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Wednesday 4th July 2012, 6.05pm at St Mary-le-Bow
JustShare Discussion: Christian-Muslim Relations: Engaging with Economics and Ethics.
It was a pleasure to welcome the Rt Revd Richard Cheetham, the Bishop of Kingston, and Dilowar Khan of the East London Mosque, for a fascinating and thought-provoking discussion on the wisdom of Islam and Christianity concerning ethical economics.
Bishop Richard began by describing the current gloabl economic and inter-faith context; a post 9/11 world where fear of and friendship between faiths have both grown, where the limits of economic growth are challenged but consumerism continues unabated. He then discussed three sources of Christian wisdom on ethics and economics: the many Biblical texts on weath, poverty, money and justice; the vast corps of Christian social teaching; and thirdly Christian practical action as embodied by aid agencies such as Christian Aid, CAFOD and Tearfund. Finally, the Bishop emphasised the importance of Muslims and Christians working together for the common good. He urged us to avoid 'myopic, Machiavellian or megaphone' theology in favour of relational theology, and he called for a new 'Faith in the City' drawing on the wisdom of all faiths.
Dilowar Khan agreed that the current global context was challenging but attributed many of the world's problems - both ethical and economics-based - to inequality and greed. Islam teaching is very clear on the duty of believers to care for the poor and needy; it is taught that if a Muslim sleeps with a full stomach when his neighbour is hungry, he is not a true believer. Islam holds wealth to be a trust from God and humans to be God's ambassadors, trusted to use God's gifts in the service of mankind. Muslims are also called to leave a legacy of charitable work and to practise zakat, the gift of 2.5% of disposable income to the poor. These and many other tenets of Islam encouraged ethical economic practices, as of course did the prohibition on lending at interest. Islamic finance does not permit money to be made from money; money should be earned through work, not simply from lending money itself. Dilowar noted that Islamic banks had survived the crisis unscathed because of their responsible lending practices where the bank itself must share the risk of the borrower. Finally, Dilowar agreed that it was vital for Christians and Muslims to join together in social action. For example, the East London Mosque had participated actively in the London Citizens' Living Wage campaign.
Questions included how to reintegrate ethics with economics; whether Islamic finance is morally superior to earlier Christian teachings on usury; and whether there might be a role for a faith-based or ethical advisory board for banks, as Islamic banks. Wide-ranging discussions on how to make economics more ethical continued over Fairtrade refreshments.