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Tuesday, March 23, 2004
St George's House, Windsor Castle March 23-26, 2004
Title: Muslim-Christian Dialogue and the Search for Mutual Understanding
President of the Republic of Lebanon, 1982-1988
Address delivered at the :
Consultation on Ta'aruf (mutual understanding)
Co-sponsored by the World Islamic Call Society and the Soul of Europe
St George's House, Windsor Castle
March 23-26, 2004
Introduction: The Importance of the Issue
Inter-faith Harmony as a Pillar of Conflict Resolution
Lebanon as a Model of Inter-faith Dialogue
Conclusion: Some Proposals
Introduction: The Importance of the Issue
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues, good afternoon.
I am honored to be here with you, and I should like to thank sincerely Dr. Mohammed Sherif, the esteemed Secretary General of the World Islamic Call Society, and The Reverend Donald Reeves, the distinguished Director of the Soul of Europe, for organizing this important gathering.
This Consultation is concerned with one of the most significant and urgent questions in the world today, namely: Muslim-Christian dialogue and the search for ta'aruf, or mutual understanding. Achieving ta'aruf between those two faith communities is essential because the absence of such mutual understanding has contributed to tremendous strife, waste, and suffering.
In a host of culturally diverse and geographically distant countries-including the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, Nigeria, the Sudan, the Philippines, and Russia/Chechnya, discord between Muslim and Christian communities is a key factor that has helped fuel a series of horrific, destructive conflicts.
On the global level, a comprehensive commitment to "ta'aruf / mutual understanding" by both the Christian West and the Muslim East may be the only mechanism that can prevent ongoing conflicts from transmuting into a catastrophic "clash of civilizations."
Even within the politically stable and economically developed countries of North America and Europe, the maintenance of peaceful and mutually satisfactory relations between ascendant Christian majorities and rising Muslim minorities is a decisive issue. Today, for example, the world looks with hope tinged with anxiety as Britain, France, Germany, and other predominantly Christian nations struggle to integrate fully their Muslim citizens.
Furthermore, the question of Muslim-Christian relations lies at the heart of the future development of the European Union, or "la construction Européenne." Put in the form of a question, we must ask: "Can the EU, the institutional embodiment of European aspirations, extend its reach to incorporate Muslim Turkey?" The verdict that the EU passes on Turkish accession will reveal if Europe has transcended its ancient title-Christendom-in favor of a culturally broader concept of European identity.
The process of EU accession is no less a test for Turkey, which is poised to pioneer Muslim participation in one of the most successful experiments in international cooperation in world history. By joining the European Union and thereby adopting EU standards of democracy, minority rights, and pluralism, Turkey will demonstrate that Muslim peoples are full partners in the construction of a just international order. In this way, Turkey will fulfill the call of Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, who recently urged Muslims to contribute to "the peaceful management of diversity."
The question of Turkey's future role within the EU is critical because that country is an important strategic, cultural, and spiritual bridge between Europe and the Muslim world. In addition to its historic significance as an Islamic great power, Turkey shares borders with Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Within each of these counties, important elements of society are searching for ways to establish a dialogue of civilizations with the West as a means of preventing a clash of civilizations. Thus, Turkey's inclusion as a full partner in Europe will almost certainly improve prospects for mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims.
As the preceding comments indicate, I am convinced that on the national, regional, and global levels, attaining peace and progress depends to a large extent on achieving mutual understanding between Muslims and Christians. And my conviction is reinforced by the fact that some of the leading peacemakers of the last century upheld the value of inter-faith harmony as a pillar of conflict resolution.
Inter-faith Harmony as a Pillar of Conflict Resolution
In 1938, for example, Mahatma Gandhi, whose philosophy helped define the Indian nation and inspire the global human rights movement, observed: "There will be no lasting peace on earth unless we learn not merely to tolerate but even to respect the other faiths as our own." More recently, the Swiss theologian Hans Küng took up the same theme when he stated: "There can be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions."
