Muslim-Christian Dialogue

Bishops and Imams unite in call for peace

Martin Wainwright and Stephen Bates, The Guardian

Faith leaders from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Imams in Bradford added their voices to calls for a swift end to  war and an emphasis on building a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Church doors will be left open by congregations ranging from cathedrals to all-but-abandoned urban chapels to encourage inside anyone who wishes to sit in silence or pray for peace. The swell of feeling, unprecedented in recent conflicts, has been influenced by the wave of protests across the country. Faith leaders have been moved by the sincerity of a generation not previously noted for political involvement, but now adopting the role of active citizen with enthusiasm.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Archbishop of York, David Hope, headed signatories on a letter warning that “dangerous new terrain has been entered with consequences that cannot be predicted”.

The bishop of Bath and Wells, the Right Rev Peter Price, described the attack on Iraq as a defeat for the United Nations, diplomacy and humanity. He said: “This is not a religious war. The moral dilemma has been and remains a decision between the terrible nature of the threat we have faced from Iraq and the terrible nature of war as a solution. We need to be clear on our immediate and limited war aims: the removal of weapons of mass destruction and a regime change. We must hope and pray that only minimum force will be used to achieve these aims.”

Joint statements between Christians and Muslims were led by the ecumenical group Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and the Muslim Council of Britain. They appealed for tolerance and understanding.

“Relationships between our own religious communities could suffer from rising tension,” they said. “We must exercise the utmost caution to prevent opportunist elements from exploiting this state of affairs.

“Now that war has started, there is an even greater responsibility for Christians and Muslims to maintain bonds of harmony one with another and to pray for all caught up in the conflict.”

The call was echoed by the Bishop of Bradford, the Right Rev David James, and the city’s Council for Mosques, who appealed for calm. They said: “Unquestioning support for ‘our’ side or any who call themselves Christian or Muslim reduces religious commit ment to mere tribalism, which is an offence to God.”

The bishop joined the Anglican bishop of Leeds and Ripon, the Right Rev John Packer, and the Catholic bishop of Leeds, the Right Rev David Konstant, to say: “We greet the news that the government has committed our troops to war with Iraq with a profound sense of sadness.”

The Right Rev Crispian Hollis, Catholic bishop of Portsmouth, the home of many military personnel, said: “I very much regret the need and the decision to go to war … and I am particularly sad that the failure of the diplomatic process has meant that hostilities are being undertaken without the sanction and support of the UN.”

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