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Reports 1995-1998 Edited by Dwain C. Epps

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Communiqué of the Symposium on Religion and the Contemporary World

Issued in Teheran, Islamic Republic of Iran, 21-23 November 1996.

Representatives of Islam and Christianity, two religions which share the Abrahamic tradition of faith, found new points of commonality during a three day, high level symposium of scholars and spiritual leaders in Teheran, and explored further areas of cooperation for peace and justice in a world which they described as being in severe socio economic and spiritual crisis.

This jointly sponsored Symposium, held on the invitation of the Organization of Islamic Culture and Communication, was a continuation of a dialogue between Iranian Muslims and Christians related to the World Council of Churches (WCC) which began nearly two years ago. Participants from the WCC included eleven Christian scholars from Africa, Europe, North America and the Middle East. From Iran, participants included some twenty prominent scholars and religious leaders from Qum and Teheran. Representatives of WCC member churches in Iran also accompanied the dialogue.

The three day symposium was opened in a televised formal public session presided over by Ayatollah Mohammed Ali Taskhiri, head of the Organization for Islamic Culture and Communication, and jointly chaired by the Rev. Dwain Epps, Coordinator for International Affairs of the WCC, Dr. Tarek Mitri, WCC Executive Secretary for Christian Muslim Dialogue, Iranian Islamic scholar Allame Ja'affari, and Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammed Khamene'i, Head of the Committee of Scholars for Inter religious Dialogue. In attendance were some 250 invited guests who included a range of Islamic scholars, Iranian Christian clergy and lay persons.

In the following days, the Symposium discussed papers presented by Christian and Islamic scholars on human rights, peace and peaceful coexistence between the followers of both religions, the role of religion in the modern world, religious anthropology, ecology and the threat to the ecosystem, moral welfare, the place of the family in society, education, economic and social justice, and the role of religion in international relations.

The discussions took place in an atmosphere of prayer and respect for each other's religious faith. They led to a deepening of personal relationships, and discovery of broad areas of commonality on some of the urgent issues of the day. Participants reported substantial progress in clarifying differences of perspective on some issues, and in identifying possibilities of interfaith cooperation in addressing a range of other topics.

The dialogue reached agreements in the following areas:

The contemporary world was described as one which suffers deeply from consequences of secularism, modernism and post modernism, and from a profound spiritual crisis. Religion has a responsibility to help human beings suffering as a result of this, to offer positive alternatives, to meet spiritual needs and to guide people in their daily life.

It was a matter of deep concern to the Symposium that powers are involved in open conflicts in the name of religion. Christians and Muslims agreed that true religion is always opposed to war, and that religions must do all in their power to demonstrate their common commitment to overcoming conflict. This includes challenging powers when they misuse the name of either Christianity or Islam to justify war or the use of violence to resolve conflict.

Peace must be based on justice, and Christians and Muslims have a shared responsibility for achieving such a peace in international relations. Peace without justice can only lead to further atrocities, as has been seen recently in places like Bosnia, Rwanda and the Middle East.

Religions, as guardians of moral values and ethical standards for humankind, can play an important role in a time of proliferation of ethnic and national conflicts. They can also counter the process of globalization, which renders states powerless to defend huge parts of humanity against its onslaught. The Symposium has seen the role of religions as universal forces at the service of one humankind created by God. It called on religions to strengthen the capacity of nations and peoples to defend their economies, cultures and traditions.

Muslims and Christians agree that God created humankind with inherent value and dignity. The Symposium agreed to do further work together on human rights: to consider them from the perspective of religion, to deepen mutual understanding, and, while recognizing and respecting differences of approach, to develop cooperation in their implementation. In their discussions on human rights, Muslims and Christians were in accord that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was an achievement. They shared concern about the ways human rights – intended to further the cause of peace and justice – are misused by some states as a political weapon against others. The Symposium denounced the application of double standards in the field of human rights.

Muslim and Christian scholars agreed on the importance of women's rights in society, and decided to pursue this question in greater depth by organizing a future consultation based on a religious perspective.

The family is understood by both Islam and Christianity to be the basis of society in the created order. In this time when the society is threatened by corruption and all forms of moral degradation, the family is especially at risk. Religion calls the world to respect the family and authentic family values essential to the well-being of the whole society. To this end, the Symposium agreed to pursue the development of education from a religious perspective on family life and values.

The Symposium condemned those forces operating in the contemporary world, which are driving ever greater numbers of human beings into absolute poverty. The causes of poverty today are certainly to be found in the proliferation of the uncontrolled free market economy. But the roots of the problem lie deeper in the moral weakness of society and of individual human beings, manifest in such things as corruption, consumerism, egotistical exploitation of the earth's non-renewable resources, over consumption, and loss of a sense of responsibility for the weak, deprived and vulnerable members of society. Here religion has a central role to play. Muslims and Christians agreed on the need for a deep spiritual renewal of human society. Secularist politics or ideology cannot correct the situation. People of faith bear mutual responsibility before God for the welfare of humankind, and the Symposium agreed to work further on joint Christian Muslim approaches to the global economic and social crisis.

The Symposium also condemned the rise of numbers of the uprooted and refugees in the world fleeing from conflict and economic misery, and called for joint Muslim Christian efforts to meet the human need of these beloved of God.


The Symposium agreed that its conclusions and experience of dialogue should not be confined to the level of scholars and spiritual leaders, but should be brought into the everyday life of believing communities, wherever they may be. In order to pursue this goal, it was agreed:

  • To publish the results of this Symposium in Farsi and English, in order that others could share its ideas.

  • To cooperate in research and publication on culture and religion in each other's societies.

  • To undertake joint research and publication projects, such as the preparation of a dictionary of terms, which will help Christians and Muslims in dialogues at all levels.

  • To continue discussions in the field of human rights, and explore ways in which Muslims and Christians could collaborate in overcoming the current stalemate encountered in the United Nations with regard to international cooperation for the proper implementation of these rights.

  • To cooperate in the resolution of conflicts everywhere, particularly in the Caucasus and in Africa, and to contribute to the building of understanding between Christians and Muslims to strengthen their efforts to find non violent solutions to conflicts;

  • To continue this dialogue begun nearly two years ago with a further meeting in mid 1997 (1376 on the Iranic calendar) whose agenda will be drawn up in a way to identify specific areas of future cooperation.

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