From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Archbishop Carey to Speak in Key Muslim Religious Centre

Date 06 May 1996 06:12:33

Canon James M. Rosenthal, Director of Communications
Anglican Communion News Service
157 Waterloo Road, London SE1 8UT, England
Tel. 44 0171 620-1110
Fax 44 0171 620-1071

#737 ACC

Archbishop to Speak in Key Muslim Religious Centre

During his visit to Egypt, the Archbishop of Canterbury will deliver
a lecture about interfaith relationships at the Al-Azhar University,
Cairo, on Wednesday 4 October. The University is linked to the Al-
Azhar Mosque and training school for Imams from all over the world.
It is a highly significant occasion when such a senior Christian
leader is invited to give a major address in one of the heartlands
of Islam.

The Archbishop will be accompanied on the platform by two
influential Muslim religious leaders, the Sheikh Al-Azhar and the
Grand Mufti of Cairo.

The text of the Archbishop's address follows.



Having such an opportunity to give a major lecture in Al Azhar
University is a significant honour for a Christian leader. I wish to
express my appreciation to Dr Ahmed Omar Hasham, President of the
University for the invitation. Al Azhar University is known
throughout the world not only for its links to the Al Azhar Mosque,
the leading centre of Islamic studies in the Muslim world, but also
as probably the oldest university in existence.

I congratulate the University for its exciting initiative in
planning practical co-operation in the form of exchange of academic
staff and students with the University of Birmingham through the
Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Selly
Oak Colleges.

May I also say how delighted I am personally to be in Egypt again.
I was here in 1954 as an eighteen year old National Serviceman in
the Royal Air Force and I greatly enjoyed the hospitality of
Egyptian friends and my first encounter with Islamic life and

Christians and Muslims have a great responsibility for the human
family. We are the two largest faiths in the world and neither of us
shows any signs of losing our potency. However, historically,
members of both of our faiths have played a somewhat ambiguous role
in the affairs of our world. Only the very biased would deny the
positive side. Through education, through social care and by
nourishing those wholesome moral values that are needed for the good
of humanity, Islam and Christianity have made undeniably important
contributions to human societies. Many people, regardless of
religious commitment, are grateful for the way they have been
formed, and our societies shaped, through an enlightened faith which
has nurtured millions from cradle to grave. In my own country, even
amongst those who no longer attend Church many are aware that to
drift too far from the values, traditions and moral framework of a
nurturing faith would be very damaging for our society. There is a
tacit recognition that religion at its best has much to contribute
to the world in which we live, giving us the courage to face up to
the ultimate questions of life and death, of purpose and meaning.

On the other hand there is a darker side. The same religions which
have such potential for creating community have, sadly, all too
often divided and alienated people from one another. I will say a
little in a moment about the current events in Bosnia, but I am also
very much aware that the medieval conflicts between Islam and
Christianity cast a long shadow. No modern Christian is happy with
the way our forebears sought to settle the divisions of the past.
The Crusades severely damaged both relationships between Christians
and between Christians and Muslims. There is much to apologise for.
But religious disputes continue today and, sadly, violence is often
linked to passions which become associated with different faith
communities. Issues of poverty and despair, to take just two
examples, can become intertwined with issues of faith and can result
either in aggression towards, or in the scapegoating of, others.

But we must examine this further. For this darker side of religion
all too often shows itself in places around the world where the
gentle tones of mature faith are silenced by the shouts of
intolerance and ignorance. Sometimes the fears and misunderstandings
of long estranged faith communities are deliberately exploited by
misguided men and violence and murder replaces frank dialogue and
civilised behaviour.

And here I feel that I must refer explicitly to the conflict in the
Former Yugoslavia. We have all watched in horror at the appalling
tide of ethnic violence which has taken place in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Inexcusable 'ethnic-cleansing', violent crimes against women and
children. The destruction of Mosques and places of worship. I
understand Muslim fears that much of this was aimed at eradicating
Islam from Europe where it had been for hundreds of years. The
English historian, Noel Malcolm, in his excellent book "Bosnia: A
Short History" talks of the "fragments of historical misinformation
which have appeared in the Western media over the last two years
have been washed in by tides of natural and political mythology from
within the old Yugoslavia".

The political moves over the last ten days give us fresh cause to
hope but religious leaders must play a responsible and creative role
if a long-lasting peace is to be secured.

Such then, are some aspects of the power of religion in our world,
and that power shows no sign of waning. Surely, therefore, the
search for peace between the world faiths is one of the most urgent
tasks facing humankind. Professor Hans Kung, one of the world's most
important thinkers on this topic, declared in an address given at
Lambeth Palace last year: 'Without peace between the religions, war
between the civilisations. No peace among the religions without
dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions
without investigation of the foundations of the religions'. That
analysis is correct.

In much of the world we have underestimated for too long the ability
of cultures and religions to create division. We have failed to
grasp what they can mean, particularly for the young. As has been
observed: 'Even more than ethnicity, religion discriminates sharply
and exclusively among people. A person can be half-French and half-
Arab and simultaneously even a citizen of two countries. It is more
difficult to be half-Catholic and half-Muslim'.

Others have been emphasising the same point from a number of
different disciplines.

I think, for instance, of the book recently published by the Centre
for Strategic and International Studies: Religion, The Missing
Dimension of Statecraft. Written in the first instance to help
policy makers take into account the significance of the religious
dimension for world stability, it is also, I believe, of
significance to religious leaders as they seek to work out their
social and political roles in society.

What then needs to be done? What can we do? What new relationships
should we be seeking? Allow me to answer these questions by way of
four attitude-transforming statements:



I have chosen the word 'friendship' in preference to the much used
word 'tolerance' because of the many different layers of meaning we
associate with the latter word. I am all for true tolerance but
there is a narrow secular understanding of it which we need to guard
against, one which equates it with the indifference we all have
towards those things we do not particularly care about.

True tolerance is not that. Rather, it is shown when people care
deeply about their beliefs and yet are able to respect the right of
other people to hold different beliefs and to live at peace with

Indeed, the friendship I am speaking of, is both the name we give t
the most basic of all human relationships and something which
includes within it true tolerance. Friendship is the context in
which differences may be held harmoniously and where opposing
beliefs can be contained in love without spilling over into
antagonism and hatred. Dr. Albert Hourani, a great scholar of the
Arab world once remarked: 'Nobody can now write with meaning about
the world of Islam if he does not bring to it some sense of a living
relationship with those of whom he writes'. That is also true of
Christianity. Dr. Hourani's description of a 'living relationship'
is surely central to the dialogue we seek. It is a relationship
which in one sense is forced on us by the fact that in so many parts
of the world we are sharing the same geographical space. Thirty
years ago in Britain we were hardly conscious of an Islamic
presence. Now the presence of minority ethnic groups for whom Islam
is central to life and the binding force of their culture has been
recognised by all religious leaders and by many others too.
Friendships are growing in many parts of our island and must be
encouraged. In places like Bradford there is deepening appreciation
of the role that Islam can make to the Britain of the future. It is
only within such friendships that true tolerance can be fully
expressed safely and harmoniously. It is the tolerance that is
prepared to go to of its way to listen, understand and appreciate
those of a different faith, and to recognise that they, as much as
you, have a right to be honoured as fellow human beings and fellow
seekers after truth.

Very often such friendships develop through face to face contact and
the mutual interchange of hospitality and ideas. Religious leaders,
I believe, have a particular responsibility to set examples of warm
fraternity and to find opportunities to enter into the experiences
of others. I recall a visit I made to the East End of London a
couple of years ago when I enjoyed tea with the leaders and Imams of
Brick Lane Mosque. I was delighted to discover that they enjoyed
good links with the local vicar and members of the congregation of
Christ Church, Spitalfields just fifty yards away. To this day I
retain the distinct pleasure that came from a realisation that the
Muslims present were thrilled to see me there and I was so glad that
I had been able to accept their invitation. They had taken the
initiative and I was the appreciative receiver. A friendship was
born and it is through events such as this that true tolerance
emerges and incipient hostility based on fear is disarmed.


It is extraordinary how ignorant we are of one another. Yet
ignorance is the most terrible of cultural diseases for from it stem
fear, misunderstanding and intolerance. A book published in 1993 by
Dr. Aziz Al-Azmeh, Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of
Exeter traces the way Islam has been understood in the West
throughout the ages. (Islam and Modernities Verso, 6 Meard Street.
London. 1993). He shows the three distortions it has suffered from.
Prior to the 16th Century Reformation, it was caricatured as
intolerant and evil; during the 18th Century Enlightenment, as
strange and rather ridiculous; and in modern times, as a faith to be

No doubt there are similar mythologies in the history of Islam about
the nature of Christianity. How may we enlighten the great ignorance
that exists all around us? It must surely start in our theological
seminaries and educational establishments where people are prepared
for work that requires them to teach others. As I said in a lecture
in India earlier this year, I long for the day when all those
studying their own faith in depth will also be required to examine
the life and teachings of two other faiths as well. Selly Oak
Colleges in Birmingham has had for many years a department for
Islamic Studies. Just two weeks ago I visited the Oxford Centre for
Islamic Studies where I was able to glimpse something of the
impressive work it is beginning to do. Already it is establishing
healthy relationships with Christian societies and colleges. But
much more could be and should be done. We shall only eradicate
extremism which resorts to violence if there is respect for one
another and awareness that whether we like it or not Islam and
Christianity are not going to go away, neither is the power of
religion for good and evil. Religious leaders carry a great
responsibility for ensuring that understanding replaces ignorance in
those countries which have been shaped by the cultures that bear the
name of our faith.


If then dialogue must proceed by way of friendship there can be no
dodging the urgent question of reciprocity. If we seriously want
peace and harmony on this overcrowded little planet, then the
friendship and respect we have towards people of other faiths must
become mutual.

To succeed in this we will need to face the central problem which
gets in the way of this reciprocity. The fact is that both Islam and
Christianity are missionary faiths. We make absolute claims and we
are anxious to promote our faiths. This is integral to both our
religions and is nothing to apologise for. Muslims are commanded in
the Holy Qur'an to `act as witnesses for mankind' just as Christians
are commanded in Holy Scripture to 'go into the world and preach the

^From time to time the question is put: `Can believers who really
believe passionately in their hearts that theirs is a missionary
faith which calls people to holiness and truth, really be committed
to dialogue?' I answer: 'Yes, we can'. It is possible, as long as we
are willing to listen to others, are committed to peace and wish to
understand. As many here will know I am uncompromising in holding
fast to my own beliefs as a Christian, but that does not diminish my
willingness to listen, to learn and to grow. What is essential to
grasp, however, is that the way we evangelise and share out faith
today has its inter-faith repercussions. Neither of our religions
encourages us to commend our faith arrogantly, irresponsibly or

But is reciprocity an element that our religions are genuinely
willing to cultivate? Are we seeking to offer the same rights and
privileges to another faith that we expect for our own?

That issue has become an urgent one throughout the world. Minority
Muslim groups in the West naturally cry out for the right as
citizens to practice their faith freely, to build their mosques and
to bring up their children according to the tenets of Islam.
Likewise please reach my desk from minority Christian groups in many
parts of the world asking that they should be able to enjoy those
freedoms too.

This kind of reciprocity is a pattern which should provide a model
for many other parts of the world though, sadly, it will always be
threatened by those who wish, for whatever reason, to retreat into
some kind of exclusivism.


I have already made clear my conviction that religions in general
and religious leaders in particular carry an immense responsibility
for the world. We cannot afford to drift into hostility and
confrontation; new pathways of co-operation and peace based on
understanding and goodwill need to be charted out.

Up until now I have been stressing the differences that exist
between the religions. Such differences are genuine and should not
be denied, but nor should it be implied that there is no common
ground between them. There is more shared understanding and greater
agreement than we sometimes think or our mentors have told us. This
is something to celebrate and rejoice in. In spite of our
difference, there are wide areas of agreement which can provide a
strong basis for greater co-operation and joint commitment to
humanity's struggle to overcome evil, disease and poverty. Let me
point to a number of areas where Islam and Christianity share common
values and ideas.

For instance, devout followers of both faiths are encouraged to seek
to be good citizens and good neighbours, and that this in turn not
only involves a certain lifestyle in community but a private
lifestyle which takes seriously a commitment to respect and love

In my many meetings with Muslims since my first meeting with them in
this country I have been impressed by discovering so much that finds
echoes also in the Christian faith - the commitment to moral values,
the importance of the family, respect for a non-violent way of
settling disputes, care for the poor and underprivileged, and a
sense of obligation and accountability to the One who judges all
human life.

There is agreement too that justice and integrity should be at the
heart of society. Our faiths agree that the laws which exist in
communities are not sufficient by themselves to keep people together
if in their hearts they are not satisfied with such laws. Laws
themselves require a moral foundation, and experience shows that
human beings cannot be improved through the imposition of law alone.
The contribution that the ethical tradition of our mainstream faiths
makes to modern society is to point beyond the laws which regulate
communities to the eternal truths which give validity to human life.
They point to the infinite value of each human person in the sight
of God. This understanding also affects our concepts of justice. It
affects too those who administer that justice. It weighs in the
balance those who rule. Justice means justice for all; it means that
there is an eternal law by which human destiny is assessed.

Finally, there is agreement that we share a common allegiance to
eternal truths in a world which is dominated by the present. The
common truth we bear witness to is that this world did not originate
from chance, and cannot be explained just by what we can see and
touch. We share then in a common witness against secularism as a
system which defines life, knowledge and culture without any
reference to what lies beyond this life. We reject those theories
which seek to define humanity and human culture in terms of
autonomous systems of though which ignore the divine. We do so
because of our understanding that life without the divine is
ultimately meaningless. Humanity needs faith to survive. This common
stand on the reality of the eternal is another major agreement that
can become a catalyst for shared action.

These 'building' blocks of common ethical and religious agreement
offer considerable scope for further progress between Muslims and
Christians in combating the great evils that threaten the human
family. Let me sum up by way of conclusion ways in which co-
operation can be advanced.

i. Co-operation in fighting poverty and human misery. All our
societies are engulfed with human problems which dwarf our
individual ability to solve them. It is easy to throw up our hands
in despair and surrender to them, but both our faiths have long
traditions of social care, and substantial resources which can be
used to bring relief to others from want or illness. While it is
good when religions do this on their own, we shall often be more
effective if we co-operate together. For instance, in the field of
emergency relief, voluntary agencies from the various faith
communities frequently work closely together and I am delighted that
Christian Aid and the Islamic Relief Agency have now got a joint
project running in Bosnia. Or, to take another example, in my own
country a Council of representatives from the different religions
represented in the inner cities work together with the Government to
analyse shared problems and initiate practical actions. Such
initiatives provide good examples of what can be done through inter-
faith co-operation and provide models for further developments in
these areas.

ii. Peace and harmony among the peoples. I am in no doubt that there
is very powerful concern in the mainstream religions for peace
between peoples. It is a shocking thing that at any one time over
100 wars rage throughout the world. Religious leaders can and should
be taking a more active role in seeking to resolve these conflicts,
particularly where differences in religion are seen to be one of the
issues involved. By modelling good relations between ourselves we
can open up a way for others to follow. In this context I have
pointed to the role of the Anglican Observer at the United Nations
and encouraged those of other faiths to take the opportunity to have
their own representatives there, making their own contribution to
the work of that body in promoting peace.

iii. Tolerance and understanding. This does, of course, link very
closely to the search for peace but is also much broader than it.
Wherever we look in the world, xenophobia is an enemy to racial and
religious harmony. Even in countries like mine, which has a
tradition of hospitality, xenophobia sometimes flares up in isolated
spots darkening our good name. In some other countries religious
extremists can undermine democracy itself leading to deep
instability and social crisis. Those of us who have authority in
faith communities have a duty - indeed, a mandate - to speak out
clearly when men of violence set at nought a significant aspect of
our faith. Murder is always murder whatever name or cause it is done
in. Friendship, including true tolerance, is something that needs to
be cultivated, fostered and laboured for in the midst of that

I have in this lecture endeavoured to point some ways forward to
encourage further dialogue and co-operation between our faith
communities. For some much of it will have been familiar territory -
 for others much of it will have been new. But for all of us, I
hope, it will have encouraged a growth in understanding of, and
commitment to, one another. I have spoken as a Christian leader who
is passionately committed to the cause of Christ but also as someone
who has, over the years, learned to value and admire much in the
beliefs and traditions of other faith communities. I remain utterly
convinced that the role of religions is a vital ingredient in the
search for peace, order and harmony among the nations. That role
will only become effective when leaders of all mainstream religions,
particularly Islam and Christianity, show a willingness to forge new
links with one another. For that to happen we shall require a new
generosity of spirit to those with whom we have disagreed in the
past. But even that will not be enough - we shall also be required
to toil at interfaith dialogue and common action so that those yet
unborn may, one day, live in a world which actually is at peace with
itself; where true tolerance is honoured; and where friendship,
understanding, reciprocity and co-operation are built into a new
relationship through which Islam and Christianity may live together.

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