Arab Muslim-Christian Covenant
Adopted in Cairo: Shawwâl 1422/December
The Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian
1. A number of prominent Arab Muslims and Christians—intellectuals,
religious scholars, and people engaged in public life—met
together in Beirut in May 1995. The Middle East Council of
Churches facilitated this meeting, and it resulted in founding “The
Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian Dialogue.” The
group included members from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan,
Palestine, the Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates.
They shared a firm belief in coexistence between Muslims
and Christians in a society where freedom, justice, equality,
and the rights of citizenship prevail.
They were cognizant of the need to work together in addressing
internal concerns and in facing the external dangers that threaten
the people, Muslims and Christians, of the one Arab homeland;
And they were aware that people of faith, following the dictates
of their respective beliefs, must form an alliance to fulfill
their obligation toward their Arab nation and homeland, an
alliance to help foster national unity and to strengthen a
sense of belonging to one nation embracing all its citizens
no matter their religious affiliations, helping them transcend
confessional or clannish partisanship so that, all together,
they might work for the nation as a whole.
2. The motive of all members of the working group was and
continues to be their personal convictions. None pretend officially
to represent any particular body. That which moved and still
moves them to work within the group is their religious commitment,
and their desire to achieve only that which serves the common
good. In this they keep in view the nation as a whole, not
simply one segment of it, one group, one sect, one party or
any other thing of that sort. The members have agreed that
theirs is to be a “dialogue of life,” a dialogue
they will pursue through intellectual discussion and action
programs which bring together adherents of both religions in
order that they might stand together in the face of those things
which socially, educationally, morally and culturally challenge
In the group’s view, Muslim-Christian dialogue is not
simply a dialogue between compatriots who belong to the same
national group. It is also a dialogue among believers who perceive
in this effort of theirs an applied expression of their religious
principles, principles that give substance to the meaning of
pluralism, mutual recognition, the unqualified dignity of the
human being, and the values of justice, fairness, truth, decency,
fellow feeling, affection, mercy and the stewardship of creation.
3. Taking as its key these defining ideas, the Arab Working
Group on Muslim-Christian Dialogue has launched a series of
initiatives. It has convened several seminars which dealt
with topics as various as citizenship, equality, pluralism,
political participation, coexistence, and the Abrahamic heritage.
It also organized a conference on Jerusalem in June, 1996.
The first of its kind, this conference brought together Muslim
and Christian decision-makers and the cream of Arab intellectuals.
The group also initiated several other events among the most
important of which have been meetings between Muslim and Christian
youth in Egypt and Lebanon.
4. Drawing upon its growing experience and upon the results
of conferences and activities over past years, the group
thought it good to prepare this document on dialogue and coexistence.
It articulates principles and broad guidelines that might help
give wider currency to a culture of dialogue, mutual understanding,
coexistence and common action to nurture a patriotic, just
and free society equipped to face the dangers that threaten
to unravel the national fabric.
5. The Arab Working Group on Dialogue observes that the effort
to give firm foundation to a sense of coexistence is mandated
by shared national and social concerns and aims, by a single
historical and cultural process, and by a sense of common destiny.
These are core issues that bring everyone together. The duties,
rights and consequences they imply are not the domain of just
one faction. Religious differences do not cancel out the fact
of belonging all together to an Arab Islamic culture, in whose
making Christians and Muslims participate side by side.
6. In the face of foreign interventions and designs for asserting
domination over the Arab world, the group sees the strengthening
national unity as imperative. Sensitive to how external intervention
can precipitate internal unrest that can take on a religious
coloration, it is not right to make light of how internal factors
and circumstances can be manipulated and exploited by foreign
powers to serve their own interests.
The citizens of the united nation, both Muslim and Christian,
must join in dialogue and work together to address internal
issues and to solve the problems they raise. This is the prerequisite
to frustrating foreign interference that only aggravates the
situation and nurtures suspicions and mutual fear. But if making
light of how internal problems can inflict great damage on
national unity, so too making too much of them can provoke
similar damage. Among Muslim and Christian citizens of one
nation, exaggerations can foster a generalized atmosphere of
panic, fear and self-isolation.
All of this mandates strengthening and sustaining dialogue.
It must be translated into practical program aimed at giving
firm foundation to coexistence and treating the root causes
of confessional religious unrest. Political, economic, social
and cultural circumstances account for much of this unrest.
These objective factors conspire to breed an atmosphere
of general malaise that may manifest itself in many guises,
one of which is religious unrest. Obviously they do not have
an impact upon only one religious community; their bane and
the burden of addressing them fall upon the whole of society.
7. Another thing that may be claimed for dialogue is that
it is a way of resolving the confusion between genuine
religiosity and the objectionable extremism that leads to violence
and fanaticism. Extremism (a harshness of mind that sees only
self and no other) and violence (a behavioral distortion intending
to impose one’s views by force on those who differ),
are not inexorably linked to or typical of religious commitment.
What helps give rise to them is a complex of circumstances
and political, social, economic and broad cultural factors.
Out of these extremism or violence can manifest themselves
in various guises and contradictory doctrines. A wrong understanding
of what it means to be religious can strengthen the reaction
to those circumstances. Moderation is abandoned for types of
behavior that true religiosity and authentic religious values
In light of this as it works to foster coexistence, one aim
of dialogue is to raise the standard of the debate through ‘that
which is best,’ and bring to the fore values of spiritual
devotion and lofty humanitarianism. Dialogue is directed toward
the high purpose of realizing the public good and responding
to social and developmental problems that confront all groups
in society. It affirms that a valid understanding of religious
devotion includes accepting the religiously different ‘other,’ living
with that ‘other,’ and respecting his or her religious
convictions, and the private nature of his or her rites and
8. Given that the underpinnings of coexistence, the interests
of a united country, the social interaction of citizens of
a single nation presuppose dialogue, it is also a spiritual,
moral and cultural requirement for promoting the virtue of
believers getting to know each other. That can only contribute
toward deepening mutual respect, strengthening the bonds of
affection, and correcting distorting or erroneous stereotypes
that give rise to reciprocal alienation and fear.
Difference and variety are facts of human life. Indeed, they
are signs from God manifested in human beings and in creation.
Dialogue, getting to know one another, and competing in the
doing of good have a way of mobilizing difference and variety
as sources of social enrichment, inhibiting their being twisted
to stimulate fear, feuding, conflict and mutual alienation.
9. Muslim-Christian dialogue also sets out fully aware of
the dangers in the argument that ‘bloody frontiers’ divide
Christianity and Islam worldwide. This an argument based upon
the notion of the clash of civilizations, masking with a religious
patina western plans for domination. Over against this, on
the world stage, Arab Muslim-Christian dialogue intends to
affirm a united Arab position, both Muslim and Christian, defending
common Arab causes, first among which is the cause of Jerusalem.
But a distinction must be made between Arab Muslim-Christian
dialogue, and the dialogue between Arabs — Christians
and Muslims — and other cultures, western and non-western.
10. Arab Muslim-Christian dialogue gains added significance
in light of a number of phenomena, factors and obstacles which
are peculiar to relations between Arab Muslims and Christians.
In fact, as the working group sees it, these constitute an
added incentive for dialogue and common action.
