Archbishop of Canterbury hosts dialogue of Christian and Muslim scholars in Qatar

April 9, 2003

While the war continued to rage in Iraq, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams brought together 15 Christian theologians and 15 Muslim scholars to explore the use of Scripture in the two faiths in a 'Building Bridges' seminar in Qatar.

In his opening remarks April 7, Williams thanked the Amir of Qatar for his 'exemplary commitment to this dialogue,' adding that 'he has shown precisely the kind of enthusiasm for honest exchange and deepened understanding which meetings such as this are designed to assist.'

Noting that the foundation for the dialogue had been laid by his predecessor, George Carey, in a similar meeting last year at Lambeth Palace in London, Williams said, 'Christians are Christians and Muslims are Muslims because they care about the truth, and because they believe that truth alone gives life. About the nature of that absolute and life-giving truth, Christians and Muslims are not fully in agreement. Yet they are able to find words in which to explain and explore that disagreement because they also share histories and practices that make parts of their systems of belief mutually recognisable--a story reaching back to God's creation of the world and God's call to Abraham.'

The purpose of the dialogue, according to Williams, was 'to discover more about how each community believes it must listen to God, conscious of how very differently we identify and speak of God's revelation.' That listening becomes all the more urgent in times of conflict and anxiety, he said. 'Listening to God and to one another as nations, cultures and faiths have not always had the priority they so desperately need,' he said.

'In this dialogue, we are not seeking an empty formula of convergence or trying to deny our otherness; indeed, as we reflect on the holy texts we read, we shall be seeking to make better sense of how we relate to the other, the stranger with whom we can still speak in trust and love,' Williams said. In doing that, 'we learn more of the depths of what nourishes us in our own faith and we hope to go from this dialogue better equipped to witness in a deeply troubled world, to witness what faith and humble obedience to God and patient attention to each other might have to offer to struggling and suffering nations throughout the globe.'

The conference was planned well in advance of the military conflict in neighboring Iraq and is part of a continuing process of engagement between scholars of the two religions. 'Christians and Muslims have much to learn from each other,' Williams said before the meeting. He argued that the meeting is 'a clear demonstration that we do not have to be imprisoned in mutual hostility and misunderstanding when our encounters are shaped by the scholarship and experience' of participants.

According to Bishop Clive Handford, president-bishop of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, a confirmation service attended by almost 600 people was held during the seminar at the English-speaking school in Doha. The archbishop preached, confirmed 16 young people of seven nationalities, and Handford celebrated the Eucharist.

The archbishop also blessed the first stone of what will be the Church of the Epiphany. Christians are free to worship openly in Qatar, thanks to the tolerant policies of the Amir.