Butspecific religious teachings and feelings are manipulated toinstigate violence for political gains. Violence is committedin the name of religion but not condoned by it. The onlyvalid criticism the secularist can raise against religion is thatreligions have not developed effective ways of protectingthemselves from such manipulations and abuses. At any rate, religions are vulnerable when they fail tofind ways of preventing the use of force in their names.
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Thisbecomes especially acute when they fall short of inculcatinga consciousness of peace and non-violence in the minds andhearts of their followers. In short, religions per se cannot beseen as a source of violence. Only some of its bad practitio-ners can be held accountable. Both views have strong cases and make important pointsabout religion and violence. Both, however, are equally mis-taken in resorting to a fixed definition of religion. And bothviews reduce the immense variety of religious practices to aparticular tradition and, furthermore, to a particular factionor historic moment in that tradition.
In speaking of Islamand violence or Hinduism and war, the usual method is tolook at the sacred scriptures and compare and contrast themwith historical realities that flow from their practice, or lackthereof. We highlight those moments where there are dis-crepancies between text and history as the breaking pointsin the history of that religion, viz. This is not to deny the centrality of the scripture. Muchof the current debate about Islam and violence is beset bythe kind of problems that we see in the secularist and apolo-getic readings of the scriptural sources of Islam.
While the same can be done practically aboutany religion, Islam has enjoyed much more fanfare than anyother religion for the last thousand years or so. The second problem is the exclusive focus of the currentliterature on the legal and juristic aspects of peace and vio-lence in Islam. Use of violence, conduct of war, treatmentof combatants and prisoners of war, international law, etc.
Although this is an important and useful exercise,it falls short of addressing deeper philosophical and spiri-tual issues that must be included in any discussion of reli-gion and peace. This is true especially in the case of Islamfor mainly two reasons. The maqasid provided a contextwithin which the strict legality of the law was blended intothe necessities and realities of communal life. Political con-flicts couched in the language of juridical edicts remained aspolitical conflicts and were never extended to a war of reli-gions between Islam or Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism orAfrican religions, which Muslims encountered throughouttheir history.
It should come to us as no surprise that thefatwa of a jurist of a particular school of law allowing the 6 The ultimate goal of Islam is to cre-ate a moral and just society in which individuals can pursuea spiritual life and the toll of living collectively, from eco-nomic exploitation and misuse of political authority to thesuppression of other people, can be brought under controlto the extent possible in any human society. Without takinginto account this larger picture, we will fail to see how Islamadvocates a positive concept of peace as opposed to a merelynegative one and how its political and legal precepts, whichare exploited so wildly and irrationally by both the secularand religious fundamentalists of our day, lead to the creationand sustaining of a just and ethical social order.
With these caveats in mind, this paper has two inter-related goals. The first is to analyze the ways in which theIslamic tradition can be said to advocate a positive conceptof peace. It willbe argued that positive peace involves the presence of certainqualities and conditions that aim to make peace a principalstate of harmony and equilibrium rather than a mere event 7 This brings us to the second goal of the paper. This has obscured, to say the least, the larger contextwithin which such legal opinions were discussed, interpret-ed and evolved from one century to the other and from onecultural-political era to the other.
Therefore I propose to look at the concept of peace inthe Islamic tradition in four interrelated contexts. The second is thephilosophical-theological context within which the questionof evil shar is addressed as a cosmic, ethical, and socialproblem. I shall provide abrief summary to show how a proper understanding of peacein the Islamic tradition is bound to take us to the larger ques-tions of good and evil. The third is the political-legal con-text, which is the proper locus of classical legal and juristicdiscussions of war, rebellion, oppression, and political dis order.
This area has been the exclusive focus of the currentliterature on the subject and promises to be an engaging andlong-standing debate in the Muslim world. The fourth is thesocio-cultural context, which would reveal the parametersof the Muslim experience of religious and cultural diversitywith communities of other faiths and cultural traditions. As it will become clear in the following pages, all of theselevels are interdependent and call for a larger context withinwhich the questions of peace and violence have been artic-ulated and negotiated by a multitude of scholars, philoso-phers, jurists, mystics, political leaders, and various Muslimcommunities.
The Islamic tradition provides ample mate-rial for contemporary Muslim societies to deal with issuesof peace, religious diversity and social justice, all of which,needless to say, require urgent attention. Furthermore, thepresent challenge of Muslim societies is not only to deal withthese issues as internal affairs but also to contribute to thefostering of a global culture of peace and coexistence. Beforeturning to the Islamic tradition, however, a few words of def-inition are in order to clarify the meaning of positive peace. Peace as a Substantive ValueP eace as a substantive and positive concept entails the presence of certain conditions that make it an endur- ing state of harmony, integrity, contentment, equilib-rium, repose, and moderation.
