Misgivings and skepticism about Muslim reach out
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
An open letter from 138 Muslim scholars and religious leaders to the Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders, calling for greater understanding between the two faiths, has received mixed response.
The letter was welcomed by various leaders and institutions, including the Baptist World Alliance and the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury. But there was no immediate reaction from the Vatican. A Vatican spokesman was positive but noncommittal, calling the letter “an encouraging sign” and “a spiritual approach to dialogue.” Pope Benedict recently re-established an office for interfaith dialogue that he had shuttered, but his emphasis has been on concrete actions like protecting Christian minorities in Muslim lands. The Roman Catholic Church has taken a more conservative approach to Islam since the death of John Paul II in 2005, supporting diplomacy but not theological discussion.
The Evangelical Alliance in Britain welcomed the letter’s call for peace and understanding, but also pointed to differences between the two faiths. Anglican bishop Michael Nazir-Ali said that the letter seems to undercut the role of Jesus by emphasizing a part of the Quran that urges non-Muslims not to “ascribe any partners unto” God. The two faiths’ understanding of the oneness of God is not the same, he told the Times of London. “One partner cannot dictate the terms on which dialogue must be conducted,” he said. “This document seems to be on the verge of doing that.”
Hal Lindsey of World Net Daily saw the letter an ultimatum rather than an invitation.
Commenting under title – ‘Make peace with us — or we’ll kill you!’ – he says: At least, that is the way most mainstream news reports styled it – “an invitation to make peace.” Boiled down to its essence, the letter warned Christians to “make peace with us or we’ll kill you.” The letter just phrases it more nicely... The so-called “invitation” to make peace with Islam suggests that the price of peace is Islamic freedom to make war on others without fear of retaliation. At no point in the conflict has anyone other than Islam defined it as a conflict between Christians and Jews against Islam.”
John F. Cullinan of the National Review took exception to the passage “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.” He asks where exactly do Christians as such — or Western states — “wage war against Muslims on account of their religion”? He says that unless the authors are willing to be more forthcoming, a useful exchange of views must await another day.
Not surprisingly, Pastor J. Grant Swank Jr., writing in American Daily, described the letter a tactical move and doubted the sincerity of the 138 signatories. He argued that may be the signatories are also following a millennia-old pattern of Muslims who argue for a temporary truce or even for “peace” but only as a way of positioning themselves more securely for a military and religious victory. He went to the extent of claiming that Islam permits Muslims to lie to further their cause. Therefore, Muslims will reach out in an appearance of peace in order to lull the enemy into thinking that Muslims are telling the truth. The enemy buys into that reach out and then is taken in by the Allah condoned lie.
Simon Jenkins, writing in the daily Times, London, argued that the letter suggests Islam has sufficient power to confront and possibly undermine the West. It implies a balance of power parallel with a balance of theological interpretation. He says that such an implication feeds a no less dangerous paranoia in the West. By stating that the “survival of the world” might turn on a struggle between Islam and Christianity, the letter reinforces the militarist fantasies of neoconservatives who see the world as just such a struggle. It is a paranoia which, since 9/11, has driven the “war on terror” and fomented the tension and antagonism to the West to which the scholars’ letter is so vacuous a response.
Mr. Jenkins is a proud cheerleader for ‘western values’ and see the West as powerful without precedent. He believes in the hegemonic and unjust global economic, social and political order when he says that the American-European economic and political axis is unconquerable. “For all its occasional and manifold lapses, capitalist democracy has been tested and not found wanting. Other societies such as Russia, China and India all measure themselves against the West’s success and seek in varying degrees to emulate it. To this extent Francis Fukuyama was right to call the end of the cold war “the end of history”.”
However, Mr. Jenkins sounds right when he says that there are interest groups in the West such as the booming armaments and security industries with their think tanks and lobbyists who are portraying Islam as a concerted threat to western democracies. Such vested interests need to be exposed as such.
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent of The Times, said the intentions of the 138 leading Islamic religious leaders and scholars are praiseworthy but “I fear that the theological analysis underpinning their intervention might not light many candles in the Christian world.” Unfortunately, the road to misunderstanding is paved with good intentions, he suggested.
Visit Abdus Sattar Ghazali’s site American Muslim Perspective at http://www.amperspective.com/