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Summit urged to debate church persecution: CEN 3.05.10 p 7. March 16, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Ecumenical, Washington.

Ayatollah Mostafa Damad

Washington’s National Cathedral played host this week to a closed door Christian-Muslim summit of religious leaders. The invitation of representatives of the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam prompted protests however from US conservatives who called for Muslim leaders to address the persecution of Christians across the Islamic world.

From March 1 to 3, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Professor Ahmad El Tayeb, president of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Bishop John Chane of Washington and Ayatollah Ahmad Iravani, president of the Center for the Study of Islam & the Middle East met for “for a candid discussion of matters affecting Christian-Muslim relations and peacemaking efforts worldwide,” a press statement from the summit said.

Organizers of the three day gathering, stated the meeting sought “to promote understanding and reconciliation between the two faith traditions, and to encourage religious leaders to use their influence with government leaders, and the community at large” to build peace.

The four religious leaders were joined by twenty additional representatives from the Sunni, Shia, Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions, including Clare Amos of the staff of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon of Kaduna, Nigeria, Bishop Pierre Whalon of the Convocation of American Episcopal Churches in Europe, and Prof. Lamin Sanneh of Yale University.

Shortly before the start of the conference, the head of the Shia delegation, Ayatollah Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad, professor of law at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, notified the meeting he would be unable to attend.

The meeting prompted protests led by the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). The IRD’s Religious Liberty Director Faith McDonnell stated that what should have been on the agenda was the persecution of Christians.

“In many Christian-Muslim dialogues, Christians avoid anything contentious, but they have a moral obligation to those oppressed by Islam to talk about everything that is contentious,” she said, adding that the “two countries represented by the Muslim Principals, Egypt and Iran, commit egregious human rights violations against Christians, converts from Islam, outspoken democracy and free speech advocates, women, and gays.”

However, Ayatollah Damad, the former High Commissioner of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in Iran, has been a critic of the abuse of civil liberties in his country, while also supporting the government. In 2004 he told a Canadian government panel that “without democracy, we have no human rights at all.”

Damad argued that it was important for the West to approach the issue of human rights in Iran from the standpoint of benefits for the people of the country. If Western motives were perceived to be founded on self-interest, based on security or anti-terrorism fears, Western interests would be seen as attacking not assisting the pro-democracy movement in Iran.

“Civil society in every Muslim country needs help,” he argued in 2004, but to be received as genuine this help would have to avoid any self-serving political agenda in order to build long-term supporting partnerships that appreciate Iranians’ situation and concerns, Damad said.

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