Closer relations sought for Christians, Muslims

Published January 1, 2000

The Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, chats with Francis Cardinal Arinze, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue.

Amman, Jordan

The Archbishop of Canterbury wants to see closer relations at a “senior level” between Muslims and Christians in the hope of bringing peace to religious hot spots in the world.

In an interview following his address to the opening assembly of the seventh World Conference on Religion and Peace here, the archbishop said plans are under way to deepen relations between Al-Azhar University in Egypt and the Anglican Communion following “excellent” talks with the Sheik of Al-Azhar.

The archbishop said he hoped the venture would not only “find ways of co-operating locally” but would also bring in “an international team of Muslims and Christians to negotiate and help people to resolve these difficulties.”

“It’s surprising we hadn’t thought of that before but I think its time we tried to unite at a senior level people who might go into a trouble spot and help create a settlement,” he said.

Christian-Muslim tensions were a focal point of last year’s Lambeth Conference.

Throughout Asia and Africa, especially in Pakistan and Sudan, Christians are being persecuted and are dying for their faith.

The fear of more persecution and ridicule by fundamentalist Muslims was a major component of the resolution on homosexuality that held the line on traditional teaching about sexuality.

Asked if he thought Anglicans in those areas would accept such a co-operative approach, the archbishop said he thought they would “be open to discussion on the basis that we’re not compromising the Christian faith.”

“I mean, where the church is growing, it’s growing on the basis of a pretty uncompromising belief in Jesus as Lord and sometimes that can lead to confrontation.” He said “we mustn’t, we cannot go back or start apologizing for our faith any more than you expect a Muslim to do so.”

But the two faiths “should not be in collision,” he said.

“Yes, we may well be in competition for the souls of people, but that’s the situation that the church has been in ever since the beginning.”

At a press conference following his speech, the archbishop addressed the situation in Nazareth where the planned construction of a mosque has heightened tensions between the two faith communities. Israel has granted approval for the construction of a mosque outside the Basilica of the Annunciation, sparking weeks of clashes and protests in Nazareth. Major Christian shrines closed their doors across the Holy Land for two days in protest.”I hope that the Muslim community will find another place to build a mosque because there are intense Christian worries,” Archbishop Carey said.

“I want to represent the Christian concern. Nazareth means a lot to us. On the eve of a new millennium of the Christian era, we want there to be a true celebration in the Holy Land.

But in a later interview he said violence is the real issue. “Any Christian who engages in violence is going against the Christian faith, and I think Muslims would say the same.”

Prince Hassan of Jordan, who is chairing the conference, appealed for Muslims to exercise restraint to avoid tensions with Christians over the plans for the mosque in the town where Jesus was raised.

“At the dawn of the new millennium, we urge Muslim clergymen to consolidate their efforts in Nazareth and in the Holy Lands elsewhere to reflect on the real image of coexistence between Arab Muslims and Christians,” the Prince said.

In his address to the assembly, the archbishop didn’t shy away from noting that the millennium is an observation related to Christianity and the birth of Jesus Christ.

He also reiterated points made in his recent speech in the House of Lords about whether religions cause conflict and whether they can resolve conflict.

He said while religion is inextricably linked with cultural identity and so is often linked to violence, the worst instances of evil in this century were “perpetrated ? by the messianic regimes of Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot.”

He argued strongly that “in certain areas” religion can be the basis of resolving conflict, noting the work of individuals such as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

He also noted the role of religious leaders and communities in bringing peace to trouble spots like East Timor.

The plight of the world’s poor was also highlighted in the speech. Archbishop Carey has been working with World Bank president, James Wolfensohn, as part of the Jubilee initiative to have the debts of the world’s poorest countries forgiven.

He said the work with the World Bank is “not only about talk; it is about action” on behalf of the poor.

“Christ tells us the ‘poor’ will inherit the earth, but at the moment they get more than their share of the world’s conflict and poverty.

“At this moment, about half of the world’s poorest countries are involved in conflict ? Of the six billion people on this tiny planet, 1.3 billion live (on) under one dollar a day; a further three billion live (on) under two dollars a day,” he noted. “This is a moral and economic problem.”

Six assembly commissions produced reports on common action regarding the child and family, conflict transformation and reconciliation, development and ecology, disarmament and security, human rights and peace education.

With files from the Jordan Times.


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