GENEVA, 16 March 2017 – On the occasion of the 34th ordinary session of the UN Human Rights Council, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”) held a side-event at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) in which representatives from the Muslim and Christian regions of the world were invited to exchange their views on the convergence between Islam and Christianity.
The conference entitled “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights” was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Algeria, Pakistan and Lebanon, as well as the Permanent Observer Mission of the Sovereign Order of Malta to the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) that were represented by their respective Ambassadors.
Present at the side-event was also the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) William Lacy Swing who highlighted the importance of recognising the convergences of the Abrahamic religions – Islam and Christianity – in order to overcome religious divisions. IOM’s Director General said:
“We live today in turbulent and troubled times. There are many and loud voices that take perverse delight in drawing attention to what divides and splits our global community. In these circumstances, it is all too easy to forget that Islam and Christianity – two of the world’s three ancient Abrahamic monotheist religious traditions – have more in common than in contention.”
The goal of the Geneva Centre’s initiative was to highlight the many convergences that exist between Islam and Christianity, to recognize the potential of a "great convergence" between both religions, and to mitigate and to reverse the social polarization between affiliates of these two religions and the resulting marginalization of religious minorities, discrimination, xenophobia and violence.
A special video message was also delivered by His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan who highlighted the importance of fostering religious tolerance and inter-faith harmony between Christians and Muslims as well as intra-faith cohesion.
Referring to the 2001 Brussels Declaration entitled “’The Peace of God in the World’ Towards Peaceful Coexistence and Collaboration Among the Three Monotheistic Religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam”, His Royal Highness underscored the importance of bringing peace to the world and the need for peaceful co-existence between religious groups:
“The peace of God in the world, as it was put in the Brussels Declaration, is essentially what we seek when we speak about the participation of human capital: it is not only the peace of God, but it is also the peace of God’s children that we attempt to build, by speaking of a “levelling”, that is to say, of universal citizenship with universal values shared by all.
“The fundamental common element about monotheistic religions is faith and confidence in the good, human-loving, compassionate, and merciful God. All of our religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam consider justice and peace as gifts and blessings from God.
“All of our religions disapprove of religious justification of violence and inhumane actions, none of them approve of violence, terrorism or ill treatment of human beings.
“Is there an imperative of conducting not only interfaith, but also intra-faith discourse? I would suggest that citizenship is about values that apply not to, with all the respect, brand names, but apply to promoting creative commons, based on shared values.”
In his opening remarks, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim underscored the significance of garnering the support of Muslim and Christian leaders to restore relations between Islam and Christianity.
“Today we have a tremendous opportunity to discuss the convergences between Islam and Christianity and to continue our joint efforts combining our strengths to promote equal citizenship rights,” he added.
The conference studied alternatives to identify a common strategy addressing the issues of religious discrimination, fanaticism and xenophobia, which have worsened in several countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North America.
The Minister of State for Tolerance of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), H.E. Sheikha Lubna Khalid al Qasimi, emphasised the need for Christian-Muslim dialogue as a necessary condition for peace, tolerance and harmony. The UAE Minister of State said:
“Irrespective of national identity, all citizens need to be granted equally universal human rights. Our states need to protect these human rights. To grant equal protection, we need to rethink our Christian-Muslim dialogue. It is only through engaging in dialogue and accepting the diversity of each other that we can reach a peaceful reconciliation.”
Representing over 500 million Christians in more than 110 countries of the world, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Reverend Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit added “that the nature of the relationship between these two faith communities is of vital significance for the welfare of the whole human family.”
The Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Algeria and a member of the Elders Lakhdar Brahimi condemned the hijacking of religious faiths by violent and extremist groups stating that the “majority of people in the so-called Muslim majority countries are horrified by the barbaric violence committed by groups who claim to serve Islam. Daesh, Al-Qaeda, Boko-Haram and similar groups in our countries and in Europe are abusing Islam and gravely trying to destroy its values, its cultures and its civilisation.”
Equal and inclusive citizenship rights: The model for fostering greater mutual understanding and tolerance
As part of the agenda of the conference, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre Ambassador Idriss Jazairy presented a draft agenda for a forthcoming world conference entitled “Religions, Creeds or Other Value Systems and Equal Citizenship Rights” that will build on the discussions initiated during this side-event.
The goal of this conference would be to initiate a structured dialogue that might lead to the obsolescence of the concept of minority and to its replacement by that of a model of inclusive and equal citizenship rights.
Minister Brahimi welcomed the Geneva Centre’s initiative on the proposed world conference stating that “the theme selected for this side-event and the creative idea of a World Conference address issues of paramount importance not only for Christians and Muslims but for humankind as a whole.”
Adding his observations on the world conference, the Former Acting Foreign Minister of Lebanon and the current Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in Beirut, Dr. Tarek Mitri, argued that states should be established on the principles of citizenship, equality and law to create an environment of plurality and tolerance.
“Re-vitalizing the pact of citizenship necessitates the rebuilding of state institutions on the foundation of the rule of law. The state’s chief obligation is to protect its citizens, all its citizens. Politics of inclusion in fractured societies are a condition for equal citizenship,” Dr. Mitri stated during this deliberation.
The former US Ambassador to the United Nations and the former member of the US Congress, Dr. Mark D. Siljander, ascertained that the convergence and the commonalities between the Abrahamic faiths of Islam and Christianity could lead to equal and inclusive citizenship rights. Drawing on his long-time expertise as a diplomat and peacemaker, Dr. Siljander said:
“The ensuing discoveries revealed new and vastly expanded common ground between Islam and Christianity and in practical terms how to love (treat) each other. This will most effectively work toward ‘equal citizenship.’”
As one of the Permanent Missions sponsoring the side-event, Pakistan’s Ambassador Tehmina Janjua reminded the participants that the concept of equal and inclusive citizenship rights should go beyond religious affiliation.
“If we are to address the issue of citizenship rights/minorities globally, then we need to go beyond the relationship of Christianity and Islam. We also need to go beyond viewing this issue from the perspective of religion alone,” said Pakistan’s Ambassador.
Observations on equal and inclusive citizenship rights were also presented by the Former Head of the Dominican Order Reverend Timothy Radcliffe who observed that “Christianity and Islam should stand together in protecting the freedom of conscience of minorities, religious and political, provided that they do not threaten the public good. The healthy society gives us the space to debate our differences, so that we may help each other in the search for truth.”
The distinguished scholar and Professor of Islamic History at the University of St. Andrews Professor Carole Hillenbrand added that the proposed World Conference will “provide an instrument for Islam and Christianity to work together to secure equal citizenship for all.”
This view was also echoed by Ambassador Marie-Thérèse Pictet-Althann, Permanent Observer of the Sovereign Order of Malta, suggesting that “in order to strengthen equal citizenship rights, it is essential that minorities fully participate in the activities and decision making process of their communities so as to avoid becoming a sub-group and thus being marginalized which in turn jeopardizes social harmony.”