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Christians Religious Leaders Responding to Muslim Letter; Can Mediator’s fail to be involved?

From the Small Claims Courts blog of Leo Hura.

There are significant responses
by Christians and others to the Muslim to Christian Religious leader letter of
October 13, 2007 inviting “meaningful dialogue leading to practical steps
towards reconciliation.”  To keep
this essay manageable two responses are discussed.  Christians broke ranks with two
different responses.  One[1],
signed by three hundred, lavishes praise while the other, His Holiness, the
seems to set pre-conditions. 
Concomitantly both groups seek meetings.  On the Muslim side, on the site which
lists the letter, there is
opportunity for comment by people like you and me, although they appear to be
selective, Christian and Jewish leaders, however not Muslim leaders, so we do
not know from this source whether there is similar fragmentation in their
ranks.  Requests for information
from the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute[3]
have gone unanswered.  What can
these developments tell us about “process and process expertise?” The purpose of
this essay is to discuss “process and Process expertise”. In order to do so some
comments and examples may be interpreted as judgmental.  They are not meant to be.  Hopefully they will be taken as a
mediator’s view, illustrative of the challenges faced by Religious Leaders in
creating “meaningful dialogue.”


The Muslim letter was addressed
to “Christian Religious Leaders.” 
So far, Muslims received two major responses widely differing in
perspective.  According to an
article by Sandro Magister[4],
the NY Times response, “lavishes praise…”, and, “… it
prefaces everything with a request for forgiveness to the All-Merciful One and
the Muslim community around the world.” He contrasts the NY Times article with,
“Benedict XVI and the directors of the Holy See appear more cautious and
reserved toward this flurry of dialogue
.  I urge you
to read both to draw your own conclusions about what it means for the
development of “meaningful dialogue.” 
Some of the questions/concerns which come to mind

To what degree does this
fragmentation aid or complicate “process?” 
Does the fragmentation create an advantage or disadvantage and for

Is the apology offered in the NY
Times article an attempt to close the past and create a shortcut to begin
focusing on a future view?  Or, is
it a pre-mature concession, leaving the other side feeling they now hold an

Does reference to a need
for“enlightenment” in the Catholic response mire the discussion in the past? Is
it a pre-condition?  How will it
impact the Muslim side? 
it have a positive impact?

Is an exchange of letters and posting ads in the NY Times
an effective way of creating “meaningful dialogue?”  At what point should the parties move
from the mass media to direct contact? 
On the other hand, how open should the “process” be?  What role can the internet play in the
process and/or communications?

Should the parties enter into a “process” of direct
“meaningful dialogue” or utilize facilitators or mediators?

What would we do under these circumstances if you or I were
the facilitators or mediators?


Regarding the last bullet point
the following is offered assuming there are, in the broadest terms two groups,
one Christian, the other Muslim:


  • How
    does each side define “meaningful dialogue”, “practical steps”, and
    “reconciliation” as these seem to be primary objectives addressed in the
    October 13, 2007 letter?  It’s
    hard to get a feel about this from the correspondence being exchanged so
    far.  How many different views are
    there?  What are the

    • Enlightenment?

    • Determination
      of “good faith?”

    • Acknowledgment
      and if so, to what?

    • Apologies?

  • There
    are fundamental differences between teachings and beliefs amongst
    Christians.  The same is true with
    Muslims. Nonetheless, perhaps both groups, Christians and Muslims, should
    consider whether there is enough shared within each group to agree upon a set
    of “issues” to propose for discussion along with a coordinator within their
    groups?  No matter how unlikely
    such an approach might succeed isn’t it at least worth the effort?  Once again the issue of “process and
    process expertise” may be an enabler. 
    We are used to dealing with situations wherein multiple parties are
    grouped together without anyone giving up authority to make their own
    decisions.  An example of an issue
    of common concern to Christians might be the presence of large Muslim
    communities where large Christian communities exist as in Germany,
    France, or
    Netherlands.  It would seem possible for “meaningful
    dialogue” to occur around a set of “issues” Christians could agree upon.  The same could be said about the
    widely publicized lack of reciprocity towards Christians in a number of Muslim

  • Has
    a line been drawn by reference to a need for a period of “enlightenment”, by
    the Pope in one correspondence and ignored in the Muslim Religious Leaders
    letter of October 13, 2007? In the context of creating “meaningful
    discussions” this might be a serious hurdle.  However, it is not atypical for
    “positions” to be present at the initiation of “meaningful dialogue.”  We’re used to dealing with
    “positions,” while realizing some create “impasse.”  We’ve made significant strides in
    dealing with impasse.  Our
    expertise would be a valuable impasse under these circumstances which are
    probably the tip of the iceberg.

  • Is
    this “flurry of dialogue” sustainable as a means of creating “meaningful
    discussions” or will it dilute the initiative to the point its original intent
    will be lost?  Is there a time
    element involved which will turn an initiative into further recrimination or
    worse?  As we know from experience
    there are some situations in which time is a critical element.  In this case it is possible
    expectations are being raised to a level which cannot be met for any number of
    reasons.  One reason could be too
    many players with too many disparate approaches just overwhelming the ability
    to respond “meaningfully.”  Part
    of “process’ development would be how to balance raising expectations with
    ability to deal with communications, transparency in a situation where efforts
    towards “dialogue” are occurring from the “grass roots” level all the way to
    Religious Leaders, theologians, and scholars.

  • An
    interesting set of action offered by the Secretary of State on behalf of the
    Pope is to receive a Muslim delegation and hold a working meeting.  Can this work and if so under what
    “process”?  One question which
    follows is whether this means other “Christian” groups will be included or
    excluded and if that’s the case then will other Christian groups take their
    own separate approaches?  How
    about those Muslim groups which are non participatory in these efforts.  In any working meeting “process and
    process expertise” should be part of the discussion.


In summary it appears the letter
has struck a resonant chord in Christian circles.  It would be interesting to know to what
degree and how this issue is “going down” with Muslims.  Next steps are developing.  In one correspondence I received the
request was made to act at the local level by fostering and practicing
inter-faith dialogue.  Certainly
these kind of local efforts are helpful. 
However, it is hard to see the linkage between local efforts without
“meaningful dialogue” at the leadership level.  Without clarity at those levels it is
hard to see how, at the local level, we can move beyond “polite dialogue.”






Leo Hura

Leo Hura, Mediator -JD - Facilitator -Conflict Resolution Training Program Developer practices mediation out of Honolulu Hawaii.  An experienced mediator Leo has turned his atttention to developing training programs designed to inform, educate, and promote the use of peaceful means for avoiding, preventing, resolving conflict in business with business, business with client, and… MORE >

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