The Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian Dialogue, meeting
in Cairo from 18 to 20 December, 2001, adopted a document entitled “Dialogue
and Coexistence: An Arab Muslim-Christian Covenant.” This
capped a valuable series of activities — conferences,
seminars, specific studies and meetings — through which
the group undertook to deal with various aspects of Muslim-Christian
relations, and the foundations for co-existence between Arab
Muslims and Christians who are brought together by faith in
the same God and in one sense of national belonging.
A number of prominent Arab Muslims and Christians — intellectuals,
clergy, and people in public life — were invited to a
meeting held in Beirut in May 1995. This meeting was facilitated
by the Middle East Council of Churches and, at its conclusion,
witnessed the formation of the Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian
Dialogue. This group included prominent individuals from Lebanon,
Syria, Egypt, Palestine, the Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.
After more than six years of working on issues having to do
with coexistence in the Arab world, and focusing the results
of its practical experience, at its December 2001 meeting in
Cairo the group decided officially to register itself in Lebanon
as a non-profit civic organization.
The Arab Working Group has initiated a variety of dialogue
activities addressing issues of coexistence within both the
Arab and the religious context.
Among these activities have been annual summer camps for youth.
These have created for young people environments appropriate
to discovering the fruits of living together and how to nurture
them. They brought together young Muslim and Christian men
and women from across the Arab world and some European countries.
They did volunteer development work together, and discussed,
in light of a series of lectures given by specialists, what
it means to belong to a national group and what constitutes
Of regional and international seminars, meetings and conferences
there were many significant ones. We note below the more important:
1. Muslims and Christians Together for Jerusalem’s
In June, 1996, a broadly representative meeting was convened
in Beirut under the theme, “Muslims and Christians Together
for Jerusalem’s Sake.” The 120 participants — Arab
Muslim and Christian religious dignitaries, intellectuals and
representatives of international organizations — came
from sixteen countries in the Arab world. At its conclusion
they published a message to the whole world, to its political
and spiritual leaders, the burden of which was that Arab Islam
and Christianity speaks with one voice when it comes to the
future of Jerusalem as an occupied Arab city and as the spiritual
point of convergence for the monotheistic religions and their
Below is the text participants in this meeting published.
It was entitled, “The Call of Jerusalem.”
Driven by the sufferings of Jerusalem, its people and
blessed land, and in solidarity with Lebanon, rising up from
its trials stronger and more firmly united, we, spiritual
leaders of the Arab world, both Muslim and Christian, met
in Beirut on June 14-17, 1996. Grateful to the Middle East
Council of Churches and to the Arab Working Group on Christian-Muslim
Dialogue for their invitation, we came together to speak
with one voice to the whole world near and far, and to all
peoples and states. It is the voice of our people, Arab Muslim
and Christian believers, that rises out of our shared history,
and looks ahead to our common destiny.
In our view, the issue of Jerusalem is pivotal. As we
stand before it, we are not divided into partisan groups;
none of us wants Jerusalem exclusively for himself. In our
love and sense of belonging, we are all children of Jerusalem.
Our faith will know no contentment so long as Jerusalem languishes
imprisoned. Speaking out on Jerusalem is not something to
be postponed or delayed. Above all else, it is a priority
matter, an issue of the pressing urgency between us and the
Zionists who unlawfully have usurped the land of Palestine.
Jerusalem is its people. Its people are Palestinians.
They have lived within it ever since Jerusalem came into
existence and for countless generations. They have never
been severed from it and know no other place as their capital.
Separated from its history they do not know themselves.
These are the people who suffer today. Their livelihoods
are being squeezed; they are expelled from their homes, humiliated,
their land confiscated. Our solicitude for and with them
presses us to declare a common stand as regards their cause.
And their cause is our cause — the cause of Jerusalem.
The stand we take envisages a solution in terms of restoring
Arab sovereignty in a manner that reestablishes the link
between Palestine and Jerusalem, its heart and soul. The
solution is not to be found in any political formula that
cuts off Jerusalem from its body politic, its people, its
heritage and its identity. The holy places continue have
vitality only through the Jerusalemites who worship God in
them in prayer and prostrations, in pilgrimage and offerings
of praise. Without these, from being houses of prayer, the
holy places become mere museums.
No power in the world has the right to Judaize Jerusalem,
internationalize it, or strip it of its Arab and Christian-Muslim
character. There is no authority whatsoever — be it
international, or Arab (Muslim-Christian), far less any individual
state acting alone — has the right to tamper with Jerusalem’s
Christian-Muslim character. Any regional or international
resolution that violates this identity is void and valueless.
It cannot be cited to as a reference for legitimacy, nor
may legitimacy be established upon it.
Since we are gathered around Jerusalem and for Jerusalem,
we are deeply agitated by events we see happening. They show
Israel unrestrained in using illegal pretexts to strip owners
of their property, unabashedly making it impossible for Palestinians
to obtain building permits so they may develop what they
own, without any qualm imposing a blockade on the city to
choke it off and forbid its people free access, blithely
preventing Palestinians from exercising their political right
to assert their presence, and without hindrance transforming
the city’s demographic face through settling people
who do not belong and driving out its native-born citizens.
These are all crimes that fly in the face of heaven’s
law and earth’s covenants. They must cease forthwith.
The full force of fury is unleashed when Israel drives
Jerusalemites — Muslims and Christians without distinction — to
emigrate. This is turning Jerusalem into a confiscated city
while, with its holy places, history and mission, it should
be where all people can come together. Committed to our people,
to our rights and to our land, as we see these things happening,
we cannot do less than cry out to the world:
“A people, the Palestinian people, are under threat
of extinction, their future obliterated. Do not abandon them
in their hour of trial! Jerusalem is the physical space where
its people gather together. Do not let it become an open
square where memories echo, a museum of holy places bereft
of soul, bereft of their people.”
Peace is the fruit of justice. Peace is not founded nor
can it endure upon injustice and oppression. What we fear
most is that international interests might coalesce to impose
a situation that denies the Palestinian people establishing
their own independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,
and prevents full withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the western
Biqâ’ and the Syrian Golan Heights.
We have taken our stand. We are committed to the cause
of Jerusalem, and so we issue our call:
We call upon Muslims and Christians the world over to
take their stand for the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.
We call upon all churches and upon all institutions and
organizations in the Muslim world to adopt the liberation
of Jerusalem as their highest priority. Let them expend every
effort and give it all possible support until oppression
is brought down and truth rises victorious.
We call upon the nations of the world, the organs of the
United Nations, and all non-governmental organizations to
help bear the load of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem
so that the infrastructure will develop. Let there be sufficient
support for these so that they may continue to provide basic
services in the areas of health, education, social services
We call upon Arab states and the Palestine National Authority
to adopt common positions on the issue of Jerusalem. It is
a trust laid upon the shoulders of the Arabs and all people
of faith everywhere in the world. Giving the blessed city
the prominence it is due, we call them to a higher level
of responsibility in defense of the Arab character of Jerusalem,
and of its religious pluralism.
As the occupying power, Israel must cease and desist from
any actions that close Jerusalem to its citizens, all the
Palestinian people and all believers. It must abstain from
all measures designed to change the human and physical face
of Jerusalem. And it must acknowledge the rights of the Palestinian
people. These are the minimal demands for peace and justice.
Were it not for the material support, political backing
and the protective shelter given by various states and powers
in the world, the crimes Israel has committed against Muslim
and Christian holy places and against Arab human rights in
the holy city could not have been committed. All of these
entities must stop giving support to outrage and aggression.
They must not give Israel the where-with-all to carry through
with plans against the holy city that will see the planting
of settlements, its Judaization, the exile of its people,
and ‘ethnic cleansing’.
