The survival of the world is at risk if Muslims and Christians cannot make peace, more than 130 senior Muslim leaders warned the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday.
The warning came in an unprecedented open letter to Church leaders signed by some of Islam’s most influential scholars, including the Grand Muftis of Egypt and Syria.
“If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace,” it said.
“With the terrible weaponry of the modern world, with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants.”
The letter, which was hailed as a hugely significant initiative at a time of growing tensions, urged religious leaders to acknowledge the essential similarities between their faiths.
Using quotations from the Bible and the Koran to bolster their message, the scholars warned that “our very eternal souls are … at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony.”
The letter said that belief in one God and loving one’s neighbours were shared principles between the two religions.
Welcoming the initiative yesterday, Christian leaders said that the joint statement from so many prominent, moderate Muslim scholars could change the atmosphere, making it more difficult for terrorism and extremism to flourish.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, said that he expected a significant response from the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and other Church leaders.
Dr Williams said that the letter was “particularly important in underlining the need for respect towards minorities in contexts where either Islam or Christianity is the majority presence.”
But critics cautioned that it could blur the significant theological differences that exist between Islam and Christianity. Significantly, the letter was issued on the anniversary of a statement by 38 Muslim clerics last year, criticising Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial speech on Islam.
The Pope provoked widespread anger by quoting a 14th-century Christian emperor who spoke of the Prophet Mohammad’s “command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.
Though he has since expressed regret at the reaction to the speech, and insisted that he was misunderstood, he has stopped short of the unequivocal apology wanted by many Muslims.
The 138 signatories to the new letter, which was drafted by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Jordan, included Muslim leaders, politicians and academics representing every sect of Islam.
Among them were the Grand Muftis of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Russia, Croatia and Kosovo, the Secretary-General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the founder of the Ulema Organisation in Iraq.