Senior Muslim leaders have written to the heads of all Christian churches proposing a solid base upon which the two global faiths can co-operate in creating peace and understanding in the world.
The basis of the letter is the shared belief of both Muslims and Christians in the principles of love of one God and love of the neighbour. The authors hope that the recognition of this common ground will provide the followers of both faiths a shared understanding that will serve to diffuse tensions around the world.
The letter from 138 Muslim scholars also marks an historic achievement in terms of Islamic unity as it brings together Muslims from around the world, and from both the Sunni and Shia, Salafi and Sufi traditions.
The letter has been received by the heads of all Christian denominations, including Pope Benedict XVI as head of the Catholic Church and the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, as head of the Anglican church. The global heads of the Lutheran and Methodist churches in America, leaders of the Orthodox Church and Eastern Churches have also been addressed, as have “leaders of Christian churches, everywhere”.
The driving force in the creation of the letter is the Royal Academy, based in Jordan. Last year, members of the Royal Academy organised and sent an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI from 38 Muslim scholars.
Responding to the letter, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams said he welcomed the letter as “a clear reaffirmation of the potential for further development of existing dialogue and common action between Christians and Muslims and other faith communities”.
He added: “The theological basis of the letter and 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.”
The Archbishop said that the letter’s emphasis on the fundamental importance of belief in the unity of God and love of neighbour is welcome. He said: ”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.”
Dr Williams continued: “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, Rt Rev Richard Chartres has also issued a statement welcoming the proposal.
He said: “Such a conversation could be a significant contribution to building the peace between the billions who follow a spiritual path in their lives” and the significance of this “‘open letter and call’ should not be underestimated.”