Dialogue between the People
of the Book (Ahl-e-Kitaab)
By Marie Cooke
Principal, Margaret Beaufort Institute
the aftermath of 9/11 and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mutual
mistrust, anger and hatred, all seem to give weight to the
idea of the clash of civilizations. Yet there is a hidden
majority, albeit silent, of good-willed people working hard
for peace, reconciliation, and the dialogue of civilizations.
People from the latter camp, about 50 founders, leaders and
ordinary people, men and women, came together on the March
7 at the Guildhall, Cambridge, making it the scene of a unique
and diverse gathering. The seminar launched the inter-faith
initiative of the Society for Dialogue and Action (D&A).
Distinguished speakers, Sir Sigmund Sternberg of the Three
Faiths Forum; Professor David Ford from the Faculty of Divinity,
Cambridge University; and Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General
of the Muslin Council of Britain, all contributed inspiring
insights into the shared values of the Abrahamic communities.
HRH Prince Hassan of Jordan in his message to the Society
for Dialogue and Action talked about the need for mutual ‘respect’,
and ‘non-violent methods of conflict resolution’
for ‘peace’ to prevail. He said that in this difficult
environment, Muslims, Christians and Jews must recognize their
shared values as a ‘unifying factor’, ‘enabling
us to deal with the divisions within and between our societies’.
The seminar focused on the common goodwill and desire for
dialogue and the need for building bridges of friendship to
overcome ignorance and fear.
Anna Sapir Abulafia, Mr. Sidney Shipton, Dr. Amineh
A. Hoti, Professor Julius Lipner, Sir Sigmund Sternberg,
the Mayor of Cambridge, and Professor David Ford
Mayor of Cambridge, John Hipkin, not only generously hosted
the event but also gave the opening address celebrating the
role of the city as a place for ideas to be conceived, discussed
and developed. Dr Amineh Ahmed Hoti, the Executive Director
of D&A, then spoke of the aims of this initiative which
focuses on targeting women and young people. Professor Julius
Lipner, Chairman of the Faculty of Divinity, and Chair of
the seminar, introduced the three faiths speakers.
Sigmund spoke of his own experiences with Muslims such as
Sheikh Zaki Badawi and his work with the Three Faiths Forum.
Professor Ford highlighted the importance of hospitality and
friendship, ending with a theological call to remember that
we are called to engage in this dialogue above all for God’s
sake – for it is God who calls us to peace, compassion
and mutual respect of one another.
Sir Iqbal had taken time out from a very busy day of appointments
to attend this event because he recognized the significance
and value of such an initiative. He stressed that the Muslim
community in Britain wanted to work for the common good of
society and that dialogue with other faiths was an essential
part of the Quran’s call to mutual understanding. All
faiths share a commonality of morality and so could contribute
a strong voice, if united, to counter damaging influences
in the wider society and affect political and civil action
to benefit all sections of society.
Professor Julius Lipner, Professor
David Ford, and Sir Iqbal Sacranie
the seminar included women who, representing the three faiths,
gave brief accounts of support, stressing the need to engage
at grassroots level to facilitate inter-faith dialogue. The
female speakers were Professor Dushka H. Saiyid, Allama Iqbal
Fellow, Wolfson College, Cambridge; Marie Cooke, Principal
Margaret Beaufort Institute; Jane Liddel-King from the Jewish
Chronicle. Dr Anna Sapir Abulafia from Lucy Cavendish gave
the concluding remarks urging people to learn from history
and stressing the importance of honesty and respect. Dr. Amineh
Ahmed Hoti pointed out that meetings such as these should
be seen as part of the process of dialogue. One way of continuing
the engagement is for faith communities to invite others to
attend their religious celebrations, beginning that process
of mutual hospitality which would benefit all.
Most importantly, participants expressed a desire for better
communication between Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others
to become more informed about each other. There was no negation
of the hard issues which divide the faith communities but
these could only be the subject of peaceful discussion after
bonds of friendship and respect had been formed between communities.