This can be contrasted withnegative peace that denotes the absence of conflict and dis-cord. Even though negative peace is indispensable to pre-vent communal violence, border disputes or internationalconflicts, substantive-positive peace calls for a comprehen-sive outlook to address the deeper causes of conflict, hate,strife, destruction, brutality, and violence.
As Lee states, italso provides a genuine measure and set of values by whichpeace and justice can be established beyond the short-terminterests of individual, communities or states. Instead of defin-ing peace with what it is not and force common sense logicto its limit, we may well opt for generating a philosophicalground based on the presence and endurance, rather thanabsence, of certain qualities and conditions that make peacea substantive reality of human life.
The active particle muh-sin denotes the person who does what is good, desired, andbeautiful. Onthe contrary, it is being fully active against the menace ofevil, destruction, and turmoil that may come from withinor from without. Furthermore, positivepeace involves the analysis of various forms of aggressionincluding individual, institutional and structural violence. Paul: Paragon House, , pp. Crow-ell, , p. Likepeace, justice is one of the Divine names and takes on a sub-stantive importance in view of its central role in Islamic the-ology as well as law.
Peace can be conceived as an enduringstate of harmony, trust, and coexistence only when coupledand supported with justice because it also means being se-cure from all that is morally evil and destructive. The Spiritual-Metaphysical Context:God as Peace Al-Salam T he conditions that are conducive to a state of peace mentioned above are primarily spiritual and have larger implications for the cosmos, the individual,and society. Here I shall focus on three premises that aredirectly relevant to our discussion. In this sense, God is as muchtranscendent, incomparable and beyond as He is immanent,comparable tashbih and close.
Brill, , pp. I wanted lit. Conceiving nature in terms of har-mony, measure, order, and balance points to a common andpersistent attitude towards the non-human world in Islamicthought, and has profound implications for the constructionof peace as a principle of the cosmos. War, conflict, vio-lence, injustice, discord, and the like are seen as extensionsof the general problem of evil.
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The Muslim philosophers andtheologians have been interested in theodicy from the verybeginning, and for good reasons because the basic questionof theodicy goes to the heart of religion: how can a just andperfect God allow evil and destruction in a world which Hesays He has created in perfect balance, with a purpose, andfor the well-being of His servants? We can rephrase the ques-tion in the present context as follows: why is there so muchviolence, turmoil and oppression rather than peace, harmo-ny and justice in the world?
Does evil, of which violence isas an offshoot, belong to the essential nature of things or isit an accident that arises only as the privation of goodness? These questions have given rise to a long and interest-ing debate about evil among the theologians. The classical statement of the problem pertains toDivine justice and power on the one hand, and the Greeknotions of potentiality and actuality, on the other.
The fun-damental question is whether this world in which we live isthe best that God could have created. Since, from a moralpoint of view, the world is imperfect because there is eviland injustice in it, we have to either admit that God was notable to create a better and more perfect world or concedethat He did not create a better world by will as part of theDivine economy of creation. This sentence, attributedto Ghazali, has led to a long controversy in Islamic thought. For an ex-cellent survey of this debate in Islamic theology, see Eric L. IV, p. The earliestformulation of the problem, however, can be traced back to Ibn Sina.
He wants to, or His will cannot supercede His nature? Still,can God contradict Himself? If we say yes, then we attributeimperfection to God and if we say no, then we limit Him. Even the most modest attempt to analyze these questionswithin the context of Kalam debates will take us too far afield. The bestof all possible worlds argument, however, shifts the focusfrom particular instances of individual or structural violenceto the phenomenon of evil itself whereby we gain a deeperinsight into how evil arises in the first place.
We may reasonably argue that evil is part of the Divineeconomy of creation and thus necessary. In a moral sense,it is part of Divine economy because it is what we are testedwith cf. Al-Anbiyah, ; Al-Kahf, Without evil,there will be no accountability and thus no freedom. Alvin 23 In a rather paradoxical way, one cannotobject to the existence of evil itself because it is what makesthe world possible. But this does not absolve us of the moralduty of fighting against individual cases of evil.
