Global Mistrust versus Global Partnership: Muslim-Christian Cooperation Bridges the Gap

The news that the U.S. faces more distrust
highlights the importance of global partnerships such as the pact just signed by
United Methodist Committee on Relief and Muslim Aid.

The world is more distrustful of U.S. leadership according to a survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project and the image of the United States continues to decline, a process that has been in motion for the past five years. In addition, attitudes toward President Bush continue on a downward trajectory.

Coming two days after the signing of an agreement between two of the leading humanitarian relief organizations in the world, one Muslim and one Christian, to cooperate on humanitarian service the importance of their pact stands out even more. Muslim Aid and The United Methodist Committee on Relief signed the agreement in the House of Commons on Tuesday with host MP Stephen Timms presiding.

The Pew research compliments an earlier survey about attitudes between Muslims and Westerners published last year. This survey reveals a great divide in understanding with Muslims feeling marginalized and unfairly characterized. They are frustrated that in the minds of many they are defined by the fundamentalists who capture headlines but don’t represent the mainstream of Muslim society or Islamic belief.

What I find remarkable about the agreement is that it comes not from visionary thinking alone, it also comes from extraordinarily hard-won experience. The two forged this cooperation on the ground in Sri Lanka over the past several months during civil conflict that put Muslims, Christians and others at risk of life and limb. However, I wouldn’t downgrade idealism. As MP Shahid Maliki said to the group, “Vision trumps division.” Idealism is important. It is rooted in the faith of the two great religious traditions that have given birth to these two organizations and they express their faith traditions in practical action.

This pact was birthed in blood and guts practice. Field staff from both organizations faced death threats as they met human needs in Sri Lanka. Rather than abandon the people they were working with they chose to engage with each other and continue humanitarian service. They didn’t pull back and seek safe haven when violence came. To hear the reports of the field officers of the two organizations is to hear heroic action which I don’t think they fully comprehend because they were too busy meeting human needs. It’s only upon reflection after the fact that the deeper significance of their actions becomes clear.

By working together they were more effective and inclusive than they would have been working alone. Their common mission–to serve–led them to collaborate in ways that identified commonalities rather than differences. Without intending it they witnessed to interfaith cooperation that opened doors and helped quell dangerous disputes among suffering people. They turned divisiveness on its head. This understanding is captured in the London agreement and the Pew research reveals how badly the world needs it.

We need to know that Christians and Muslims share belief in compassion and justice. We need to know we can work together to serve others. We need bridge the divide caused by stereotypes and mischaracterization. Of course we have our differences and we must acknowledge them, but not by neglecting what we hold in common. The Abrahamic faith traditions share many core values that lead to humanitarian service and concern for the poor. These common values can be the basis for conversation that could lead to a more tolerant global society.

I believe the agreement signed in London has the potential to start a global alliance that can led to wider action and promote peace and tolerance. It can help us see that what we have in common is powerful and healing. And we may learn that our differences need not divide us.

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