Recently, I had found myself avoiding participating in and even attending interfaith events. The usual dance with the same crowd speaking the same rhetoric had dulled me to a point that I no longer found great benefit in their pursuit. Enter the National Cathedral and its historic Christian-Muslim Summit held there earlier this month.
The Cathedral’s own Reverend Canon John Peterson worked for nearly two years on this project to bring together the world’s top Muslim and Christian leaders as part of a larger directive of the Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation. Christendom’s and Islamia’s top clergy worked together for three days in promoting understanding and reconciliation between Islam and the West. But it’s not just that — these leaders are now using their influence within their respective governments and spiritual hierarchies to promote and positively impact peace and reconciliation efforts worldwide. The resultant “Plan of Action” achieves specific steps towards building peace and reconciliation efforts before the parties reconvene next year. This is a sustained effort at rapprochement from all sides-Catholics, Protestants and all forms of Muslims.
The four principals of the Summit are respectable and high-powered in their religious arenas: His Eminence Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, who resides in the Vatican; the Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, the Episcopal eighth Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, D.C.; the Ayatollah Dr. Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad Ahmadabadi, an astute and broadly educated Irani representing Shi’a Islam; and Professor Dr. Ahmad Mohamed El Tayeb, President of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Sunni Islam’s largest academic institution. Make no mistake, these are religion’s heavy hitters and their initiative is most welcome, especially considering President Obama’s willingness to engage with the Muslim world with words as opposed to WMDs.
So what is the tangible, positive change this Summit has brought us from the proverbial Mount of Horeb? Recognized leaders of approximately three and a half billion people have realized that dialogue necessitates and behooves education, both intra- and inter-community. As they were in the Summit, previously proscribed topics must now be challenged including: non-reconciliation from the Crusades lingering and hindering peace, extremists among secularists, issues concerning women’s rights and identities and ignorance from within the communities. The Summit concluded, appropriately, on the concept of the forgiveness of sin. Reverend Chane turned to his fellow principals and asked, “Is it possible for us to forgive one another?”
Quite contrastingly, we at AU witness students tearing down organizations’ posters of meetings and initiatives. We tolerate, in the comments online at The Eagle’s Web site and around campus, blatantly disrespectful statements dismissing entire races and nationalities of people. Infantile, unproductive and downright asinine behavior is condoned with the silence of the majority. In a time when scandal and religion coincide all too often, we can learn from the audacious example of the principles of the Christian-Muslim Summit and we must emulate their efforts. Remember these words of Summit Delegate Imam Sayid Hassan Al-Qazwini when you next encounter intolerance on the AU campus: “Listen to the people of hate and go to war, or listen to the people of faith and go to peace.”
When you graduate and leave for the “real” world, the consequences of intolerance will be far more dire than torn posters and hurtful words.