Arab world’s religious leaders urge common ground at Jordan conference

Ali al-Rawashdah in Amman – 10/9/13

Some 70 high-ranking church leaders and Muslim clerics from across the region and world met in Jordan last week to promote common ground among followers of the various religions and sects in the Middle East.

Titled “Challenges facing Arab Christians”, the September 3rd-4th conference urged tolerance, peace and moderation and sought to address challenges facing Christians in the region as well as highlight their important contribution to Arab and Islamic civilizations.

“The common challenges and difficulties we face as Muslims and Christians necessitate concerted efforts and full co-operation among us all to overcome,” Jordan’s King Abdullah II said as he met conference participants. “We should agree on a unifying, rather than divisive, code of conduct.”

Violence and intra-religious, sectarian and ideological conflicts in the region create patterns of behaviour “alien to our traditions and humanitarian and cultural heritage, which are based on the principles of moderation, tolerance, co-existence and acceptance of others”, he said.

The king reiterated his support for every effort that aims to “preserve the historical Arab Christian identity, and safeguard the right to worship freely, which stems from a precept of the Christian and Islamic faiths defined by the principle of love of God and neighbour”.

He said he is proud Jordan is a unique model of co-existence and fraternity between Muslims and Christians.

Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed, the king’s chief adviser for religious and cultural affairs, opened the conference on Tuesday.

Jordan will not allow any persecution of Christians or any other religious or ethnic minority, for any reason, he said.

“The democracy we must seek is not a means to reach power through the ballot box so a majority can suppress a minority,” the prince said. “That is a dictatorship of the majority, a demagoguery and injustice. It entrenches division and is the beginning of sectarian and denominational civil wars and sedition.”

Dialogue means converging commonalities

Islamic law professor Hamdi Mourad praised previous Jordanian-led initiatives that also “called for emphasizing the common bonds between Islam and Christianity”.

These included the 2004 Amman Message (a message released by King Abdullah calling for peace and tolerance in the Muslim world), World Interfaith Harmony Week, proposed by the king in 2010 and later adopted by the UN, and “A Common Word” initiative sponsored by the Jordan’s Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.

“We hope, through periodic meetings held in Jordan, to have further Muslim-Christian dialogues that will reflect positively on the whole region,” Mourad told Al-Shorfa.

Dialogue does not equate relinquishing beliefs and traditions, but rather finding common points of agreement between Muslims and Christians, he said, adding that last week’s conference urged peaceful co-existence, and the rejection of violence, extremism, terrorism and war.

The region has an urgent need for such initiatives, said Father Nabil Haddad, founder and director of the Jordanian Interfaith Co-existence Research Centre.

“The conference highlighted centuries-long co-existence between Muslims and Christians in the region, a place that is in desperate need for renewed calls for the rejection of violence and hatred in light of the conflicts it is experiencing,” he told Al-Shorfa.

Haddad called on Muslims and Christians to continue a dialogue to promote respect for religions among younger generations.

Establishing constructive dialogue

During several sessions, conference participants discussed ways to promote the Christian role and presence in the Middle East as an essential and integral part of the region’s fabric, culture and history.

Participants also expressed concerns over the situation in various neighbouring countries.

Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Gregory III Lahham, a Syrian national, called for the organisation of a global campaign to urge peace in Syria, while Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church of Babylon Mar Louis Raphael I Sako spoke to the current situation in Iraq.

Violence there “threatens the social fabric, justice, equality and democracy, which cannot be achieved through drawing weapons but rather by establishing rational and constructive dialogue”, Sako said.

Meanwhile, Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land described the Middle East as in “a constant boil”.

“We must establish peace” based on justice, tolerance, dignity and equality for all in the region, he said.