The value of interfaith dialogue should not be underestimated, especially between Christians and Muslims.
Christians and Muslims have a strained history that extends into today. Islamic extremism and militancy is a genuine problem that has claimed many lives: both Christian and Muslim. Christians are also persecuted in many countries where Islam is the majority religion. Muslims too are persecuted in other countries, such as by China’s government and Hindu extremists in India, out of fear.
Interfaith dialogue between Christianity and Islam is essential for promoting peace and ensuring that all religions have the freedom to practice and express their beliefs.
Interfaith dialogue does not mean merging the two religions into one. Having distinctions between the two religions as different from each other is important. However, interfaith dialogue does entail friendship, compromise during a conflict, and promoting respect for each other and for others.
Scripture tells Christians that human beings are made in the image of God, that we must love our neighbor as ourselves, and that we even need to show love to those who hate us. Interfaith dialogue between Christian and Muslim leaders or even just two members of different religions is one way we can walk can that out, hopefully leading to a more constructive environment.
Here are three reasons why building bridges between Christians and Muslims is important and necessary:
1. Promoting Peace
Adherents of Christianity and Islam both look to their pastors, priests, and imams for direction and wisdom. So, fostering conversation and friendship between leaders of different faiths is a powerful way to promote peace and nonviolent solutions to conflicts.
During a visit to Bahrain in November, Pope Francis gave a speech before the Muslim Council of Elders that emphasized the responsibility both Christians and Muslims have to foster peaceful coexistence.
“God is the source of peace. May he enable us to be ‘channels of his peace’ everywhere,” Pope Francis said.
“The God of peace never brings about war, never incites hatred, never supports violence. We, who believe in him, are called to promote peace with tools of peace, such as encounter, patient negotiations and dialogue, which is the oxygen of peaceful coexistence.”
2. Removing Fear
In addition to promoting peace, interfaith dialogue and building bridges also work to remove the fear Christians and Muslims may hold towards each other based on history or previous experiences. Fear often drives hatred.
Interfaith dialogue can help counter fear by showing that extremists can be separate from people genuinely trying to practice their faith. Additionally, we must not fall into the trap of thinking that any religion is exempt from descending into forms of extremism.
Pope Francis visited Iraq in 2021 on a historic trip after the fall of the Islamic State. During his visit, he met with Islamic leaders and walked through regions once occupied by ISIS. The Pope’s to visit the epicenter of so much violence and religious persecution over the past several years sent an irrefutable signal that fear will not prevail.
Outside the ruins of churches destroyed by ISIS in Mosul, Pope Francis said: “How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people – Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others – forcibly displaced or killed.
“Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war.”
3. Advocating for Persecuted Populations
Additionally, during Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq, he met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a highly revered leader in Shia Islam. In his conversation with al-Sistani, Pope Francis brought up the issues besetting Iraq’s Christian population, which is displaced and quickly dwindling in the wake of ISIS.
After their conversation, al-Sistani’s office released a statement expressing the leader’s agreement with Pope Francis regarding “his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights.”
Meetings, conversations, and statements such as these emphasize the need for advocacy by Muslims in Iraq and beyond on behalf of Christians and vice versa.
During your day today, consider saying a quick prayer for peace and a building of bridges between Muslims and Christians around the world and for an end to conflict. We talk a lot at For The Martyrs about the persecution and suffering Christians around the world are experiencing every day — after all, raising awareness is part of our mission. The need for dialogue in the midst of it all cannot be understated — the situation improves when hearts turn towards peace.
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Image: “Jerusalem Old City, Israel” (Photo Credit: Rostislav Ageev, Adobe Stock)