Archbishop in Sudan: Religions of Peace Have to Show Trust in Each Other
Monday 27th February 2006The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has said that the claims of both Christianity and Islam to be religions of peace need to be demonstrated through practical trust.
Addressing the Sudan Inter-Religious Council in Khartoum (full transcript below), Dr Williams said that trust was essential when people with different views had to work together for peace. Both religions, he said, pointed to peace with God as a necessary starting point.
"To be at peace with God means knowing that we do not have to strive all the time for power over each other."
He warned that trust had to be built:
"Among these things which most stand in the way of peace is the suspicion that comes from the way people exercise power; when power is shared then trust is built."
Dr Williams said that Sudan's own situation pointed to being honest with one another; to face their failings, to listen to one another's fears.
"So peace comes when we are at peace with God; we are at peace with God when we face our failings with honesty, we are at peace with one another when we share our power and resources, and in all of this the Sudan Inter-Religious Council will have a crucial role to play.
The work you have done together already shows that it is possible to overcome some of these suspicions by working generously for the common good, for a vision that is shared."
Dr Williams' visit to Sudan continues tomorrow with the dedication of a new Anglican Cathedral in Renk. On Wednesday he will be visiting a World Food Programme project in Malakal.
A transcript follows:
Archbishop's contribution given at the Sudan Inter-Religious Council
We often say, as Christians and Muslims, that we believe in a religion of peace and sometimes the history of both religious doesn't entirely seem to prove this, but what is most basic and most important in both of our traditions is the conviction that we will only be at peace with one another when we are at peace with God. And to be at peace with Almighty God is to know our own hearts and minds; to be at peace with God is to let go of our suspicion and struggle. To be at peace with God means to know that we do not have to strive all the time for power over each other. And so it is that when we learn to be at peace with God, we come to be free, to be reconciled with each other.
In a strange way, one of the most important ways in which our religious contributes to peaceful societies is that Islam and Christianity tell us that we must learn to look at ourselves honestly and to acknowledge our failings in the presence of God. Peace is never, never, advanced by people incapable of seeing their own failings. And when Christians or Muslims or Jews, or members of any other faith or tradition, are incapable of seeing their own failings, they will not be agents of peace. When they learn honesty and repentance before God they will learn honesty towards each other and peace will begin to come. Among those things that stand most in the way of peace is the suspicion that comes from the way other people exercise their power; and when power is shared then trust is built. In this country you are embarking on a courageous programme, which includes a sharing of power and a sharing of resources. It is out of this sharing that peace can grow and at every stage of that process it will be of great importance for Christians and Muslims, for Northerners and Southerners, for members of groups of all kinds to be honest with one another, to face their failings, to listen to one another's fears.
So that is a first reflection I should want to share with you. Peace comes when we are at peace with God; we are at peace with God when we face our failings with honesty; we are at peace with one another when we share our power and our resources. In all of this the Sudan Inter Religious Council will have a crucial role to play. It is my own hope and prayer that even in this atmosphere it will be possible to be honest; to acknowledge fears and acknowledge failures. It is my hope and prayer that within this group who are learning to know one another as human beings, reconciliation will happen in such a way that fears can be overcome and the work that you have done together already shows that it is indeed possible to overcome some of these suspicions by working generously for the common good, for a vision that is shared.
And that leads me on to the second thing I wanted to say.
For the last four years the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury has been responsible for coordinating international conferences for Christian and Muslim scholars. Shortly after I became Archbishop we had such a conference in Doha in Qatar at a very delicate time when the war against Iraq was just beginning. It was not easy to have a conference of Christians and Muslims in the Middle East at that time but it was important to have such a conference. A year after that we met in Georgetown in the United States. Last year we went to Sarajevo in Bosnia; this year we shall again be meeting in Georgetown and we hope that next year we may, perhaps, visit Malaysia for such a conference.
In the first two of these meetings we followed a particular method. We took passages from our sacred scriptures - from the Bible and the Qur'an - and we reflected together on those scriptures. We did not begin with large general themes; we tried to see how the other person read their holy books - how they prayed, how they reflected - and that was a way of building trust and standing together. But out of those first two meetings came the decision that we would, as a next step, begin to reflect together on our vision for a human society for the common good.
Last year in Sarajevo this was the focus of our discussion - Sarajevo was a significant place to hold such a discussion. In that city the Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox communities have a long history of fear towards one another; sometimes a history of violence towards one another but also a history of continuity of coexistence and cooperation. During the week that we spent in Sarajevo part of our purpose was not only to talk among ourselves, but also to witness in that city to the possibility of overcoming fear and failure and moving forward with a vision that we shared together. It was not an easy week because many people had things to say to one another about their recent history. Questions were asked very challengingly - questions of the Christians present about the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims; Christians had questions about how Christian minorities were treated in Muslim countries in the area and elsewhere. But those hard questions could be asked because we were beginning to learn how to trust one another.
On the last evening of our time in Sarajevo, we walked to the National Theatre of Sarajevo for a meeting and I remember very strongly how the heads of the people in the street turned as this mixed group - very obviously of Muslims and Christians walked through the streets together; myself dressed as I am now and some Muslim scholars dressed as some of you are and a number of students from the Catholic Seminary and the Islamic Institute in Sarajevo together.
Now I mention that simply to remind myself and others of the possibilities that come when time is spent getting to know each other, listening to each other in prayer, watching the way in which the other person reads their holy books and seeks for peace with God.
Religion will contribute to the work of peacemaking and of nation building when it makes as its own priority that kind of honesty and that search for peace with Almighty God.
Some people deludedly and falsely suppose that peace with God can come by violence against others, by the brutal search for domination or exploitation or by the annihilation of others. We have seen both Muslim and Christian extremists conducting such actions and we can only say that they have not understood what it is to search for peace with God. Here in this country you have immense opportunity of showing how that search for peace with God can bring peace with each other. Here in this country you have a great opportunity for showing how communities together can identify what is good for all, not just for one group or another. And here in the work of this Inter Religious Council you have the opportunities of being leaders in that task at a time when this nation needs such visionary leadership from its religious communities.
I give thanks to God for the peace that has been attained so far and I pray that religious communities and government together will take forward that vision in the years to come so that this country will, in 10 years, in 20 years time, will be known not for conflict and poverty but for a real willingness and energy to bring reconciliation and prosperity and hope to all its people.
I thank you for the opportunity of sharing these thoughts and I look forward eagerly to hearing your own reflections and your own hopes.
© Rowan Williams 2006