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Last Updated: Monday, 23 January 2006, 18:19 GMT
Christian-Muslim forum launched
Rowan Williams
The Archbishop will host the forum's inaugural meeting
A forum promoting better understanding between Christians and Muslims is due to be launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

The Christian Muslim Forum has been set up as a charitable company and will offer practical ways of bringing Christians and Muslims together.

Headed by the Bishop of Bolton and Dr Ataullah Siddiqui, it will meet three times a year.

The Bishop, the Rt Rev David Gillet, denied the forum was "a talking shop".

It would promote better understanding through "common initiatives", he said.

'Great achievement'

The forum will comprise eight presidents - four Muslim and four Christian - 12 specialist members covering areas such as education and family issues, and six scholar consultants.

It will also employ two full-time directors - one Christian, one Muslim.

Funding has come from a mixture of sources, including a start-up grant from the Home Office.

Dr Williams heralded the forum as a "great achievement".

"I'm delighted that the hard work that has been put into this project by so many people has achieved so much," he said.

We need to lead by example and to show that there are many areas in which it is possible to work together
Bishop of Bolton, Rt Rev David Gillet

"Christians and Muslims have learnt a great deal over the past 10 years about working together.

"I very much hope that the Christian Muslim Forum will provide an opportunity for the members and consultants from both communities to explore together their common and different perspectives on issues affecting us all."

Bishop Gillet said: "This is the first time that we have brought together at a national level the Christian and Muslim communities in this kind of way, with this kind of agenda."

"So that two communities of faith can discover ways in which possibly they can work together for the good of common society as a whole."

They hoped to overcome people's misunderstanding about each other, he said.

There were a number of similarities between both faiths - they both wanted to work for peace and the common good - while in history there were a number of examples when both faith communities had worked together.

The Church of England, as the host faith, had a responsibility to facilitate better understanding between communities, he said.

We want to work together not simply for the benefit of two communities but jointly for the wider society
Dr Ataullah Siddiqui

"We need to lead by example and to show that there are many areas in which it is possible to work together," he said.

Dr Ataullah Siddiqui, director of the Markfield Institute of Higher Education, will take turns with Bishop Gillet chairing the forum.

He said it was important that people began to see past their misconceptions.

"We have a common heritage but also we have in a number of inner cities Muslims and Christian communities living side by side," he said.

People were living in a "mask" society, he said, where there preconceptions were preventing them from getting to know each other.

"We want to work together not simply for the benefit of two communities but jointly for the wider society," he said.

He said the forum would work at a local level to bring people together to talk to each other.

It would also "respect and celebrate our differences".

"What Christians and Muslims both have is a sense of duty to community, so we are hoping that working together will create a clear understanding between them," he said.

Christians and Muslims speak about the group

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