Christianity and Islam

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 23rd March 2006.

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Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 3:45 pm, 23rd March 2006

My Lords, I should like to join in the thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester for this timely debate. I hope to give a few practical examples of how Christian and Islamic co-operation can work in a variety of situations. In this country, the Care NOT Killing Alliance has brought together leaders of the major faiths in pointing out better ways of helping people to die than by medically-assisted suicide. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff and the late Dr Zaki Badawi, of the Muslim College, London, were working together with others to produce moral and ethical guidelines. I hope that such interfaith collaboration will command wide respect even among agnostics and humanists.

Overseas, Indonesia, as has been mentioned, is the country with the largest Muslim population. It experienced a breakdown of relations between Islamic and Christian communities which had co-existed until recent years; for example, in Sulawesi and other parts of the Spice Islands. Militants, however, caused severe loss of life and destruction of homes. Violence came to an end with the Maluku agreements. At that time, my noble friend Lady Cox, who regrets not being able to be here today, took a prominent part in establishing the International Islamic-Christian Organisation for Reconciliation and Reconstruction. It has three worldwide boards and aims to work with all relevant bodies on the religious, political and social issues affecting the relations between Islam and Christianity.

The first task was in Indonesia, where 14 local leaders formed an interfaith council to implement an action plan for reconciliation with reconstruction and good government. The honourable presidency of the group was taken on by Mr Wahid, the previous head of state. Locally IICORR was, and still is, staffed by young people of both faiths. Its executive board hopes to be able to work using similar methods in northern Nigeria, which has also suffered major interfaith violence.

To return to Britain, and in particular to Somerset, I would like to mention the Ammerdown centre near Bath. I declare an interest as a founder member and current trustee. This ecumenical Christian initiative always sought for unity of Christian thought and action but soon began—a number of years ago—to develop Christian-Jewish dialogue and mutual understanding. It now strives to work with all the major faiths and offers an annual Jewish-Christian-Muslim summer school, perhaps the only one of its kind in this country. Mutual respect between major religions is a fine principle. By itself, however, it will have a hard time withstanding the forces of ignorance, prejudice and downright ill-will unless there is dialogue at all levels. That is the way to help people to have some grasp of how others understand themselves in the light of their own faith and spirituality and thus proceed to guide their behaviour.

I conclude by touching on a new British NGO called Forward Thinking. Here again I refer to my interest as a board member. That came into being as a Christian initiative in building bridges with the many different Muslim communities living in England. The organisation employs a small number of Muslims to help their co-religionists to avoid inward-looking isolation. It provides opportunities for Muslim groups to make contact with what one might call establishment institutions such as Parliament, NATO, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, and the Foreign Office. I am glad to say that we have had heartening co-operation from those major departments. Much more could and should be done in all those areas, but it is good that a bishop of the established Church should be pointing to the urgent need in today's world for better Christian/Islamic co-operation.

That is so important not only here in Britain but throughout western Europe, extending to Bosnia and Kosovo and going as far as Indonesia and many parts of Africa. I am confident that the Churches here will respond; for example, by following the lead of Liverpool and Leicester in forming interfaith leadership groups or by promoting face-to-face visits and dialogue between the rank and file of the faithful. It would be good also to draw on the more secular expertise of the whole voluntary sector to meet the needs of the most excluded and disadvantaged people in all faith communities. What we should, and I trust will, do in Britain, especially as regards common citizenship, can have positive implications for the boundaries and overlaps of the great faiths throughout the world.