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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Muslim Scholars Appeal to Christian Scholars for Dialogue and Peace on Eve of Eid

On the eve of Eid al Fitr at the end of Ramadan, 138 Muslim scholars from all over the world representing both Sunni and Shia, Salafi and Sufi, and all of the madhabs (schools of thought) have signed and sent out a letter entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You” to 25 Christian leaders calling for peace and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims for the sake of the world.  The letter was addressed to the Pope, the Orthodox Patriarchs, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the heads of the world alliances of the Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and Reformed churches.

This is a truly an important document, and Insh’Allah (if God is willing) will be a call for peace that will resonate with both Muslims and Christians.  The diversity and eminence of the signatories of this letter requesting dialogue and peace can only strengthen the resolve of the majority of the world’s Muslims to continue standing against extremism, and also these well respected scholars now provide a unified entity that can engage in the necessary dialogue.  This is a Muslim voice that is loud and clear and beautifully represents mainstream Islam.  This letter clearly undermines the position of Muslim extremists and also undermines the propoganda of those who have refused to hear the Muslim voices against extremism that have been attempting for some time to gain the world’s attention.

“For centuries there have been theological contentions between Christianity and Islam that have had vast political implications. As there is so much need for mutual understanding and accord, it is essential to provide a solution to these contentions through deeper appreciation and comprehension of the position of the other,” said Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University and President of the Foundation of Traditional Studies. “This document, prepared on the basis of profound knowledge of Islam and the best of intentions to extend a hand of friendship to Christianity, is signed by major scholars across the spectrum of Islamic thought. It is a very important step taken by Muslims to bring about better understanding between themselves and their Christian brothers and sisters, thereby assisting in that crucial task of creating harmony among religions and peoples, the task to which all those who are seriously concerned with the Future of humanity must dedicate themselves.” [11]

The signatories include a number of North American Muslim scholars ( Sheik Mohammed Nur Abdullah, Muzammil Siddiqui on behalf of the entire Fiqh Council of North America, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Dr. Akbar Ahmed, Mr. Nihad Awad (CAIR), Dr. Caner Dagli, Prof. Dr. Alan Godlas, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, Shaykh Kabir Helminski, Dr. Ibrahim Kalin, Prof. Dr. Hafiz Yusuf Z. Kavakci, Shaykh Dr. Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Dr. Joseph Lumbard, Prof. Dr. Ingrid Mattson (ISNA), Imam Zaid Shakir ) as well as muftis and scholars from:  Algeria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia, Brunei, Canada, Caucusus, Chad, Croatia, Egypt, France, Gambia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, UK, and the Ukraine.

“This is a determination by mainstream, traditional Muslim scholars and authorities who cover all the branches of Islam, and that’s very unusual,” says David Ford, Director of the Inter-Faith Program at the University of Cambridge, who helped launch the letter in London this morning. “It is unapologetic — but not aggressive, not defensive — and is genuinely hospitable in all directions. It’s also modest. It doesn’t claim to be the final word; it’s ‘a’ common word.” [6]

The following summary is from the letter itself:

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

A Common Word between Us and You

(Summary and Abridgement)

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 future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.

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. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity. The following are only a few examples:

Of God’s Unity, God says in the Holy Qur’an: Say: He is God, the One! / God, the Self- Sufficient Besought of all! (Al-Ikhlas, 112:1-2). Of the necessity of love for God, God says in the Holy Qur’an: So invoke the Name of thy Lord and devote thyself to Him with a complete devotion (Al-Muzzammil, 73:8). Of the necessity of love for the neighbour, the Prophet Muhammad r said: “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour
what you love for yourself.”

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ 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 soul, 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 12:29-31)

In the Holy Qur’an, God Most High enjoins Muslims to issue the following call to Christians (and Jews—the People of the Scripture):

Say: O People of the Scripture! 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). (Aal ‘Imran 3:64)

The words: we shall ascribe no partner unto Him relate to the Unity of God, and the words: worship none but God, relate to being totally devoted to God. Hence they all relate to the First and Greatest Commandment. According to one of the oldest and most authoritative commentaries on the Holy Qur’an the words: that none of us shall take others for lords beside God, mean ‘that none of us should obey the other in disobedience
to what God has commanded’. This relates to the Second Commandment because justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part of love of the neighbour. Thus in obedience to the Holy Qur’an, we as Muslims invite Christians to come together with us on the basis of what is common to us, which is also what is most essential to our faith and practice: the Two Commandments of love.

