A REGIONAL DIALOGUE PLATFORM OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS
AND INSTITUTES IN THE ARAB WORLD
(A FEW REFLECTIONS)(*)
In the face of increasing tensions, polarizations and uncertainties in the Arab world, setting a platform aimed at bringing together the religious leaders and institutions to promote peaceful coexistence and common citizenship is, indeed, an urgent imperative. I warmly welcome this timely initiative of KAICIID which undoubtedly further the Christian–Muslim dialogue, broaden the scope of its activities, and deepen its engagement. It is a fact that religion which has become a key player in modern societies, has often been exploited to justify extremism in its different forms and expressions. To counter these trends and enhance the peaceful cohabitation among Christian and Muslim communities, the monotheistic religions are called to develop[ common approaches and strategies. Our common humanity, shared values and common citizenship constitute the basis of the platform and, in my judgment, the following actions should become its guiding principles.-
DEEPENING SHARED VALUES
Our common Abrahamic roots bring us together and lay the solid foundation of our cohabitation and collaboration. Setting a common ethical framework to adopt common positions in respect to issues and concerns facing our societies is possible and necessary. Our coexistence will remain shaky and collaboration superficial and provisional if they are not undergirded by shared values. Exclusiveness causes alienation, while inclusiveness based on shared values protects diversity and creates dynamic interaction between these two dimensions of our common citizenship, namely commonality and particularity. Undermining diversities may eventually generate tension. We must respect our diversities on the common ground of shared values.
Deepening the shared values not only will keep our religions away from exclusive claims and fundamentalist tendencies, but will also protect them from abuse and misuse of religious teachings and beliefs, traditions and symbols. In the last few decades, the rise of radicalism has created an environment of insecurity and uncertainty. The fear of the other has distanced the Christian communities from their Muslim neighbours and cocitizens. Islamophobia, on the other hand, caused the violent reaction of Muslim extremist circles. Indeed, only by giving tangible articulation to the spirit of mutual tolerance, respect and acceptance, which are at the heart of our teachings, we can overcome fear and distrust, and build a harmonious coexistence and a better future.
BUILDING MUTUAL TRUST
In spite of growing Christian-Muslim dialogue, misconception, stereotypes and biased attitudes about each other still prevail. Mutual knowledge promotes mutual understanding which, in turn, builds mutual trust which is a core value underpinning and enhancing the Christian-Muslim coexistence. The lack of mutual trust will greatly jeopardize peaceful cohabitation. How can we transform mistrust into mutual trust? We can build mutual trust by respecting each other's teachings, symbols and traditions; by sharing comprehensive and accurate information about each other; by engaging our people in education and awareness building process; and by encouraging joint public gatherings and initiatives. The role of religious leaders and institutions is crucial to this effect. Mutual trust generates forgiveness and paves the way towards reconciliation; it facilitates collaboration and leads to mutual accountability and common responsibility which are the cornerstones of peaceful and creative coexistence.
FOSTERING COMMON BELONGING
Muslims and Christians are challenged to move beyond good neighbourly relations to give concrete expressions to their common belonging as cocitizens. What are the implications of cocitizenship in a society in which Christians and Muslims live together? Common citizenship supposes equal responsibilities, equal obligations and rights, as well as full participation in all domains and at all levels of public life. It means being integral and inseparable part of society, rejecting all forms of isolation or marginalization. Common citizenship calls all members of a society, irrespective of their religious, ethnic or cultural identities, to remain faithful to their common belonging to a given nation or country. Often religious identity overpowers the national belonging and undermines the pivotal importance of common citizenship and its implications, creating tension and conflict. A society becomes sustainable in which religious identity and national identity are coherently integrated within common citizenship.
Violence with all its forms and expressions has become a dominant feature of contemporary societies. How should we respond to this life-threatening evil? The role of religious leaders could be threefold: first, by preventing violence. Affirming the common citizenship is the most effective way of preventing violence. Common citizenship embraces and provides ample space for creative interaction between common values and diversities, thus preventing the rise of fundamentalism, exclusiveness and violence. Second, by conflict resolution through mediation and moderation, namely by offering mutually acceptable solutions and initiating convergence-oriented processes. Third, by peace-building which is of crucial importance in preventing and combating violence. Peace building presupposes justice-promoting and mutual acceptance.
BUILDING UP THE RELIGION'S MORAL AUTHORITY
When a religion is not part of the problem and is faithful to its true teachings and vocation, it becomes a trustful and credible point of reference. The greatest power of religion is its moral authority. Religion should not identify itself with any political agenda or ideological orientation. Religion acquires its true authority and reliability through its faithfulness to the message of God and by being the voice of the people. Therefore, religion is called with its moral authority and prophetic role to perceive and implement its unique mission as one of initiator, facilitator, encourager, reconciler and leader of all efforts aimed at conflict prevention and resolution.
TRANSFORMING COEXISTENCE INTO LIVING TOGETHER
Christians and Muslims do not merely coexist as two separate blocks, they live as neighbors and cocitizens, sharing common concerns, facing common challenges, and striving for a common future. Indeed, Christianity and Islam contain binding values and common principles that ensure and safeguard their living together. We can consolidate the living together as a broader community of coherent diversities by initiating joint programs and projects particularly at grassroots level. Such initiatives may challenge the faithful of two religions to move to greater integration and active participation.
If the proposed platform is based on and driven by shared values and common citizenship, if commonality and plurality are perceived as complementing and enriching rather than polarizing factors;, and if the platform's actions are not determined by geopolitical considerations, with such guidelines and strategy, it can bring a significant contribution to conflict preventing and resolution and peace building efforts in the Arab world. Christian–Muslim dialogue must be, in my opinion, existential in nature, realistic in approach, and contextual in its agenda. We must avoid absolutizing divergences and affirm elements of convergence. We must respect the specificities and strengthen the commonalities. We must reject the culture of fear, mistrust, alienation and confrontation, and promote a culture of hope, mutual understanding and peaceful and coherent coexistence. Here is the challenge before us. Are we ready and courageous to respond responsibly to this challenge?
CATHOLICOS OF CILICIA
25 February 2018