Arab Christian-Muslim Working Group:
2002-DEC meeting in Cairo, Egypt
The second of a series of three meetings on Christian-Muslim dialog on the
local, regional and international level was held in Cairo, Egypt during
2001-DEC-17 to 21. The dialog was between Arab Christians and Muslims from the
Middle East. The meetings are facilitated by the World Council of Churches
(WCC) and the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC).
The WCC issued the following press release on 2001-DEC-21:
"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
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 2 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
- " 'Christians and Muslims together - a charter for a dialogue of
life and common action' adopted by Arab Christian-Muslim Working
Group," World Council of Churches Press Update, 2001-DEC-21. See:
- The term "pluralism" is ambiguous.
It is sometimes used to refer to religious diversity. Other times, it refers
to the belief that all religions are true. Here, it seems to refer to
Copyright © 2002 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-AUG-6
Latest update: 2004-OCT-4
Author: B.A. Robinson