Broody ed. Adams and Robert M. Adams eds. In short, evil remains contingent and tran-sient, and this assumption extends to the next world. From a psychological point of view,the acceptance of evil as a transient yet necessary phenom-enon prevents us from becoming petty and bitter in the faceof all that is blemished, wicked, imperfect, and tainted. It also enables us to see theworld as it is and for what it is, and strive to make it a bet-ter place in terms of moral and spiritual perfection.
The argument goes as follows. This world in which we live iscertainly one of the possibilities that the Divine has broughtinto actuality. In this sense, the world is pure contingency imkan and hung between existence and non-existence. From the point of view of its present actuality, however,the world is perfect and necessary because actuality impliesplenitude and perfection whereas potentiality is privationand non-existence.
See his Kitab al-tawhid, p. Brill, , p. It is ontological be-cause existence is superior to non-existence and whateveris in the sphere of potentiality remains so until it is broughtinto actuality by an agent which itself is already actual. The perfectstate of the cosmos is presented as a model for the estab-lishment of a just social order. It then follows that evil is aphenomenon of this world but not something that definesthe essential nature of things. An important outcome of this point of view is to iden-tify evil as a rationally discernible phenomenon.
This mayappear to be a simple truism. Nevertheless, it is a powerfulposition against the notion of evil as a mysterious, mythi-cal or even cosmological fact over which human beings haveno control. His objection, however, clarifies another aspect of thediscussion of theodicy in Islam. As Razi points out, there is no disputeover the fact that some actions are good and some others bad. Razi hastens 27 The Muslim philosophers assert the same point throughwhat we might call the ontological argument. All beings that exist partake of this ontologicalgoodness.
But evil has no es- sence; it is either the nonexistence of a substance or the nonexistence of the state of goodness salah for a substance. Thus existence is pure goodness, and the perfection of existence is the goodness of existence. Existence is pure goodness when it is not accompa- nied by nonexistence, the nonexistence of a sub- stance, or the nonexistence of something from that substance and it is in perpetual actuality.
As for the existent contingent by itself, it is not pure goodness because its essence does not necessitate its existence by itself. Thus its essence allows for nonexistence. Anything that allows for nonexistence in some respect is not free from evil and imperfection in all respects. Hence pure goodness is nothing but existence that is 29 Like Ibn Sina, Sadra defines good-ness as the essential nature of the present world-order forit is an existent, viz.
This leads Sadrato conclude that goodness permeates the world-order at itsfoundation. The intrinsic goodness of things in their natural-ontological state has given rise to a number of popular formulations ofthe problem, the most celebrated one being Merkez Efendi, the famousOttoman scholar. See also ibid. II, 2, p. Their contextual and historical interpretation presentsa significant challenge to the modern scholars of Islam onthe one hand, and the Muslims themselves, on the other.
This issue necessarily raises the question of jihadas an offensive or defensive war and its relation to what iscalled jus ad bellum in the Western tradition. Thethird issue is the treatment of religious minorities, i. To begin with the first, a major concern of the Prophetof Islam in Mecca was to ensure the security and integrityof the nascent Muslim community as a religio-political unit.
This concern eventually led to the historic migration of theProphet and his followers to Madina in after a decadeof pressure, sanctions, persecution, torture, and a foiled at-tempt to kill the Prophet himself. Even thoughthe Prophet was in close contact with the Meccan leaders tospread his message as well as to protect his small yet highlydedicated group of followers, his tireless negotiations didnot mitigate the aggressive policies of Meccans against thegrowing Muslim community. The transition from the robustpacifism of Mecca to the political activism of Madina tookplace when the permission to fight was given with the versesof Al-Hajj, V erily, God will ward off [all evil] from those who attain to faith: [and] verily, God does not love any- 35 This and other verses Al-Baqarah, define clearlythe reasons for taking up arms to defend religious freedomand set the conditions of just war jus ad bellum in self-de-fense.
That the verse, revealed in the first year of the Hijrah,refers to the grave wrongdoing against Muslims and theireviction from their homeland for professing the new faithconfirms that the migration of the Prophet was the last stageof the forceful expulsion of the Muslim community fromMecca.
Participants in this initiative have even taken pains to emphasize the need for recognizing the fundamental differences between the two traditions. Rather than watering down theological positions in the name of cooperation and thus bringing Christian and Muslim communities together at their margins, it asks both communities to speak from what is central and authoritative to each.
The final section of the let- ter proposes that this is not a matter of choice but of responsibility: Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue be- tween selected religious leaders. Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. If Muslims and Chris- tians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. Thus our common future is at stake.
