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Practical Proposals for Islamic-Christian Cooperation

By: Ayatollah Mahmoud Muhammdi Araqi,
Chairperson, Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, Iran

Following is the text of a speech delivered by Ayatollah Mahmoud Muhammdi Araqi, Chairperson, Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, Iran at joint Islam-Christian dialogue in Geneva.
I would like to begin my speech about the prospect of Islamic-Christian cooperation between the Islamic and Christian worlds on the basis of three prepositions that can be acknowledged by the dear audience:
1 Without any doubt, the policy of dialogue is acknowledged by reason and wisdom and will boost mutual understanding, spiritual proximity, mutual compassion, consolidation of human relations and cordiality and sincerity among the followers of the divine religions.
2 Dialogue is held in order to materialize and fulfill the demands that can be achieved through dialogue. Although dialogue in itself is a desirable issue and suitable for man's life and should be held for sometimes for better understanding, it should be basically used as a means that can lead us to higher ends. Hence, if staying in this stage takes more than usual, it is not suitable.
3 The experience of the dialogues between the Islamic and Christian worlds of the past half-a-century in the contemporary history has proven that this policy has left considerable positive social and cultural effects on the relations among the followers of religions. Therefore, the next step to dialogue should be taken as soon as possible. The next step is serious collective cooperation between the followers of religions for the materialization of spiritual and ethical objectives of the divine religions.
In order to materialize this step in the process of mutual cooperation, in the first instance the culture of dialogue should be transferred to the society. The main feature of the current dialogues is that it is carried out between the religious scholars and philosophers. However the need of the time is the transfer of the culture of dialogue to the society on the basis of consensus and mutual understanding of the religious scholars. This will demonstrate the objective results of the dialogue in peaceful coexistence among the human beings in the political, social, and cultural fields. Let me mention the principles of this cooperation in brief:

a) The principle of training and education on the basis of ethical maxims of religions
Education is necessary to upgrade knowledge and awareness of individual and society about various needs and subjects to grantee man's worldly happiness and otherworldly salvation. The peaceful life of human beings in this diverse multicultural world needs education on all levels. Education is more important for the children and youth. Our society today must learn how to regulate its relations and interaction with other fellow creatures. The development of communications, the intermingling of the societies, the change in the combination of human communities, the expansion of migrations, and the change in the structure of traditional societies have brought multiculturalism (religion is also one of the elements of multiculturalism) into the limelight. Of course the new multiculturalism can not be based on traditional ties and requires new interaction and relationship among human beings. Real and virtual education is an evident means for logical systematization of social behavior. Education must be used at individual, family and social levels.
According to the Islamic doctrines, children are born with a divine nature. The family conditions and the parents determine the path of the children's life. Social upbringing, genetic features, environment, peer groups and colleagues are next to leave their impacts on man's behavior. A healthy family can present healthy children to the society. This is a direct interaction between the individual and society, for parents too are the products of two families or perhaps two societies in which they have been brought up. A healthy upbringing, particularly based on the genuine religious teachings, leaves its influence on man's divine nature, calling the individual and society to a wise life and peaceful coexistence. Such principles as philanthropy, tolerance, patience, forgiveness, kindness to the bondsmen of God, trust in the brothers- and sisters-in-faith, assistance and benevolence all in all should be implemented within the framework of educational curriculums, because they stem from the divine attributes and religious teachings. There is ample space in the textbooks, dictionaries, encyclopedias, conventions, international agreements, film scenarios, plays, books and articles for the incorporation of such concepts as peace, justices, mutual respect, cultural and religious pluralism and tolerance. We must correct our understanding of each other and transfer the results of what we have gained through the past dialogues to the public.

b) Promotion of Comparative Religious Studies
The divine religions, particularly the Abrahamic religions, have certain commonalities regarding monotheism, prophethood, the hereafter, ethical values and spirituality. In some cases they have common divine commandments as well. These common points underline their unity in their thought and the ultimate objective. A study of the common points within the framework of comparative religious studies can help the followers of the Abrahamic religions to move towards a united procedure in their attempts to fulfill the ultimate objective. This intellectual cooperation can be effective in preparation of a convention of religions for materialization of the ultimate goal of religions. Cooperation between the Christian and Islamic academic institutes can prepare the grounds in the respective academic societies for scientific cooperation and preparation of common research programs and plans.

c) Promotion of Inter-religious Relations
The Islamic and Christian communities have thus far had a number of dialogues between their religious (Muslim and Christian) scholars and philosophers. As a result of these dialogues the religious leaders of the two communities now have a good knowledge of each other. However, the religious students and researchers normally want to know the contents and results of such dialogues. The following measures can promote inter-religious and intercultural relations between the two communities: admission of seminary students in the respective countries, exchange of visits and holding dialogues between the academic figures and students, offering university courses or subjects in the respective countries, exchange of university students and professors, holding of cultural-religious tours, visiting the religious centers and meeting the religious personalities, and access to each other's religious sources for research. There are a number of people in the Islamic communities who don't have slightest information about Christianity and likewise there a number of people in the Christian communities who don't have slightest information about Islam. As a result, they look at each other on the basis of the existing old approaches and misunderstandings.

d) Agreements on Mutual Cooperation
The Islamic and Christian institutions on the basis of their legal status can cooperate with each other within the framework of some agreements for religious research studies. They can also share their academic experiences in the field of religious cooperation. The texts published by the Islamic and Christian institutes for the information of the public opinion and school and university students or those prepared as research sources such as encyclopedias are precise in many cases and are not always reliable. Some of them have not been written with good intention. The transfer of accurate knowledge of each other's epistemological field can be undertaken through joint research ventures.

e) Mutual Spiritual Support of Each Other's Religious Objectives
As mentioned above, the Abrahamic religions have a common philosophy and naturally follow common goals in materialization of the missions of the divine messengers. In fact the divine religions are each a component of the totality of divine guidance meant for man's salvation and felicity. Hence I believe that the defilement and sacrilege of any of these components will lead to the violation of the totality of the divine guidance.
What we witness today in transgression of the perimeters of the divine messengers and holy scriptures, the defilement of the sanctities and values and disrespect to religious personalities is in fact a violation of all divine religions, divine perimeters and sanctities and the paths to man's salvation. It is duty of all true leaders and followers of the divine religions to spare no effort to preserve the perimeters of divine values through the necessary measures. Also they are requested to oppose those, who, due their satanic nature, frequently transgress the religious values and religious feelings of the followers of the divine religions.

f) Establishment of a Joint Foundation
The world during the past few decades has witnessed a number of inter-religious dialogues held by such influential centers as the Catholic community, the World Council of Churches, and the Islamic world. The Center for Inter-religious Dialogue of the Islamic Republic of Iran has held a number of dialogues with other religious centers of the world particularly with those of the Christian community. Recently the Islamic Republic of Iran proposed the setting up of a permanent secretariat at the Organization of Islamic Conference to follow up the inter-religious dialogues. It seems that the unorganized inter-religious dialogues can be organized through the cooperation of Vatican, The World Council of Churches and the Organization of Islamic Conference to set up a join foundation for practical cooperation and dialogue between these religions. This measure can be the starting point for a new movement towards the materialization of the objectives of four decades of inter-religious dialogues and practical results in Islamic-Christian cooperation.

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