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Joint Communique of the 9th Meeting for Dialogue between the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue and Civilization of Iran and the World Council of Churches

Joint Communique of the 9th Meeting for Dialogue between the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue and Civilization (CID) of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the World Council of Churches (WCC)

22 August 2017

Joint Communique of the 9th Meeting for Dialogue between the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue and Civilization (CID) of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the World Council of Churches (WCC)

21 – 22 August 2017

The Centre for Interreligious Dialogue and Civilization of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization (Tehran, Iran) and the World Council of Churches held their ninth meeting for dialogue in the offices of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization on 21 – 22 August 2017 , which corresponds to 30-31 Movdad 1395 in the Persian calendar. The overall theme for this meeting was “The Interpretative Role of Sacred Texts in Establishing a World Free from Violence”.

 

The meeting was the continuation of the process of dialogue between the WCC and the CID which began in 1995. Participants representing the WCC came from Britain, Germany, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Switzerland and the United States of America. They met with a delegation of Islamic scholars and religious leaders who came from Tehran and Qom and who were led by Dr Abuzar Ebrahami the President of the Islamic Relations and Culture Organization. Representatives of several Christian churches in Iran were also present throughout the meeting . A message of greetings sent by the General Secretary of the WCC, Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, was read.  Before the formal beginning of the meeting Dr Ebrahami received the Christian participants in his private office.  Moving to the conference room Dr Ebrahimi, Dr Clare Amos, Dr Mohammad Mehdi Taskhiri then spoke to open the meeting.

The theme of this meeting was a continuation of the previous discussions held in November 2015, where the focus had been on Religion and Violence. This meeting’s specific focus on the interpretation of Christian and Muslim sacred texts, was a vital aspect of this wider topic, given the possible misuse of such texts by people of ill intent.

During the two days of the meeting participants listened to stimulating papers and held discussions exploring specific aspects of the overall theme.  There was a real feeling of honesty, warmth and openness among the participants at the meeting which reflected the maturity of the relationship between the CID and the WCC. The papers and discussion reflected the different geographical, social and religious contexts of the participants and included the following:

  • A particularly important contribution, emphasised by several of the participants, was the role of rationality in Shia Islam. The importance of ‘aql, understanding, and the use of the intellect in the interpretation of sacred texts, was emphasised as a means of guarding against the abuse of religion.  There was discussion of what ‘aql might mean for interpretation of both Muslim and Christian texts.
  • The importance of the concepts of both ‘love’ and ‘life’ as overarching principles for the interpretation of sacred texts was highlighted.
  • In both Christianity and Islam the value both of ethical human relations and of the needs of justice functioned as criteria that were essential to bear in mind when interpreting our sacred texts. Correspondingly the foundational moral role that sacred texts play in helping to shape individuals and communities over a period of centuries was also vital to bear in mind.
  • The importance of serious engagement with context in the interpretation of sacred texts was emphasised. Context is multi-valent, and includes both the original context of the texts themselves, both historical and literary, the contexts of those who have interpreted the texts over previous generations, and the context of the reader and interpreter today. We need to encourage a two-way conversation between the text and the reader, which would necessarily include a gradual purification of the reader .
  • Attention was drawn to the meanings of key terms such as jihad
  • The ways that power, its possession and its lack, affected the interpretation of texts was acknowledged.
  • An attitude of humility in which we were prepared to acknowledge that the complete truth can only be fully known in heaven was important in order to enable our sacred texts to be life-giving rather than conflict creating.

During the course of the meeting participants discussed how the ongoing and long term relationship between the CID and the WCC had already led to significant other positive connections, such as the regular presence of young scholars from Iran at the Bossey Interreligious Summer School and the developing relations between the WCC and the University of Religions and Denominations in Qom.  They also remarked on the unquantifiable way in which members of the two delegations acted as informal ambassadors, sharing the insights that emerged in the meetings with the wider world.  As an expression of their desire to see further positive fruit from their meeting they committed themselves to publishing jointly the papers presented at the meeting.

Following on the formal close of the meeting the WCC delegation appreciated the opportunity to visit the holy city of Qom on 23 August. Members of the delegation expressed their gratitude to the CID and to the Armenian Prelacy of Tehran for the hospitality that they received while in the country. The staff of the CID offered their thanks to the members of the WCC delegation for their willingness to travel the considerable distances required to come to Iran.

We commit ourselves to taking steps to work further on the issues and concerns mentioned in this communique and will take steps to ensuring we remain in contact in the interval before our next meeting which we anticipate taking place in Geneva in early 2019.

Participants

Delegation of the WCC

Dr Clare Amos

Rev. Dr Jean-Claude Basset

Rev. Bonnie Evans-Hills

Dr Heidi Hadsell

Dr Elias Halabi

Rt Rev. Leo Paul

Archbishop Sebouh Sarkissian (also a member of the delegation of the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue)

Rev. Dr Simone Sinn

 

Delegation of the CID

Dr Abuzar Ebrahimi

Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri

Ayatollah Professor Sayyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad

Dr Ghahraham Soleimani

Dr Mohammad Mehdi Taskhiri

Dr Ahmad Moballeghi

Dr Mohammad Hassan Moktari

Ms Dr Haj Ebrahimi

Ms Dr Shariati

Ms Zahra Rashidbeygi