WASHINGTON (ELCA) — Four U.S. religious leaders — two Christian and two Muslim — met with King Abdullah II of Jordan here April 20 to discuss specific topics about the Middle East. The topics included the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians with a focus on concerns for Jerusalem, deepening Muslim-Christian relationships and the future of Arab Christianity in the Middle East, said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Chicago.
Hanson organized the U.S. participants in the discussion, a follow-up to a meeting he had in Amman with King Abdullah II in January. Hanson invited three U.S. religious leaders to attend: the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary, National Council of Churches USA, New York; Imam Mohamed Majid, vice president, Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Sterling, Va.; and Imam Sayid Hassan Al-Qazwini, scholar and religious leader, Islamic Center of America, Dearborn, Mich. The 30-minute meeting was private.
The discussion was an extension of a 2007 document, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” from 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders, calling for Christians and Muslims to work for peace. It declared that the world’s future depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.
In a conference call meeting with reporters afterward, Hanson said, “This is a critical time for us because we see in His Majesty King Abdullah II and in President Obama two global leaders who share a sense of renewed urgency in re-engaging the peace process.” Abdullah and Obama are scheduled to meet here April 21, Hanson noted.
“We also see in both of these leaders a deep commitment to interfaith relationships,” Hanson said. Religious leaders can diffuse rhetoric and religious extremism in the world and promote greater understanding between Christians and Muslims. That can contribute toward “a lasting and just peace in the Middle East,” he said.
“Having Bishop Hanson be the one who invited us to this meeting — it shows the relationship between the Christian and Muslim communities in this country, which we would like to be a model example for others (of) how people can work together,” said Imam Magid, a Sunni Muslim. Having Sunni and Shia Muslim representatives in the meeting with King Abdullah II “shows that the Muslim community believes in interfaith work, and they reach out to people of other faiths to work together for common ground. We would like His Majesty to help with interfaith work among the Sunni and Shia.”
Kinnamon said his presence signaled support for the position articulated by Hanson as well as “a broad array of churches.” The NCC is 35 member denominations, including the ELCA.
“We have spoken strongly together as churches about encouragement of a two-state solution, about great concern for the dwindling population of Christians, especially for Palestinian Christians and throughout the Middle East, and concern for interfaith relations as a basis for peacemaking in the region. I tried to speak about those issues,” he said.
Kinnamon said he told the king about “the very positive climate that’s developing between Muslims and Christians” in the United States. The NCC has been concerned about other issues such as residence permits and family unification issues in the Middle East, and construction of homes for Palestinians in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank.
“I emphasized with His Majesty King Abdullah the need for Muslims to have a dialogue with the Christians,” said Imam Al-Qazwini, a Shia Muslim. “I spoke about the fact that the majority of Christians do support Muslims and do understand where they are coming from. That is why Muslims need to reach out to the Christians and to establish a permanent dialogue with the Christians.” Al-Qazwini said he also spoke about the need for intrafaith dialogue between Muslims.
“Today was a blessed day for me to be talking to King Abdullah II and with Bishop Hanson. These are friends. I am so delighted to be with Christian leaders, and I am willing to move forward in the same step,” he said.