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A beginning for global Christian-Muslim compatibility

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Recognizing that to live together in peace, much less love one another, requires greater understanding between the faiths, the conference focused primarily on theological discussion ­­ on "who we are and what we think." As they talked about concepts of God or sacred texts or who is one's neighbor, sheikhs and ayatollahs and pastors and professors (and occasionally rabbis) spoke frankly about commonalities and differences.

Together they "affirmed the unity … of God and God's merciful love as infinite, eternal and embracing all things," as well as the mutual respect and freedom of religion due to all. But in what one participant called "comfortable candor," they differed over such matters as the Christian concepts of the Trinity and original sin, views of Jesus, and why Muslims do not think of God as Father.

They just touched on difficult issues such as proselytizing, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and religious freedom and persecution, but left the in-depth discussion - the real test - for later gatherings.

In a quip that captured the tone of informal and formal sessions, Prince Bola Ajibola of Nigeria praised the group for "dining but not whining together. It's an achievement," he said.

The conferees did commit to practical steps, including setting a week every year when Muslim and Christian clergy would preach about the good in the other tradition, and creating a website for books recommended by Christians on Christianity and Muslims on Islam appropriate for people of different ages. A study guide on frequently asked questions about the two faiths will be published. They also pledged to carry the Common Word message back to their constituents and congregations.

Al Qaeda issued a threat this week against engaging in interfaith activity (saying King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia should be killed for his recent conference in Madrid). The conferees denounced the threat in their statement, saying "dialogue is not a departure from faith; it is … an essential tool in the quest for the common good."

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