I’m talking about Christian-Muslim relations at Graymoor tomorrow

It’s been about a month since I went to Yale to cover a major gathering of Christian-Muslim leaders from around the world.

The conference was a response to “A Common Word Between Us and You,” a open letter released last year to Christian leaders from 138 Muslim leaders and scholars. The letter called for a new era of understanding between the two great faiths — focusing on their shared belief in one God and their common commitments to love God and love thy neighbor.

Tomorrow — Thursday, Sept. 4 — I’ll share my impressions of the conference (and what may happen next) at Graymoor, home of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement.

I’ll speak at 7:30 p.m. in the Pope John XXIII Parlor on the 5th floor of the friars’ main building. Directions are here.

I’ll share a bit about my recent correspondence with the chief justice of the Palestinian Territories, who had some qualms with what I wrote about the conference. I’ll blog about it, too, one day soon…

A week of prayer for religious friendship?

We already have the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, started and promoted by the Graymoor Friars.

Now we may — may — get some sort of annual week when religious leaders would highlight the good in other religious traditions.

I just watched the concluding press conference from the Muslim/Christian conference at Yale, and one of the goals coming out of it is to start such a week.

“I think it could have significant implications and repercussions,” said Ibrahim Kalin, an assistant professor at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, who introduced the idea at the press conference.

It won’t happen overnight.

“If it is going to be formalized, will have to be taken to a higher level, an international body like the United Nations, perhaps,” Kalin said.

volf.jpgOtherwise, in wrapping things up, Kalin and Yale theologian Miroslav Volf agreed that the conference accomplished what it could. More than 150 religious leaders from around the world came to talk and get to know one another. Over the next year or so, they’ll do it again at Cambridge University, the Vatican, Georgetown U and in Jordan.

“In the exercise of talking about love of God and love of neighbor, we practiced love of God and love of neighbor,” Volf said (that’s him).

He added: “We have never come close to anything like blows.”

‘…to ensure that religions heal rather than wound…’

Christian and Muslim leaders at the big interfaith conference at Yale have just released a concluding statement.

No real surprises. The last point, though, about “threats” made against interfaith participants in general, is quite interesting.

The statement:

A Common Word — an open letter addressed by Muslim leaders to Christian leaders — began with a desire by Muslim leaders to follow the Qur’anic commandment to speak to Christians and Jews, Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him. (3:64) The intention behind A Common Word is not to foist the theology of one religion upon another or to attempt conversion. Neither does it seek to reduce both our religions to an artificial union based upon the Two Commandments.

Nevertheless, in A Common Word, Muslims recognized that Islam and Christianity do share an essential common ground: the love of God and love of the neighbor described in the Two Greatest Commandments of the Gospel, rooted in the Torah ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The response of over 500 Christian leaders initiated by Yale University reaffirmed that this common ground is real and is a basis for dialogue between our two religions.

A Common Word is rooted in our sacred texts, arising from within, not imposed from without. Love of God and love of the neighbor are part of our common Abrahamic heritage. Based upon this principle, ours is an effort to ensure that religions heal rather than wound, nourish the human soul rather than poison human relations. 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.

Participants in the conference discussed a range of theological and practical issues in an open manner characterized by honesty and good will. The theological issues discussed included different understandings of the Unity of God, of Jesus Christ and his passion, and of the love of God. The
practical issues included world poverty, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation in Palestine and Israel, the dangers of further wars, and the freedom of religion.

Participants of the conference agreed that:

1. Muslims and Christians affirm the unity and absoluteness of God. We recognize that God’s merciful love is infinite, eternal and embraces all things. This love is central to both our religions and is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic heritage.

2. We recognize that all human beings have the right to the preservation of life, religion, property, intellect, and dignity. No Muslim or Christian should deny the other these rights, nor should they tolerate the denigration or desecration of one another’s sacred symbols, founding figures, or places
of worship.

3. We are committed to these principles and to furthering them through continuous dialogue. We thank God for bringing us together in this historic endeavor and ask that He purify our intentions and grant us success through His all-encompassing Mercy and Love.

