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There's no cheap path to harmony

  • 03 February 2016

Of the United Nations Days and Weeks, World Interfaith Harmony Week is one of the most recent and perhaps the most modestly celebrated. It may also be the most needed. But its claim needs to extend beyond religious faiths to secular views of the world.

The week originated in a proposal of King Abdullah of Jordan, a Muslim. He recognised that the great religions were united by their call to love God and their neighbour. They could come together on that basis without minimising the differences between them.

In Australia small local committees sponsor breakfasts, talks and gatherings to mark the week. These complement the all-important personal contact between people of different religions who are open to learn from one another about one another's faith.

These small initiatives and conversations, of course, are tiny when set against the violence in the name of religion that plagues the Middle East and elsewhere.

There, people of different Islamic groups and of other religions have been persecuted and polarised by IS with its corrupt and violent version of Islam. Hostility has been intensified by the intervention and destruction brought by foreign powers, which are then readily portrayed as anti-Islamic. Conflict fed by personal, political and economic interests is then framed in religious terms.

The conflict in the Middle East and terrorist incidents in other nations often provoke tense relationships between Muslim immigrant communities and the majority population in their host countries. This tension expresses itself in religious and ethnic prejudice and discriminatory laws, which in turn contributes to fear, withdrawal and alienation in Muslim communities.

Disenfranchised young Muslims are then vulnerable to recruitment by IS or by whatever will replace it. So the cycle of violence is continued.

To break this cycle requires serious efforts to create interfaith harmony based on a sympathetic understanding of other people and what their faith means to them. In Western countries, including Australia, it is unreasonable to expect that Muslim leaders of Muslim, preoccupied with supporting their often poor and harried immigrant communities, will be able to take the initiative in this.

So the task must fall on the leaders of Christian churches, by first going out to seek trusting relationships with significant Muslim religious leaders, and then making similar relationships between Muslim communities and their own a high pastoral priority.

When people who are Muslim meet people who are Christian and explore each other's lived faith, the prejudices based on the selective quotation of texts,