A letter from Muslim leaders to Christian ones can be a start for dialogue, writes Barney Zwartz.
AT THE core of both Christianity and Islam is the double command to love God and neighbour. Last week 138 Islamic leaders wrote to the Pope and “leaders of Christian churches everywhere” saying world peace depended on recognising that.
The letter, which some scholars hailed as unprecedented, was signed by Grand Muftis, theologians and academics from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Europe and the US, representing Islam’s Sunni, Shiite and Sufi traditions — and scores of millions of followers.
Written to build bridges and defuse tensions, the letter was sent at a highly symbolic time, the Eid festival that celebrated the end of Ramadan last weekend. Titled A Common Word Between Us and You, it says: “Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world.
“The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God and love of the neighbour.” The leaders write that with the terrible weaponry of the modern world — and with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before — no side can unilaterally win a conflict. “Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.”
They quote Jesus’ words in the New Testament, “for he who is not against us is on our side”, and invite Christians to consider Muslims as “not against” them, and therefore with them.
There is a caveat: “We say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them — so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes.”
This reflects the widespread opinion among the Muslim world that the West’s war on terror is really a Christian war on Islam.
Some of their grievances are real, but the enemy is not Christianity. It was once, but Christianity has lost most of its political power in the West.
The Pope and most church leaders argued strongly but vainly against invading Iraq, and the most active advocates for disadvantaged Muslim communities in the West are usually Christian. What the caveat shows is that the Islamic world struggles to understand the secular nature of the West, just as the West struggles to understand the diversity of religious attitudes within Islam.