4. We Christian and Muslim participants meeting together at Yale for the historic A Common Word conference denounce and deplore threats made against those who engage in interfaith dialogue. Dialogue is not a departure from faith; it is a legitimate means of expression and an essential tool in the quest for the common good.

Christian/Muslim wrap-up today

The big Muslim/Christian conference at Yale that I visited Tuesday will wrap-up THIS MORNING (I previously had written that it was tomorrow…Sorry).

There will be a culminating press conference at 11:30 a.m. that will be streamed live HERE (again, this morning).

muslim-ghazi.jpgSummaries will be given by the event’s organizers, Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan (that’s him), chairman of the royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.

They will also take questions from the media.

The fine line between religion and politics

AND STILL IN NEW HAVEN — After a day of theological talk about love — and few political statements — the Palestinian chief justice, Shaykh Tayseer Rajab Al-Tamimi, turned up the heat.

He started off repeating some of the day’s main themes: that religious authority should be used to bring people together and not worsen divisions.

But then he gave the kind of political examples (from his point of view) that others had stayed away from.

He said that there was interfaith peace in the Holy Land “until the Zionist-Israeli occupation started in our land.”

He said that Jerusalem is the “scene of the most horrible genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

“The problem is not with religions,” he said, “but with those who function in those religions to achieve their own interests, political interests or expansionist interests.”

I don’t think he was talking about the resurgent Taliban.

I’m not sure if there were any rabbis in the audience at that point, but no one commented on Al-Tamimi’s points.

After he was done, another Muslim scholar stood to complain that an earlier speaker had ignored numerous persecutions against Muslims.

In the day’s final moments, all the talk about love was taken over by talk about…other things.

The conference continues tomorrow. There will be panel discussions on “love and speech” and “love and world poverty.”

I won’t be back, though, as much as I would love to hang around the Yale campus all week…

Armonk rabbi an interfaith player

STILL IN NEW HAVEN — I just had a nice talk with Rabbi Douglas Krantz, the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Yisrael in Armonk. He’s an observer at the big Christian/Muslim summit here at Yale and will be on a panel that sums things up on Thursday.

I spoke to him in a lovely Yale courtyard during a coffee break. I asked him how he became a participant.

“I got invited,” he said.

images.jpegHe’s been involved in interfaith work before, so someone knew something. Krantz is less interested in how he got here than the work that’s being done.

“These are people who have differences — and they’re talking,” he said. “That is significant. And everyone is not necessarily agreeing on everything.”

Interfaith work is hard work, Krantz told me. It’s about building human relations. “Human relations are structures. Profound structures,” he said.

Krantz also mentioned one of the unspoken truths at most interfaith events: That you have to deal with the religions on paper and how people really behave.

“Christians, Muslims and Jews are not necessarily idealized manifestations of their religions,” he said.

What will say at Thursday’s wrap-up? He’s not yet sure. But he knows the key to pursuing and promoting interfaith relations.

“I think we just keep going.”

Muslims and Christians trade love poems at Yale

NEW HAVEN — I write from Yale University Law School, where the subject of the morning has not been torts but love.


More than 150 Muslim and Christian scholars from around the world are here to find common ground. And that common ground, they say, is love — love of God and love of the neighbor.

How to translate this shared love of love into real-world understanding is, of course, the real trick. But they are giving it the old (Yale) college try.

This all stems from an open letter last year from 138 Muslim leaders to their Christian counterparts, which focused on love of God and neighbor. This letter provoked numerous responses, among them from a group of scholars at Yale.

And here we are. Everyone agrees that Islam and Christianity must get past their various raging conflicts and find something like peace. And everyone seems to agree that a focus on love is a good way to get going.

But a workshop that just finished on the concept that “God is Loving” was hopelessly academic (and I’m pretty used to religious jargon). One person even stood up to ask how it’s all going to reach the less-academic masses.

The fact that there are almost no reporters here (maybe a dozen, half from outside the U.S.) is not promising. But you have to start a dialogue somewhere, right?

One of the main forces behind the Muslim letter and this conference, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, warned that the growing animosity between Christians and Muslims can lead to war or genocide if someone doesn’t step up to the plate and do something. He’s trying.

It is an impressive gathering. There are big-name Muslim leaders from Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Bosnia, Kosovo, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Jordan and on and on.

Prince Ghazi drew one of the only laughs of the morning from a pretty serious crowd. He talked of meeting with the Dalai Lama to bring Buddhists into the loving conversation.

“I would like to say this,” Prince Ghazi said. “He is a lot nicer than you Christians.”

I have very limited Wi-Fi access here, so I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to post again…

Love thy (Christian and Muslim) neighbors

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be heading up to Yale to cover the first day of: Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Christians and Muslims.

This is a big, week-long gathering of more than 150 Muslim and Christian leaders from around the world.

Yes, the goal is to learn how to get along (better).

It dates back to last year’s open letter from 138 Muslim leaders to world Christendom, which basically made the argument that both Islam and Christianity center around a love of God and a love of the neighbor. So why can’t we get along?

340x.jpgAmong the many responses came a statement from scholars at Yale, which was eventually signed by more than 300 deep thinkers. Yes, everyone was in favor of getting along.

The Vatican hosted several of the Muslim letter writers for a meeting. More good vibes.

And now the first of several major conferences to further advance the good vibes is happening at Yale. Others to come at Cambridge U, the Vatican, at Georgetown U and in Jordan.

The Big Question, it seems to me, is how you get past the very general agreements (For example: We all love God) and figure out how to apply religious teachings to all the trouble in the world. That’s why it’s about Word and Deed, I suppose.

Day one of the public session (the scholars have been meeting behind closed doors for several days) will feature panels called “God is Loving,” “Loving God” and “Loving Neighbor.”

We’ll see how it goes. I hope to blog (Web connection permitting).

The keynotes will be by the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, H.E. Shaykh Mustafa Cerić (that’s him), and Sen. John F. Kerry. Kerry must have talked about interfaith relations during his ill-fated presidential campaign, but I don’t recall anything off the top.

The conference website defines the “issues” being faced this way:

Central to the task of the Reconciliation Program is bridge-building scholarship on the critical social, political, moral/ethical and theological issues which sometimes divide Muslims and Christians, and on concerns which unite them.

Though contemporary social and political issues often seem most pressing in the glare of media coverage, it is perhaps the theological and moral/ethical issues which are most important to Muslim and Christian people of faith. Reconciliation Program research seeks to help Muslims and Christians to find common ground on issues where they frequently think no common ground exists. And in areas where they do disagree, it seeks to foster mutual understanding, so that differences may be construed with respect, sympathy and fairness.

On this page we offer draft articles on a number of important theological issues and political issues in Muslim-Christian dialogue. The list of issues here is far from exhaustive, and the articles represent just a tentative beginning, but they are offered by way of beginning a conversation which we hope will enrich all concerned.

Major Muslim/Christian conference set at Yale: ‘Loving God and Neighbor’

I’ve blogged a few times in the past about a letter signed by 138 Muslim scholars calling for a new era of understanding between Muslims and Christians.

The letter — called A Common Word Between Us and You (no, it doesn’t sing) — provoked some very positive responses from Christian leaders. The Vatican invited several of the Muslim signees for a visit and ongoing dialogue. The Archbishop of Canterbury and others reacted with great enthusiasm.

In addition, a group of scholars at Yale University wrote a thoughtful and affirmative response. An ensuing dialogue led to what will be a major gathering of Muslim and Christian leaders at Yale later this month.

The theme of the conference: “Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Christians and Muslims.” It will bring together about 60 Muslim scholars (mostly from the Midde East), about 60 Christians and several Jewish observers.

txtbanner2.gifAccording to a statement: “…we have set as our goal the exploration of ways in which the common commitments can help rectify distorted perspectives Muslims and Christians have of each other and repair relations between the Middle East and the West. If Muslims and Christians, who together comprise more than half the world’s population, can acknowledge mutual commitment to loving God and loving neighbor the boost to a dynamic and peaceful interdependence in our globalized world would be immense.”

Could make for some lively discussions.

Over the next year or so, similar gatherings will be held at Cambridge University, the Vatican, Georgetown University and in Jordan.