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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 00:26 GMT
What Muslims and Christians share
Castle ruins   BBC
A Crusader castle in Syria: Islam and Christianity still have a common hinterland
By BBC News Online's Alex Kirby

The pace of high level contacts between Christians and Muslims in the UK is hotting up.

On 17 January nearly 40 leading scholars from both faiths start a two-day seminar in London on strengthening links.

Prince Hassan of Jordan and Prime Minister Tony Blair will speak at the opening session of the conference, which is being held at Lambeth Palace.

Christianity and Islam spring from the same root and doctrinally have a deep kinship

William Dalrymple

Later this month the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, and Egypt's Islamic leader will agree a continuing dialogue, with the aim of showing that Christianity is not at war with Islam.

In the wake of September 11, it sounds encouraging.

But there are both Muslims and Christians who say there should be no need to rediscover what the two religions share.

Not so different

On 30 January Dr Carey will sign an agreement with the grand imam of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Dr Mohamed Sayed Tantawy, for a programme of dialogue between Anglicans and Sunni Muslims.

Al-Azhar is the Islamic university in Cairo renowned for more than a millennium as a centre of Sunni scholarship.

Alhambra Palace, Granada   BBC
Moorish Spain marked Islam's cultural zenith
But the two faiths have shared some core beliefs for centuries.

In December Pope John-Paul said: "Islam and Christianity worship the one God, creator of heaven and earth."

The Vatican website details some Christian beliefs shared by Muslims: "Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet.

"They also honour Mary, his virgin mother; at times they call on her, too, with devotion. In addition they await the day of judgment when God will give each man his due after raising him up."

It goes further than doctrine. The author William Dalrymple describes seeing Christians and Muslims praying together in a Greek Orthodox convent in Syria a few years ago.

He writes: "It was an extraordinary sight, yet this was, of course, the old way: the Eastern Christians, the Jews and the Muslims have lived side by side in the Levant for nearly one and a half millennia.

"They have only been able to do so due to a degree of mutual tolerance and shared customs unimaginable in the solidly Christian West."

Seen as precursors

William Dalrymple, a Catholic, told BBC News Online: "Christianity and Islam spring from the same root and doctrinally have a deep kinship.

"Yet there's immense ignorance in the UK about Islam, with Christians referring to 'the Muslim God' as a totally different deity from the one we worship.

"There's a desperate need to educate people about Islam - it's a priority for the next archbishop."

Soldier praying before crucifix   AP
Despite symbols, the faiths share a lot
Fuad Nahdi, publisher of the monthly magazine Q News, is director of the Centre for Muslim Policy Rsearch. He thinks religious co-existence is harder nowadays.

He told BBC News Online: "Muslims accept Judaism and Christianity as part of God's design which culminates in Islam.

"But they found it easier to accept the others when Islam was the dominant political power.

A resource ignored

"Today the West may see itself as secular and liberal, but Muslims see it still as Christian."

Professor Jorgen Nielsen is director of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at the university of Birmingham.

He told BBC News Online: "There's certainly a common historical and cultural heritage the two faiths share, and to a degree a theological one as well.

"In the context of where we are since 11 September, we are neglecting to draw on that."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Archbishop George Carey and Dr Zaki Badawi
discuss relations between Christianity and Islam
See also:

16 Dec 01 | Americas
US Baptists push Muslim conversion
04 Nov 01 | Middle East
Archbishop demands freedom of worship
16 Oct 01 | England
Carey calls for 'deeper dialogue'
16 Oct 01 | Middle East
Analysis: The roots of jihad
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