An association of various national bishops' conferences in western Africa has issued a communiqué encouraging Christian-Muslim dialogue as "the only way that we can truly cultivate respect for each other."
The English-speaking Episcopal Conferences of West Africa, which include Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria, issued the document from Freetown, Sierra Leone yesterday. The communiqué affirms Christian-Muslim dialogue as a way both to solidify common ground between the faiths and to mitigate controversies and violent conflicts.
The letter states that Muslims and Christians share similar "fundamental religious values," which include belief in the uniqueness of God, the need for prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage. The bishops cited similar sexual morality as a ground for dialogue, since both faiths share belief in the dignity of the family and both condemn promiscuity, homosexuality, prostitution, and abortion.
The bishops decried inter-religious violence and blamed the "bigotry, intolerance, militarism, and fundamentalism" on a tiny minority of Christians and Muslims. They further condemned both Christians who use violence to avenge perceived insults to Jesus and Muslims who use violence to avenge perceived insults to Mohammed. Government officials were cited for neglecting their duty to oppose violence, but clerics too were chastised: "For their part, many religious leaders remain silent in the face of violence and criminal activities perpetrated by these few members."
At the same time, the bishops recognized obstacles to Christian-Muslim relations. "What Christians concede to Muslims is not often reciprocated," they wrote. They also suggested that some Muslims wrongly identify the Christian Church with the West, thus blaming Christianity for the actions of Western governments. The bishops urged Christians not to give up on religious dialogue, but at the same time advised that they recognize the human limits of such efforts.
Further, the bishops cautioned that inter-religious efforts should not lead to "the watering down of our own doctrines to suit Muslims." They likewise advised that Christians should not expect Muslims to adopt Christianity as a requirement for interaction.
The conference’s report also credits collaboration between the two faiths for hastening the end of wars in the region and the beginning of peaceful elections.