Christian Leaders Ponder Muslim Scholars’ Appeal For World Peace, VA International Editor October 12, 2007

( – Muslims and Christians believe in the same God — despite differences over the nature of Jesus Christ — and they should focus on “the common essentials of our two religions” for the sake of world peace, 138 Islamic representatives said in an open letter addressed to Christian leaders.

“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,” they said.

The letter, signed by scholars, clerics and others from around the world and across the spectrum of Islamic traditions, was released to mark the end of Ramadan at press conferences in the Middle East, the U.S. and Britain. It is addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, heads of various Orthodox and Protestant denominations, and “leaders of Christian churches everywhere.”

The 29-page letter, which contains numerous Koranic and Biblical references, said finding common ground “is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue.”

“Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history,” it said. “If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace.”

The letter was initiated by the Royal Academy, an independent Islamic non-governmental institute headquartered in Amman, Jordan. Signatories include grand muftis from numerous Islamic nations, professors at top Islamic universities, Iranian ayatollahs, and political figures, including the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and Council on Islamic-American Relations executive director Nihad Awad.

There was no immediate response from the Vatican, but early reaction from church leaders in Britain was cautiously positive.

“There is much here to study and to build on,” said Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, titular head of the world’s Anglicans.

He said he welcomed the letter’s emphasis on the fundamental importance of belief in the unity of God and love of one’s neighbor. “The letter rightly makes it clear that these are scriptural foundations equally for Jews, Christians, and for Muslims, and are the basis for justice and peace in the world.”

Richard Chartres, the Church of England bishop of London, said the letter’s significance should not be underestimated.

“This is [a] substantial letter which speaks of the unity of God from a Muslim perspective,” he said. “It demands a substantial response which approaches the same theme from a Christian perspective.”

In promoting inter-religious dialogue, Chartres added, “it is very important that we do not go ahead in a way that marginalizes the Jewish community.”

“I welcome any movement from the Islamic world that is directed at peaceful engagement between faiths,” said Joel Edwards, general director of the Evangelical Alliance.

“All major faiths need to look back in their history and recognize that we all have a moral and spiritual responsibility to ensure that our philosophical convictions are not used to support acts of extremism,” he said.

The organization, which represents some two million evangelical Christians in Britain, noted that the letter acknowledges genuine and important differences between two faiths. “Christianity is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, the God who became flesh and lived among us.”

Edwards in his statement also referred to “the life, death and resurrection of Jesus who stands at the center of our faith.”

Islamic scriptures teach that Jesus was a prophet and say that he was not crucified (Koran 4:157).

In their letter, the Islamic scholars acknowledged differences between Muslim and Christian views on Jesus. Citing verse 4:171 of the Koran, they said Muslims recognize Jesus as “a Messenger from God.” (They did not quote the entire verse, however, which goes on to say “Allah is only one Allah; far be it from His glory that He should have a son.” Also missing was 9:30, which reads in part, “the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah … may Allah destroy them.”)

God and Allah Christian leaders’ reaction to the letter so far has not touched on the fundamental assumption of the Islamic scholars that the Judea-Christian God and Allah are the same — an issue over which Christians differ.

When President Bush said during a November 2003 press conference that he believed Christians and Muslims “worship the same God,” U.S. evangelical leaders disagreed, and a Southern Baptist leader said the president was “simply mistaken.”

In an interview with the Al-Arabiya news channel earlier this month, Bush repeated his view, saying, “I believe the God that the Muslim prays to is the same God that I pray to.”

Last August a Dutch Catholic bishop caused a stir by suggesting in a television program that Christians start referring to God as “Allah,” saying this would promote better relations between adherents of the two religions. He noted that Christians in Islamic countries use the term “Allah” when referring to God.

Other Dutch Catholic leaders distanced themselves from the statement.

Reacting to the bishop’s call, Soeren Kern, a scholar at the Strategic Studies Group in Madrid, cited historical and theological evidence to argue that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.

“Archaeology provides irrefutable evidence that Allah, far from being the biblical God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was actually the pre-Islamic pagan moon-god,” he wrote.

Kern also asserted that “the Koran and the Bible present ideas about God (especially about His character) that are so diametrically opposed that any reasonable observer would conclude that each book refers to a distinct deity.”