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Report on an international consultation on "Christians and Muslims in dialogue and beyond"

An international consultation on "Christians and Muslims in Dialogue and Beyond" took place in Geneva, 16-18 October 2002, hosted by the World Council of Churches. It brought together representatives of major international Muslim and Christian organisations, scholars and people active in the work of local Christian and Muslim communities.

18 October 2002

Geneva, 18 October, 2002

An international consultation on "Christians and Muslims in Dialogue and Beyond" took place in Geneva, 16-18 October 2002, hosted by the World Council of Churches. It brought together representatives of major international Muslim and Christian organisations, scholars and people active in the work of local Christian and Muslim communities.

The consultation was very conscious of recent and current events which have impacted on relations between the two faith communities around the world, above all the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York just over a year ago, the threats of war against Iraq, and the relentless pain and suffering in Palestine, especially in our shared city of Jerusalem. Because of the globalisation of information, such events where Muslims and Christians are perceived to be in conflict are translated to other parts of the world, where they often contribute to the worsening of unrelated situations. Misunderstandings, mutual misconceptions and lack of trust are then exploited by self-serving politicians and extremists to set the communities against each other.

Together we condemn such exploitation of religious sentiment and distortion of the teachings of our two faiths which, we assert, share common principles of peace, justice and human dignity for all. In particular we join in condemning terrorism, the use of indiscriminate violence and the oppression of the weak, regardless of the source. We call on all parties to allow the city of Jerusalem to experience in reality the sanctity which all the Abrahamic faiths attribute to it.

The consultation built on many years of experience of the participants and of countless projects and experiences of Muslims and Christians working together. We affirmed the reality of dialogue and cooperation between Christians and Muslims and acknowledged the contribution that these experiences have made to reconciliation and cooperation in many places. The mutual stereotypes which still pervade many communities and cultures can often lead to mindless and collective violence by one community against the other. But in other places this has been replaced by mutual trust and working together for the common good. These experiences need to be spread more widely.

In our exchanges we were heartened to learn of the many local initiatives by Christians and Muslims, men and women, clergy and imams, to deepen the spirit of living together, to repair the physical and mental damage caused by conflict and to rebuild trust and mutual understanding. Regrettably the world does not hear enough about such initiatives in many parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the United States. As Muslims and Christians we welcome and affirm the fact of religious and cultural diversity as God's will. We particularly stress the role of education by and for our communities as a key arena in which to create the trust and mutual understanding which are essential to resist attempts to exploit religious differences for destructive ends. We emphasise that to achieve this end, our education must be a collaboration between Christians and Muslims in the development of curricula, textbooks and teacher training: we can no longer talk about each other but must talk with each other.

Our Muslim and Christian beliefs lead us to share a common understanding of the dignity of the human being and on that foundation we together affirm the fundamental rights of individuals and groups as expressed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the reciprocal duties which flow from those rights. We assert that all, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, gender or class, are entitled to full and equal citizenship rights and freedom of expression and religion in whatever country they may belong to. We especially confirm that the equal participation of religions and religious communities in public affairs locally, nationally and internationally is not only a right but also a duty which flows directly from our commitment as people who believe that our scriptures and core teachings have an essential message to society today. It follows that we also affirm the freedom of the individual to adhere to the religion of his or her choice, and that it is the function of the state to protect the full and equal right of all religious communities to organise themselves and to participate appropriately in public affairs.

Moved by developments in the world at large, as well as by recent tragic local conflicts, we, Muslims and Christians together, commit ourselves to the search for justice, the prevention of conflict and overcoming violence. We express our deep concern that globalised markets and information systems threaten to create new structures of oppression and thus feed extremism and militancy and provoke acts of violence. We call on political leaders to resist the temptation to resort to simplistic and populist assignation of blame and demonisation of whole communities and to refuse to support those who would exploit others' conflicts for their own local ends. We resist the identification of violence and terrorism with any one particular religion or community. We call on leaders of our religions at all levels to draw attention to the social, economic and other injustices which influence their environment and to resist the exploitation of these injustices to rouse religious hatreds. In this, Christian and Muslim leaders can and must find ways of working together to promote a culture of dialogue and mutual trust.

The consultation identified a number of specific issues which we recommend should become priorities for our joint efforts over the coming years, locally, nationally and internationally, in the fields of education, the exploration of our perceptions of our joint responsibilities in the public space, and in the struggle for justice and peace.