11. Lack of respect for cultural and religious distinctiveness
and the poor management of pluralism in Arab societies has,
to some extent and in specific countries, restricted areas
in which Muslims and Christians can intermingle, join with
each other, meet, work together and cooperate. This restriction
has affected residential districts, educational institutions
(especially private ones), professional, cultural and political
institutions, and clubs. The effect of this has been to weaken
the institutions of civil society that ought to be a uniting
force for the national body politic. Addressing this, the dialogue
envisioned by the working group strives to foster full citizenship
and participation in public life freed from the shackles of
confessionalism that, by their nature, undermine national unity,
open doors to foreign interference and obstruct democratic
12. Some Arab environments now witness a retreat from a culture
of understanding one another, of mutual recognition built upon
calm and diligent dialogue, and of seeking information in original
documents. This has been replaced by polemical, injurious and
inflammatory rhetoric that, having no grounding in serious
knowledge, only exacerbates doubts and fears, and stimulates
increased verbal and symbolic violence. This manifestation
demands a firm response founded upon sincere frankness, bold
opposition, persistent awareness-building, and constructive
efforts to help adherents of the two religions get to know
each other. This is what the working group has stood for and,
in all its activities, this is what it has been working toward.
13. There is another observable phenomenon. It is fear about
the future that arises out of economic, social and political
conditions. Among the most prominent of these is Israeli aggression,
the lack of democracy, the curbing of freedoms, and crises
having to do with the quality of life. Frequently this fear
is laid at the door of the relationship between Muslims and
Christians, a factor which builds it into a major fear of fantastic
proportions. Evident equally among the majority and the minority,
it pictures one religious group threatening the future of the
other. To counter this fear, the working group has been encouraging
joint efforts in summer work camps for youth. These offer opportunity
for everyone to get to know the other in a natural environment — the
sort of thing that, in the past, was common in society as a
whole and forestalled the appearance of mutual fear with its
harmful effect upon coexistence.
14. Observable as well is a tendency on some people’s
part to link national and sectarian struggles elsewhere in
the world with internal relations between the constituent Muslim
and Christian strands of the national fabric. They picture
the local situation to be an extension of a supposed worldwide
struggle between Christianity and Islam. This serves to deepen
doubts and fears between Muslims and Christians in our Arab
countries. This can undermine cooperation with one’s
compatriots and fellow citizens on the grounds that they stand
accused of complicity in a religious conspiracy, unless they
explicitly renounce the specific positions adopted by fellow
believers in a foreign national or confessional conflict. The
working group believes that Muslim-Christian dialogue can help
avert the threatened repercussions upon the process of coexistence
in our local environment posed by national and sectarian conflicts
elsewhere in the world. It can help prevent foreign powers
using them to inflame mutual doubts and fears. At least it
can expose this exploitation, neutralizing it of its corrosive
effect upon relations between brothers and sisters, Muslims
and Christians, fellow citizens of the nation.
Furthermore, Muslim-Christian dialogue intends to affirm
the principle of absolute justice. Religiously committed people,
both Muslims and Christians, are bound to support the cause
of the persecuted and downtrodden, no matter what their religion,
and no matter the religious affiliation of those who oppress
and persecute them. This will effectively affirm the integrity
of the national fabric and strengthen the values of coexistence
between Muslim and Christian believers.
15. Dialogue is disciplined toward gaining comprehension,
mutual understanding, always listening to one another and speaking
frankly. It eschews inflammatory and wounding speech. It is
an expression of intellectual and ethical integrity when dealing
with the ‘other’, and is committed to the principles
of justice and fairness. It allows latitude for correcting
one’s views, examining distorting stereotypes of the ‘other’,
as well as examining one’s self. Respecting the variations
and differences between religions, the principles of coexistence
and cooperation, and the equalitarian demands of citizenship,
this dialogue is also a tool for building confidence, for nurturing
genuine relationships, and for cultivating friendship.
16. The working group understands that Muslim-Christian dialogue
is not a tool for proselytism or evangelism. It is not an endeavor
to unify religions or somehow piece them together. It begins
by respecting the right of others to their beliefs, and by
strengthening the religious foundations for coexistence in
one nation. It is the opportunity for believers to unite their
hearts and minds in a sense of shared national and cultural
belonging, in a sense of common destiny, as they focus upon
common issues and challenges.
17. The desired dialogue is not directed toward self-serving
debates or argumentative religious polemics. It does not call
for comparisons or determining which is better. Nor is it governed
by the urge to control so as to affirm one’s self over
against the other, or display superiority and mastery, or pride,
superior competence and self-sufficiency.
