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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Visit to Dongguan Mosque and Islamic Center, China

January 3, 2008

It is a great honor for our delegation to be received here at the Dongguan Mosque and Islamic Center.  I know that there is a rich Muslim history and tradition in China—dating back as early as 650, when the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad was sent as an official envoy to Emperor Yung Wei, who then ordered the construction of the first mosque in China in Guangzhou.

I am also aware that among those of the Muslim faith who have made great contributions to the Chinese nation and people was the extraordinary admiral—and one of the most intrepid explorers in world history—Zheng He.  As you know, Zheng was born in present day Yunnan Province—where I’ve had the good fortune to visit—and his maritime voyages reached as far west as the Cape of Good Hope.  

Beginning in 1405, they came decades before the great European explorations.  Moreover, while Christopher Columbus commanded only three ships, in his travels Zheng led as many as 300…  ...And all the ships of Columbus combined could have been stored on a single deck…of a single vessel…in the fleet that set sail under Zheng He.  

Visiting some 30 countries in Southeast Asia, East Africa and Arabia, Zhen initiated an unprecedented period of trade and cultural exchanges.   But he also understood the importance of religious tolerance and respect.  He and his men honored local customs and deities—and in present day they erected a single monument to Allah, Buddha, and a Tamil deity.

This tolerance…this respect…is no less important today. We all know that our world is growing smaller.  Nations are more interdependent, individuals more interconnected, and the global community less divided. Unfortunately, as our world has grown closer, it has also become more polarized and prone to conflict.  In such an environment, we deny or ignore others with values, customs, faiths and practices that are different from our own at our peril.  We must work to build bridges between communities of faith and religious traditions, to foster interreligious understanding and dialogue.            

At Georgetown, we’ve established a strong track record in addressing interreligious issues and promoting interreligious dialogue. In 1968, we were the first Catholic university to hire a full time rabbi…and nearly a decade ago, the first American university to hire a fulltime Muslim Chaplain. The Dean of our College, Jane McAuliffe, served as Editor of the recently completed five volume “Encyclopedia of the Quran.” And other efforts include our Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs; our Program for Jewish Civilization; our doctoral program in religious pluralism and theology; and our distinguished lecture series on interreligious dialogue.  

Additionally, for fourteen years, our Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding has been an outstanding resource for lively exchanges and educational programs.  The Center’s mission is to build a stronger bridge of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims…as well as between Islam and Christianity.  And the geographic scope and coverage of the Center includes the breadth of the Muslim world—from North Africa to Southeast Asia, as well as Europe and .

Among the Center’s activities, in October, along with the Berkley Center, it co-hosted a symposium on current engagement between the West and the Islamic World.  As part of the event, a group of global leaders, including Crown Prince Haakon of , met to review and discuss an early draft of a groundbreaking document, the very first Annual Report on the State of West-Islamic Dialogue. The Report is slated for presentation at the World Economic Forum in January, and I’ve had the privilege of serving as Editor.

Since its foundation, the Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal Center has become internationally recognized as a leader in the field of Muslim-Christian relations. I trust that today’s visit—so much in the spirit of Zheng He and his belief in interrelgious tolerance and respect—will also help advance Muslim-Christian relations, dialogue, and discussion…  

…On behalf of the entire Georgetown community, I again want to express my gratitude for hosting us today…and for allowing us the invaluable opportunity to learn about your mission and work.

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