The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake. But there has thus far been nothing in the movement that would support such conten- tions. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad explains: We had honestly…only one motive: peace. We were keenly aware, however, that peace efforts required also another element: knowledge. We thus aimed to try to spread proper basic knowledge of our religion in order to correct and abate the constant and unjust vilification of Islam, in the West especially.
Nonetheless, the majority have been very positive, with only a few cynical or dismissive responses. I will instead focus upon the aforementioned responses from the Yale Center for Faith and Cul- ture at the Yale University Divinity School, the Archbishop of Can- terbury and the Vatican, for each of these has already borne fruit and each has the institutional backing to continue into the future.
I will also draw attention to the response of the World Council of Churches WCC , as it represents the widest and most diverse body of Christian denominations to have fully supported the initiative and subsequent developments, such as establishment for the World Interfaith Harmony Week. Indeed, in the generosity with which the letter is written you embody what you call for. We most heartily agree. It included approximately 80 Muslim participants, 80 Christian participants, and 7 Jewish participants, extending the discussions of the scholarly workshop to a larger group of scholars and leaders.
While some of the participants, such as the Grand Mufti of Bos- nia, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, David Burrell, and the members of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture were veterans of interreligious dialogue, many participants were new to interfaith gatherings. Even participants who were veterans of such gatherings remarked that the theological depth of discussion in the workshops was beyond any interreligious dialogue in which they had previously engaged.
The inclusion of important religious figures, such as Leith Anderson, who was then President of the National Association of Evangelicals and Ingrid Mattson, who was then President of the Islamic Society of North America, and the opening address from Senator John Kerry demonstrate the ability of this initiative to move those who shape public opinion.
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Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the conference is that it brought together Evangelical Christians and traditional Muslims, two communities that have had little exposure to one another and often view one another with suspicion. This was an historic encounter in which two preachers from oppo- site ends of the world who have the ability to move millions within their religious communities, a traditional Islamic community and an American evangelical community that many believe to be in a clash with one another, spoke from the same podium and conveyed the same message.
Never before has an international leader of the American evangelical movement and an international leader of traditional Islamic communities shared the same stage. These Two Commandments teach us both what we must demand of ourselves and what we should expect from the other in what we do, what we say, and what we are. In addition it recognized that Christians and Muslims alike must not deny one another basic rights, nor tolerate the deni- gration or desecration of that which is central to either religion.
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The first point is of central importance to countering the claims of fringe Islamic groups that Christians worship multiple gods, a key factor in the argument of those who wish to declare them unbelievers. It lays the founda- tions for Muslim and Christian leaders to confront insults against either community with one voice and thus avoid the violence that sometimes ensues in the wake of such effrontery. These include a website with recommended reading lists, the publication of study materials addressed to religious communities and setting aside a week every year wherein each community would seek to emphasize the good in the other community.
The latter served as the catalyst for the aforementioned proposal to the United Nations to declare an an- nual World Interfaith Harmony Week. Others think that engaging Muslims in such dialogue is the best approach to gain access and evangelize in the Muslim world. The Archbishop of Canterbury and Lambeth Palace While the response organized by the Yale Divinity School was a strong affirmation of acw and was made all the more effective by the signatures of over Christian scholars, the response from the Archbishop of Canterbury, A Common Word for the Common Good, has been the most trenchant and perspicacious response to date.
The Archbishop first met with academics and church leaders in advance of a larger meeting in June to discuss drafting a response to acw. There was unanimous support among the academics and church leaders present for the Archbishop in sending a letter to Muslim leaders. He then wrote the final letter after further consultation with members at the meeting in June A Common Word for the Common Good begins by reaffirming the open spirit of acw and acknowledging that though the ways of understanding the Divine are different, Christianity and Islam are not mutually unintelligible and that they speak enough of a com- mon language to address the concerns of humanity together.
The subtle explanations of the Christian understanding of love offered by the Archbishop deserve extensive theological discussion that is beyond the scope of this survey. Suffice to say that he takes the opportunity to explain the manner in which Trinitarian theol- ogy leads many Christians to a deeper appreciation of the workings of love within the Divine Itself and that this is the foundation for love of the neighbor and of the stranger as the proper response to the gift of love from God. Indeed, it reveals a fundamental lack of conviction in the eternity and sufficiency of the object of faith.
Rather it seeks to demonstrate the manner in which transcendent truth claims can serve to expose the self-serving nature of all at- tempts to justify violence in the name of one ideology or another. This subtle analysis of the ideological roots of human violence and the ability of religion to counter it demonstrates the potential influ- ence that the acw initiative can have. While the Yale University Conference hosted hundreds of scholars from around the world and addressed most facets of the acw initiative, the conference convened by the Archbishop was limited to fifteen representatives from each faith tradition.
