In a press release, the Vatican Press Office higlighted the historic relevance of the Mulsim-Christian Dialogue that started on Thursday and will end on Saturday, May 29 at Doha, the capital city of Qatar.
The origins of the Doha Conference on Muslim-Christian Dialogue, which began yesterday in the capital of Doha, go back to the first visit to Rome, in February 2004, by the new ambassador of Qatar to the Holy See, Mohamed Alkawari, following the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two States on November 18, 2002. At that time he expressed his government’s desire to initiate an Islamic-Christian dialogue together with the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. The council welcomed the proposal and started organizing, along with the Gulf States Center of the University of Qatar, the conference now underway in Doha. The three days of meetings end May 29.
The first day of meetings began with a morning public session of Christian and Muslim keynote speakers, including Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, former secretary of Relations with State. This session was moderated by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims.
In the afternoon there was a second public encounter on the topic of “Religions and Peace” which was moderated by Maher Abdallah, head of foreign relations of the Al-Jazeera TV channel.
Speakers at this event were, on behalf of Muslims, Sheikh Fawzy Fadel Al-Zafzaf, president of the permanent committee of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif for Dialogue with Monotheistic Religions and, for Christians, Youssef Kamal El-Hage, a consultor on the pontifical commission and a professor of physics at Notre Dame University in Lebanon.
The first closed session of work by the pontifical commission was held last evening and brought together nine of the ten commission members and two Catholic experts in the field of Christian-Muslim relations as well as ten invited Muslim guests, including several professors of Islamic law, theology and philosophy, and directors of Islamic religious studies and comparative religions from Tunisia, Qatar, Egypt, the United States, Pakistan, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Iran.
Closed-door meetings continue today and end late tomorrow evening. Journalists were invited to the session last evening in which the members introduced themselves and their work, and shared personal experiences they have had with religious freedom - the focus of the meetings today and tomorrow.
Both Archbishop Fitzgerald and Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, respectively president and vice president of the pontifical commission, noted the historic nature of these two days of meetings. The commission, founded in 1974, normally meets once a year and has always been a meeting of just the Catholic members.
The Doha meeting is the first time in the 30-year commission history that Catholics have met jointly with Muslims.
Archbishop Fitzgerald also remarked that the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who has a great interest in inter-religious dialogue, expressed the desire last year to open a Center for Muslim-Christian dialogue in Doha.
As Catholics and Muslims meet to discuss religious freedom, they will do so from a theoretical point of view with a look at the historical roots of such dialogue, at Catholic canon law and the Magisterium of the Church, as well as the visions of religious freedom as expressed in Islamic law and history.
Case studies will be made of three countries: Pakistan, where Muslims are in the majority and Christians in the minority, France, where Christians are the majority and Muslims a minority, and Nigeria, where there is parity between the two.
The archbishop noted at last evening’s session that “two days are both a very short period and a very long period” for such an historic encounter of the pontifical commission.. A working document on religious freedom was given to each participant for the two days of meetings.
The authors of the document are scheduled to explain each section and then contributions will be made by the Muslim and Catholic men and women present for each side. Archbishop Fitzgerald said that both sides are asking and attempting to find answers to the question: How can we contribute to peace and harmony?