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‘A Common Word’ in the News

A message from Cadenabbia, Art of Healing

Despite our theological differences, we strive to love God to the utmost, and love humanity as well.

I was at a retreat in the small resort town of Cadenabbia, at Lake Como
in northern Italy. Lake Como is a beautiful scenic lake straddled by
several resort towns, where the rich and famous have their holiday
homes. As it was autumn and the weather was perfect, the area was also
full of tourists from all over the world.

I was not there for a
holiday, but to attend a Christian-Muslim dialogue, at the invitation
of the Konrad-Adeneur-Stiftung, a German foundation dedicated to
promoting world peace, democracy, and human rights, and Prof Dr
Christian Troll, a world-renown Jesuit scholar, an expert on Islam who
is linked to a wide network of both Christian and Muslim scholars.

am not a religious scholar, so I am especially thankful to him for
inviting me to engage with others who are mostly priests, scholars, and
human-rights activists.

Our dialogue was a continuation of “A
Common Word” series of dialogues already held among many Christian and
Muslim scholars, leaders, and activists in the last two years. However,
most of the international dialogues held previously involved mainly
participants from Europe, the Middle-East, and North America.

this time, Prof Troll gathered Christian and Muslim scholars and
activists from Sub-Saharan Africa (Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya), South Asia
(Pakistan and India), and Southeast Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia) to
give our perspectives and proposals to the furtherance of
Christian-Muslim friendship and brotherhood.

Several scholars
from Germany, the UK and US were also with us. Rev Dr Markus Solo SVD,
who is originally from Flores, Indonesia, and is now based at the
Vatican (in charge of Muslim relations), also joined us.

the dialogue was specifically a Christian-Muslim affair, the lessons
learned and the proposed actions can be applied to other interfaith
dialogues, interactions, and areas of cooperation.

After much lively and interesting deliberations, we came out with a statement entitled A Message from Cadenabbia, which you can read at www.kas.de/wf/de/33.17791/

main points are that despite our theological differences, we strive to
love God to the utmost, and to love humanity as well. And this means
the equal respect and dignity of men and women; universal justice,
freedom of conscience, and respect for difference; to confront together
the challenges which include poverty and illiteracy, environmental
degradation and disease, human-rights violations, gender
discrimination, and ethnic conflicts; deplore the actions of extreme
groups who abuse the noble teachings of our religions, and manipulate
religious sentiments; that Christians and Muslims are not enemies of
one another and we should be vying only in good deeds; and recognise
the importance of educating our children rightly, and the importance of
the media in imparting correct and useful information.

Healing the Christian-Muslim rift

series of dialogues actually began when His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
(head of the Catholic Church) made some negative remarks about Islam in
his Regensburg Lecture on September 12, 2006. One month after that, a
group of 38 Muslim scholars and leaders wrote to the Pope regarding the
matter. Soon, several Muslim scholars and leaders were invited to meet,
and met, the Pope.

One year later, on October 13, 2007, 138
Muslim scholars and leaders addressed an open letter and call from
Muslim religious leaders entitled A Common Word between Us and You
to the Pope and all the Christian leaders of the world. Then on July
14, 2008, the Most Reverend Archbishop of Canterbury replied with his A Common Word for the Common Good
letter. There followed a series of international dialogues and
conferences discussing the issues mentioned in the letters, notably in
Yale University, US (July 2008), University of Cambridge, UK (October
2008), the Vatican, Rome (November 2008), and Georgetown University, US
(March 2009).

There were also similar national dialogues and
conferences in several countries. Coincidentally, I was invited to
co-chair a session at the first “Common Word Roundtable” jointly
organised by the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies
(IAIS) and Oriental Hearts & Minds Study Institute (OHMSI) in Kuala
Lumpur on September 16, 2009. It was held barely two weeks before the
international dialogue in Italy, so it was indeed timely.