Nor have men of practical politics ignored the doctrine of inter-faith harmony as espoused by Gandhi and Küng, and earlier by the great Sufi mystics Ibn 'Arabi and Jaluddin Rumi. In January 1941, for example, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pronounced his basic philosophy of international security and world order known as the "Four Freedoms." Roosevelt's Four Freedoms included freedom of speech, freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the "freedom of every person to worship God in his own way-everywhere in the world."
In the twenty-first century, Christian and Muslim peacemakers must build on the intellectual legacy of Gandhi, Küng, and Roosevelt and construct mechanisms that utilize inter-faith dialogue as an instrument of conflict resolution. The institutional gap in our current international organizations is striking.
In the second half of the twentieth century, numerous multilateral institutions, many directly subordinate to the United Nations, were created to deal with a broad range of issues. These organizations have helped create a more cooperative and civilized world order. Today, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and an array of groupings such as GATT, the G-8, and NAFTA facilitate economic development and trade. The World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization help promote the physical wellbeing of millions of people. In the areas of education and culture, UNICEF and UNESCO have done noteworthy work.
But, we must ask, what global body attempts to promote systematically cooperation between the various faith communities? The answer, of course, is that no such standing body exists.
The urgent need for coordinated and systematic Christian-Muslim dialogue to explore commonalities, build trust, and promote the search for harmony provides the United Nations with an important opportunity to make itself even more relevant in the field of global conflict resolution. In an age of globalization, international relations will increasingly be defined as inter-cultural relations and inter-faith relations. Some of the greatest threats to the peace of the world, as I have noted, feature a religious dimension that cannot be ignored.
Given the current realities of global conflict, peacemaking can no longer be conceived in political, economic, and technical terms alone. The spiritual and cultural dimensions must be appreciated and incorporated. Indeed, those of us who are firmly committed to Muslim-Christian dialogue as a pillar of conflict resolution can point to the example of history to convince the doubters of the efficacy of our approach.
As we are meeting in Britain, allow me to address my observations to a Western audience. How many students in our Western universities know about the combination of cultural and spiritual achievements that ushered in the Arab world's Golden Age from the 10th to the 14th centuries? How many Western students know that during that time, the leading Arab cities in Arabia, Africa, and Europe became renowned centers of learning and progress?
In fact, in every category of knowledge-including history, geography, philosophy, theology, mathematics, science, and medicine-the Arabs made remarkable and lasting contributions that laid the foundation for the European Renaissance and thereby for the birth of the modern world. This history demonstrates the tremendous capacities that are unleashed when Islamic and Christian communities reach a meeting of minds.
As the distinguished members of this Consultation discuss the ways and means of utilizing inter-faith exchange as a mechanism of conflict resolution, it is prudent to recall that religion is not only a matter of spirituality and belief, it is also a matter of personal and communal identity. As a precursor to inter-faith dialogue, then, it may be fruitful to discuss how religiously defined groups interact with other elements of society, including other faith communities.
The Dutch theologian Johannes A. van der Ven has suggested a framework of analysis can be applied to religiously defined groups. Utilizing van der Ven's model, religious communities can be said to maintain four levels of distinction, namely: "religious identity," "social identity," "operative identity," and "management identity." Briefly, religious identity refers to central beliefs as derived from sacred scriptures and traditions. Social identity relates to socio-economic standing within the wider society. Operative identity pertains to motivations and long-term goals. And finally, management identity encompasses matters of organization and administration.
As members of this Consultation discuss ways to facilitate mutual understanding between faiths, it may be useful to draft specific strategies for dealing with the four levels of religious identity specified by van der Ven. Applying his model to Muslim-Christian dialogue, perhaps we need eminent theologians from the two communities to address questions of religious identity, social scientists and economists to discuss social identity, community leaders to discuss operative identity, and administrators and organizers to discuss management identity. Such an approach would have the advantage of involving broad segments from within the two communities in Christian-Muslim dialogue, as opposed to selected exchanges between small groups.