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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 11:49 GMT
Blair calls on faiths to unite
Tony Blair at Lambeth Palace with church leaders
Tony Blair called for greater religious understanding
Prime Minister Tony Blair has told a conference of Christians and Muslims that there is a renewed urgency for greater religious understanding in the wake of the 11 September terror attacks.

He was speaking at a special two-day international seminar at Lambeth Palace, in London, to attempt to break down barriers between their faiths.


Two great faiths working together for peace and justice in our tortured world

Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey
Prince Hassan of Jordan also addressed the meeting of 40 priests, academics and lawyers on Thursday.

"Religious values can be warped or perverted but when people are true to its real value, religious faith can be immensely liberating," Mr Blair said.

He said extremists could be undermined by greater religious understanding.

And he said the need for interfaith understanding had become important not only abroad but at home as he recalled how a postal worker was killed in Northern Ireland at the weekend for being Catholic.

Build bridges

Prince Hassan told the conference a multi-denominational peace corps was possible.

"We cannot continue to have a situation where it is only after there is violence that we ask what is happening," he said.

Tony Blair and Dr George Carey
Mr Blair: Extremists undermined by greater religious understanding
Earlier the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey, who is hosting the seminar, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it was vital to building bridges between the faiths.

He suggested Christians should read the Koran and Muslims the New Testament to better understand each others' faiths.

But he said there were no shortcuts to improving relations.

"If we are going to find a meeting of minds we have to look at the underlying issues.

"We have to look at the fear and try to overcome the distrust."

He said this was an exciting seminar coming at the beginning of his last year in office.

"It seemed to be bring together all the things I have been striving for - a just world where the Christian faith can express itself freely, as with Islam.

"Two great faiths working together for peace and justice in our tortured world."

Common beliefs

The seminar Building Bridges - Overcoming Obstacles in Muslim-Christian Relations, will explore what the faiths have in common.

Ground Zero
Tensions between faiths have heightened post 11 September
The prime minister's unofficial "faith tsar", John Battle MP, will be among observers.

Those attending include senior scholars from the United States, the UK, North and West Africa and the Middle East as well as the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-Connor and Church of England Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali.

Later this month Dr Carey and the man seen as Egypt's Islamic leader will set up a joint initiative agreeing a continuing dialogue, with meetings at least annually, between Anglicans and Sunni Muslims.

Dr Carey will sign an agreement with the grand imam of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Dr Mohamed Sayed Tantawy, for a programme of dialogue.

Al-Azhar is the Islamic university in Cairo renowned as a centre of scholarship for the Sunni branch of Islam - followed by the majority in most Muslim countries other than Iran.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Prime Minister Tony Blair
"When true to its real values, religious faith can be immensley liberating"
discuss relations between Christianity and Islam
Archbishop George Carey and Dr Zaki Badawi
See also:

16 Oct 01 | England
Carey calls for 'deeper dialogue'
06 Nov 01 | Middle East
Archbishop's visit illustrates divide
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