Can Christianity and Islam Co-Exist? Fierce Fundamentalists Outnumber Friends

Article excerpt

E.T. MALONE, JR.

ANGLICAN COMMUNION NEWS SERVICE

News of the murder of three Roman Catholic nuns in an Islamic nation, Yemen, prompted an unexpected moment of silence at the beginning of the Lambeth Conference's plenary session on Christian-Muslim relations.

As he began his address, Bishop Nazir-Ali of Rochester, England, formerly of Pakistan, told the session, "We have just had news that three nuns, Missionaries of Charity, have been killed in Yemen, so before we begin, let us be silent for a moment." Mother Teresa founded the order, which is based in India.

The deaths formed a harsh backdrop to the opening of the plenary session, designed to outline some of the challenges, but also the successes in Christian-Islam relations.

Bishop Nazir-Ali told the plenary Anglicans are interested in interfaith issues because "Islam and Christianity are both missionary faiths and they find themselves in the same place and at the same time, and that means they are sometimes in competition with one another particularly in Africa, and in East Asia, but in nearly every part of the world," said Bishop Nazir-Ali.

He reminded the plenary of the long history of Christian-Islamic relations. "The Prophet himself had very close relationships with Christians and Jews. Some were among his closest friends and colleagues." Given "such a long history of co-existence and co-operation in culture and learning and political life, what then has gone wrong?" he asked.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism was a key factor, he said. Fundamentalism had grown, he suggested, as a reaction to colonialism, corrupt leaders, the failure of capitalism and civil wars.

The plenary then heard stories of inter-faith tension and co-operation from Africa, Britain and the Middle East. Bishop Tilewa Johnson of Gambia described his overwhelmingly Muslim country - 95 per cent Muslim - three per cent Christian. Bishop Johnson described his country as a secular state "with freedom of religion enshrined in the constitution," where "Christians and Muslims attend each other's weddings and funerals." Intermarriage occurs, and "within the extended family there can be both religious communities," he said. "All state functions are preceded with prayers by leaders of both religious communities."

In Nigeria, it's a different story. Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon of Kaduna Diocese in Nigeria said in the middle region and in the north of his country, "Christians have no rights."

"Provisions is not made for Christian education in the state schools. The public propagation of the Gospel by the media is prohibited, he said.

"There is serious enmity or hatred, deep hatred, between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, especially in the middle part of the country ... We've lost more than 10,000 lives in the name of religion and more thousands have been displaced ... and millions of dollars of property lost in the name of religion."

A bishop from the Middle East told a somewhat more encouraging story. The 2,000-year presence of Arab Christians in the Holy Land is "nothing less than an awesome achievement," Bishop Riah Abu el-Assal of Jerusalem told the plenary. …

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