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World News

Christian-Muslim dialogue spreading like the Internet

PARIS (Reuters) - Christian-Muslim contacts are multiplying around the world as networks of religious officials and scholars confer in parallel to improve ties between the world’s two largest faiths, a leading Muslim participant says.

Aref Ali Nayed listen to reporters questions during a news conference in Rome March 5, 2008. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/Files

Aref Ali Nayed of the Common Word dialogue drive launched by 138 Islamic scholars said the Internet was making contacts among experts quicker and easier while serving as a paradigm for the decentralised dialogue that suits the information age.

A senior Vatican official recently said there might now be too many Christian-Muslim dialogues and they risked overlapping, but Nayed said the opposite was the case in the information age.

“There can never be too many dialogues,” said the Libyan theologian, who is senior advisor to the Cambridge Interfaith Programme in Britain. “This network of networks needs to continue to grow.”

Normally pursued in occasional formal conferences, top-level contacts between Christian and Islamic leaders have stepped up since the Sept. 11 attacks rekindled long-standing tensions. The Common Word group was only launched last year but has already held productive talks with many different church leaders.

“That’s the power of the Internet,” Nayed told Reuters. “In the old days, it would have taken years to reach the consensus we’ve reached quite quickly through modern communications.”

The Vatican and the Common Word group held a pioneering meeting on Nov. 4-6 that pledged religious freedom for faith minorities. Saudi King Abdullah has visited the Vatican and held interfaith sessions in Madrid and at the United Nations.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told Reuters after meeting the Common Word group that the current profusion of dialogue efforts “sows a bit of confusion”.

INTERFAITH CAMPAIGN

Several Catholic delegates at the talks saw Abdullah’s interfaith campaign as a move to outflank the Common Word group, but Nayed said the two were coordinating their efforts.

Common Word signatories are working with Muslims active in long-established Vatican dialogues with Iran, with Cairo’s Al Azhar University and with the World Islamic Call Society (WICS).

Nayed is the group’s contact with the WICS, a network of more than 250 Islamic organisations around the world, and has briefed WICS delegates planning to meet Vatican officials in December so they build on the discussions the Common Word had in November.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa keeps contacts with Al Azhar while a Tehran University professor coordinates with Iranian officials and another signatory is also a member of the Saudi committee organising King Abdullah’s interfaith project.

“The idea is to keep multiple channels open and each channel keeps pushing the process forward,” Nayed said.

The Common Word group held talks with United States Protestants and British Anglicans before its Catholic-Muslim Forum at the Vatican.

“The meeting in Rome helped to a large extent to overcome the rupture caused by the Regensburg lecture,” Nayed said, referring to Pope Benedict’s 2006 speech that angered the Muslim world by implying Islam was irrational and violent.

The upswing in interfaith meetings has prompted Christians to consult each other more as well. About 50 representatives of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches met near Geneva in late October to compare notes on how they dialogue with Islam.

After the Vatican-Common Word session, at least three local Christian-Muslim groups in France organised meetings to discuss its results and what they meant at the grass roots level.

“Nobody owns this, it’s growing on its own -- like the Internet,” Nayed remarked.

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