Muslim and Vatican Representatives United Against Terrorism

Statement of Islamic-Catholic Dialogue Committee

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 2, 2003 ( Vatican and Muslim representatives have decided on the need to stimulate knowledge of religions, to make distinctions among sacred texts, and to condemn terrorism.

In a statement published after its Feb. 24-25 meeting held in Cairo, Egypt, the Joint Committee of the Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue emphasized «the role of religions for peace.»

It also thanked John Paul II for his mediation, as well as that of some Muslim leaders who are opposed to war as a means of resolving conflicts.

The Joint Committee was established in May 1998 to promote dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The millennium-old Al-Azhar University in Cairo is the most prestigious center of studies and research of the Muslim world. John Paul II visited the university in February 2000.

The Catholic side included Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The Muslim side included Sheik Fawzi Fadel Zafzaf, president of the Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions.

The meeting, which focused on the question of «terrorism and the responsibility of religions to confront it,» rejected «oppression and aggression against the human person, as also the violation of every person’s legitimate right to life and the right to lead that life in security and in peace.»

The participants continued: «The sacred texts in both religions must be understood in their proper context. Isolating passages from their context and using them to legitimize violence is contrary to the spirit of our religions.»

«Care must be taken to distinguish between the sacred texts and teachings of our religions on the one hand, and the behavior and actions of some of their followers on the other,» the final statement explained.

«It is the duty of religious authorities to provide an authentic explanation of the sacred texts and in so doing to safeguard the true image of each religion,» the statement said.

Given the importance of the correct understanding of one another’s religions, it «is proposed that meetings be arranged for lectures in comparative religion, to provide contextualized experience of the other’s religion and to facilitate common reflection on the teaching of a religion that is not one’s own. Such meetings could also be occasions for public conferences,» the statement continued.

«The current situation made it necessary for the Joint Committee to reflect on the likely consequences of the war threatening Iraq. The committee condemned recourse to war as a means of resolving conflict between nations,» it said.

Quoting the Pope, the statement recalled that war «is a proof that humanity has failed. It brings about enormous loss of human life, great damage to the basic structures of human livelihood and the environment, displacement of large populations, and further political instability.»

«In the present circumstances, there is the added factor of increased tension between Muslims and Christians on account of the mistaken identification of some Western powers with Christianity, and of Iraq with Islam,» the religious representatives said. «We strongly affirm that double standards are to be avoided.»

«Peace, which is inseparable from justice, requires the fulfillment of all international obligations,» the statement continued. «This principle applies generally and is, therefore, applicable to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The resolution of this conflict would contribute to resolving many of the outstanding problems of the Middle East.»

The «Muslim members of the committee welcomed the clear policy and strenuous efforts of His Holiness Pope John Paul II in favor of peace,» it said.

For their part, the Catholic members of the committee expressed «their appreciation for Muslim religious leaders, including the Grand Imam, Sheik Al-Azhar M. Sayyid Tantawi, who have raised their authoritative voices in defense of peace.»

The Joint Committee was informed of the conference that was held in Vienna, Austria, last July 3 in which the Permanent Committee for Dialogue of Al-Azhar suggested the preparation of a charter for interreligious dialogue.

The charter would have two points of fundamental importance for dialogue: the rejection of generalizations when speaking of one another’s religions and communities; and the ability to be self-critical. The Joint Committee welcomed this proposal.

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