The “survival of the world” is at stake if Muslims and Christians do not make peace with each other, leaders of the Muslim world will warn the Pope and other Christian leaders today.
In an unprecedented open letter signed by 138 leading scholars from every sect of Islam, the Muslims plead with Christian leaders “to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions” and spell out the similarities between passages of the Bible and the Koran.
The scholars state: “As Muslims, 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.”
The phrasing has echoes of the New Testament passage: “He that is not with me is against me” – a passage used by President George Bush when addressing a joint session of Congress nine days after 9/11.
The Muslims call instead for the emphasis to be on the shared characteristics of world’s two largest faiths.
The letter, addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, to the Orthodox Church’s Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew 1 and all the other Orthodox Patriarchs and to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and the leaders of all other Protestant churches worldwide, will be rolled out around the world this morning in a series of press conferences beginning in Jordan. It is supported by the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres.
It is expected to be followed by a joint conference between Muslim and Christian world leaders at on “neutral” ground, such as at a university in America.
“Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders,” the Muslim scholars say, noting that Christians and Muslims make up over a third and a fifth of humanity respectively.
“Together they make up more than 55 per cent of the population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace.”
The Muslims even quote passages verbatim from the Bible, extremely rare in a publication of this kind and at this level and an indication of their resolve to bring the two faiths together and end the present tensions between them.
The letter continues: “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. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.”
It says: “And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony.”
Concluding with a quote from the Koran, the scholars say: “So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works.”
The letter is being sent out today by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, Jordan.
Among those launching the letter in the UK will be two world leading figures in interfaith dialogue Professor David Ford and Aref Ali Nayed.
Professor David Ford is Regius Professor of Divinity, and Fellow of Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. Professor Ford is also the Founding Director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme and led this year’s international inter-faith conference at Lancaster House in June on ‘Islam and Muslims in the World Today’.
Aref Ali Nayed is a leading theologian and senior adviser to the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme. He is formerly Professor at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Rome, and the International Institute for Islamic Thought and Civilization in Malaysia.
Signatories include Shaykh Sevki Omarbasic, Grand Mufti of Croatia, Dr Abdul Hamid Othman, adviser to the Prime Minister of Malaysia and Dr Ali Ozak, head of the endowment for Islamic scientific studies in Istanbul, Turkey. They also include Shaykh Dr Nuh Ali Salman Al-Qudah, Grand Mufti of Jordan and Shaykh Dr Ikrima Said Sabri, former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Imam of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The first reaction to the letter, from the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, a leading Anglican expert on Islam, appeared to be critical.
Dr Nazir-Ali, who was born in Pakistan, welcomed the Muslim scholars’ deisire for a dialogue, but said that the appeal was based on the Muslim belief in the oneness of God. ”
What I would say to that is that Christians uphold belief in one God vigorously but our understanding of the oneness of God is not the Muslim understanding,” he told The Times. “We believe in God as source from whom everything is brought into being. Jesus is God’s word and presence for us but is also human.”
He added: “One partner cannot dictate the terms on which dialogue must be conducted. This document seems to be on the verge of doing that.”
But the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, appeared to disagree. He said: ‘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.’