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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 15:37 GMT
Christianity and Islam: Can bridges be built?
Christians and Muslims are meeting at an international conference in London in an attempt to strengthen links between their faiths.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, who is hosting the conference, believes the two faiths have much in common.
He has said that since 11 September, deepening dialogue between Christians and Muslims "has taken on a new urgency."
He suggested Christians should read the Koran and Muslims the New Testament to better understand each others' faiths.
And his hopes are for two great faiths working together, "for peace and justice in our tortured world."
Can bridges be built between Christianity and Islam? How important is it for links to be strengthened between the two faiths?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I am a Christian and could not accept Islamic beliefs in my Christianity BUT I am called to love others as Christ loves them. This is not a compromise on my part but a commitment of my belief.
John Atkins, England
Of course bridges can be built. One doesn't need to be Muslim or Christian to understand the others' faiths and to respect their views and beliefs.
The 11th Article of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states: "We claim the privilege to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where or what they may." Adherence to this simple creed is all that is required.
Ali Siddiqui, UK
Building bridges between Christianity and Islam? Don't make me laugh! Within our own nation we can't even get rival factions of Christians to co-exist without trying to kill each other. Trying it with Christianity and Islam is likely to be a bridge too far.
While it is very possible to build bridges of understanding, friendship and love between individual Muslims and Christians, the suggestion of building bridges "between the faiths" seems to blatantly ignore the fact that Islam and Christianity are completely different in essential, defining beliefs (one of which was mentioned by Ken) and compromise on these would essentially change either of them. The Bible leaves no scope for the attitude that "all religions are equally valid ways to God", incidentally that would make a mockery of the cross, and trivialise God's justice.
Basically we should love our Muslim neighbours as Christ loved us, we do them a great disservice if we hide the truth about Jesus from them.
The central tenet of biblical faith is that Jesus is God, died for our sins and that he rose from the dead. As I understand it, Islam does not recognise this, although it does have some other aspects in common with Christianity. Now they cannot both be right, so how can you dialogue to consensus on this? Or are they both wrong? All you can do is examine the evidence, but if either is God's revelation of himself then we are obligated to follow it, as surely the creator calls the shots, not us. Alternatively, we can put our faith in the god science as many are doing without even thinking (sic) about the possibility of a creator. In doing so we make our opinions our god, and this is where the conflict comes into the situation. So the Archbishop's meeting may or may not help to reduce religious conflict, but by its very nature it cannot arrive at the truth, only compromise it.
Rhys Jaggar, England
In response to Malik Ali. Neither Stalin nor Hitler were acting in the name of "secular humanism". People should be free to follow their own religious beliefs but should have no rights to impose these on others. This means that the State should be wholly secular and that taxpayers' money should not be used to finance any religious activity or organisation of any sort. A secular humanist state upholds the freedom to diverge by refusing to sanction or promote any one religion or creed; a religious state does the opposite. That is why mixing politics with religion is dangerous.
To the atheists, secularists, agnostics; please don't try and make your creeds looks self-righteous, by stating that religion is the root of violence and must be eliminated from this world. Stalin's atheistic Russia produced millions of deaths and misery. So did Hitler's extreme form of secularism, totalitarianism. The world today exploits weaker nations in the name of anything that is of materialistic value; oil, arms trade, etc. And here we are having a discussion about Innocent Islam and Christianity being at loggerheads. The dialogue (if ever) should be made between religion AND secular humanism.
Bridges have existed between Islam and Christianity for hundreds of years. Who ever said bridges constructed by great Muslim thinkers of the twelth century, like Ibn Arabi, have already collapsed? The importance of coming to know, understand and be affectionate to people different than yourself is an important part of what it means to be Muslim. If new bridges are to be built they must be constructed on the foundations of already fruitful and creative interactions between Islam and Christianity
J Garner, USA
"Tim Abernethy, England" advocates banning religion because of "bigotry, the dogma, the intolerance and the closed minds" but indeed Tim, your very statement is filled with anti-religious bigotry, athiest dogma, politically correct social intolerance and illustrates blatant closed mindedness, just your own form of such. Perhaps you should ban yourself?
We should ban all religion. The world will be a happier place without the bigotry, the dogma, the intolerance and the closed minds. Thank goodness for men searching for knowledge and truth such as Galileo. Otherwise we would still be living in the Middle Ages. Surely humanity in the 21st Century is capable of original thought! Stop following demented Religious leaders spouting hatred, segregation and holy war and start thinking for yourselves! Perhaps "The life of Brian" should be compulsory viewing.
