Kuala Lumpur (BWA)--The Executive Committee of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) accepted a proposal that the special commission on Baptist-Muslim relations be made a standing commission of the Division of Freedom and Justice.
The commission, formed in 2009 and located within the office of the general secretary, seeks to engage with contemporary Islam on the basis of a mutual acknowledgement of the twin commands to love God and neighbor in order to develop mutual respect, and to promote security, peace and the common welfare.
In addition, the commission will explore and encourage expression of authentic Christian witness among Muslim neighbors, raise awareness, and provide tools and resources so that Baptists around the world can relate positively to their Muslim neighbors.
Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, chairs the commission. He said "living in the Middle East has taught us that interfaith dialogue that is genuine, and initiated with the purpose of building relations that impact the world is not a compromise." Costa said that "it is a process that seeks to bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice."
Costa, a vice president of the BWA, insists that Baptists "need to open ourselves to be challenged by God's word if we are to effectively be light and salt in the communities God called us to be."
The commission held its first formal meeting on July 6 during the BWA Annual Gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A preliminary meeting had previously taken place in England in February 2011.
Participants in Kuala Lumpur shared stories based on their experiences of engaging Muslim neighbors in different parts of the world such as Bangladesh, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, England and the United States.
Christians and Muslims together make up approximately half of the world's population.
Costa stated that engaging our Muslim neighbors is no longer an alternative. Baptists and all Christians have a duty to learn how to live together with Muslims. Sharing his own experience as a "minority of minorities" living in Lebanon, a predominantly Muslim country, Costa said that for a long time he refused to get to know his Muslim neighbors. He insisted that we educate ourselves about Islam and engage Muslims to find ways to live in peace. A refusal to know Muslims leads to ignorance, hate, and even violence, Costa said. If we do not engage each other we end up killing each other.
More than 300 Baptist leaders and delegates are gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from July 4-9 for the BWA Annual Gathering. It involves yearly meetings of a number of BWA groups, including the General Council and the Executive Committee; executive sub-committees and divisional advisory committees; women's, men's, and youth departments; regional groupings; and commissions of the divisions of Freedom & Justice, and Mission, Evangelism & Theological Reflection, and others.