People of faith like me owe a debt of gratitude to Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulkarim al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL), for bringing the leaders of the world’s religions together for the first time in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the “Forum on Common Values of Religious Followers.”

It’s clear that the Vision 2030 agenda imagined by His Majesty King Salman and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is working. Its implementation is showing Saudis, and the world, that a brilliant future can be built without losing one’s own story.

I have seen the change myself.

In 2018, my own visit made international news. A major, international publication noted that I was the highest profile Evangelical invited on an official visit to the Kingdom since religious reforms were announce in 2017. These days, it probably wouldn’t even be noticed! Since 2018, many like me have visited, met with senior Saudi figures, and last week’s forum included no less than a dozen Evangelicals alone.

Another king, His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain (long a friend to many of us) often says, “ignorance is the enemy of peace.”

The MWL Forum will continue its success if knowledge continues to win.

When knowledge wins, and ignorance loses, then peace will always be our starting point, not simply our ambition. 

Christians often quote the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” But this is a blessing that requires action. The Psalmist says we are to “seek peace and pursue it.”

Peacemaking always involves the coming together of different perspectives among people. Otherwise, there would be no need for peace!

The famous Christian apostle Paul wrote, “as far as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone.”

It is up to us to decide if we want to be peacemakers and it begins by recognizing our own ignorance can be the enemy of peace.

If ignorance is the enemy of peace then knowledge is its beginning. But it is the pursuit of knowledge.

If ignorance is to lose, and knowledge is to win, then as God’s children, we will realize that we can only actually improve the world – together.

As God’s children, we don’t have to agree with one another on all things in order to work together on some things – to improve the world for everyone.

But, improving the world isn’t just about working together to feed the poor or to protect our planet’s resources or to combat disease or to teach our children values or to address extremism or to stop the persistent march of evil.

No.

The Quran teaches that God “created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.”

In other words, Islam teaches that we aren’t just here to work together but to KNOW one another.

Finally, if ignorance loses and knowledge wins, then we must also understand that knowing one another does not mean we have to give up our sincerely held beliefs. 

It does mean that we disagree differently, always recognizing the divine spark in each of us. We are disagreeing with human beings, not just ideas.

We disagree – or explore the biggest questions – in pursuit of truth, not for the love of victory.

The best religious scholars, clergy and peacemakers are those who are secure in their convictions but always pursue truth with humility.

Recognizing that all truth, wherever one finds it, is God’s truth.

 

World faith leaders convene in Saudi Arabia for first time in a conference to build bridges with Muslim leaders, Riyadh, May 12, 2022 (Photo: The Muslim World League)

If I’m to be an effective Christian pastor, religious leader or scholar, then I must understand that my own faith cannot be understood without the Hebrew Bible. And, while I don’t know the Quran as I do the Bible, it seems to me that – in my reading of the Quran – that it presumes its readers have an understanding of, and curiosity about, both Judaism and Christianity.

Every Muslim in the world reads these words: “If you are in doubt about what we have sent down to you, ask those who were reading scripture before you.” (10:94)

And the rabbis of the Talmud teach that disagreement is actually part of God’s plan. They write: “Every disagreement or argument that is for the sake of Heaven will continue to exist.” (Mishna Tractate Avot 5:17)

In other words, the pursuit of truth doesn’t always mean you find it, but that there is value in the process alone.

Part of that value is learning, learning with others different from oneself, and living in peace together, seeking truth.

This process doesn’t exclude “the other” rather it assumes “the other” is involved.

Just look at the prominent role of the “stranger” in the Hebrew Bible or of many non-Jews in Jewish history, who often held a privileged status.

Or read the accounts of early Christians reasoning with Roman politicians or Greek philosophers in Athens and in Rome, nonetheless. The Christians, the New Testament says, quoted their philosophers.

Or hear the words of the Quran complimenting Christians as those with whom “you shall find the closest in affection” for they are “priests and monks and they are not arrogant.”

But, we must always have the right attitude in our pursuit of knowledge.

As the late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, there’s a difference between those who simply “want to learn” and those who just want to win.

Those who just want to win an argument are not in pursuit of truth but of power.

If we just want to win, whatever the truth, “the result,” Sacks wrote, “is that both sides suffer.”

He says, “If you win, I lose. But if I win, I also lose, because in diminishing you, I diminish myself.”

There is an alternative. We can seek truth together.

“Then,” said Sacks, “if I win, I win. But if I lose I also win – because being defeated by the truth is the only form of defeat that is also a victory.”

“Bring forth your proof if you are truthful,” the Quran says. (2:111) It also says, “Do not dispute with the ‘People of the Book’ save in the fairest way.” (29:46).

After all, we are all Adam’s children made by God to make the world better.

If the Forum for Common Values inspires us all down this path then we will never fear our neighbors. Rather, we will be a blessing to one another. This is the blessing of religious freedom. This is what it means to peacefully coexist.

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