Friday, April 08, 2005

Thurs April 7 ­

A delegation of Christian and Muslim academic,religious and policy leaders from four countries will visit cities acrossthe U.S. this month (Thurs April 14 ­ Sat April 30), hoping to counterprevailing American stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs as invariably pittedagainst Christians in a "clash of civilizations."Co-hosted by the Church World Service (CWS) Middle East Forum, the eightChristian, Muslim and Druze delegates from Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine andSyria will travel in teams to hold dialogue and make presentations incongregational, academic and public policy settings in cities including:o Chicago (Thurs April 14 ­ Mon April 18)o Charlotte (Tues April 19­ Wed April 20)o New York (Thurs April 21 ­ Wed April 27)o Washington, D.C (Thurs April 28 ­ Sat April 30)

"Our desire for this visit is to demonstrate to American Christians andMuslims that there is an alternative reality existing in the Middle Eastthat demonstrates positive, vital models of cooperation between Christiansand Muslims," says Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, General Secretary of the ArabGroup for Christian Muslim Dialogue, based in Beirut, Lebanon.David Weaver is director of global humanitarian agency Church WorldService¹s Mission Relationships and Witness Program and a founding member ofCWS¹s Middle East Forum. Weaver says, "Religious and civil society leadersof both faiths in the Middle East and U.S. are concerned about thepersistent images of religious conflict to which the American public isconstantly exposed, particularly since September 11 and the Iraq conflict."What is less visible," Weaver says, "are the efforts by Christians andMuslims to address jointly the many issues that confront them in thisturbulent period."Weaver says the delegates from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Palestine willtravel in two groups of four, concurrently visiting scheduled majormetropolitan areas to engage in dialogues in local Christian, Arab Christian and Muslim communities, with seminary students and facultyand other communitygroups. They will reconvene in Washington, D.C. for a consultation at theCenter for Christian- Muslim Understanding at Georgetown University, a discussion at the National Baptist Church and other events.The delegation ­ six men and two women­ brings together academicians, policyanalysts, peace advocates and religious leaders from the Middle East,including:

Abbas al-Halabi, a Lebanese Druze, President of the Arab Group forChristian-Muslim Dialogue, a legal advisor to the board of the Bank ofBeirut & The Arab Countries, a former Supreme Court Judge and author ofnumerous articles on reconciliation, civil peace and money launderingMuhammad Sammak, a Lebanese Muslim, former advisor to the late PrimeMinister Mr. Rafic Hariri, an advisor to the Grand Mufti of Lebanon,Secretary General of The Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, TheIslamic Permanent Committee, and The Executive Committee of TheChristian-Muslim Arab Group, a member of the Lebanese Press Syndicate, andauthor of more than 20 booksRev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, a Syrian Christian, General Secretary, Arab Group forChristian Muslim Dialogue, former General Secretary of the Middle EastCouncil of Churches (MECC), and organizer of the 1996 Muslim-ChristianConference on Jerusalem held in BeirutDr. Mahdi Abd al-Hadi, a Palestinian Muslim, author of The Question ofPalestine and Peaceful Solutions, founder of the Arab Thought Forum, formerSecretary General of the Council for Higher Education in the West Bank, andfounder of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of InternationalAffairsDr. Antoine Messara, a Lebanese Christian, professor at the LebaneseUniversity Department of Communication, General Director of The Foundationof the Lebanese Association for Permanent Civil Peace in Lebanon, andfounder of the Foundation of the Lebanese Association for Permanent CivilPeace in Lebanon that brought Christians and Muslims together duringLebanon¹s civil warDr. Nadia Mahmoud Mustafa, an Egyptian Muslim, professor in the politicalscience department and on the faculty of economics and political science atCairo University, and author of numerous books including Strategy of theIslamic Cultural Activity in the West.Samir Morcos, an Egyptian Christian, former Associate General Secretary ofthe Middle East Council of Churches, a consultant for the Coptic Center for Social Studies, Al Fustat Center for Studies and Consultations, and for The Unit forCitizenship and Dialogue in Cairo, and author of numerous books ondevelopment, including The State of Civil Society in Egypt: PreliminaryObservations and Future PossibilitiesAbbas al-Halabi, President of the Arab Group for Christian-Muslim Dialogue,says the April delegation has been in the planning stages for the past twoyears. "Especially after the events of September 11, we were deeplyconcerned about the misunderstandings and lack of knowledge about our regionthat existed in the Western countries, especially in the U.S.

"We felt we could not leave people by themselves to sort it out, with nodiscussion," al-Halabi said.

"We hoped then ­ as we do now, with thisdelegation­ to build bridges, to have someone listen to our point of view."We didn¹t want Americans to think that all in the Middle East areextremists and hate all Americans."Al-Halabi says the delegates also "want to inform Americans about the commonlives shared by Christians and Muslims in our region. Christianity has beenin the Middle East for centuries," he says,"and Christians have been living and working with Muslims for a thousandyears­ not without problems," he added, "because there is friction withplurality­ but also with harmony, because we share the same values andtraditions."

CWS¹s Weaver says the idea for the interfaith delegation was "inspired bythe combined interests of the mission directors from CWS memberdenominations who have ministries in the Middle East.""From the American public and interfaith leaders we meet, we hope to takeback to the Middle East messages of understanding and shared resolves," adds al-Halabi.

Jarjour said the delegation and its hosts believe that "fostering betterChristian-Muslim relations in the U.S.­ and offering a better understandingof the good Christian-Muslim relations that do exist in the Middle East­will support more positive models for peace elsewhere in the region andglobally."

The Arab Group for Christian-Muslim Dialogue, formed in 1995, has members from Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Sudan and the GulfEmirates. The Arab Group affirms "unity and the common heritage of Muslims and Christians," supports "dealing with internal issues through thecollaborative efforts of Arab nationals - Muslims and Christians - whobelong together to the one homeland."A faith based relief and development agency that focuses on advocacy issues,Church World Service is funded in part by and is a ministry of 36 memberdenominations in the U.S. CWS has supported humanitarian interfaithinitiatives and has provided emergency relief and development programs inthe Middle East, including aid to victims of pre-and post-war Iraq and the2004 Bam, Iran, earthquake, support for a community-based program in OldCairo Egypt addressing child labor issues, and for the Ahli Arab HospitalMobile Outreach Clinic Program in Gaza.The Church World Service Middle East Forum is one of five regional forumsestablished by the global humanitarian agency to address issues of commonconcern to its member denominations. The Middle East Forum supports itsmember communions (denominations) and related partners through sharedinformation and expertise, coordinated joint action, and recommendedhumanitarian and related faith-based policy. ###

CONTACTS:For National, Charlotte, New York & Washington:Ann Walle/CWS/New York, (212) 870-2654, awalle@churchworldservice.orgJan Dragin/New York/Boston ­ 24/7, (781) 925-1526, jdragin@gis.netFor Charloitte only: Rev. David Jordan, Providence Baptist Church, (704)366-2784, cell phone:(704) 301 5594For Chicago only:Connie Baker, (630) 834 1461,