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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Welcome at "A Common Word Between Us and You" Conference

October 7, 2009
Gaston Hall

Thank you John for that kind introduction, and thank you also for all of your extraordinary work as co-host of this conference. This gathering could not have happened without your vision, your leadership, and your service…

It’s my privilege today to welcome everyone to Georgetown University, to Gaston Hall, and to the opening session of “A Common Word Between Us and You: A Global Agenda for Change.”

For more than a century, some of the most important discourse and discussion on the events of the day, that have taken place in Washington DC, have taken place in this very room. And today is no exception. We’re especially grateful to the distinguished panelists who have joined us this morning:

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair; former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik; Sheikh Mustafa Efendi Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina; Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim, former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia; John Esposito, the Founding Director of Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding—and our moderator, Riz Khan, host of the Riz Khan show on Al-Jazeera English. I’ve no doubt that their insights on Muslim-Christian Relations in the 21st Century will be both thoughtful and thought provoking.

In a moment, you’ll hear more about “A Common Word Between Us and You,” the origins of the document and subsequent activities. But as we begin the fourth Common Word Conference, I believe it’s important to remember that the phrase echoes the Qur’an’s call and challenge to Muslims to reach out to Christians and Jews, and invites them to “come to a common word.” [Chapter 3, Verse 64.]

That is what we seek to do today. We seek to pursue a common understanding. We seek to build bridges between cultures and faiths. And, in the words of the Qur’an, we seek to better “know and honor each other…” [Chapter 49, Verse 13.]

We also do this with a sense of urgency. We live at a time when nations are increasingly interdependent, people more interconnected, and humanity less divided by narrow domestic walls. And we live in a global community too often mired in conflict, with interactions between faiths too often characterized by mistrust. In such a world, we deny others whose beliefs, or faiths, or religions, are different than our own, at our own peril.

As Prime Minister Bondevik as written, “Religion has gained an increasingly important position on the international political agenda.” This fact was also recognized by Prime Minister Blair when he founded the “Blair Foundation” two years ago to foster interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

By helping us to see what values, what ethical commitments we share, efforts at interfaith understanding and cooperation help us to recognize our common humanity…they help us to comprehend the universal human condition…and they help to show us that what unites us is much greater than what divides us.

That is exactly what this gathering is designed to do.

Guided by words from the Qu’ran…recalling that all three of our faiths—Islam, Judaism, and Christianity—share a common heritage through our common ancestor of Abraham…and remembering a call from Pope John Paul II to see the “other” in our midst as “a neighbor…[and] a helper…on par with ourselves…” we must continue to go forward. We must continue to engage in dialogue and discussion. And we must continue to build on the efforts we will undertake over the next few days.

…Coming together to engage here in our common work, I know that we will, together, break new—and common—ground…

Someone who embodies this commitment is one of the co-hosts of this conference, His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan. Prince Ghazi is the chief architect of the Common Word letter addressed to the Christian world.

Unfortunately, His Highness is unable to be with us today, and our thoughts and prayers are with him.

Although unable to attend, Prince Ghazi has asked that his prepared remarks on A Common Word be read by Dr. Ibrahim Kalin.

Dr. Kalin is the Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister of Turkey, and is currently on leave from Georgetown where he serves as an Assistant Professor in our School of Foreign Service, as part of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

He is a broadly trained scholar of Islamic studies, and has published widely on Islamic philosophy and relations between Islam and the West. One of his works, Islam and the West, won the 2007 Writers’ Association of Turkey award for best book. We are grateful to have him with us today, and it’s now my pleasure to introduce Dr. Ibrahim Kalin…


Thank you Riz, and thank you to all of our panelists for an extremely insightful and informative discussion. We begin with the Word…and that’s what we’ve done this morning. We’ve started our discourse on how to build an even deeper and stronger engagement between Muslims and Christians based on our shared commitments to love of God and love of neighbor. As we continue our discussions today and tomorrow, I’ve no doubt that we will build on the foundation we’ve laid at this opening event.

Again, thank you all for coming, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the program.

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