The Istanbul Statement
“Growing together – confronting mutual challenges”
11‐13 November 2014,Christianand Muslim representatives from Denmark and Norway met with Christian and Muslim representatives from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. This was the third conference for religious leaders and scholars organized by the Contact Group for Muslims and Christians in Denmark in partnership with the Arab Group for Muslim‐Christian Dialogue.
Moving from Beirut and Copenhagen in 2012 to Istanbul in 2014 this third encounter focused on the theme “Growing together–confronting mutual challenges”. The conference took place at a time where the Arab region is passing through a period of turmoil and internal wars and conflicts that also has its serious repercussions into a Danish context.
In light of this critical situation the conference underscored three major themes:
1)Types of conflict causing forced separation of religious and ethnic groups,
2)Effects of emigration and immigration on religious and social society, and
3)Skepticism towards “the other” and tendencies to false generalizations in ligh to fincreasing nationalism and radicalism.
Participants in the conference listened to keynote speakers from both Arab and Danish context sad dressing the three themes. Next, participants were divided into groups to reflect on the causes and to discuss further possible initiatives to support and strength encross‐religious cooperation as a way to alleviate the prevailing fragmentation.
Types of conflict causing forced separation of religious and ethnic groups
Social and political polarization can be dividing factors inside society and may ultimately generate isolation, fanaticism and extremism.
The forced separation between religious and/or ethnic groups in the Arab world is primarily due to an external and internal political and military struggle for power. In this context, religion and religious belonging is being misused in order to legitimize violent behavior. Thus, the conflicts are not essentially religious. However, different opinions regarding the role of religion and its connection to the state are creating tensions in society that may fuel conflicts.
Effects of emigration and immigration on religious and social society
Migration and immigration is a source of enrichment for both immigrant and destination communities. That said, migration has possible serious effects on societies and individuals. Migrants may transfer conflicts and tensions to the destination countries. Assimilation is a threat to religious identities.
A growing suspicion of Islam as an extremist religion is a rising globally due to the increase in the number of extremist Muslim groups. This misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims can lead to violation of human rights through different means including military.
Skepticism towards “the other” and tendencies to false generalizations in light of increasing nationalism and radicalism
Skepticism is regularly rooted in prejudices : A conception of a particular extreme expression of a certain identity is being applied on the entire identity which leads to a negative attitude towards “the other” .This kind of false generalization is primarily rooted in emotions, ignorance and in lack of familiarity with “the other” . It helps to create a feeling of superiority, be it among individuals, nations or religions. Using stereotypes about “the other” it becomes easy to defend the right not to get involved and to maintain a picture of the other’s identity as inferior to one’s own. It is often not realized that this attitude ends up in an increased influence from extremists and an extended polarization of society.
The conference affirmed the following;
There is no alternative for dialogue and for working together to achieve peace and justice, and dialogue is crucial to strengthen cooperation to have better understanding of the religious other and to enhance mutual respect.
In the absence of state of law and the lack of common standards where conflicts are prevailing, there is a need to work on active citizenship that provides equality, freedom, respect of religious diversity and national unity.
The conference calls on national governments to assume their full responsibility in protecting citizens and other people within its jurisdiction of the state regard less of their religious, ethnic or cultural belonging.
The drain from the region, intentional or unintentional, of the historical Christian presence in the Arab East resulting from political conflicts constitutes a great loss to the Arab and Islamic civilization. The conference affirms the rights of religious groups in the Arab East to preserve their free existence and exercise their rights as fullcitizens.
Migrants and migrantworkers of whatever origin should be treated with respect and according to human rights whether in an Arab or Danish context. There fore it belongs to our mutual calling as people of faith to advocate for people’s rights when we see human rights abuses.
Respectful conversation is pivotal as a mean to encounter skepticism towards “the other”. Religious communities are able to offer both a space for identity and for respectful dialogue. Our cooperation needs to enhance this kind of dialogue locally and between our Danish and Arab communities.
The conference condemns all forms of terrorism including the ones camouflaged by religion. We call on religious authorities to continue addressing and strongly condemning the issue of terrorism and extremism whoever perpetrates it, and to publicly speak of the enrichment of society by the active presence of faith communities different to their own.
More focused initiatives and projects on the national and local level in Denmark and Arab countries are necessary to foster coexistence with an emphasis on shared values in order to further Christian‐Muslim relations.
Educational material and curricula should be reviewed and published in a way in order to ensure that they reflect religions and religious followers correctly.
The online forum of this conferences hall be a platform where the participants work to share experiences with cross‐religious activities and proposals for mutual involvement in initiatives promoting cooperation between Muslims and Christians. The forum will be further developed with the intention to create more open participation.
Further consideration be given to the possible establishment of a joint crisis group among the participants that may express common concerns as a global voice vis a vis the developments in the international political and religious agenda.
The conference expressed its deep appreciation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Denmark for fiancing the event.