Washington National Cathedral hosts Christian-Muslim summit

By Ecumenical News International
4 Mar 2010

Washington National Cathedral has hosted a summit of Christian and Muslim faith leaders, seeking to promote understanding and reconciliation between the two traditions - writes Chris Herlinger.

The summit culminated in a public dialogue on Wednesday 3 March 2010.

The conference began on 1 March, and organisers told Ecumenical News International that it was the first of four interfaith dialogues on reconciliation planned with representatives of the Shi'a and Sunni Muslim traditions along with members of the Roman Catholic and (Anglican) Episcopal churches.

The author and associate editor of The Washington Post newspaper, David Ignatius, moderated the summit at the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, as it is officially known.

On its website, Washington Cathedral says, "As the global community continues to divide along the lines of faith and culture, Washington National Cathedral feels increasingly called to play an important role in relations between Christians and Muslims around the world, and is uniquely positioned as a convening authority to facilitate such a dialogue."

Still, the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, which is often critical of "liberal" stands taken by ecumenical institutions, said that the summit had the potential for leading to "appeasement to Islamists".

One of the Muslims at the summit, Ayatollah Seyyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad Ahmadabadi, is a professor of law at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.

In criticising the summit, Faith J.H. McDonnell, the IRD's director of religious liberty, cited human rights violations in Iran and in Egypt, the home of the other Muslim featured at the event, Ahmad Mohamed El Tayeb, president of Al-Azhar University in Cairo.

"The two countries represented by the Muslim principals, Egypt and Iran, commit egregious human rights violations against Christians, converts from Islam, outspoken democracy and free speech advocates, women and gays," said McDonnell in a 1 March statement.

"We do not know what will be included in the 'candid discussion of matters' at the Christian-Muslim Summit but we do know what should be on the agenda. Peacemaking efforts would be furthered if both Sunni and Shi'a would denounce the global jihad against infidels that has been responsible for the death of millions around the world."

"In many Christian-Muslim dialogues," the IRD statement added, "Christians avoid anything contentious but they have a moral obligation to those oppressed by Islam to talk about everything that is contentious."

In announcing the summit, the National Cathedral, which has ties to the Episcopal (Anglican) Church, USA, said the event would, "encourage religious leaders to use their influence with government leaders, and the community at large, to promote - and positively impact - peace and reconciliation efforts worldwide."

The summit's Christian "principals" include Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Episcopal diocese of Washington, DC.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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