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So claimed Toby Keva, Uniting Church student minister who grew up in Indonesia. Toby was one of two key note speakers at this afternoon’s interfaith dialogue Can Christians and Muslims Co-exist in the Modern World. Toby contended that his own experience answered this question where, even in the face of sporadic violence in his home country, it was more the norm for Christians and Muslims to live peacefully together.  “Pro-existence”, Toby encouraged, takes a further step in mutual active support for each other. While Toby gave many instances of this happening in practical and tangible ways around the globe, he believes, from the Christian perspective, that more work needs to be done on intelligent articulation of doctrinal reasons for doing so, particularly where the exclusive and inclusive claims of the gospel seem to be in conflict. He reminded us that every theology is derived from a specific historical context and that dogma needed to be understood and reinterpreted in this light.

In response, Mehmet Ozalp,  author of 101 Questions You Asked About Islam and representing the Australian Muslim initiative Intercultural Harmony Society, concurred, adding that history is replete with epochs of Christians, Muslims and Jews living mutually and peacefully together –  for example, Spain before the 15th century expulsion of non Christians, Jerusalem prior to the mid 20th century and the interfaith House of Wisdom project in medieval Baghdad.  Mehmet proposed education as a key principle for harmonious community living. This involved:

  • raising a golden generation – where the “science of the mind” and “knowledge of the heart”  enjoyed balanced proportion
  • promotion of the values that promoted harmony, ie
    • tolerance (as a starting point)
    • a view of all humans as equal
    • a belief that diversity leads to greater opportunity for mutual education rather than conflict.

This could be achieved by dialogue – listening with the intention to understand and competing in virtue (thus promoting constructiveness in mutual achievement).

Question time revealed that the 100 strong audience had been attentive listeners. One question arose that has often been asked of me, “If Islam is a religion of peace, why do its proponents not publicly oppose the destructive acts of its extremists.”

The answer?

“We put out a press release in response to every reported incident. The frustration is that major media outlets are more interested in whatever is sensational. Our most effective work is with community meetings and schools.”

I think I know where he’s coming from. Christian extremists also get the lion’s share of media attention, but the most effective learning comes through mutually respectful one to one listening anyway.

The gathering was jointly sponsored by Intercultural Harmony Society the Uniting Church in Australia National Assembly Working Group on Relations with Other Faiths.