As only a small minority of British people are practicing Christians, so this initiative seems utterly pointless. This is, thankfully, a secular country. Those who want to return it to the old autocratic religions should leave instead and find out what life in a theocracy is really like instead of trying to impose their superstitions and religious bigotry on the rest of us.
Jane, Wales, UK
The Christian scriptures and the Islamic scriptures already have everything in common. They were both inspired by two highly spiritually evolved and illumined Masters - Christ and Mohammed - who were and still are aeons ahead of the rest of us, and pretty much reflected in their words and actions the deeper single Truth that underlies all Religions. It is the ignorance and lack of Wisdom of many of the individuals who have subsequently followed these Religions and totally misinterpreted the Masters teachings that has led to all the conflict and strife.
Take the concept of 'Jihad' from the Koran. Many Muslims interpret this as referring to a 'struggle', which it does mean. But their aggressive hearts lead them to believe it means violent struggle against some imagined oppressor, which in the Modern World they have decided must be the evil West. What Jihad really refers to, is something far more subtle, an inner spiritual struggle that we all experience in our passage through life - the battle to remove vice from our hearts and replace it with virtue.
Which bit of "love thy neighbour" (Christianity) and "respect all life" (Islam) do people not understand?
Why do we blame religion?
The problem has never been with religion but with Man.
Both Islam and Christianity teach us to be secular, and most certainly there is historical evidence where both the communities relied on each other when faced with hardship.
Problems round the world are more of political and nationalistic in nature and not one of a fight between religions.
Out of 2.2 billion people following these two religions, only a few thousands are misguided and use religion for their own political goals.
Communal harmony will only come about with dialogue and it's good to see that this has begun.
Religion isn't really any problem! It's POLITICS. Solve it, and the religious tension will vaporize. The real ethos of Western Politics is not at all Christian - it's an old Pagan (Roman) one. The Pagan political ethics is basically an amoral result-oriented one - where the 'end justifies the means' - or 'do whatever (otherwise evil or not) serves or promotes the aggressive projective self-interest of your self or of your own group, class, country, or empire.
That's called Good in this Paganistic Political Realm. On the other hand, both in Islam and Christianity, intention is what matters most. Both the intention and the means must be good/moral to start with in whatever realm it may be - political, non-political, national, international, social, private, and public no matter what. The action must be ethical. There are no exceptions.
These two approaches just don't go together. Trying to hide the Paganism behind, or disguise it with the cloak of Christianity is just sheer hypocrisy. A Red-Herring tactic! That's what all believers must first realize, and non-believers too, before blaming any of these two religions. There is NO clash between these religions. The clash is between these two religions on one side, and the old European (esp. Roman) Paganism on the other!
If we can all get past the arrogant belief that only one path is the right path, then we will do okay.
Ali Bushell, UK
Religion by its nature is divisive. Although some leaders of both religions may have a broader view of life, the main tenet of any religion is "My way of worship is right and others are wrong." So unless we reduce the ritualistic aspects of religion and impress on human side, we shall not succeed in uniting religious groups.
This claptrap about religion being the root of all evil is straight out of Marx, the greatest of all false prophets, in whose name a number of regimes have rigorously proven that atheistic zealots are just as bad as their religious brethren. Spare us these 19th century diatribes, and God forbid that people with utterly inflexible ideas of any kind ever get into power!
Are we living in the Middle Ages? Why must some people attach religious connotations to everything? I have Muslim friends, and there is absolutely no religious friction. Religion is too often used as an excuse to hate people who are different. I repect religion on some levels, but believing in religious mythology literally is ridiculous. Fundamentalism exists in every religion, and it is extremely dangerous. "We are right, and everybody who doesn't agree with us is damned!" It's all so stupid, I can't believe we are even having this debate. I guess I'm just an infidel.
Adil Khan, India
It's not the gap between Islam and Christianity that's the problem, it's the gap between Islam and the secular humanism which is the real religion of the West.
I doubt that any bridges can be built except artificial ones. The two religions for those who really believe cannot be reconciled. They both claim exclusivity. To further complicate matters, most of those who claim to follow either religion do not know what they really preach. If they do, the Muslim will always take an eye for another, while the Christian will always turn the other cheek.
