Interreligious Dialogue is defined as:

“All positive and constructive interreligious relations with individuals and
Communities of faith which are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment, in obedience to truth and respect for freedom.

(A document of the Catholic Church)

Chapter 1:

Interreligious dialogue, also referred to as interfaith dialogue, is about people of different faiths coming to a mutual understanding and respect that allows them to live and cooperate with each other in spite of their differences. The term refers to cooperative and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions, (i.e. “faiths”) at both the individual and institutional level. Each party remains true to their own beliefs while respecting the right of the other to practise their faith freely.

Interfaith dialogue is not just words or talk. It includes human interaction and relationships. It can take place between individuals and communities and on many levels. For example, between neighbours, in schools and in our places of work – it can take place in both formal and informal settings.  In Ireland, Muslims and Christians live on the same streets; use the same shops, buses and schools. Normal life means that we come into daily contact with each other. Dialogue therefore, is not just something that takes place on an official or academic level only – it is part of daily life during which different cultural and religious groups interact with each other directly, and where tensions between them are the most tangible. 

“I believe that interfaith dialogue is a must today, and that the first step in establishing it is forgetting the past, ignoring polemical arguments, and giving precedence to common points, which far outnumber polemical ones.”


The Necessity of Intrerfaith Dialogue: A Muslim Perspective


Dialogue seeks to:

  • Increase mutual understanding and good relations.
  • Identify causes of tension in Christian Muslim relations. These are often economic, social or political rather than religious.
  • Build understanding and confidence to overcome or prevent tensions.
  • Break down the barriers and stereotypes which lead to distrust, suspicion and bigotry.

Interfaith Dialogue is not:

  • About talking away or brushing aside differences. It does not aim at coming to a common belief.
  • A way of converting the other. In dialogue each party remains true to their own faith.
  • A space for arguing, attacking or disproving the beliefs of the other. It is about increasing mutual understanding and trust. 

Below are two quotations that highlight the urgency and need for Muslims and Christians to cooperate. The first is taken from an address made by Pope Benedict XVI to Ambassadors from Muslim countries in 2006 in which he said:

“Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends.”

The second quotation is from a letter signed by 137 Muslim Scholars and Leaders from across the Muslim world and sent to Christian leaders in 2007. It says:

“Muslims and Christians together make up over half the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.

“We believe in the same God, the one God, the Living God who created the world… In a world which desires unity and peace, but experiences a thousand tensions and conflicts, should not believers favour friendship between the men and the peoples who form one single community on earth?…Dialogue between Christians and Muslims is today more urgent than ever. It flows from fidelity to God. Sometimes, in the past, we have opposed and even exhausted each other in polemics and in wars … I believe that today God invites us to change old practices. We must respect each other and we must stimulate each other in good works on the path to righteousness.

Pope John Paul II, 1985. From a speech delivered to over 80,000 Muslims in Casablanca.

These statements highlight the urgent need for Muslims and Christians to address the polarisation that is growing between them. This has been fuelled by wars, persecution, injustices and by individuals and groups stirring up religious divisions to achieve political or material gain. Dialogue between Muslims and Christians is needed now more than ever before to address the issues causing this growing division. The fact that Muslims and Christians make up over 50% of the world’s population makes dialogue and cooperation imperative.

Here in Ireland, over the past twenty years the Muslim population has grown to almost 50,000. Muslims are a permanent part of the Irish community. While the process of integration in Ireland has a long way to go, it is true to say that so far it has been a positive experience. Comparatively speaking, in Ireland, the relationship between Muslims and Christians is very good. This is not so much because of what we have done or achieved but because:

In Ireland we do not have the historical grievances that prevent dialogue and interaction between Muslims and Christians in many parts of the world.
We do not share the accumulation of racial divisions and inequalities that plague relations between Muslims and Christians in European countries such as France, Germany and the U K.
In Ireland there have been no major racial clashes or incidents. Neither have we experienced the explosion of right-wing xenophobic politics evident in other European countries.

As a result of these factors the distrust and violence that marks the relation-ship between Muslims and Christians in some places is currently not evident in Ireland. These advantages greatly increase the possibility of Muslims and Christians living together in peace, harmony and cooperation. Yet we do not live in isolation – we are influenced by what we hear in the media and by what is happening elsewhere in the world. THEREFORE, THERE IS A SENSE OF URGENCY, A NEED TO BUILD UPON THE GOOD RELATIONS THAT WE HAVE, AND TO PROVIDE AN EXAMPLE OF UNDERSTANDING, TRUST AND COOPERATION THAT CAN BE FOLLOWED BY MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD.

Key to this is the promotion of respect and understanding between Muslim and Christian neighbours in local streets and residential areas. Members of both faiths need to come to know each other personally. Local interfaith contact, cooperation and interaction, in short dialogue, is of great importance as it makes a major contribution in helping to create an integrated and cohesive community at ease with diversity and secure in a sense of common purpose.


To move on to chapter 2 What our Faith Teaches click here

Previous articleFOREWORD – Bishops John Buckley and Paul Colton