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"Christians and Muslims together - a charter for a dialogue of life and common action" adopted by Arab Christian-Muslim Working Group
At the conclusion of the second meeting in a series of three on Christian-Muslim dialogue, held in Cairo, Egypt, 17-21 December, the following release was issued on Thursday, 20 December, by the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). The World Council of Churches (WCC) and the MECC jointly facilitated the three meetings on Christian-Muslim dialogue at local, regional and international level:
"Christians and Muslims together - a charter for a dialogue of life and common action" was adopted at a meeting here by the Arab Christian-Muslim Working Group that has been meeting and working together for over six years. The Group has been working closely with the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC).
The Charter (which in Arabic is called Mithaq) as adopted by the group comes amidst a particularly turbulent climate that pervades the entire world and is reflected in an especially critical way in the Arab world. It is a product of more than two years' careful research and study. Its formulation is an expression of a shared commitment to engage energetically in "working together to promote religious freedom".
Insisting that religious freedom is "an intrinsic human right that is affirmed by the dictates of religions," the Charter, or Mithaq, urges that an interactive common living of Muslims and Christians must take place not only through intellectual discourse, but also through "a variety of action plans aimed at standing together in the face of the challenges confronting our societies in the spheres of social, educational, moral and cultural arenas".
Affirming unity and the common heritage of Muslims and Christians, the Mithaq rejects "any foreign influence that is part of a hegemonic design over the Arab world". The Charter also calls for dealing with internal issues through the collaborative efforts of Arab nationals - Muslims and Christians - who belong together to the one homeland. This can only occur through dialogue and cooperative work as "internal solutions" must be free from outside interference that could only reinforce mutual mistrust and intensify suspicion.
Dialogue must continue to be an ongoing activity that is translated into practical programs aimed at strengthening common living and at addressing and treating "root causes of religious intolerance and sectarian tensions", the document declares. It also cautions against disregard for cultural and religious identities. "Disrespect for diversity [in the Arab Society]," the Charter declares, "is bound to lead to mutual exclusiveness, restriction and antagonism" in areas that are otherwise open for encounter, interaction and cooperation between Muslims and Christians.
The Charter also urges a rejection of confusing genuine religious commitment with deplorable fanaticism that invariably leads to extremism and violence. It insists that "such fanatic attitudes are necessarily inconsistent with religion". It further calls for "building a culture of dialogue" and for the promotion of the "tolerant values of faith" which affirm the humanness and spirituality of the other.
The Mithaq recognizes that human difference and diversity are a "reality that is in itself one of God's revelations in humanity and in the created universe". It goes on to point out, in no uncertain terms, the need to courageously and steadfastly "confront forms of religious discourse that dehumanize, injure or demonize [others]", and proposes, instead, "the offering of constructive opportunities for mutual acquaintance, respect and trust-building between the followers of both religions".
Making a point of clarifying that the work group views Christian-Muslim dialogue "neither as a vehicle for lslamic proselytism or for Christian evangelization, nor an attempt toward unification of the two faiths, or syncretism", the Charter is to be a manifestation of the mutual respect of one another's belief, and an affirmation of the spiritual foundations for a living that is shared in common in one society.
Likewise, the Mithaq is an "invitation" to a living dialogue that reaffirms an Arab stance of Muslims and Christians who together declare to the world a common commitment to defend their common Arab causes, especially that of Palestine, with Al-Quds [Arabic name of Jerusalem] as a priority.
Special awareness of the dangers of the "clash of civilizations" thesis is lifted up in the document by the group who calls, instead, for advancing the alternative of a living dialogue among cultures and civilizations. In that regard, the Charter pays special attention to the need for ongoing dialogue on two levels: the Muslim-Christian dialogue within the Arab world, on the one hand, and, on the other, the dialogue between Arab Christians and Muslims with peoples of other cultures.
In releasing the document, the working group states: "It is out of our faith in the One God, and by virtue of our conviviality," (that is, the common commitment to a life we share together as Muslims and Christians) "that we affirm our moral and religious obligation to work together toward strengthening our common and equal belonging regardless of religious affiliation...We further pledge to spare no effort toward freeing ourselves and our societies from religious, ethnic or sectarian prejudice."
Convened in 1995 and continuing to collaborate with the MECC, the group is composed of Arab Muslim and Christian intellectuals, religious leaders and people engaged in public life. The group has been formed out of "unequivocal personal conviction" that dialogue and cooperation constitute the most effective vehicle for achieving unity and harmony between people of different faiths. Members of this group claim "no authority to represent any particular institution or organization". Through its working history, the Working Group has facilitated a variety of programs and activities that focus on issues such as citizenship, diversity, pluralism and equity, civil society and political participation, common living and action, and the "Abrahamic heritage". Among such programs, a conference on "Muslims and Christians Together for Al-Quds" was held in Beirut in June 1996, at which some prominent Muslim and Christian leaders - lay and religious - participated together for the first time.
Members of the Arab Muslim-Christian Working Group are from Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Sudan, and the Emirates. The group is open and welcomes others who are committed to promoting the affirmations contained in the Mithaq.
For further information please contact: Dr Riad Jarjour, general secretary, Middle East Council of Churches, +357.5 - 58.60.22 or - 58.62.35 or Karin Achtelstetter, WCC Media Relations Officer, Tel: (+41.22) 791.61.53 Mobile: (+41) 79.284.52.12
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.