Muslims and Christians alike, we do not recognize the
legitimacy of any foreign representation or any diplomatic
mission to Israel that bases itself in Jerusalem. This would
be the act of an enemy equally targeting both Arab Muslims
and Arab Christians.
In so far as we are able, we will be the united voice
of Jerusalem. We will extend a helping hand to its people
in all ways that will help them stand fast in their homeland,
assert their liberty, and protect the holy sites.
We will work together, Muslims and Christians, until Jerusalem
becomes the city of reconciliation, justice and peace for
Jerusalem is whence we ascend to heaven.
In the Spirit, Jerusalem gave us birth. We are bonded
to it by love, and there we will dwell until the day God
reestablishes his legacy in the earth and upon all who dwell
Peace be to Jerusalem. May peace rest upon Jerusalem.
May Jerusalem’s peace embrace the entire world.
2. The Heritage of Abraham and Muslim-Christian Dialogue
This meeting was held in Beirut in July 1998 to address the
issue of the Abrahamic heritage and its positive implications
for Muslim-Christian dialogue. More than forty prominent religious
personalities and scholars from Syria, Egypt, Jordan, the United
Arab Emirates and Lebanon participated. Also invited were intellectuals
from France, Italy, Switzerland, Great Britain and the United
In the course of the discussions, consensus developed on several
prominent ideas and directions:
• The Abrahamic faith is pure monotheism. It is the joint
heritage of all monotheists, establishing between them and
the prophet Abraham (upon whom peace!) a spiritual bond that
is stronger than any putative racial bond claimed as its exclusive
right by the international Zionist movement.
• The faith bond between the children of Abraham either
by kinship tie or by spiritual tie does not allow for one group
to be preferred above the other. It does not give one people
or religious group the right to discriminate against the others
or to appropriate from them that to which they have no legitimate
right on the basis of divine law, international law or the
recognized covenants of international jurisprudence.
• A full reading of the texts of Jewish and Christian
heritage represented in the texts of the Bible, both Old and
New Testaments, does not give warrant for any special Abrahamic
privilege or for Zionism’s presumptuous claims to exclusive
control and monopoly.
• Participants in the meeting agreed that international
Zionism has no right to seize Palestinian land, to drive off
its people, to set up a Hebrew state in their place, and to
Judaize Jerusalem. No matter what the Arab political stance
on these issues may be, faith and popular culture are firmly
committed to the right of the Arab/Palestinian people and to
the restoration of Jerusalem, a city holy for all religions
and the capital of the state of Palestine.
• The Christian and Muslim stand on these things does
not permit any sort of discrimination between people on the
basis of bloodline and, on principle, does not recognize any
religious group arrogating to itself the right to seize land
belonging to others and deny them their liberty and property
on any racial pretext of preference.
3. On Citizenship, Democracy and Human Rights
The MECC’s program on Justice, Peace and Human Rights,
in cooperation with the Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian
Dialogue, organized several meetings to deal with issues of
citizenship, democracy and human rights. Two of these meetings
stand out: A seminar on the theory and practice of coexistence
in Arab countries, and another on citizenship, democracy and
These two seminars addressed these controversial issues openly
and head-on. They were exceptional in that they came up with
constructive religiously-based interpretations with the objective
of transcending “obstructionist traditional” conceptions
of belonging and of developing profound “modern” conceptions
of the foundations and principles of an integrated national
4. The American Law Concerning Religious Persecution
When the American law concerning religious persecution was
first mooted, the Arab Working Group realized how threatening
its negative impact could be on coexistence within Arab society.
The General Secretariat of the MECC, cooperating with authorities
in American churches, launched intensive activities within
the United States and beyond it to explain the Arab Christian
position on this law and its likely impact upon Muslim-Christian
In April 1998 the Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian Dialogue,
reflecting the substance and goals of these initiatives, published
a statement that said:
The group took note of the objectives the promulgation
of this law is meant to achieve, the almost two-year long
campaign that preceded it, and the negative repercussions
it will have upon Muslim-Christian relations. It noted especially
that this campaign was launched by and continues to be fostered
by an alliance made up of the American extreme religious
right wing and Zionist forces.
