We wholly endorse the open letter from more than 130 Muslim scholars to the pope and other Christian leaders calling for greater understanding between the two faiths. Issued to mark Eid Al-Fitr, it is an effort to reach out to the other in generous faith to built new bridges.
Muslim-Christian dialogue, which has dozens of organizations and institutions to promote it, has unfortunately tended to flourish behind the doors of academe or on a personal basis between clerics. This letter, by contrast, has the potential to create a new spirit of cooperation and harmony between Muslims and Christians to replace the ignorance and suspicion that over the centuries pushed followers of both faiths ever further apart. Indeed, in the aftermath of 9/11, ignorance and enmity seem to have grown, as bigots on both sides of the divide preach hate and violence in a bid to build their own power bases.
The letter spells out important facts that have been long forgotten — that while Islam and Christianity are separate religions, Muslims and Christians worship the same God and believe in the two greatest of commandments, the love of God and, secondly, the love of one’s neighbor. Given that the two faiths account for more than half the world’s population, the appeal also spells out what should be blindingly obvious — that “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.” Amen to that.
But this letter has to be seen as more than an appeal to dialogue and understanding between the two faiths, vital though that is. It is also a clear summons to both Muslims and Christians to spurn the call of those who long for a clash of civilizations. Hopefully, it will be recognized by Christians and other non-Muslims as representing the true voice of Islam. The signatories come from all Islamic traditions and schools, not just Sunni, and from every corner of the globe. Here is the Ummah, the Muslim community worldwide, speaking out as with one voice, a voice that is mainstream, that believes in peace, that is concerned about the future of all of us on this planet, not just Muslims, and that sees Christians not as historic enemies but as partners, under one God, for peace.
If that is understood not just by church leaders, but by ordinary Christians, and most of all by those among them who have come to fear Islam either because of the actions of some extremists or because they have had their hearts hardened and their minds closed by their own bigots and extremists, then this appeal will be a mighty blow against Islamophobia and also at the phobia of Christianity that exists in some Muslim quarters.
Better still, if it takes dialogue out of the conference room or the lecture theater and into the streets, where Muslims and Christians actually live together, then a new prospect is in sight: Christians and Muslims at their closest in one and a half thousand years.