Dialogue between the People of the Book (Ahl-e-Kitaab)
By Marie Cooke
Principal, Margaret Beaufort Institute

In 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.

Dr. Anna Sapir Abulafia, Mr. Sidney Shipton, Dr. Amineh A. Hoti, Professor Julius Lipner, Sir Sigmund Sternberg, the Mayor of Cambridge, and Professor David Ford

The 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.

Sir 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

Significantly, 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.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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