A group of
the world’s most respected Islamic scholars and faith leaders, joined by
experts from governments and representatives of civil society organizations
signed a new charter to build global peace, based on tolerance and religious
500 religious and political leaders, academics and civil society activists from
over 80 countries gathered in Abu Dhabi last week to launch a set of principles
that champion the shared values of different religions and promote joint action
for the global common good and against extremism.
notable that this took place in the Gulf, and not in Europe or the US. The UAE
has long prided itself on its promotion of tolerance — naming this past year
the Year of Tolerance — but the event was attended by religious leaders from
across the region, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, Secretary
General of the Muslim World League in Saudi Arabia.
of the New Alliance of Virtues is devoid of most of the usual platitudes that
can form interfaith charters, and is based on an idea that could be embraced by
all without being seen as owned by any one religion. This is because while the
original Alliance of Virtues upon which this project was based is known of
through the Islamic tradition, it predates Islam.
goes that following the period of conflict around Makkah known in Islam as the
Sacrilegious War, a Yemeni trader brought some goods to the city, and sold them
to a Makkah nobleman, who refused to pay what was owed. The trader climbed
Mount Safar, the place for public appeals at the time, and denounced his
fraudulent purchaser and all those from Makkah who allowed one of their own to
noblemen were appalled by the treatment meted out to this guest, in violation
of the rules of hospitality let alone the rules of trade, and so convened an
Alliance of Virtues that committed to defend the values deemed common among
them, including the defense of the weak against the powerful.
about this because Muhammad, before his prophethood, was there, and spoke about
it later. And although it took place in pre-Islamic Makkah, he said that such
was the value of this alliance that if he had been asked to join after the
coming of Islam he would have done so.
this endorsement from the Prophet of Islam, the alliance can be viewed with
equal approbation by other faiths too. The Alliance of Virtues was not formed
by Christians or Jews, but by people whose goal was simply to do good work.
This means that although this new Alliance of Virtues is designed with the
Abrahamic faiths specifically in mind, it is open to any who share the values
But in the
idea of shared values between the faiths lies the question. The interfaith
world has long been dominated by a philosophy that seeks to downplay
differences and focus on commonalities. There are plenty of commonalities to
choose from, particularly in the Abrahamic faiths; for example, the belief in
one God who created the universe and all that’s in it, and is directly
concerned with the actions of humanity. But there are also profound
differences, which will not be overcome by ignoring them.
the classical interfaith model is dominated, particularly among the Christian
and Jewish participants, by religious liberals, occasionally operating well
outside the orthodox parameters of their faiths. This domination leads to fears
among many conservative believers of syncretism that the purpose of interfaith
work is to deny that differences between religions are significant, and to push
the belief that all paths to God are equally valid.
is that the social hostility and mutual suspicions between religions, at both a
local and the global level, are often dominated by the conservatives.
Gatherings dominated by liberals will fail to make significant movement toward
overcoming these hostilities — they are preaching to the converted.
the delight of the new Charter. Not only are its values truly shared, at least
in orthodox theologies of the Abrahamic faiths (values including human dignity,
freedom of conscience, justice, mercy and peace), but it is backed by a number
of US evangelicals, who among the Christian groups are most vocally hostile to
Islam. They are also within the Christian tradition focused on the truth of the
bible and the imperative to proselytize. They are not even close to syncretism
is to draw on those shared values not to edge toward some specious “ever closer
union,” but for shared action. Between them, the Abrahamic faiths account for
more than half of the global population; if these principles are acted upon, it
can have a powerful and wide ranging effect.
lies the challenge. Writing the Charter is only the beginning. Unlike many
documents, it has been written, targeted at and signed by individuals rather
than institutions or governments. Modelled upon the previous Alliance, it is an
alliance of people of goodwill. But as with any Charter, its only value will
come if it is acted upon. It must turn into practical reality. This will be the
challenge for its signatories over the coming years.
Peter Welby is a consultant on religion and
global affairs, specializing in the Arab world. Previously he was the managing
editor of a think tank on religious extremism, the Center on Religion and
Geopolitics, and worked in public affairs in the Arabian Gulf. He is based in London,
and has lived in Egypt and Yemen.
Headline: An alliance of people of goodwill
Source: The Arab News