18. What is desired in this dialogue is not a coup in negotiations
between two power blocks, the Muslim and the Christian, on
the assumption that each is a homogeneous whole. Although they
share a core of commonly held fundamentals, adherents of any
one religion represent a variety of differences in outlook,
tendencies, views, interpretations and doctrinal positions.
19. This dialogue is not built upon accommodation or the
kind of politeness that masks or ignores differences. It does
not fall into the trap of dissimulation or deception. Effective
and constructive dialogue and cooperation do not presuppose
that one party must back down on any point of doctrine or faith.
20. The principal standard for authentic dialogue is intellectual
integrity. Just because this should be obvious does not mean
we should not lay stress upon it. It assumes that, whenever
necessary, we can cut loose from some of our inherited images
or stereotypes of the ‘other’. We can liberate
ourselves from popular mythology. Intellectual integrity demands
that, when we look at others’ heritage, we use their
sources and their self-definitions. This requires that we critically
examine the distorted images each side has drawn of the other.
And it demands a serious scholarly analysis of the cultural,
social, historical and psychological factors that conspire
to create feelings of mutual fear and suspicion.
21. Related to this is the effort to use one language in
addressing Christian-Muslim relations, not two. The tendency
is to use one language when addressing your own group, and
another language when addressing another’s group. For
the sake of frankness and in order to avoid dissimulation,
parties in dialogue must free themselves from those things
which cause them to resort to ambiguous language that only
discredits the dialogue’s authenticity, and cancels out
22. The working group believes that religion cannot be banished
from public life; its constructive role therein cannot be denigrated.
In the administration of the people’s affairs, in achieving
good things, in nurturing freedom, in supporting liberty, and
in renewing creation, there is not substitute for religious
values. They guard against corruption and deviation; they promote
patriotic effort. This being said, religion must not be exploited
for narrow political or partisan interests, or for instigating
political and social conflict. This would be a denial of its
role, its spiritual mission, and its very integrity. This would
make of it an ancillary tool, not source of wisdom and guidance.
23. Dialogue and efforts at encouraging coexistence would
have no integrity without respect being given to the religious
particularities, sensibilities, symbols and sanctities of both
Islam and Christianity. This is not to be limited to how adherents
of the two religions treat each other. It must express itself
also in both parties standing together against desecration
of the things they each hold sacred by any party whatsoever.
24. While we affirm that religious liberty is a human right
enshrined in the teachings of the religions themselves, as
Muslims and Christians we stand together against any kind of
material or moral pressure, or any means of coercion or seduction
which may be used under the pretext of religious freedom to
alienate Muslims and Christians from their respective religions.
We urge Muslim and Christian religious scholars, people of
culture, and intellectuals to look for the spiritual and humanitarian
values held in common in the heritage both religions and in
the life styles of their adherents, as well as for those positive
and glowing examples of coexistence, solidarity, compassion,
mutual affection, and hold them up to highlight dialogue and
tolerance as it is practiced in society as a whole. Faithful
people long for wisdom, and they are called to weigh matters
on the honest scales of justice. Without it whatever they have
25. The Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian Dialogue,
agreeing upon the above principles and general guidelines.
Considered as a whole, it sees them as constituting a guide
or a basis for practical programs and steps in the cause of
coexistence and in various other areas of public information,
education, culture and society: religious communications, religious
education, and the publication of relevant books; meetings
organized between scholars of religion and clergy; youth activities;
social and voluntary activities; clubs and cultural platforms;
solidarity campaigns; defense of human rights and religious
and political liberties; strengthening political cooperation
and the institutions of civil society. These and other sorts
of initiatives and common efforts to implement practical program
certainly must be tailored to fit the varied spectrum of Arab
society and environments. The working group will expend its
utmost efforts in this cause, and it hopes that these principles
and considerations may act as a call to the people, a witness
among them, and a covenant for Arab Muslim-Christian action.