of what I call the hatred industry, it is worth remembering the sayings of the Prophet and I quote, "Do you love your creator? Love your fellow beings first. The best person in God's site is the best among his friends and the best of neighbours near God is the best person in his own neighbourhood."

In developing a Code of Conduct for understanding between faiths, over 25 years of promoting the noble art of conservation, I would like to conclude with the following suggestions: the need to emphasize the association between theology and practicality, to begin with our commonalities, to take into account the Enlightenment tradition, to embrace the principle of ‘no coercion', but most of all to uphold the right to proclaim one's own religion. Of course in terms of youth, I would like to address the importance of reconsidering the content of education, of ensuring a free flow of information, of being courageous in looking afresh at firstly our own, and secondly each other's texts, heritage, and history. Can we ladies and gentlemen, distinguished delegates; develop a framework, a civilized framework for disagreement? Can we accept that certitude divides, that diversity unifies, that accepting responsibility for words and actions at all levels is the template by which we celebrate and promote the respect for the other? Can we recognize the political and economic dimensions of interfaith dialogue?

I recall working with Cardinal Evaristo Arentz of Sao Paulo on the subject of street children, and I think that issues relating to the dispossessed and the poor of the world are issues that need to be discussed with placing emphasis on anthropolicy, on policies where people are at the centre of our thoughts and our deeds.

In referring to the work of the World Council of Churches, I would pay tribute to Christian teaching. "Peace is a divine and incomprehensible gift that touches the soul, heart and mind of the individual believer. Once it reigns in the heart, it changes human behaviour, ultimately eliminating greed and selfishness." Yet I would like to point out in legal terms that though we have a law of war, we have not yet developed a law of peace. I have called, along with twenty-six nationalities starting in 1988 in the General Assembly of the United Nations for a Humanitarian Order. I am delighted that the Committee of the Red Cross has produced customary, international humanitarian law, possibly a building block towards a law of peace. But I would like to suggest that today, we are not interested in "What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you?" and I am quoting from the Bible of St.James, "Is it not your passions…? You desire and do not have; so you kill."

I hope that the conference can address issues of haves and have-nots, can legitimate the aspirations of human beings within the context of a code of ethics and a code of conduct. I would like to suggest that working for a law of peace is more admirable than continuing to work against the aberrations and the ugliness that exist in the context of racial discrimination, xenophobia, Semeticophobia, Islamophobia - issues that we have discussed in the context of several international meetings. Yet today polarities between monopolisers of the truth, privatisers of religion, privatisers of war, seem do distance us from one of the main messages of Christianity, and indeed of the community of faiths. The message that peaceful co-existence among peoples should be paramount is made clear in several references of esteem in the gospel of Matthew which is presented as the actual words of God in the person of Jesus Christ. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed his followers with words such as these: "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." I come to the conclusion, working as I do with commissions on governance and recommendations made to the United Nations for re-focusing the mission of multilateralism, of us all, of humanity, that issues such as 600 million children below the poverty line in the context of West and South Asia alone are not given adequate attention. Our West Asian region requires over 35 million job opportunities in the next 10 years. Not providing these opportunities are handing the meek, if I may, to the machinations and the manipulations of extremist organizations that recognize in populace terms the importance of the disenfranchised, that recognise that the disenfranchised can be recruited in heightening their awareness of the negative conditions of their lives to a point of militancy and violence. And I would like to suggest that the time has come for the silenced majority to be motivated in the context of promoting the public good, regional commons and global commons. The importance of peace for the individual is emphasized in the Torah for example. Psalm 34 advises that the way to a long life and happiness is to "Strive for peace with all your heart." I would also add that in terms of the Noachide Laws, the importance for society of peace prevailing is implicit. These laws include prohibitions against theft and murder, and the exhortation to " set up courts and bring offenders to justice."

I would like to invite your attention to the times we live, times of crisis, and in times of crisis as in war, the Torah urges leaders to act mercifully and to make a final effort to avoid conflict: "When approaching a town to attack it, first offer them peace".

Where does this place our call for a Law of Peace? Where does it place the Swedish proposal for fundamental rights of humanity? The Canadian and Norwegian proposals for Human Security? Our call, in the context of the Commission for Human Rights, for a Racial Equality Index?

