Fifty Years of Christian-Muslim Relations: Exploring and Engaging

The paper assesses the dialogue that has been conducted over the years under the auspices of various Christian-Muslim forums. However, in this respect, it restricts itself to just a few examples so as to highlight the various issues faced by Muslims and Christians in various parts of the world and which were reflected in bi-lateral dialogues. The paper argues that a significant change in Christian-Muslim relations has taken place since 1950 not least since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the fall of the Berlin Wall ten years later. This paper highlights the four, but overlapping phases that this processhas gone through over the last 50 years. Christians began to rethink their relationship with the people of other faiths from the very first decade of the twentieth century. Initially, it began with an intra-Christian debate on the issue of mission on the one hand, and the opening-up of new avenues in relation with the people of other faiths on the other. Though this opening up process was part of a missionary understanding of the new world where Christians found themselves, it also has both theological and missiological implications for the Christian world. The two World Wars intervened to take a full account of this new discourse but soon after World War II the Churches began to reflect afresh on the issue of mission and their relation with the people of other faiths. While this issue was still under review, Churches in non-Western countries were facing a new challenge particularly in newly emerging countries where they were seen by their fellow citizens as the legacy of the Western colonies. Though this period was a difficult one for many Christians in such countries, they nonetheless became more innovative, dynamic and at times inculturated and contextualized, beginning to reassert themselves. This does not mean, however that Christians in the non-Western world had lost their nostalgia or interest in Western Churches. Furthermore, as far as the Muslim world and Islam was concerned the indigenous Christianity and Christianity in the West held different degrees of interest.

Christians in the West began their relationship with Islam on a different footing - repenting and reassessing their relationship. Christians in the non-Western world where Muslims were in the majority began their relationship by seeking to find a niche for themselves dissociating themselves from Western Christianity and searching for their roots as far back as possible in history. The Muslim world on the other hand, particularly after World War II, faced a triple jeopardy. Firstly, there was an urgency to re-connect their past with their rapturous present. Secondly, the euphoria of gaining independence from their colonial rulers was short lived. The new breed of rulers, influenced by the slogans of nationalism on the one hand and socialism on the other, became increasingly influential factors in Muslim states. Parties, ideologies and families, dominated the national character and people were hardly ever consulted. They were frustrated at being were kept away from any meaningful decision making process. They were unable to make choices for themselves in socio-political affairs and they were equally restricted in their religious affairs in public. Such a situation did not help them face the new challenges they were confronted with. Thirdly, a large number of people, mainly Muslims, were either displaced refugees or economic migrants and had little time to rethink, readjust and reconnect with their past heritage. At this juncture, a call for a new relationship between Muslims and Christians was made.

The ulma viewed increasing Western influences in Muslim countries, both political and social affairs, as a vehicle of ‘corruption' ‘evil', and of ‘moral decadence'. In such circumstances the call for dialogue by the Churches, especially from the West, was a very attractive option. They saw the Churches as an ally in their struggle against materialism and socialism on the one hand, and injustice of any kind, particularly against the Palestinians, on the other. They saw the dialogue between the two faith communities as a dialogue of ‘common cause'. In Bhamdoun, Lebanon, (22-27 April), 1954 they participated in both its preparatory meetings and in the Convocation. This Convocation, as expected, was dominated by the partyicipants concerns about the tightening grip of materialism and the growing influence of socialism. Western educated Muslims, the Ulama and members of the Muslim Brotherhood all participated enthusiastically. The creation of the State of Israel, in 1948, resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. A large number of these took refuge in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Syria and in Lebanon and the Bahamdoun Convocation was bound to reflect these concerns. Muslim participants hoped that through such Convocations they would be able to win the hearts and minds of the Western Churches if not Western governments. As there were a significant number of Christians amongst these refugees, they hoped that Western Churches would be more willing to co-operate with Muslims on the issue of justice. Mustfa al-Sibai one of the Convocation's participants identified three causes that disenchanted people with Western democracies and attracted them instead towards communism: 1)‘corrupt social systems, especially in the Muslim East ...the corrupt systems of government; the failure of rulers to enforce the laws of justice...' 2) ‘the hostile opposition of the Western democracies to the peoples of the East in their aspirations for independence and liberation.' 3) the support Zionism was able to get from the Western democracies and through which it was able to establish itself in the heart of the Arab home ..'(1)

Two days later, at the same Convocation he highlighted the reasons behind his participation:

[The] purpose for which I came to this Convocation is that my country and my nation have some problems, and ... the nearest people to us in our beliefs and moral values are those others who believe in a dive religion ... we should come to an understanding on these problems as friends. I presumed that I might be able, together with my colleagues, to convince this distinguished group of religious and cultural leaders of Europe and America to understand our problems. (2) This is one way of describing the beginning of a relationship between Christians and Muslims at the start of the second half of the last century. This Convocation makes it very clear that Muslims expected an existential relationship that is they were not especially concerned about theological issues. The emphasis was more on the people of faith rather than the faith of the people.

The period after Bahamdoun was a period where the faith communities began to be much more introspective and explorative in their own traditions. From the mid-1950s till the late 1960s one finds a lot more discussion about the purpose and the nature of relationship with the people of other faiths, particularly amongst the Churches, and especially with Muslims. In this process, one has to keep in mind the fact that the 1960s and early 1970s were also responsible for the large migration of Muslims to Western countries. The Churches then found themselves addressing the needs of these newly arrived communities in the midst of their cities. Here, we would like to cite two examples: one that deals with new ways of approaching and engaging with Muslims and which has wider implications for Christian-Muslim relations and the other which addresses the impact of an increasing immigrant population in the midst of Europe.

Within the context of the first example, Hendrik Kraemer made a huge impact on at the Asmara Study Conference in 1959 where special efforts were made by the Protestant Churches to study new ways of approaching and engaging with Muslims. In any case, many were already aware of his contribution made in 1938 at Tambaram (India),(3). Kraemer stated in one of his article that [I]f we take seriously the total objective change in the relationships of the Muslim world and the Western world... we are led to the conclusion that the past, age-long relationship of antagonism, unilateral closedness of mind, and communication by monologue, has turned into the possibility and the necessity of a new relationship of mutual interdependence (material and cultural) and of genuine human encounter and open dialogue.

The unprecedentedness of the present situation as to possible new relationships consists in the fact that it depends in the vision of the ‘Christian' world whether or not the opportunity for finding new ways for true dialogue on the basis of disinterested service and identification with the needs and problems of the Muslim world in crisis is seen and seized. (4). Kraemer hoped that the Churches would be ‘willing to learn to walk in new ways of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ'.

The second example is Germany where the increasing number of Turkish migrant workers were attracted both civic and religious authorities. The conference on migrant workers in Western Europe at the Evangelical Academy in Arnoldshain, June 10-15, 1963 acknowledged the good work done by the civic authorities. However it stated clearly that the Church ‘must remain firm in not mixing its specifically Christian message with other goals which are foreign to its nature.' In the same year the German Evangelical Missions Conference established a special ‘Islam' working group in order to address the issue raised by the presence of Muslims in Germany. The working group recommended that: (i) a course on Islam be offered for the travel secretaries of missionary societies, (ii) that courses on Islam and the care of Muslims be held for professional congregational workers, welfare workers etc.. (iii) that a conference on Islam be held for pastors. (5) This recommendation prompted the Evangelical Mission in Upper Egypt to invite missionaries working in Germany amongst Muslims, particularly the German Orient missions, to a meeting in Wiesbaden in December 1963. There it was decided ‘to form a free working group' that would address the duty of mission and would invite other Churches to join hands with them in this task. (6). It was recognized from the very beginning that a delicate balance needed to be maintained between mission on the one hand, and care for strangers on the other. Here then, we witness an increasing need to understand not only the plight of people but also their faith.(7) Paradoxically, the Muslims perhaps saw, rightly or wrongly, that the West and the Christian Churches worked hand-in-glove while they were in Muslim countries but at the same time they wanted to ensure a distinction between themselves. They wanted to oppose the West with its Christianity that brought such ‘misery' to them, yet they also wanted to seek help from the Christians in some way against the injustices of the West. In all these debates the Muslims were least prepared to look into their own tradition and open a debate about their relations with other faiths. Instead, they were pre-occupied with other urgent matters such as refugees and readjusting to living in a world shattered by internal squabbles and economic crises. However, we do find there were people who were beginning to address the issue of Christian-Muslim relations perhaps much more introspectively and realistically. For example, Hassan Saab wrote an article on this subject, pointing out that: Christians and Muslims tend to judge each others' religion through the prevailing Christians and Muslim conditions. Muslims would associate Christianity with the aggressiveness of those Christian rulers from whom they ... suffered for a century and a half. Christians would associate Islam with [the] Muslims' state of backwardness, with which they became familiar in their modern contact with Islam. The rejection of aggressiveness would then imply a rejection of Christianity. Disgust with backwardness would entail disgust with Islam. This would happen unless Christians and Muslims could set a demarcation line between religious ideals and human realities.(8)

The Roman Catholic Church, in a sense, was ahead of other Churches in institutionalizing and preparing its members for the new encounter with the people of other faiths. While the Nostra Aetae document provided the backdrop for the opening up of a new relationship with Muslims, the actual work on relations with Islam and Muslims and the preparation of Church members began when the ‘Commission on Islam' was set up. It pooled its resources from those within the Church who had some contact with Muslims and who either lived amongst them or who had undertaken some special study on Islam. They were regularly invited to Rome for consultation. As a result by 1969, the Commission was able to produce a very valuable document, namely Guidelines for a Dialogue Between Muslims and Christians. (9). It seems that the Church members were aware of the need to link Christianity with other faiths theologically. However, they were equally aware of the difficulty of applying such relations to Islam. Father Joque Jomier remarks: Although Islam has a threefold aspect (religious, political and cultural), it is the cultural aspect which has been selected by preference by those interested in dialogue. A dialogue can be established when Christians and Muslims work side by side on the cultural level. But the civic domain (part of the political aspect) can also provide a field for collaboration, as the Vatican II declaration regarding non-Christians suggests. This declaration exhorts Christians and Muslims: ‘To forget the past and to promote together, for the benefit of all mankind, social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom. (10)

He further suggests that the ‘religious domain can be approached, delicately, through the cultural [route]' (11) and he hoped that by adopting these religious aspects some progress on the cultural sphere would follow. This approach seems highly significant as far as relations with the Muslims were concerned. Furthermore, one has to remember that the document that talks about Muslims is not entirely designed to address Muslims theologically. It also recognizes the social, cultural and political dimensions. In fact the Muslim dimension is there by default. When the Concilliar Fathers realized that the document was highly reconciliatory towards the Jews, bishops from the Arab world felt uneasy, raising some objections to the document. They feared that by accepting the document as it was would be seen by the Arabs in particular and the Muslims in general as the great Council taking a pro-Jewish and by extension a pro-Israeli view, which they thought would damage the Church's image amongst the Middle Eastern Arab community. The seriousness of this point was registered and, therefore, the document went through further revision introducing a section on the Muslims. The document highlights the importance of Muslim beliefs which are nearer to Roman Catholic beliefs, and it also urges both Muslims and Christians to acknowledge that ‘[o]ver the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christian and Muslims. The Sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.' (12)

This period, from mid 1950s until the 1960s, was a period of reflection. The Churches were much more introspective, genuinely searching for a new relationship with Muslims without betraying their own traditions. The Muslims for their part were pre-occupied with the new problems they faced in the aftermath of the colonial period where they were looking for an ally - a religious ally - to face the challenges of modernity, materialism and political readjustment. Though both Christians and Muslims somehow acknowledged that priority in their relationships should be given to socio-cultural issues, nonetheless the emphasis they sought to assert was different. Firstly,we find the Churches - both Catholic and Protestant - wanting to justify their involvement theologically. In other words they wanted to be sure that their involvement with other faiths had theological underpinnings and this before they could enter into dialogue with the Muslims. This was also necessary because the Churches were under constant pressure from their own members not to abandon the duty of mission in their new relationship. Relatively speaking the Muslims were not under such pressure because the issue of relations with other faiths was not an urgent one nor indeed was the issue of survival. Hence, they hardly even discussed this issue among themselves. Thus, there was no urgency to open-up Shariah and fiqh issues. However, circumstances dictated that the Muslims address these issues and their responses will be discussed a little later.

The second phase we believe started in 1970 and continued until the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The year 1970 marks a turning point in the history of Christian-Muslim relations. The Vatican had already established a secretariat, in the mid 1960, dealing with other religions what is now known as the Pontifical Council for Interrelegious Dialogue (PCID) and, as we have pointed out earlier, it produced its Guidelines. But it was in 1970 that the Vatican first received its higher level delegation of Muslims from Cairo i.e. the Higher Council of Islamic Affairs in Cairo visited the Vatican from the16-29th December. This was perhaps the first official Christian-Muslim encounter following the declaration of Nostra Aetate. The World Council of Churches, after years of debate, was ready to grab the hot mettle. It established its Unit ‘Dialogue with People of Living Faiths' a year later. The Unit merged, in 1990, with the Secretariat of the WCC, and is now called the ‘Office on Inter-Religious Relations'. This step marked an official recognition, on the part of the Protestant and Orthodox Churches, of the importance of forging a new relationship with Muslims and other faiths. But the growing dialogical relationships between Christians and Muslims have their own critiques. The Evangelical Churches viewed this development with great suspicion. They criticized the World Council of Churches for involving itself enthusiastically in favour of dialogue and saw in the WCC's statements a denial of the uniqueness of Christ, hence the irrelevance of mission. Thus in 1970, the Evangelical Churches met in Germany and produced a forceful document known as the Frankfurt Declaration (13).

The 1970s was a decade of exploration. Here, one finds greater emphasis on the need to know the people of other faiths. Essentially, a two prong approach was adopted. In one, for example, the Churches of Europe begun to explore what responsibilities the Churches have towards their new neighbours. Indeed, they demonstrated a keen interest in the problems of Muslim migrants. They were perhaps the only allies these Muslims had in their struggle to settle and find their place in European cities. In an atmosphere where Muslim migrants were viewed under the blanket term ‘black immigrants' in Europe, the Churches established commissions to survey Muslim beliefs, customs and practices in order to prepare their responses to this new phenomenon. In Britain, social and evangelical necessity brought together the Church bodies, The British Council of Churches [now the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland (CCBI)] and the Conference on Missionary Societies in Great Britain and Ireland (CBMS) and they jointly appointed an advisory group on the presence of Islam in Britain. In 1976, the advisory group published its report, authored by Bishop David Brown under the title A New Threshold: Guidelines for the Churches in their Relations with Muslim Communities. The report was divided into three parts: The Muslim Community, Theological Issues, and the Problems of Relationships. It identified major problems and relationships and also issued a Code of Practice (14)

Two years later, in 1978, the Council of European Churches (CEC) established a Consultative Committee on ‘Islam in Europe' in order to help Churches in their ‘human, pastoral and theological' concerns regarding immigrants, particularly Muslims. While this Consultative Committee focused its work effort on a survey of the Muslim presence in Europe and its impact on Churches as well as European States. By 1987 it was felt necessary that both Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches now work together to address the issue of Muslims in Europe and the training of priests and pastors. Therefore, the Council of European Episcopal Conference (CCEE) and the Conference of European Churches (KEK) jointly created an ‘Islam in Europe' Committee which took over the task of the 1978's Consultative Committee on Islam. This will be discussed a little later.

A dictionary guides us in ascertaining meanings of exploration. This ‘act of searching thoroughly' also involves searching through the debris of history. While sometimes we may find some very valuable items that were supposed lost, however, in many cases we also find very unpleasant things. The 1970s as far as dialogue between the two communities was concerned, was the decade when both rediscovered some valuable items that they have lost but unpleasant moments had also to be faced. Here are two examples to illustrate my point. First the ‘Islamo-Christian Dialogue' held in Tripoli during the February of 1976 and second the ‘Christian Mission and Islamic Dawah' conference held at Chambesy (Switzerland) in October 1976 organized by the World Council of Churches. In Libya, four broad themes were agreed between the Vatican representatives and the Libyan delegation. They were:

  1. ‘The possibility of religion as ideology in life and religion in modern society.
  2. The joint fundamentals of ... the two religions and [their] points of agreement...
  3. The principle that social justice stems from faith in God.
  4. How to eliminate wrong concepts and distrust which [divide] the two religions.' (15).

Though only a small number of Christian and Muslim scholars delivered the presentations some five hundred people from 70 countries were invited to attend the Dialogue. The presence of such a large audience must have hindered the calm and coolheaded approach that required for such a delicate task. The atmosphere was perhaps much more of a festival and less of a frank and free evaluation of the task that the joint organizers envisaged. For such preparation we need to delve a little more into history as well.

Colonel Qadhdhafi had tried hard to address the issue of Arabs and the West as early as in 1973. Perhaps he waned to show the West the need for it revisit the issue of the injustices it had inflicted on the Arab people. In November 1973, in Paris, the newspaper Le Monde held a Symposium aimed at securing an ‘intellectual and civilized dialogue between the East and the West.' (16). Though this Symposium touched the issue of ‘Democracy', ‘the unity of the Mediterranean Region' and ‘Islam and Socialism', its main focus however, was the Palestinian issue and Zionism. The symposium though could not produce the desired effect the Libyan leader wanted. Nonetheless, it paved a way for the subsequent Seminar held in February 1976 in Tripoli. In Tripoli, the overwhelming theme was that the colonial period had prevented the Arab world from entering into a dialogue on equal basis. Now that the colonial period was over, both the Churches and the Muslim community should surely be able to have a meaningful dialogue, one with frank and open discussions. At Tripoli, Qadhdhafi declared that it ‘is a gathering for frankness, truth and [for an] earnest and positive course of action....' (17). The host country had a clear view of what that ‘frankness' and ‘positive course of action' meant. Indeed, Sheikh Mahmud Subhi of the World Islamic Call Society (18) stated that Libya wants ‘to start a new chapter with the Christian World [in] finding possible ways for joint co-operation in opposing the atheistic trends sweeping the world as well as the political trends created by Zionism.' (19). This was reflected in the inclusion of Articles 20 and 21 in the Seminar's final communiqué. This, however, became a controversial issue, one which over shadowed the progress the Seminar had made. Despite such difficulties, the two sides maintained good relationship via their respective offices namely, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) and the World Islamic Call Society. Several dialogues have since followed. The issue of dawah and mission have surfaced time and again and this thorny issue was hotly debated in those subsequent meetings.(20)

This decade, it is important to note, was also dominated by the Lebanon crisis. A country that was proud of its religious and cultural harmony and at times was seen as a model to be emulated in other parts of the world went up in flames. Religious strife had torn apart its inhabitants and international politics took a sizeable role in inflaming and further complicating the situation.

The 1970's decade as we pointed out earlier, saw the rise of Shariah/Human Rights controversies and against this background the Muslims increasingly saw Christians, both in Asia and Africa and in European and North American countries, as siding with Secular forces, as allying themselves with those who wanted to see Muslim countries become modern-Secular rather Islamic. This fear was paramount and in some cases it was reflected in dialogue. Furthermore, in this process Christian mission was seen as an arm of the Secularisation process. Conversion to Christianity was not simply a conversion of faith but also of a culture and a world-view.

‘Christian Mission and Islamic Dawah', in 1976, was the theme of the Chambesy Dialogue organized by the World Council of Churches. Although the presentations were essentially intellectual, a reading of the proceedings reveals emotional outburst and pouring out of grievances on both sides. But one thing one does to begin to notice in this Dialogue is the way in which the issue of religious freedom was addressed and perhaps handled in clearer terms. The Muslims were constantly challenged during this decade about how ‘Islam does not give religious freedom' and does not allow a Muslim to become Christian. In this Dialogue, we find, however was that an unanimity amongst the Muslims that as long as a person is convinced and wants to change his/her religion, and unfair-means are not employed to entice a person to switch his/her faith then both Muslims and Christians should accept this as the basic right of anyone to do so. It is significant that the final statement documents in clear term: that the ‘conference upholds the principles of religious freedom recognizing that the Muslims as well as the Christians must enjoy the full liberty to convince and be convinced, and to practice their faith and order their religious life in accordance with their own religious laws and principles ...' (21). This Dialogue also highlighted the need to reflect on the whole issue of mission and dialogue. As David Kerr puts it ‘the conference brings sharply before the attention of Christians the need to reflect with greater clarity upon the proper relationship between mission and dialogue, in recognition that we are living in a situation not simply of plurality of religions, but of plurality of missions. How we cope with this situation, at once critically and openly, is an issue which calls urgently for the consideration of missiologist and missionary alike (22). While the document seems clear, it nonetheless un addressed and these we will not discuss here.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 brought the issue of Islam as a political force to the centre stage of International political discourse. It not only prompted a re-examination of the relationship of Islam and the rest of the world but also initiated an explanation process of why, how and what impact the Iranian-Revolution may have on Islam and the West and between Muslims and Christians in the future. While Islam and power preoccupied the minds of policy makers and academics alike in the West, the issue of the implementation of the Shariah became the business of military generals like Zial ul-Haque in Pakistan and Nimeri in Sudan. Although General Zia came into power in 1977 following a military coup, he showed his Islamic credentiasl soon hereafter. However, the issue of Shariah and its debate took a sharp turn when the Shariat Bill (23) was introduced in 1985 in the upper House of the Pakistani Parliament.

