Muslim & Christian Leaders Seek Agenda for Change
Although convinced of the importance of this initiative, we were astonished at the incredible response. The acceptance rate from the global leaders invited was over 90%. Our opening session drew a capacity audience of 750 in Gaston Hall; subsequent sessions averaged 500 to 600 participants. Media coverage included the Washington Post, Newsweek's On Faith, Al-Jazeera English, Al-Arabiyya, BBC, and many others.
Critical to realizing the purpose and goal of "A Common Word" is applied theology, transforming belief and dialogue into action. Conference encounters and their final reports alone, however good and important are too easily archived and do not in themselves change minds and hearts and transform societies. Words must be accompanied by action and deeds; visions must be implemented by concrete and, where possible, joint efforts and projects.
During our two days together we listened to and learned about the good practices, their challenges and accomplishments that already exist. Ken Hacket and David Robinson, leaders of Catholic Relief Services and World Vision, spoke of their global outreach and work in Muslim communities; Amr Khaled, charismatic preacher and founder of the Right Start Foundation, spoke of RSF's many projects in the Arab world and Europe; Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director, Gallup Muslim Studies, reported on a major youth project, "Muslim Americans Answer the Call"; Fr. Eliseo Mercado and Amina Rasul-Bernardo spoke of their use of A Common Word in the Southern Philippines; Pastor Bob Roberts and Dr. Chris Seiple spoke of their respective partnerships and projects with Muslims in Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier Province.
Presentations and discussions were open and frank, highlighting important accomplishments, issues, and problems; areas of agreement and difference; and especially the need to recognize that differences of faith need not be an obstacle to partnership and collaboration in areas of mutual concern.
At the end of our conference, after two long and exhausting ten-hour days, we held a wrap-up discussion: "Where Do We Go from Here?" While conferences, like religious services, often witness a good number of participants who hastily depart before the end, we were delighted to see a full contingent and in fact had to finally cut off our session.
After a summary of the key take-aways from our panels and leaders' and audience members' reactions, we turned to what we could and would do to promote the ideas and initiatives discussed and then identified areas and projects to be pursued and developed in future. Many asked that contact information be provided for future collaborations and follow-up workshops, regionally and locally.
These recommendations and others were taken up the next day and will be at future meetings by the Executive Committee of The C-1 World Dialogue: Improving Relations between the Western and Islamic Worlds, whose co-chairs are Dr. Ali Gomaa Grand Mufti of Egypt and Dr. Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London.
John L. Esposito is professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University, founding director of its Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding and author of What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam and Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam.