This is arguably one of the most important books of our time. All Christians and Muslims should know about this initiative.
That was how I ended the blog the other day about A Common Word, the Muslim initiative addressed to Christians, prompted by the Islamic furore provoked in many Muslim countries by part of the Pope’s 2005 Regensburg address.
And the response is said to have been phenomenal. Quoting from the Cambridge Interfaith Programme site, “A Common Word has been the subject of major international conferences at Yale University, the University of Cambridge - facilitated by CIP, Lambeth Palace and Georgetown University, over 600 Articles—carried by thousands of press outlets—have been written about A Common Word in English alone, over 200,000 people have visited the Official Website of A Common Word (and) over 6000 people have ‘fully endorsed’ A Common Word online alone.”
But in the grand scale of things, although these together make for a very promising start, they are but “a drop in the ocean.” As the book so rightly reminds us, there needs to be a trickle down effect to reach the masses, and the learned conferences and articles are but a stage towards that goal. There is a significant proportion of the population that can only be reached by people of influence: by Imams, priests, teachers, lecturers, youth leaders etc. They’re not going to read conference reports and educated commentary. We need that trickle down effect to start working in a big way to reach beyond the intellectual and the well educated, to reach out to the masses, many of whom do not read very widely if at all and may harbour plenty of prejudice born of ignorance and fear. And we need plenty of responsible media reporting and press officers in organizations who can push for that responsible reporting to reach out as far and wide as possible. Because not only can the media be hugely influential in that trickle down effect; They also have the networks to become tentacles reaching out laterally as far and wide into crevices of public ignorance and prejudice as possible. And if we continue the water metaphors, we need Ripples of Hope, because as Robert Kennedy said all those many years ago, in Cape Town in 1966:
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
When I think of what needs to be done to promote tolerance and peace, I am reminded of Tariq Jahan, the hero in the Birmingham riots earlier this year after his son Haroon had been killed in the violence. ‘I lost my son.” He said to the angry crowd, “Blacks, Asians, whites, we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home – please.”
Now if every person of influence at grass roots level where there is a choice between violence and anger or dialogue and calm could step forward and speak up for peace between us all in the same dignified way that Tariq did back in August, couldn’t we begin to build a better world for us all?
My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.
"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden