8th Meeting for Dialogue between the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue (CID) from the Islamic Republic of Iran and the World Council of Churches (WCC)
16-17 November 2015
The World Council of Churches and the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organisation (Tehran, Iran) held their eighth meeting for dialogue in the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, Switzerland, on 16-17 November 2015, which corresponds to 25-26 Aban in the Persian calendar. The overall theme for this meeting was ‘Religion, Peace and 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 Germany, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. They met with four Islamic scholars and religious leaders who came from Iran and the United Kingdom. Mr Jahandar Mahdi , who is an Imam of the Shia community in Geneva, was a guest at the meeting.
All participants agreed on the importance of the subject that was the focus for the current meeting, and that given the heightened global tension at the current time it was especially relevant to be discussing this topic of Religion, Peace and Violence. During the two days of the meeting participants listened to stimulating papers and reflections exploring specific aspects of the overall theme. There was a real feeling of warmth and openness among the delegates. The participants from the World Council of Churches expressed their gratitude to their dialogue partners for their willingness and ability to allow this meeting to be held in English. The papers and discussion reflected the different geographical, social and religious contexts of the participants:
- 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, was highlighted. In order to guard against the abuse of religion, it is important that people of faith observe three characteristics: spirituality, rationality, and the quest for social justice. These act as a balance enabling extremism and violence to be avoided.
- The different aspects of the nature of religion were discussed, ranging from religion’s role in exploring the meaning of life, to the communitarian and identity-giving aspects of religion, which can on occasion lead to an ambivalence regarding peace and violence. It was noted that the interaction between expression of religious beliefs and the human propensity to violence is not a new issue, but one that could be said to date back to the beginning of human history.
- The need for a balance between unity, harmony and diversity between people of different religions was noted. Both an overemphasis of our differences, but also an overplaying of commonalities can be dangerous to peaceful relations between people of different religions. However Christians and Muslims need to take account of the comparative weight of differences and commonalities, in the awareness that the values of mercy and compassion are deeply and widely cherished by the followers of both religions.
- All participants acknowledged that there are resources within our different religious traditions which enable us to acknowledge that truth is greater than ourselves.
- There was a profound discussion about the fact that, though the means of violence and killing have become increasingly sophisticated in our world, the means for working for peace are still very simple and straightforward, namely the meeting with and openness towards those who are different to ourselves. It is important to speak with rather than about those who were seen as ‘other’.
- Issues concerning the often ambiguous relationship between religion and power in our different geographical contexts were raised. In the course of our conversation we acknowledged that this is potentially a very fruitful area for discussion in which we can learn from the wisdom of the traditions of each other, in the context of our regular meetings for interreligious dialogue in which a level of mutual trust has now been built up.
- Specific contexts such as the minority situation of Christians in the Middle East, and that of Muslims in Europe were explored. The need for equality before the law was mentioned, especially as a means to protect the rights of religious minorities.
- The need for religious people to ensure that their own self understanding and desire for identity does not lead to a denigration of others was clearly expressed.
- The particular difficulties that women experience in relation to religious violence were noted. Religiously motivated violence is often targeted directly or indirectly against women, and they are disproportionately victims.
- The need to work together to build up a cadre of younger people, who are willing to work openly and constructively in the area of interreligious concerns, was emphasised.
- As a gathering of Muslims and Christians, the group wanted to acknowledge the common heritage they share as part of the family of Abraham and to work towards the restoration of the ‘House of Abraham’. One particular aspect of this that was mentioned was the way that the scriptural traditions linked to the figure of Abraham made clear the value of human life. It was stated clearly that this profound insight should feed into any discussion and reflection on the subject of violence and religion.
Participants appreciated the opportunity to visit the office of the Globethics Network, which is located in the Ecumenical Centre, and to hear about the work of the GlobEthics Library.
At the close of the meeting the group were welcomed to the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey, by Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, to meet with the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches, and they shared with members of Executive Committee the highlights of their discussions.
The group committed themselves to taking steps to work further on the issues and concerns mentioned in this communique and will ensure that they remain in contact in the interval before the next meeting, anticipated to take place in Tehran, Iran, in early 2017.
Rev. Dr Jean-Claude Basset
Rev. Sargez Benyamin
Rev. Bonnie Evans-Hills
Rev. Dr Detlef Goerrig
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)
Dr Abdolrahim Gavahi
Dr Ali Mohammad Helmi
Ms Zahra Rashidbeygi
Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali
Dr Clare Amos
Ms Marietta Ruhland