View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Monday, October 22, 2007

The UAE: No. One for Inter-Faith Relationships

There has been much interest in Shaikh Mohammed’s recent interview both here in the Middle East and in the US. Here is the link to watch the two 12 minute video clips that aired in America on 14 October 2007: 60 Minutes.

When CBS journalist, Steve Kroft asked Shaikh Mohammed about his goal for Dubai the ruler said, “I want Dubai to be No. 1!” When asked to elaborate the Shaikh said, “I want to be number one in everything, higher education, health, housing…”

‘Number one in everything’ includes being number one in inter-faith relationships.

An historic letter this week from world Muslim leaders to leader of the world’s Christian churches pointed up the urgency of aspiring to this world record here in the UAE.

The 138 Muslims are prominent leaders from different parts of the world and the group included UAE representatives, H.E. Shaykh Dr. Al-Habib Ahmad bin Abd Al-Aziz Al-Haddad, the Chief Mufti of Dubai, UAE and H.E. Shaykh Dr. Izz Al-Din Ibrahim, the Advisor for Cultural Affairs, Prime Ministry, UAE.

The 29 page document, ‘A Common Word between Us and You’ calls for Muslim-Christian dialogue immediately. The reason for the urgency is expressed in this excerpt:

“Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders. Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. Together they make up more than 55% of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.”

“And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony.”

“So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works.”

At the height of the British Empire there was a man who talked, wrote, slept and drank all matters to do with the Empire. One night his wife was frustrated with her husband’s Imperial passion which had led him to neglect some of his basic duties about the home. It boiled over just before dinner one evening when the woman dropped their screaming baby into her husband’s lap and said, “Here’s your bit of the British Empire! Feed it and take care of it!”

Lofty letters at the global level are good and they might result in high powered conferences but they also need to be earthed at the national, regional and local levels.

It would be a constructive thing if UAE Islamic and Christian leaders instituted a process and encouraged conversation in all cities and towns of the United Arab Emirates. These groups could be called ‘Common Ground’ whereby ordinary representatives of different faiths met together initially over a period of several weeks to share food, to get to know one another, to listen and to find common ground. As the letter put it, Muslims and Christians are different but they can agree on some fundamental principles, such as the commandment to love God and to love one’s neighbour. And surely participants might find common ground in a commitment to peacemaking and doing justice. And this is only a beginning. What leadership and what a signal this would give to people to know that such conversations were going on in the United Arab Emirates.

The full text of ‘A Common Word between Us and You’ is found at these links in Arabic and in English.

The list of signatories, responses from Christians, Jews and Muslims can be found on this specially designated site: The Officially Website of A Common Word-Arabic and English.

Geoff Pound

Image: Dr Anas Sheikh-Ali officially delivering A Common Word to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev. Dr Rowan Williams, in Lambeth Palace on October 11th, 2007.