In search of ‘A Common Word’

A major conference takes place at Mater Dei Institute

‘O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you.”

Responding to this call – taken from the Koran – scholars linked with the three Abrahamic faiths came together in Dublin in December for a conference on A Common Word and the Future of Muslim-Christian Dialogue.

Prompted by the issuing, in 2007 of A Common Word, an open letter to Christian Churches signed by 138 Muslim leaders, the conference is now held annually in different venues, with the 2013 hosting honour coming to Mater Dei Institute, which, over two days hosted presentations and lively discussions both on progress in interfaith dialogue and future initiatives.

Delivering the opening address to the assembled delegates, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the dialogue sought by A Common Word was necessary for a truly “healthy and democratic society”.

“Dialogue between faiths is not just for the world of scholars and theologians,” he said. “It is a public good.  It is a public good even in societies which proclaim themselves secular. It deserves public attention and support. It is part of the challenge of creating a healthy and participatory and truly democratic society.”

His message was echoed in a message of good will sent by Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, who initiated the A Common Word letter. In a letter to delegates, he said of the conference: “More than anything, I hope it leads to greater mutual understanding, friendship, harmony and love; and joint action, and vying in good works together.”


“We all have our backs up against the same wall” when dealing with the current reality of Muslim fundamentalism. This was the message delivered by Professor Timothy Winter, Dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, England, as discussions turned inevitably to the subject of violence between faiths, a prominent reality in 2013.

Delivering a presentation on the history and genesis of A Common Word, of which he is a signatory, Prof. Winter pointed out that Muslims too have been targeted for not conforming to the fundamentalist vision of Islam, from Nigeria, through the activities of Boko Haram, to the current turbulent reality of the Middle East.

Prof. Winter’s was subsequently echoed by Mustafa Abu Sway, Professor of Philosophy and Islamic Studies at al Quds University, Jerusalem, who spoke of his own experiences of living in a multi-faith neighbourhood in the city. “I play chess with my Christian neighbours,” he revealed before adding of the use of violence by some Muslims in parts of the world, “I read the same book yet I am not violent”.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald SMA, now resident in Jerusalem, spoke on Christian Muslim relations in the years before and since A Common Word from the perspective of his former roles as director of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies and as secretary and then president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

New age
While earlier meetings and discussions had focused on “the ethical and the social, more than the theological,” he said, “A Common Word marked the dawn of a new age in Christian-Muslim dialogue”. The archbishop added: “I would be happy to see it become a document in the formation of imams.”

In his well received address, Rabbi Reuven Firestone, Professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, USA, dealt with the issue of violence apparently inherent in the Abrahamic faiths, placing the issue firmly within the context of the historical emergence of the respective faiths.

“Religions are born into a world where religions already exists,” Prof. Firestone explained, “and each of the three religions record in their Scriptures, early attacks from without by the already established order. Each or our religions has become a birthed religion that has become an established religion. All have played both roles.” Therefore, he added: “We must not see ourselves just as victims.”