Similarly, in the Sudan, Nimeiri divided the Southern Sudan into three regions in June1983 and the implemented the Shariah in September the same year throughout the country thus aggravating the situation. In Nigeria, the demands of the Shariah generated strong resentment on both sides. The Muslims perceived the secular laws in general, as ‘Christian', following aspects of Christian daily life. The Christians on the other hand saw this development as an erosion of their rights under a new-found Islamic resurgence, imposing its will through the Shariah. A series of tit-for-tat demands were made and gradually the situation worsened (24). At a regional level, the Churches were involved, and to some extent entangled, in local issues and difficulties. However, at the international level the advise given by those who were aware of the overall situation was admirable. For example John Taylor, soon after the Iranian Revolution, wrote in One World magazine of the World Council of Churches where he advised the Churches that: the "threatening" aspects of Islam often receive too much attention from Christians:the concentration on reintroduction of Islamic moral code, punishments, etc., is too one-sided. Comparatively little interest is shown in new Islamic reapplication of codes of social justice, cooperative development, spiritual discipline, etc. (25) When the issue of the Shariah was at its height and when Muslims and Christians were in entrenched positions, Stuart Brown wrote ‘Understanding Shariah' in the One World magazine. He advised his fellow Christians: [that] in countries where shariah is introduced should not lose heart. They should work with their governments in good faith to negotiate the best possible guarantee of their own freedoms. To do this, they need within their own numbers an adequate knowledge of the issues involved, as well as sustained links with the diverse elements of the Muslim majority. Christians should avoid categorical denunciations of any aspects of shariah, seeking instead to encourage quietly those Muslims who advocate more humane interpretations. (26).

Relations between the two communities in 1980s began against this backdrop. Now the discourse between Muslims and Christians was not just limited to the two communities, instead circumstances now dictated that others should also take note of this growing political assertion of Islam and particularly of the Islamic revival. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation called its first Christian-Muslim Colloquium in 1981. This was held in Bonn, Germany. There was a realization on the part of the Foundation, sponsored by Germany's Christian Democratic Party, that the clash was not simply between two faiths but between two world-views. Bruno Heck in his inaugural speech at the Conference highlighted that ‘the political antagonisms that have arisen between the European-Atlantic and Islamic world and [which] continue to hold [them] in opposition...' is not a good idea. The Conference, he suggested, should be a means to explain, particularly to inform Christians, how the faith so crucial to Muslims ‘differentiates between the useful and the unacceptable' in the modern world. (27)

The proceedings were published and in the book's introduction editors reveal what the motivation behind the colloquium was. They state: Fundamentalistic Islamic reform movements, reacting to the growing saturation of the Orient with the materialistic values of industrial civilisation, are alarming the West. The "re-Islamization", the rediscovery within Islam of its own worth, which forms a part of the movement of the entire Third World toward solving their problems on their own - this tendency produces a perplexity in the West, which forums and scholarly congresses are incapable of concealing. The spectre of militant Islam, in whose control a significant fraction of the world's energy resources lie, concerns politicians and large segments of the population. At the same time, the awareness of our interdependence is growing. (28)

This Introduction also reflected the general fear about the large number of energy resources in the Muslim world. If the ‘militant Islam' succeeded influencing the region what would happen to the Western world that depends so heavily for its energy upon that region. The Colloquium was not only motivated by an urgency to understand the ‘why?' but also the political and economic ‘how?' to face and contain this misery. The Konarad Adenauer Foundation sponsored further Colloquiums, one in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon in February 1983 where the theme was ‘Development and Solidarity as a Joint Responsibility of Muslims and Christians'.Thereafter In April 1985, at Mohammadia in Morocco the theme was ‘Education and System of Values'.

The Mu'tamar al-‘alam al-Islami (World Muslim Congress) entered into a joint programme of dialogue with the World Council of Churches and in 1982 the first such effort was held in Colombo. ‘Christian and Muslims Living and Working Together: Ethics and Practice of Humanitarian and Development Programme' was chosen as the theme. It was organized against the background of the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan which had created a large influx of refugees into Pakistan. The Palestinian issue was also high on the agenda: just two months of after gathering, the world witnessed the Sabra and Shatila massacre.This was also the year when the Muslim world was celebrating the new century of Hijrah. These events obviously influenced the dialogue. The final report of the gathering echoes the feelings of the time. ‘Cooperation deserves', the report says ‘to be built on the foundations of removing obstacles and supporting the victims of aggression and persecution.' (29) For their part the Muslim participants stressed the areas of cooperation as: a) unequivocal condemnation of the aggression against the people of Palestine, who have been dispossessed from their homeland and are being subjected to oppression and persecution, of the invasion of Afghanistan, and of the persecution of Muslims in different parts of the world especially in the Southern Philippines; b) sympathetic appreciation of the Muslims' commitment to develop their communities and societies on the basis of their faith law (Shariah) on the part oh their Christian neighbours and other believing communities, as Muslims struggle to establish the Islamic social order in places where they enjoy political sovereignty; c) implementation of principles agreed upon in earlier dialogues, particularly that at Chambesy in 1976, in order to remove obstacles to Christian-Muslim cooperation.(30) In this dialogue it seems that there was a desire to move the agenda from just, ‘chattering assembly' to that of a pro-active community of Muslims and Christians working hand in hand. The recommendations highlighted the need for cooperation between the two institutions especially in establishing a ‘joint study groups and holding seminars on Muslim and Christian approaches to the solution of major problems jointly faced by them in their search for a just social order; in this respect the joint standing committee is requested to constitute working groups on the problems of "Law (Shariah) and life", "the role of the state", "human and religious rights", from the Islamic and Christian points of view' (31)

It is not be out of place to highlight here the importance of this dialogue. The Muslims were not only allowed to chose their representatives as in the Chambesey Dialogue on ‘Mission and Dawah' but they were also invited to the planning meeting. This gave them the confidence that they were being treated as equals in dialogue. Credit for this goes to the World Council of Churches who risked the possibility of the whole Conference slipping through their fingers. In this way they won the confidence of the participants. Perhaps the WCC's experience helped to boost the Vatican's confidence in successive dialogues where we find greater freedom been given to respective communities to select their own participants.

