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Muslims join Christians in call for peace

09 February 2012

by Gerald Butt, Middle East Correspondent

CHRISTIAN and Muslim represent­atives from across the Middle East have expressed their hope that the Arab Spring, now entering its second year, will create new societies in which people of all faiths can live and worship openly.

A call for equality in the region was contained in the final com­muniqué of a “Christian-Muslim consultation on Christian Presence and Witness in the Arab World”, organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in collaboration with the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). It was held in Antelias in Lebanon in the last week of January.

Participants came from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as from a small number of churches in the United States, Europe, and Pakistan. They included religious leaders, scholars, and young people.

During the discussions, a clear interest emerged, among Christians and Muslims alike, in striving to build diverse societies based on hu­man dignity, “drawing strength from faith in the One True God, Creator of all”.

The participants also expressed support for “peaceful popular move­ments which are seeking democracy and freedom. Working in such a way can help to achieve the values that those movements are calling for: equality, social justice, and citizen­ship.”

There was also an insistence on the “necessity of respecting the prin­ciple of public and individual free­doms in Arab societies. These in­clude political freedom, as well as freedom of thought, opinion, and expression, all of which need to be stated in laws guaranteeing their protection.”

Those attending the meeting also called for the promotion of religious dialogue, the defence of human rights, and dialogue to deal with religious tensions.

The meeting in Antelias was held at a time of great anxiety among Arabs as a whole about what course the Arab Spring will take in the months ahead, especially in Syria, where the civilian death-toll is rising fast every day. For Christians in Syria and elsewhere in the region, the anxiety is even more acute.

In his opening speech to the gathering, the WCC general sec­retary, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, acknowledged that “the changes in the Arab world over the last year — and changes still to come — have also left many Christians, along with many Muslims, feeling uncertain and even afraid for their future.”

Further discussion of this issue can be expected at a large inter­national ecumenical gathering on the Christian presence in the Middle East that is being planned by the WCC in partnership with the MECC for late December this year. The Antelias discussion was one of a series of meetings in preparation for that gathering.

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