As with the Yale conference, the conference at Lambeth palace produced a final declaration that reaffirmed the core principles of acw, love of God and love of neighbor. In the spirit of the conference, it also spoke in glowing terms of the experience of reading scripture together in a spirit of openness and cooperation: One of the most moving elements of our encounter has been the opportunity to study together passages from our scriptures.
We wish to repeat the experience of a shared study of scriptural texts as one of the ways in which we can come, concretely, to develop our understanding of how the other understands and lives their own faith. We commend this experience to others. This emphasis upon the possibilities inherent to scriptural reasoning indicates one of the important ways in which academics have played an important role in working together with religious leaders to shape the acw initiative.
One hopes that this encourage- ment will help a broader audience apply the tools of comparative scriptural inquiry that the scriptural reasoning movement has de- veloped over the past fifteen years. Statements by Cardinal Tauran have indicated that the Vatican would prefer to focus upon the development of the Catholic-Muslim Forum in conjunction with the acw initiative, rather than be dispersed into other international interfaith initia- tives, such as that initiated by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. Nonetheless, as noted above, the Vatican response to acw was not at first positive, and the Vatican did not appear receptive to official dialogue with Muslims until it became apparent that other Churches had engaged acw.
Given the multiple declarations regarding interreligious dialogue and interfaith relations that have been issued by the Vatican, begin- ning with Nostra Aetate in , the Muslim-Catholic exchange must first be viewed in this broader context. Recognizing the ten- sions to which religious misunderstanding can give rise, Nostra Aetate sought to outline that which is common to all religions, especially the Abrahamic traditions: The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims.
Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judge- ment when God will give their deserts to all those who have been raised from the dead. The sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all, let them together pre- serve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.
Nostra Aetate, 3 In this vein, Nostra Aetate marked a momentous step forward in the official Catholic approach to people of other faith tradi- tions and the reconciliation of traditional Catholic orthodoxy with modern pluralism. Regard- ing the prayers and rituals of other faiths, the Vatican has gone so far as to declare, Indeed, some prayers and rituals of the other religions may assume a role of preparation for the Gospel, in that they are occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to be open to the action of God. One cannot attribute to these, however, a divine origin or an ex opere operato salvific efficacy, which is proper to the Christian sacraments.
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Furthermore, it cannot be overlooked that other rituals, insofar as they depend on superstitions or other errors, constitute an obstacle to salvation. Viewed in relation to one another, Nostra Aetate and Dominus Iesus appear to say that error cannot be tolerated in and of itself, but that people who are in error still have rights that must be respected. Especially those who are well meaning and seek God, even it be in a manner that the Church considers imperfect. Following upon Nostra Aetate, the late Pope John Paul II made unprecedented overtures towards other Christian denominations and towards people of other faiths, especially Jews and Muslims.
Regarding Muslims he declared: We Christians joyfully recognize the religious values we have in common with Islam.
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In this context, many Muslims felt it necessary to engage the Catholic Church in the hopes of maintaining relations more similar to those that had been enjoyed during the tenure of John Paul II. After correcting the factual errors of the Regensburg address, the letter states, Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Mus- lims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. As the leader of over a billion Catholics and moral example for many others around the globe, yours is arguably the single most influential voice in continu- ing to move this relationship forward in the direction of mutual understanding.
We share your desire for frank and sincere dialogue, and recognize its importance in an increasingly interconnected world. There is none other commandment greater than these. Together we must show, by our mutual respect and soli- darity, that we consider ourselves members of one family: the family that God has loved and gathered together from the creation of the world to the end of human history.
Only by starting with the recognition of the centrality of the person and the dignity of each human being, respecting and defending life which is the gift of God, and is thus sacred for Christians and for Muslims alike — only on the basis of this recognition, can we find a common ground for building a more fraternal world, a world in which confrontations and differences are peacefully settled, and the devastating power of ideolo- gies is neutralized. They are nonethe- less significant because they indicate that acw has succeeded in countering the deleterious effects of the Regensburg address and in bringing Muslims and Christians into the type of dialogue to which Nostra Aetate opened and which Pope John Paul II had embraced.
The cycle of recriminations to which the Regensburg address initially gave rise has thus been averted, and for the time being Catholics and Muslims are engaged in real dialogue rather than juxtaposed monologues. The second seminar of the Catholic- Muslim Forum, held in Jordan at the Baptism Site of Jesus on the River Jordan, developed upon the issues addressed by the first semi- nar and expanded upon the developments of other conferences.