It is important to agree that the teachings are different but one has to have faith that the believe are the same and there is one God. As long as the separation of state and religion comes in play then there is a strong possibility of unification of understanding.
I think Christianity and Islam has shared beliefs which can be shared and celebrated but fundamentally we also have to recognise the two faiths are counter to one another as Christians hold Jesus to be God as man and Muslims define this as blasphemy. What we do need more of in this world is dialogue between the two faiths. For the leaders of each group to take the time to understand what the other is really about and not demonise them.
I think mature, educated adults can accept that someone else has a different world view. We need to have a mutual tolerance and respect which can only come through dialogue, not the Pope saying how great Islam is, but both groups standing up for what they believe, whilst affirming everyone else's basic human right to decide for themselves what they believe.
As sad as it is that people in the 21st century still feel the need to believe in any kind of religion, this is the reality, so the more these disparate groups get together, the faster their understanding of each other will advance; and with understanding, a greater respect. And by eliminating religion as a "difference", perhaps we can get on with building a better world.
The problem is that religious "belief" is usually absorbed during the years of childhood so that by the time adulthood is reached, it has become a part of the believer's identity and his defence against the world. It is inevitable therefore that "foreign" religions will be viewed with suspicion and fear. Even where there appears to be complete mutual acceptance, resentments often lurk beneath the surface - as was horribly shown in Bosnia. The bottom line is that religion is a dangerous point of division between peoples who would otherwise get along.
Garry H, England
Of what value would a religion be that did not claim an exclusivity on the final truth? All religions, even the more tolerant, claim to be the most correct if not the only correct religion in the world. It would certainly fail to be a religious belief if it did not teach that it had the most valuable prophecy concerning man's salvation. Religions will always disagree at some level. In secular humanism one can water down religion by creating the idea that all beliefs are relative. But secular humanism reigns only in the West- and than not even all of the West (see Ulster).
If you are a true believer in any religion the moralizing of secular humanism is not acceptable. Somehow I doubt that mosques in any part of the world will be telling congregants that Christianity is also valid (especially when the Muslims find out that the Christians get to eat a ham sandwich and wash it down with a cold beer!). My point being that it is useless to attempt to "equalize" the religions of the world in the minds of the faithful.
To me it seems that there are two ways to attempt some sort of coming to terms. The first; religion and state are two separate entities and should never be combined. The second; violence in the name of religion is archaic and, at least in the New Testament (I haven't read much past the first 20 pages of the Koran), antithetical. If we can keep religions and government apart and convince most people that killing your neighbour is not going to get you anywhere with God, that may at least effect the unending conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Ireland.
If you look at religions other than your own, you will find ideas that seem strange or nonsensical to you, defying understanding. To those of that religion, the ideas are normal and accepted on faith. However, if you look objectively at your own religion, you are also likely to find similar nonsensical issues, and many people would be hard pressed to explain them except by saying "that's the correct way to do things". Until we can first understand our own religion and see its weaknesses as well as strengths, then we are always at risk of falling into the trap of "my religion is better than yours" - the cause of most religious based wars. Remember, God (whomever you deem him to be) may be perfect, but religions were created by humankind. Humankind is not perfect - and neither is any religion.
God exists. Man created him. What you call him is up to you. Fighting over who has the best imaginary friend is madness surely?
Two thousand years ago Jesus declared, "I am the way, the truth, and the light. No man cometh unto the father but through me." Now, if salvation is what you're ultimately looking for then this is the way. Reconciling all the different religions of the world won't save you. It'll only give you a false and temporary sense of peace and tolerance.
Why focus on the synergy of only two faiths? Why any faith? The current problems in the world are more cultural integration issues. Faith plays a big part in a culture but regardless, if we do not integrate ourselves with those around us then we are the problem! Christians, Muslims and atheists - think how you integrate with your community.
I think that the world needs a lot less religion and a greater degree of tolerance of difference amongst human beings. Sad to say most of the "religious" people I have met have had amazingly closed minds.
Bishop Carey's intentions are noble but flawed in ambition. The events in Northern Ireland prove that the animosity between the two rival groups described as Protestant and Catholic have nothing to do with religion and the same applies to Israel and Palestine. Palestinian Christians and Muslims are equally united in their opposition to Israel. It has everything to do with the way ignorance and prejudice have become institutionalised in all social, political, organised religious and corporate entities. These institutions have a power base that can evaporate through long-term peace. Therefore, there is no need to strengthen any links between Islam and Christianity.
