Christian and Muslim leaders met this past week to launch the National Muslim-Christian Initiative in North America aimed at facilitating greater understanding between the two religious communities.
Representatives of several Christian groups, including the Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guibord, consultant for interfaith relations for the Episcopal Church, and Dr. Peter Makari, co-chair of the National Council of Churches' Interfaith Relations Commission, were present at the meeting held near Washington, D.C from Feb. 27 to 28.
The Rev. Guibord and Mohamed Elsanousi, director of communications and community outreach of the Islamic society of North America (ISNA), coordinated the meeting after several recent consultations between Muslim and Christian leaders.
"This Initiative of Muslim and Christian leaders sends a message to those in North America – [that] we co-exist in vibrant communities where awareness and cooperation will be our common future together," said co-convener Dr. Peter Makari, co-chair of the NCC's Interfaith Relations Commission, according to Episcopal Life.
The initiative's mission, as stated in its mission statement adopted this past week, is to "enhance mutual understanding, respect, appreciation and support of what is sacred for each other through dialogue, education and sustained visible encounters that foster and nurture relationships."
Representatives at the meeting discussed their desire for relationships of trust between the two communities, and to explore areas of common concern and understanding.
"This initiative is part of ongoing Muslim efforts to engage other faith communities in North America, and to bring about an understanding of common goals and reconciliation in our communities," said Dr. Syeed Sayyid, national director of the ISNA Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances.
The initiative was sparked by concerns from both Christians and Muslims over misrepresentations of Islam and stereotypes of Muslims in North America. It was also encouraged by an unprecedented letter last year from 138 Muslim scholars, clerics and intellectuals around the world addressed to Christians.
The letter, entitled "A Common Word Between Use and You," emphasized that Muslims and Christians make up over half the world's population and therefore true peace cannot occur if conflict persists between the two religious communities. Muslim signers urged the two faiths to find "common ground" and to not be satisfied with just "polite ecumenical dialogue" between some religious leaders.
Christians responded to the Muslim letter by issuing their own letter signed by nearly 300 top Christian leaders, also urging for interfaith dialogue that would build relations and reshape the Christian and Islam communities. The Vatican responded by announcing it will hold a "historic" meeting with Muslim leaders this spring.
Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit the United States for the first time as pontiff next month, when he will meet with non-Christian faith leaders. During his Apr. 15-20 visit, the pope will meet with Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Jain representatives.
The group of representatives includes Rabbi Gilbert S. Rosenthal of the National Council of Synagogues; Rabbi Joel Myers of the New York-based Rabbinical Assembly; Sayyid M. Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America and Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini of the Islamic Center of America, a large mosque in Dearborn, Mich., according to The Associated Press.
Bishop Richard Sklba, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the theme of the upcoming meeting is "Religions Working for Peace."
The National Muslim-Christian Initiative in North America ended by setting up five task groups to organize its work and prepare for future gatherings that will be held twice a year. The initiative will next meet in Chicago in September.