Highlights from the letter as noted in articles published immediately after release:

“If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. 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 scholars wrote.  “Our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake,” they wrote, adding that Islam and Christianity already agreed that love of God and neighbor were the two most important commandments of their faiths.  [1] 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.” [2] ““Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between leaders,” the Muslim scholars said. The faiths comprise more than half of humanity, “making the relationship between these communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world.” [3] The letter ends with a quote from the Koran — “Vie one with another in good works … Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ” — before making a final plea for peace: “So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works.” Surely that’s a sentiment people of all faiths can share. [6] “The Unity of God, the necessity of love for [God], and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.” [9]

Some early responses:

“Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, gave an immediate welcome to the letter, of clear relevance to a city so diverse, which has itself suffered the effect of religious extremism. He said, rightly, that such a move deserves a serious response by Christian leaders. He also made the important point that in any dialogue Judaism, the third pillar of the three monotheistic religions, should not be marginalised. By quoting the Torah as well as the New Testament, the signatories imply the debt of Islam, as well as Christianity, to Judaism. More explicit acknowledge-ment would do much to further world peace.” [4]

“Early responses indicate that Christian leaders are welcoming the “Common Word” with open arms. In Britain the bishop of London told NEWSWEEK that the letter would “invite” young people to view the world as “a place where dialogue is possible, instead of a place full of threats.” America’s evangelical Christian leaders are being similarly positive. Rod Parsley, senior pastor of the World Harvest Church in Ohio, says, “My prayer is that this letter begins a dialogue that results in Muslims and Christians uniting around the love we have for each other as God’s children.” [5]

Professor David Ford, director of the Cambridge Interfaith programme, said the letter was unprecedented. “If sufficient people and groups heed this statement and act on it then the atmosphere will be changed into one in which violent extremists cannot flourish.” [7]

The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the letter, and said: “The theological basis of the letter and its call to ‘vie with each other only in righteousness and good works; to respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill’, are indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world, and especially where Christians and Muslims live together.  It is particularly important in underlining the need for respect towards minorities in contexts where either Islam or Christianity is the majority presence.  There is much here to study and to build on. The letter’s understanding of the unity of God provides an opportunity for Christians and Muslims to explore together their distinctive understandings and the ways in which these mould and shape our lives.  The call to respect, peace and goodwill should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries and I shall endeavour in this country and internationally, to do my part in working for the righteousness which this letter proclaims as our common goal.” The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, also responded to the letter, and said: “I welcome this open letter and the proposal for a global conversation between religious scholars which it contains. Such a conversation could be a significant contribution to building the peace between the billions who follow a spiritual path in their lives.” [8]

“The Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella group for U.K. evangelicals, released a statement saying that “any approach that is seeking to draw different religions into dialogue for the purpose of peace must be encouraged.” Still, the statement warned, “genuine and important differences between the two faiths remain.” [12]

Scott Alexander, director of Catholic-Muslim Studies at the Catholic Theological Union, said “The significance of this initiative is that there is no one institution in the Muslim world that speaks for all or most Muslims the way there is in Roman Catholic Christianity,” Alexander said. “What is extraordinary and exciting is that the Muslim community is thinking of creative ways to organize itself so it can effectively participate in dialogue on a global scale.” [13]

“The letter, which quotes from both the Bible and the Koran, gives “compelling reasons why Muslims and Christians should work together,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.” [14]

And, then of course there are those who want to see a clash of civilizations and insist on perverting and twisting even something so clear to make it appear that this plea for understanding is actually a Muslim threat.  They report this story with headlines such as “Muslim Clerics Warn Pope Over Criticizing Islam…”, “Muslims to Christians: make peace with us, or the survival of the world is at stake” by Robert Spencer, ‘Make peace with us – or we’ll kill you!’ by Hal Lindsay, Muslims Lie Re Peace Bridge to Lull Non-Muslims by J. Grant Swank, and Who Speaks for Islam? by John F. Cullinan

Notes:

Full text of letter

[1] Peter Graff in Reuters

[2] Jonathan Petre in the Telegraph

[3] Ruth Gledhill, The Times Online

[4] The Times Online

[5] Emily Flynn Vencat in Newsweek

[6] Jumana Farouqi in Time

[7] BBC News

[8] Ed Beavan, Religious Intelligence site

[9] Ekklesia news brief

[10] Reuters

[11] Head News Service

[12] Madison Trammel in Christianity Today

[13] Letter in Chicago Tribune

[14] Theo Milonopoulos in The Boston Globe

[15] Emerging voice of mainstream Islam, BBC News

[16] Christian Leaders Ponder Muslim Scholars’ Appeal for World Peace, CNS News

[17] Vatican welcomes Muslim peace initiative, Reuters

updated 10/12/07

http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/unprecedented_plea_from_muslim_to_christian_scholars_on_eve_of_eid/0014771

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