Christian institutions in the West have failed to be relevant in the lives of the local community because Western politicians have ruled it out of the classrooms, out of families and virtually, out of town when it comes to local government in the UK, especially a town like Bradford. As such, Muslims and their Muslim leaders have never had to fear a Christian telling them what to do.
Perhaps Bishop Carey is mistaken to embark on a cause for peace and justice in this tortured world rather than embark on a mission to rediscover the causes of peace and justice. Will someone in government start to recognise that there exists a healthy resentment amongst educated, non-Americans (i.e. the rest of the world including Britons of all races) against the one-size-fits-all American model for economic growth (globalisation) social harmony (guns, drugs) and success (emotional insecurity)?
Getting rid of all religions would be a better method of achieving peace across the world.
I think it's a great idea for both religions to increase their respect for one another. However, trying to find similarities between the two faiths is not the right way to go about it. The two religions have fundamental differences, including the way in which people are believed to be reconciled to God.
Why is all the emphasis on finding the similarities, rather than recognising the differences and accepting them as such?
Absolutely not. Muslims have completely different beliefs to us Christians. There would be more friction caused by too many people trying to influence other faiths with their beliefs. It would be complete chaos.
Hang on. Christians believe that any non-Christians are going to burn in Hell for eternity. Also, Chris Gower - didn't Jesus supposedly tell you to go and preach i.e. try to influence other faiths or beliefs?
Jeff Dray, England
Bridges can be built if only we depart from theologies which have developed time after the founders of Christianity and Islam had made their exit from this world, and more emphasis is made on the ethical aspect of both religions. It is not as much whether there is an after-life that really matters, eternal joy or damnation, but the day-to-day relationship between human beings down here on earth.
Basically, it is the soul-searching which is being very much set aside nowadays, and the hope that ultimate love means that one can love one's own enemies just as much while hanging on one's own cross or kneeling on a prayer-mat imploring one same God.
Paul Kenyon, Lancashire, UK
No two human beings' beliefs are exactly the same. Even if they have the same religion and belong to the same denomination, their interpretation of religious texts can be totally opposite. But at the heart of all religious belief is the fact that you as a human being are fallible and that your knowledge of Life, the Universe and its Creation is extremely limited. Only when you have this humility can you move on.
So it doesn't really matter who you meet in this world and what their religion or background is, they are just as likely as you to be right or wrong. If those who attend the meeting between Christians and Muslims have this humility they may be able to make new friends and learn. Otherwise it's a waste of time.
I am a born again Christian with a very open mind. I am also very loving and forgiving and would see this as a major breakthrough. Bring it on. It gets my 100% support.
Of course bridges can be built. I am no expert on the Koran but I assume its basic premise involves respecting others. If we take the single Christian idea of treating others as we would expect to be treated ourselves, and find the Islamic equivalent in the Koran, then those parts are all we need stress. The notion that people might think it impossible for bridges to be built I find a very scary one.
Personally, I think it is crucially important that the two religions can meet like this...however I feel that it is very sad that in the modern 21st century, there are too many people who believe in supposed supernatural entities that rule the universe and, oddly, can be worshipped. I look forward to the day when religion is finally discarded, and where scientific knowledge can make us become our own gods in a godless universe.
Jack, did you never hear of Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot? They acted in the name of "science". Actually, the word "religion" means belief-and secular humanism is every bit as much of a faith-based religion as hinduism, Taoism or any other faith position. So let's stop talk about banning each other or calling each other names, we can't have a safe world without people voluntarily agreeing to treat each other right.
I agree with TJ, I believe people will eventually outgrow religion and embrace science instead. Then the world will be a much safer place.
TJ and Jack confuse religion and faith. Faith cannot be replaced by science. It was possible to for Christians and Moslems to live happily side-by-side centuries ago, so it should be even easier now that we're more "civilised", right? I agree with everyone who says that money and power are the true religions of the west, or at least of its leaders.
The freedoms the West is so keen to defend in the current "war" are all to do with economic freedoms of big business not humanity. The governments really couldn't care less about the people on either side. We don't need to rid the world of religion; we need to rid it of 99% of the politicians and the corruption that puts them in power.
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