Here, we would also like to point out that in this discourse of Shariah and its implementation, largely seen by Muslims as implementation of the Shariah and inherited fiqh as a single package, the Muslims seems very hesitant to open up the dialogue within and with others. Even though this debate had been going on in some quarters, focus in these discourses seems to fixed on Shariah with little enthusiasm being shown to revisit fiqh issues of the time. Maqasid al-Shariah features little in these intra or inter-faith debates until the early 1990s. Though there were signs that for example time in India, the Muslims of various denominations were coming together to address contemporary challenges faced by the community nonetheless debates were largely confined to economic and financial issues.(32) Though such debates were going on very little attention was given to such developments both in Christian circles and amongst the policy makers and opinion formers in the West. The debate was not mature enough at this time to open up the issue of Shariah in the light of its maqasid. It took a few more years for this to discuss openly, freely and frankly only after the Gulf War and more vigorously since the Clash of Civilization debate (33).

This was also a period when some Muslims felt that they needed to study Christianity as Christians understand them. In the late 1980s an agreement was signed between the Gregorian University (Pontificial Universita Gregoriana) and the University of Ankara, the Ilahiyat Fakulty. Though a large chunk of its teaching focusses on Christian history and thought, with perhaps less attention given to Christian beliefs and practices, nonetheless this was, in some sense, a breakthrough in so far as Christian scholars were invited to teach about the subject to Muslim student(34).

1989 represents a watershed in human history particularly in the West. The bipolar world suddenly collapsed. An introspection of the relationship between East and the West and Cultures and Civilizations began. The fall of the Soviet Union unfolded a massive historical blockage that unleashed a force which has rumbled ever since. This was the year when the Berlin Wall that stood as a symbol of divided Western world was pulled-down by the people. It not only resulted in redrawing the geographical map but also the mental landscape of Europe. A Europe stretching from Portugal to Russia politically became an open Europe. Economically, this new Europe is divided between the rich and poor Europe. The architects of the EuropeanCommunity have been eager to establish a strong economic block to stand against the economic strengths of the United States and Japan. The building blocks of economic and political Europe, especially the Treaties of Rome and Maastricht, could not perhaps foresee the economic and political upheaval, which was to unfold in Europe. Massive aid to Russia and help to the former Warsaw Pact countries coupled with the formation of new countries out of the old structure has taeken its toll on the new Europe. Socially, there is another kind of Europe. Europeans with their former colonized subjects are trying to come to terms with each other's culture and way of life. Waves of racism and xenophobia are on the increase. Crime and drug-abuse amongst both the immigrant and non-immigrants populations are flourishes across different levels of Europe that exist today. So in all this, how can an odd element called the Muslims, albeit represented in significantly large numbers, fit into this new Europe?

Europe for the Muslims has a different meaning. It is largely associated with a sense of ‘uprootedness'. Immigrants from Muslim countries relatively settled in ‘Western Europe', are uprooted in some sense, from their history, culture, language, theology or jurisprudence and sense of belonging and identity. All these factors cannot be adjusted within a generation or two. Economically, perhaps the community is relatively adjusted but psychologically and as a collective body it has not come to terms with its Europeanness. In addition to these difficulties, the Muslims in Europe have been seen, in some quarters, as the ‘threat' and even as ‘the Trojan horse' in Europe. The demand on Muslims is that they should integrate into European society. Almost by way of reaction to this, some Muslim groups feel it necessary to isolate themselves from society at large. They see everything in terms of haram and they search for the halal in their daily lives. This invariably narrows the vision and closes inquiries into and exploration of aspects of Islamic fiqh. Such Muslim groupings look for other's definition of them. But the reality today is not how Europe defines Muslims but how Muslims define themselves in the new Europe. This is a crucial point in our opinion and one, which needs an in-depth exploration.

One factor that motivates some Muslims towards an exclusive approach to the society where they are living is the fear of assimilation. The fear itself is natural and the assimilation real but the prognosis that the Muslims offer differs. Assimilation takes different routes. For example, assimilation may mean merging one culture with the ethos and expectations of another. Then there is ‘parallel assimilation', where the adoption of dominant ideas, thought and habits are gradually transferred into the language and culture of another. In both cases, the assimilation is complete and at some stages unrecognizable from the Muslim identity and faith.

Muslim families who have settled and lived in Europe for centuries and are true Europeans by any definition can also be described as an ‘uprooted' community. Their assimilation into European society was first-degree assimilation whether in Bosnia, Kosova or in Russia. They wanted to be like everyone else. They shied away from declaring themselves as a faith based community. A senior cleric told an audience - in the very early stages of the Bosnian Crisis - that, ‘we did not even utter the Quranic verses which talked about striving and struggle just in case our neighbour thought that we were disrupting the peace'(35). The situation now however is that the newly arrived migrant Muslims in Europe are on the one hand desperately trying either to preserve or contextualize Muslim thought in a European environment, and on the other the ‘settled' but recently uprooted community are increasingly trying to reassess their Muslim identity. The contemporary situation is that both the old and the new Europeans are searching for what it means to be a Muslim in Europe. The Muslim identity is a faith-based identity. Such communities, thus, need to link and connected with their own faith as well as with other faiths as also to establish their European identity.

