Dialog (Building Bridges Seminar) Between Christian Muslim Scholars Cancelled

Many friends have been asking what happened to the Dialog: The 6th Building Bridges from May 7-11, 2007 convened by the Archbishop of Cantebury, Dr. Rowan Williams. The Dialog is supposed to bring together 30+ Christian and Muslim scholars from all over the world to discuss on the topic “Humanity in Context: Christian Muslim Perspectives on Being Human.” Thank you for your encouragement and prayers when I was preparing one of the plenary papers. I owe you an update.

The sad thing is that the Dialog has been cancelled (or, to use the language of diplomacy -postponed indefinitely) at the last minute. You might be interested to read the full details of the unfortunate development of events from the

The Times May 10, 2007 at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article1769414.ece

Summit on religious harmony is thrown into discord by Malaysia

Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has suffered a serious setback in his attempts to foster Muslim-Christian dialogue after the Malaysian Government banned an interfaith conference he was due to be chairing this week.

Christian and Muslim scholars from around the world had bought air tickets, written papers and begun to pack their bags for the Building Bridges conference, the sixth in a series intended to foster dialogue between the two religions. It was cancelled with just two weeks notice.

The three-day conference was set up in the wake of September 11 and meant to be an annual get-together of Christian and Muslim academics in an attempt to find theological understandings that might help prevent future terrorist attacks.

At the first conference, at Lambeth Palace in London six years ago, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, fêted Tony Blair. In return, the Prime Minister invited the Muslim and Christian scholars to a high-profile reception at Downing Street.

Since then the scholars have met in New York, Qatar and Sarajevo. This year’s seminar in Malaysia was to signal a breakthrough in Muslim-Christian relations in a region where they are particularly delicate. However, it is understood that some influential Muslims believe that Christianity is “not a heavenly religion” and therefore they frown on interreligious dialogue.

Although the Malaysian Government allowed Dr Williams into the country to preach at the consecration of a new Anglican bishop, it said that it would not permit the interfaith dialogue to take place. Instead Dr Williams is taking part in a hastily convened visit to Sri Lanka. Preaching a sermon there yesterday, he outlined the “terrible consequences” of fear caused by division. He said: “We must keep our bridges in good repair, the bridges for listening and sympathy, hearing the truth from one another, learning what the other’s experience is like.”

Earlier this week it emerged that there are plans for Mr Blair to head a global interfaith initiative when he leaves office.

Canon Guy Wilkinson, the Archbishop’s secretary for interfaith relations, who has spent nine months organising the Malaysia conference, said that he hoped that it would still take place, albeit in another country.

“All the papers will be used in other ways,” he said. “The situation [in Malaysia] is delicate. A whole series of interreligious cases are in front of the constitutional court and awaiting judgment. The view was that it would be better not to have an international gathering of Muslims and Christians at the moment in that context.”

The cases include that of Lina Joy, whose birth name is Azlina Jailani, who has filed an appeal to have the word “Islam” removed from her identity card. She wants a declaration that Article 11 of the Federal Constitution gives her the right to convert to another religion. She is understood to have become a Christian.

Islam is the official state religion in Malaysia and Muslims are subject to sharia. Alongside this is a system of civil law that protects Christians and people of other faiths, and the constitution technically allows some freedom of religion. But there are internal tensions over conversions to other religions and over whether Malaysia is an Islamic state or a secular one. NonMuslims represent about 40 per cent of the 26-million strong population.

Angry protesters shut down one human rights event in May last year organised by Article 11, a coalition of 13 religious and human rights groups named after the constitutional article that guarantees the right of every Malaysian citizen to “profess and practise his religion”.

Professor Mona Siddiqui, director of the Centre for the Study of Islam at Glasgow University, who had been due to attend, said the conference was formally cancelled with just two weeks notice.

“Many of us were rather distressed about it,” she said. “These conferences are important on many levels. Malaysia would have been a litmus test to see how the mix of different religions and different ethnicities worked. I do not know exactly what happened, except there was contention at the highest level in Malaysia.”

She said that past conferences had been “invaluable” in enabling Christian and Muslim scholars to explore their different understandings of texts in the Bible and the Koran.

Canon David Marshall, former chaplain to Dr Williams, said it was hoped that the conference would still take place, possibly at Canterbury. “It has a very specific contribution to make and it is important that it continues,” he said.

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