One of the world's leading Islamic scholars based in Egypt has met in Cairo with one of Christianity's top leaders on the eve of an international peace conference and the visit to the North African country by Pope Francis.
Following that meeting delegations from the World Council of Churches and the Muslim Council of Elders issued a joint statement on April 27 stressing the importance of valuing diversity, assuring equal rights, and of being able to build mutual relationships with others.
"There were difficulties in our respective past, and sometimes mutual misunderstanding in our present, but these should not stop people of good will from working together for a peaceful future," they said in the statement.
"Religious leaders should promote this concept of citizenship for the benefit of all communities. We may be diverse in a number of ways, but this diversity is something to be valued and to be offered for the positive building up of our societies," they added.
The second meeting of a delegation of the Muslim Council of Elders led by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, and a delegation of the World Council of Churches led by Dr. Agnes Abuom, WCC moderator and Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the general secretary, had taken place at Al Azhar, Cairo, on April 26.
Tveit noted that, together, Christians and Muslims represent about half the world's population. "So as we are here, we are not talking about only ourselves."
He said, "We are talking about humanity in many ways. We should address these questions from a basic theological perspective. What does it mean to believe today in one God that created the one humanity?"
Also present were Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, and Dr. Heidi Hadsell, president of Hartford Seminary, Connecticut in the United States.
Tveit emphasized that, because human beings are accountable to God, they have to see how that leads to an accountability to every human being.
"This is our mutual accountability to one another, to every human being, whatever belief or non-belief we have," he said. "I think this is a very important reflection, working jointly toward equal citizenship. It is not only a political or a legal principle; it is also a principle that expresses our deepest faith in one God creating the one humanity."
Al Tayyeb said "Citizenship and peaceful co-existence are the greatest challenges that have to be focused on and built upon to counter fanaticism, terrorism and baseless theological claims and conceptualizations.
He added "Citizenship is the major guarantee for achieving absolute equality in rights and duties."
Al-Tayyeb was chosen as Grand Imam of the Al Azhar mosque in Cairo 2010 and is an outspoken advocate for religious dialogue and peace as well as a strong critic of religious extremism.
Bishop Angaelos observed that there is a difference between reactive and proactive leadership.
"We ourselves are being very reactive," he said, "and reactive leadership is good in times of crisis. It is good to solve problems: we have a crisis, we have an attack, we try to solve it. But what we need is a proactive leadership - a leadership that looks beyond the problem and tries to address the future."
Angaelos asked, "Where would we like to be in five years, 10 years, the next generation? Let us address the whole world together instead of just speaking to ourselves."
Hadsell discussed ways leaders can promote citizenship and co-existence from a Christian perspective.
"God's vision of what should be in our human social world has been described and understood in many ways," she said.
"The moral nature of the vision includes a shared sense of the dignity of every being; just relations within communities and between communities and peoples; the recognition of the intrinsic worth of every human being so that all human beings are viewed as ends in themselves, created by God, and not as means to an end."
The capacity to cross borders and boundaries, including especially the boundaries of religious communities, has been one of the most important attributes of leadership in the histories of our communities and remains so today, she continued.
"For without the capacity to see commonalities in the other, and to cross boundaries to build relationships with the other, one cannot construct peaceful interactions and co-existence between peoples of different communities."
More than 400 Muslim, Christian and political scholars and leaders were invited to the two-day event by al-Tayyeb. Chosen as Grand Imam of Al Azhar in 2010, Dr al-Tayyeb is an outspoken advocate for interreligious dialogue and peace, as well as a strong critic of religious extremism.
In his presentation to the conference, Tveit said "We believe in one God that has created one humanity to live together with its diversity and differences. We are here to share our reflections and commitment to show together what we believe this means in practice."
He noted, "Together we should call for the care of the life of everybody created by God. We are accountable to the Creator when we meet one another as God's creation."
"As religious leaders we have a special responsibility to elevate the sanctity of the life of all human beings created by the Holy God. As communities of faith we are called to show this as love to one another, in relations of respect and care to everybody," Tveit reflected.
He said, "Violence in the name of religion cannot be done without violating the values of religion. Violence in the name of God towards those who are created in the image of God becomes violence against God. We are from the beginning to the end accountable to God."