Whatever direction it may take, it is significant that Muslim and Catholics have committed themselves to a forum wherein they will be able to express their differences and work towards establishing better understanding between Muslims and Catholics. This will provide an open channel whereby unfortunate misunderstandings, such as those created by the Regensburg address, can be avoided and whereby, if they do arise, they can be addressed before any negative consequences are realized.
World Council of Churches The responses from the Yale Divinity School, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Vatican have given rise to more interaction between Muslims and Christians than have any others. In the English speaking press one can now find over articles addressing various aspects of the initiative. Given the secular inclinations of the mainstream media, it is not surprising that the vast majority of reporters are unable to distin- guish the acw movement from other interfaith initiatives and see what promise it may hold.
Three central features make acw and the ongoing exchange a crucial, promising and historic step in Muslim-Christian dialogue: the grounding in scripture; the acceptance of theological differ- ences; and the participation of religious leaders of the highest rank. As seen in the passages of acw cited above, this dialogue has been grounded in scripture from its inception, and has even sought to expand the manner in which some Quranic verses are interpreted. Come now to a word common between us and you, that we worship none but God and that we do not associate anything with Him, and do not take each other for lords, beside God.
The interpretive history of is indeed polemical. For it represents an integral component of this dialogue. Each community has taken it upon itself to tell the other how it understands the sources of its own tradition, while listening as leaders of the other com- munity explains how they understand the sources and tenets of their respective traditions.
In this way, scripture provides one of the best platforms for Muslim and Christian dia- logue. Unfortunately, members of each tradition all too often refuse to afford another scripture the same leniency they have learned to give their own. They are thus less patient and less willing to allow the apparent naiveties, inconsistencies and contradictions of a scripture outside their own unfold into the profundities that they have come to expect of their own scriptural traditions.
If, however, Muslims and Christians are able to read their scriptures together, they may come to see that in reading the scriptures of another tra- dition against that tradition, they have committed the very same errors of which they accuse the other tradition when it cites their scriptures against them.
The second feature that distinguishes the acw movement is that the dialogue has not sought to ignore or deny theological differences, but rather to acknowledge and even embrace them. To paraphrase Archbishop Rowan Williams, this is to say that the dialogue does not seek to bring Christian and Muslim communities together at the margins of their historic identities, but by speaking from what is central and authoritative to each.
This form of dialogue dilutes religion. It thus leads many to reject interreligious dialogue as anti- thetical to the teachings of their own faith, or as a Trojan horse by which its central tenets will be undermined. In addressing this issue, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad has said of the initiative, …I would like to say also that A Common Word does not signal that Muslims are prepared to deviate from or concede one iota of any their convictions in reaching out to Christians—nor, I expect, the opposite. On the Christian side, this includes the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, and the heads of most international Churches.
The history of Christian-Muslim relations has never witnessed collabo- ration among authorities of this stature. In the extended version of his final address at the first seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, Seyyed Hossein Nasr underlines the importance of their participa- tion when he writes: In this effort to reorient ourselves toward each other, all of us, Christian and Muslim alike, can play a role. Those who are guides and trailblazers in religious matters must come forward and seek to bring about understanding to those in their own communities who hearken to their call.
It is also likely that the acw initiative served as a catalyst for the interfaith initiative launched by H. But most importantly the participants in this initiative are the people who influence what is said on Friday and Sunday in mosques and churches, what is taught in schools, and what is heard on television. If these leaders are committed to this exchange, the message of acw has the potential to change the way that Christians and Muslims conceptualize and approach one another throughout the world.
For this is not at its heart a theological exchange. In this way it allows the partici- pants to maintain theological differences in creative tension while asserting what they hold in common and working for the greater good. Perhaps in this way academics and theologians can help others to imagine what might be gained if Muslims and Christians sought to define themselves in relation to one another rather than in opposition. For this interfaith endeavor is not only important for relations between Islam and Christianity, it is important for the response of religion to the forces of bigotry, terrorism and ex- tremism.
Some have argued that to avoid violent clashes between nations and peoples, religion must be abandoned altogether. But in the twentieth century—the bloodiest of human history—ideologi- cal conflicts and their attendant wars have demonstrated that it is humanity, not religion, which is responsible for the atrocities of the past and the present. Many employ religion to justify reckless ideologies and wanton violence.
But in so doing they betray the very teachings of the religions they propose to represent.