A Christian Response from an Indian Setting to the Letter of Muslim Leaders to the Pope and other Christian Leaders

A Christian Response from an Indian Setting
– The Islamic Studies Association (ISA) organized a meeting in Delhi on 19-1-2008 in order to study the beautiful gift presented to us in the form of an open letter entitled A Common Word between Us and You, signed by 138 Muslim religious leaders and scholars. ISA was founded at a meeting in Agra convened by the Secretary of the CBCI Dialogue Commission of the Catholic Bishops of India in March 1979. It is a Catholic organization devoted primarily to the promotion of interreligious harmony. Its “Quarterly to Promote Understanding,” Salaam, is currently in its 29th volume.

– We in India have completed sixty years of Independence, replete with interreligious memories, some unfortunately negative, but innumerable others, known only to God, of a positive, even joyous, nature. This letter encourages us to build on our common faith in God, Who is One, and provides inspiration to work for a mutual understanding and friendship that would find its fruition in collaborative service of those in need.

– We wish to share with our Muslim brothers and sisters in India, as well as with our fellow Christians, something of the spontaneous joy we experienced while reading the letter. We considered it a moment of grace.

– We join the many Christian institutions, scholars and leaders all over the world, in particular, the letter sent in the name of Pope Benedict XVI, in expressing our appreciation of this initiative signed by so many, varied and important Muslims. This grace-inspired initiative is all the more significant when we consider what we are confronted with in the media.

– We appreciate in a special way the prominence given to the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, and take note of the fact that the ‘You’ in the title, read against the background of its Quranic source, includes the Jews. In our Indian experience we are aware of the importance of Sacred Scriptures, such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Guru Granth Sahib, to mention only two, in the lives of hundreds of millions of our fellow Indians. Hence we fully agree with a focussed document, and are aware that it stems from a basically inclusivist attitude.

– We appreciate the wide diversity of the signatories, with regard to their roles as leaders and scholars; from a wide range of viewpoints within the Muslim community; and from many different countries, including three from India. We also appreciate the fact that the letter has been explicitly sent to a wide range of Christian leaders, thus making it a document with an ecumenical dimension for Christians.

– Our common belief in God, our Creator and Sustainer, enables us to feel related to one another at the very deepest level of our beings. We are aware of our observable differences in beliefs and practices, but consider them as challenges rather than as obstacles to mutual appreciation.

– We are particularly struck by the words, “love of the neighbour is an essential and integral part of faith in God and love of God” (p.11). This reminds us of the words of St. John in his first letter: “...if we do not love the brother or sister whom we can see, we cannot love the God we cannot see.” In line with the concern for the future of the world, as expressed at the very beginning of the letter, we have become even more conscious that the Christian understanding of ‘neighbour’ extends to all without exception, even in situations of conflict. In this world of ours, love and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin.

– Such a love impels us to collaborate with one another in promoting constructive changes which would lead to the welfare and improvement of different communities and individuals so as to build a truly inclusive Indian society. Concrete projects to strengthen mutual understanding, appreciation and cooperation can only be worked out in individual localities and institutions. Mutual visits on the occasion of important festivals are warmly recommended as a way to initiate contact. Educational and other institutions will surely be able to undertake suitable projects at various levels of society.

Islamic Studies Association New Delhi