The group is of the opinion that by intervening this way
in the world and especially in the Muslim world — on
the pretext of defending religious freedom and punishing
states, organizations and individuals seen to be implicated
in or practicing various forms of religious persecution — the
United States illegitimately arrogates to itself the right
to accuse, judge, sentence and punish in a manner that serves
the interests of Israel and that does damage both to Muslim-Christian
relations and to American-Arab relations. …
The group expressed its intention to expand its contacts
within enlightened ecclesiastical and civic circles that
sympathize with the Arab Muslim-Christian stand on this issue,
and to encourage them in their role of influencing public
opinion in the United States.
The group affirms that the only way to guarantee religious
freedom and to address the problems facing the citizens of
the one homeland is through mutual understanding and dialogue
on the principles of national integration, of guaranteed
religious, civic and political rights, of full equality,
and of respect for historic religious institutions for adherents
of all religions.
The group concluded by mapping out a plan of action to
follow up on this matter within the Arab world and internationally.
5. Coexistence and Religious Tensions
Following the outbreak of political tensions that took on
a religious coloration in various parts of the Arab world and
beyond, the Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian Dialogue
along with the MECC convened a brainstorming session in Beirut
in March 2000. The theme for the meeting was “Coexistence
and Religious Tensions in Some Arab Countries.”
This meeting examined aspects of coexistence in several Arab
countries, especially the Sudan, Egypt and Lebanon. There was
also a thorough discussion of other problems related to the
general situation, one of which was ‘Religious Commitment
and Fanaticism: Causes and Impact.’
The meeting, in its recommendations, confirmed that fanaticism
is not a necessary or characteristic element of religious commitment.
Fanaticism is stimulated by a variety of political, social,
economic and broadly cultural circumstances. A wrong notion
of religious commitment responds to these circumstances. Abandoning
moderation, it adopts extremism and fanaticism. In light of
this, distinguishing religious commitment from extremism requires
identifying the factors fostering fanaticism, and its real
root causes in educational, formational and cultural institutions.
These, then, can be treated, and religious commitment be directed
toward achieving the public good, and responding through practical,
effective and constructive programs to social and developmental
problems that society in all its various sub-groupings faces.
Another issue discussed was “Nationalistic and Sectarian
Conflicts in the World and their Impact upon Coexistence.” Still
another topic was “The Use of Religion as an Instrument
in Political Conflicts.” Those participating affirmed
that a right understanding of religion and what it means to
be religious strengthens the values of harmony, coexistence,
and social justice. On the other hand, exploiting religion
to serve narrow political interests and to fuel political and
social strife stands in diametrical contradiction to the mission,
spirit and essence of religion. This does not mean that religion
has no (or only a diminished) role in public life. Religion
provides guidance in administering people’s affairs,
in the gaining of benefits, in encouraging liberty, and in
6. Toward an Arab Muslim-Christian Covenant
At its regular meeting held in Cairo in December 2001, bringing
to fruition two years of work, the group adopted document entitled: “Dialogue
and Coexistence: Toward an Arab Muslim-Christian Covenant.”
This document, the text of which follows, is the product of
much thought, dialogue, conclave and consultation, and the
fruit of practical down-to-earth experience. It also took into
its purview the existing international situation, especially
that pertaining after September 11, 2001.
The Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian
Dialogue considers this covenant “… a guide or
a foundation for programs or practical plans which will apply
them in the real world of living together and in various communicational,
formational, cultural and social contexts.” Furthermore,
it hopes “… that
its principles and guidance will be a call to people, a witness
among them, and an Arab Muslim-Christian covenant for work. … And
God it is who gives success.”