The Churches relation with Muslims in Europe has a long history as compared with the Muslims' response to their new environment. Although the London based Islamic Council of Europe's experience may have inspired the Churches, in some way, to establish a European level consultation about Islam and Muslims, but the reality remains that the Churches have continued to discuss their affairs among themselves. The Islamic Council of Europe even decided to drop the European aspect of its delineation and with this and glimmer of hope generated by the wake of the Festival of Islam in 1976 has now been subdued. Similarly, the increasing refugee crisis and displacement of Muslims in Europe reflects the growth of Muslim charity organisations throughout Europe. All this suggests then that any meaningful meeting between the two communities has perhaps not even begun.

The Churches have increasingly addressed the issue of Islam's presence in Europe. In 1987, the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) and the Conference of European Churches (KEK) jointly created an ‘Islam in Europe Committee', which practically took-over from the CEC's Consultative Committee on Islam in Europe. This new ‘Islam in Europe' Committee gave its attentions to a survey of the Muslim presence in Europe and whether or not this had any bearing on the European Churches themselves. The Committee's first meeting in 1988 at Oegstgeest in the Netherlands, took the decision to prepare a study programme which emphasized the need to underline Islam's impact in every branch of Christian theology. They also produced a document "Christian/Muslim Reciprocity: Considerations for the European Churches" in 1995(36). It highlighted the need for a ‘relationship based on mutual respect and assistance' and sought from Muslims ‘a clarification in relations between the religious realm and the competence of the state.' The document also asked Muslims ‘to look again at their foundation documents to see how they should be understood in a world very different from seventh century Arabia.' It acknowledged that ‘Christians themselves are continually wrestling' with similar problems. It seems such a document was only capable of being produced in Europe. Their contacts with fellow Church leaders in Africa and in Asia must have played a crucial role in drafting such a document. We could not envisage a similar document coming out of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) where they are in direct contact with Muslims and facing ‘radicals' amongst them every day. The same body also produced another document on ‘Marriages Between Christians and Muslims: Pastoral Guidelines for Christians and Churches in Europe' in 1997(37). The ‘Islam in Europe Committee' continues to engage, prepare and train their members regarding Islam. But how much pressure the member Churches can bear from their satellite Churches, for example in Nigeria, Sudan or Pakistan only time will tell.

A ‘new world [order/disorder]' emerged out of the Soviet Union and particularly after the Gulf War. A new expectation was born with new vigour and hope. Many believed that this time this new world order will be based on justice and fair play. Democracy and Human Rights means what it says and it will be for all including the Muslim world, which has not been allowed to have a right to choose their own political masters. But when the terms of surrender were signed between Iraq and the US allies there was no mention of a free and fair election, nor was there any hint that once the occupied country was liberated that people would have a chance to participate in the decision making process in a meaningful way. As far as the Middle East is concerned the New World Order means the continuation of the old one. This became very clear when George Bush addressing the families of the soldiers said that one result from the war would be "what we say goes" in the Gulf' and by extension in the world (38).

The ‘new world order' debate combined with Huntington's Clash of Civilization debate generated a passion amongst Muslims who were until then passive participants in dialogue. They all became alert to the prospect of a clash. There were those who were in search of a new enemy. (39) There were those who wanted to prevent the clash. Between these there were others who thought: what if it is true? All groups became interested and involved. It created a dialogue market in the 1990s which has continued ever since. Now, countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey, Indonesia, Morocco, Iran and others are all involved in this dialogue of culture and civilization. The European Council is equally involved. In November 1995 the Barcelona Declaration adopted a three-track approach - Political, Economical and Cultural and Civilizational in Euro-Mediterranean relations. Though little progress has been made within Politics and Economics, have made little progress however the civilizational and cultural aspects have progressed to some extent. Apart from other European countries like Germany, Sweden has shown a keen interest in this direction and was responsible for hosting several conferences on Islam and Western Civilizations (40)

The reality of dialogue between Christians and Muslims, as we find it, is that over the last 50 years or so we have been able to create a lot of dots of dialogue but not enough lines. Therefore, a clear picture of dialogue has not yet emerged. In order to make sense of our dialogue we need to connect those dots and let a clear picture emerge.

Looking into the Future

First and foremost attention needs to be given to the perception of religion itself. As far as Europe is concerned its perception of religion has been moulded by the Christian interpretation of faith. Historically and culturally, Christianity has played a significant role in Europe. Now the role of religion - the acceptance and rejection of faith in society - is judged according to the Christian perception of religion. The Muslim assertion of faith, in public and in private life, is measured on the criteria provided by Christianity. Therefore, there is an urgent need to enter into a dialogue with that perception of religion. This means entering into dialogue with Christianity and by doing so one is entering into debate with European society's perception of faith and religion. Christianity is a pillar of European society, one that provided the ‘soul of Europe' over so many years. Here, a Muslim is asked to take Christianity seriously, both in its history and thought. Once this aspect becomes important for Muslims then the debate between Christians and Muslims will be a dialogue of ‘equals' (41).