I am
sure this series of dialogues will continue as Christians and Muslims
often find themselves at loggerheads, facing many potentially divisive
issues, when in fact both their religions (and all other religions)
teach them to love one another, irrespective of their beliefs and
religious labels. We must continue to heal the rift.

and Muslims have a special relationship because Islam claims to be the
same religion practised by all the Christian (and Jewish) prophets,
from Adam to Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, John The Baptist, and even
Jesus (Prophet Isa to the Muslims), may peace be upon them all. The
Quran addresses the Christians and Christianity in many verses, and
mentions Jesus more often than it does Muhammad (peace be upon them).

it is this same claim which has agitated Christians, because Islam also
says that God is One (not three-in-one), and that Jesus was just a
prophet, and not God or the only-begotten son of God. These attack the
core of Christian belief. While founder prophets and religious
scriptures usually never directly criticise the beliefs of other
religions, Prophet Muhammad claimed that God, through the Quranic
revelations, commanded him to rectify these “mistakes” and bring back
the believers to Islam, the religion of submission to the will of the
one (not three-in-one) God.

This theological quandary has been
debated over many centuries and continues to be a big thorn in the
relationship between Christians and Muslims.

Instead of having a
particularly close relationship as enjoined by their common scriptural
history, Christians and Muslims have become bitter enemies on many
occasions. They have waged so many wars against one another (for
example, “the Crusades” lasted for more than a hundred years), and
disputes and clashes between their communities continue to this day, as
we have seen happened in Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, and many other
countries. Indeed there is much healing needed between the two
religious communities.

The other contentious issue is Western
historians’ descriptions of Islam as a religion that spread by the
sword. While there were many battles and conquests in the early history
of Islam, most were conquests after defeating the enemies who wanted to
vanquish Islam and the Muslims. That is how Muslim historians perceive
our history. Yet we cannot deny that there were Muslim empires that
used their military might to expand their territories.

It also
cannot be denied that it was the Christian colonialists of Britain,
France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal (and later even the US) that brought
Christianity to much of the world. As they say, history is according to
who wrote it.

In general, Islam had spread through traders and
migrants, as we continue to see to this day. Malaysia is an example of
how Islam spread through traders and migrants (Arabs, Indians,
Indonesians, and Chinese), and not through any Muslim colonialists or

A common word

This series is referred
to as “A Common Word” dialogue because the 138 Muslims had based their
letter mainly on the Quranic verse 3:64, which says: “Say: O People of
the Book! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall
worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him,
and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they
turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered
(unto Him).”

It is generally believed that “People of the Book”
refers to Jews and Christians whose prophets and scriptures are
acknowledged by Islam (although Islam disputes the authenticity and
reliability of the scriptures that are extant).

The letter also
refers to the Biblical passages that command us to love God, and to
love our neighbours (meaning all humanity, as we are all children of
God). Moses said : “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your
soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

And Jesus
said: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall
love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your souls, with
all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first
commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your
neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than
these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad had said
that we should wish for our neighbours what we wish for ourselves,
which also means we should love them as ourselves.

Healing our wounds

are indeed similar teachings and commandments between the two religions
(and other religions as well) that can be the basis of our peaceful and
harmonious interactions, especially when we are actually living as
neighbours, working together, and doing many things together.

More importantly, we are together trying to make a success of our respective communities and countries.

home in Malaysia, we do have problems between the followers of the
different religions, often starting with something not religious in
nature. Yet there are others which are obviously religious. Right now,
the name of Allah is being fought in court!

The Muslims had
already reached out to the Hindus when ACCIN (Allied Coordinating
Committee of Islamic NGOs, a coalition of Islamic NGOs which I
co-founded) had an interfaith retreat last year under the kind
sponsorship of Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew at his magnificent resort hotel.

sides agreed that much misconceptions and mistrust were removed after
the retreat, and there was more mutual respect between us.

similar retreat with the Christians had to be postponed several times,
waiting for a convenient time for both parties. I hope the dialogues
will continue with the other religions too, and also between them as
well. In this way we can continue to heal whatever wounds that may
exist between us.

> Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical
specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine.
He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further
information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my.
The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to
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