Sometimes I must confess my frustration at feeling that one can speak of a world order in terms of technology, in terms of investment, in terms of security, but where is soft and human security in this scheme of things?

One of my most recent efforts in trying to communicate what I believe to be the true message of Islam is a conversation with a Jewish Italian friend, Alain Elkann. We produced together a book To Be A Muslim. He has had similar conversations with Rabbi Rene Sirat and with representatives of the Holy See. I'm aware of similar conversations between Buddhists and Hindus. And I wonder whether a roundtable conversation could not be held to emphasize once again the importance of producing an analytical concordance of human values that we share to develop a partnership in our common humanity!

Islam places a high value on social harmony; even its name, which signifies submission to the will of God, is derived from the Arabic word for ‘peace,' salaam. When Muslims meet, they greet each other with the words salaam ‘alaykum, ‘peace be upon you.' The God of Islam is rabb al-‘alamin, the ‘God of the worlds', and not only the God of the Muslims. The home of peace to which we aspire is referred to in the Qur'an when we speak of the hereafter in verse 10: "And the angels shall enter unto them from every gate [saying]: "Peace be unto you for that you have persevered in patience! Excellent indeed is the final home!"

So the element of enduring harmony, the element of patience in the face of adversity is so important if we are to speak of revisiting a code of conduct and a code of behaviour based in our shared morality.

We Muslims regard Abraham as the father of the believers and the first Muslim. We regard the call of the Abrahamic code as a call for harmony between the monotheistic faiths. But Muslims who abhor controversy and confrontation have, unfortunately, been forced into a situation of confrontation over issues of today's wealth, questions of oil and energy, questions of real estate. You recall that the Versailles conference at the end of World War I was a conference that repartitioned our world. World War II ended with Yalta and the creation of the United Nations and the creation of the Bretton Woods institutions.

Is it not time that we consider that was has often been referred to as the ‘Cold War' is not a cold war at all, but a proxy war? Is it not time that multilateralism was ethically revived by a new conference which brings a greater alliance between academics, between men of faith, between men and women who are prepared to put their actions where their words are in calling for a new, multinational peace corps?

I would like to see a new international initiative that emphasizes the importance of calling for a law of peace, a charter which can promulgate minority rights, emphasize the rights of protected peoples within complex religions and within cultural autonomies. I would like to see an approach which, in short, brings this troubled region a step further away from the impending Balkanization, ethnic and sectarian in-fighting, and rather offers a concept of humanitarian pluralism.

So I ask you, is the essence of our beliefs not the same? To draw once more from the Bible, is it not time that we overcome our own story of Babel to create a new, common language that includes salaam, shalom, and peace? We have 167 satellite frequencies in our part of the world that seem to me to be producing info-tainment and info-terror, but where is the info-humanity?

We shall be hosting in Jordan the World Congress of Middle East Studies in June of this year. I hope that it will not only be a gathering of scholars congratulating each other on their respective scholarship, but also a meeting where natural alliances develop between scholarship, the media, civil society and governments. We need those script writers to address the subject of harmony yesterday.

I thank Professor Khalidi from Jerusalem for his study The Muslim Jesus which traces an intense reverence and devotion and love for Jesus that has characterized Islamic thought for more than a thousand years. I would like to emphasize to you the importance of the ‘encuentro' between the Mediterra, the Mediterranean, the Terra Media, the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America. I think that this encounter which I hope to address in a production on television in the near future in the context of paying tribute to my monodies, to Ibn Khaldun, to Avi Rose and Avi Cenna, can bring together our shared cultural roots and perceptions.

Despite our ever-increasing inter-connectedness, communities around the globe remain ill-informed about each other. As I see it, a clear knowledge of the other is essential; trust and mutual security can only be built on a clearly non-violent morality combined with a personal certainty that basic agreements are shared with one another.

Dialogue between adherents of the faiths must involve engagement at the level of people; and the role of dialogue and conversation in peace-making within and between countries and communities is not really about religions talking to one another, it is about the adherents of religions, the 3,000 people involved in this conference, for example, talking to one another. I think you will agree that discussion at this level will breed the kind of understanding necessary to affect the attitudes of generations to come.

I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to suggest a few practical thoughts, I hope, in the direction of a partnership in our common humanity. We need to act yesterday if our silent, or silenced majority, is to express its voice in making the 21st century a century of peace for all peoples.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen.