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‘Building Bridges’ for Muslim and Christian scholars is a process

‘Building Bridges’ for Muslim and Christian scholars is a process

Photo: Peter Kenny/WCC

12 June 2019

A Christian and a Muslim scholar have told a seminar at the World Council of Churches (WCC) about their work in an annual “Building Bridges” seminar with “freedom” as the theme, as participants described what they do as a process, not an event.

The start of the 11-15 June “Building Bridges” at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva featured lectures by professors Rosalee Velloso Ewell from the United Kingdom’s Redcliffe College and Tuba Işik from German’s University of Paderborn. Isik was unable to attend, and her address was read by Dr Muna Tatari from the same university.

Azza Karam, a senior adviser on social and cultural development from the United Nations Population Fund in New York, who is also a professor at Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit, responded.

The WCC is hosting the 18th “Building Bridges” seminar for Muslim and Christian scholars.

The seminar, under the theme “Freedom: Muslim and Christian Perspectives,” is sponsored and organized by Georgetown University, the oldest Roman Catholic and Jesuit affiliated institution of higher education in the United States. It is the 18th Building Bridges seminar, which has met annually since 2002.

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit and Rev. Dr Daniel Madigan, S.J., welcomed the seminar participants. Tveit said that the Building Bridges seminar, “is surely one of the most sustained initiatives of this kind in Muslim-Christian dialogue, bringing together over the years many of the world’s leading Muslim and Christian scholars.”

Madigan described the seminar as a process. “There is an organic growth in the talks that take place with this seminar,” said the Georgetown priest who chairs the event, noting participants would look at questions such as: “Freedom from what, freedom for what and is freedom a zero-sum game?”

Tveit said, “As we know from our long experience of interreligious work here at WCC, the interface between Christianity and Islam, or maybe better to say, between Christians and Muslims, is a complex and multi-faceted reality taking a great range of forms in many different parts of the world.”

He said there were many challenges and opportunities “in this great global encounter”, and so we also need a corresponding range of ways of developing dialogue and building cooperative relationships between Muslims and Christians.

Madigan presented a gift set of books to Tveit from the Building Bridges seminar for the WCC library before the lectures began.

Ewell said, “We need to read the voices and text through the languages of others.” She said, “Who gets to decide what freedom is?” and “What is your vision of freedom?”

Tatari said that from the 9th century the freedom of Islamic women took an “increasingly maginalized position”. She said, “There is no common shared definition of Islamic” feminist freedom or of “gender jihad.”

Karam observed that “all isms have different definitions” and that women striving for freedom has existed through the ages. “Women’s freedom did not emerge in the colonial period, but what the colonial period did was to bequest a politicization of it.”

On its website, Georgetown University says, “The programme on Faith, Values, and Public Life at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs sponsors this program, which brings together a range of internationally recognized Christian and Muslim scholars to Georgetown. Participants explore a number of the most significant themes in the interface between Islam and Christianity.”

Seminar “Building Bridges" video

Strengthening inter-religious trust and respect

WCC to host “Building Bridges” public lectures by Muslim and Christian scholars (WCC press release 7 June, 2019)

Photo Gallery from the seminar

WCC General Secretary’s introductory comments at Building Bridges 11 June 2019