It is important to note that Europe's perception of Islam and Muslims is not simply a result of recent contacts that is after World War II, but also a consequence of Mongol expansion, of a people who decided to remain in Europe after Genghis Khan's influence had receded. Later, same people accepted Islam and became known as the Tartars. They roamed around the Russian Empire but largely they settled in the Western part of Russia near the Polish border. The second important legacy that of the Ottoman Empire left an indelible mark on European history particularly during the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries. Ottoman influence and impact has created an image of Muslims and their faith. However, a significant development occurred as a result of the expansion of European imperialism into Asia and Africa where the Europeans came into contact with Muslims and vice versa. Once the colonies gained independence, gradually, but in large numbers, the Muslims arrived in Europe in their former colonizers' countries in order to fulfil the labour market requirements of the time. They came with their culture and religious affinity. The cultural map that Europeans thought they had finally solved after many battles and bloody wars seems re-ignited by the presence of Muslims and immigrants at large. The religious perception of the other constructed in the minds of Europeans seems to provide the justification for seeing the other only in terms of some stereotyping and confusion. This seems to be result of the medieval encounter of Muslims and Europeans particularly against the background of the Crusades and their legacy. There, the perception of Islam has been of a warmonger faith which indulged in a sensual and sleazy way of life. (42) Dialogue here means mobilization of resources - religious and political - to clarify the debris of history and to find a new map that can lead humanity to a safer place.

The other priority, and one which in our view is very important, is the creation of a Christian-Muslim Council on the pattern of the Jewish-Christian Council. Such a Council should be established at national and at European levels. Such a Council could provide a platform to discuss in particular the contemporary issues that Muslims and Christians are facing in today's world. This could range from the projection of one's image in the others' text-books, to social issues such as Christian-Muslim marriages, to international conflicts where Muslims and Christians are involved, as in Indonesia, Nigeria, the Sudan or in Bosnia. Such issues, discussed together, could perhaps help reduce misinformation and or even disinformation sprayed with maligned intent. Understandably, such a Council may not have the teeth to implement its intentions on the ground, nonetheless it may generate more smiles than bites. This, in itself would be a great achievement. Here, we am aware of the fact that Muslims do not have a Council or representative body which the Church bodies could connect to. However, one has to recognize the fact that the Sunni tradition of Islam is fiercely individualistic as compared to the Churches. The Muslim position and the development of Islamic thought have been far more individualistic and self-assertive. (43). What I am saying here is that despite the difficulty there is a way to address this issue. Increasingly, in Europe, there are Muslim representative organizations that could be approached to send their representatives or there are well known individuals who should be invited to participate in such deliberations. A mutually agreed option could be arrived at to address this issue. I am also aware of the difficulties posed by the various levels of understanding, approach and priorities of the participants in such a Council. A council of Faiths established in Europe will have its priorities and issues substantially different from those of a Council established in Africa. However, I feel such initiatives will help in many ways to create a conducive atmosphere that could guarantee some sort of mutual trust.

In Europe and in America Muslims are trying to develop seminaries or madaris in order to prepare ulama who could address the contemporary issues that Muslims are facing by living in the West. They are modelling such institutions on existing seminaries such as Al-Azhar in Cairo and dar al-Uloom in Deoband, India. These seminaries are popular among Muslims and are in great demand too. Once these newly trained ulama acquire a place and a reputation of being good khatib they create a place for themselves in Muslim society and wealdl a great deal of influence in the community. This influential group is almost unaware of dialogue developments between Christians and Muslims. Invariably, they do not see the need and necessity for such dialogue as they see this as a mechanism that will only help reduce iman (faith) and compromise their own religion. This situation perhaps stems from the fact that they are not taught about other faiths and traditions as much as they should be. It is interesting to note that in the Islamic tradition an alim or a mufti is required to have some basic knowledge and needs to have an awareness of the ‘custom' (‘urf) and ‘practice' (adat) of the people where he lives and work. Any religious opinion must carry the weight of these facts. In Europe, I am not aware of any madrasa which is in the business of training ulama are teaching even the basic concepts and ideas about Judaeo-Christian traditions, which are an important component of the West. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to introduce the intellectual and cultural trends of Western society into Muslim seminaries syllabi. This in my view, in the long run, will create an atmosphere of understanding and trust. However, Muslims have to be on guard when tracking what an Islamic view, for example, of Christianity and Judaism is. Nonetheless the syllabus should accommodate views and beliefs as understood by the followers of relevant faiths and theseshould not be tampered with. There is another important area that perhaps Muslims have to deal with. From the very beginning of Christian-Muslim dialogue in particular and with other faiths it was felt that there is a need for an International Muslim organization which should establish a ‘unit' to take care of Inter-Faith or even Inter-Civilizational dialogue and provide necessary guidance and direction to Muslims in this field. Although International organizations like Mu'tama al-‘alam al- Islami (World Muslim Congress) under the late Dr. Inamullah Khan, did to some extent provide that leadership, there was the problem that the Mu'tamar did not take it as policy to

Citations

Footnotes

*Dr. Ataullah Siddiqui is a Research Fellow at the Islamic Foundation, Leicester (UK) and is
responsible for the Inter-Faith Unit and is the Director of the Markfield Institute of Higher
Education(MIHE). He is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Leicester and co-editor of the bi-annual
journal Encounters: Journal of Inter-Cultural perspectives. His recent publications are Christian-
Muslim Dialogue in the Twentieth Century, London: Macmillan 1997 and has edited Islam and Other
Faiths (by Ismai'l Raji al-Faruqi), Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1998. He is also the co-editor of
Christians and Muslims in the Commonwealth: A Dynamic Role in the Future, London: Altajir World
of Islam Trust, 2001.This article is based on the author's Bradley Lecture given on 12th May 2000 on
the occasion of Pontificio Istituto Di Studi Arabi E D'Islamistica's (PISAI) 50th anniversary.