It is time that Muslims and Christians recognized just how similar they are — the fate of the world depends on it. That’s the message being sent out today by 138 Muslim leaders and scholars in an open letter to their Christian counterparts saying that world peace hinges on greater understanding between the two faiths.
The 29-page letter is addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and 25 other Christian leaders. Organized by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, Jordan, it’s the first time so many high-profile Muslims have come together to make such a public call for peace. Launched first in Jordan this morning, and then in other countries over the course of the day, the letter’s big unveiling takes place at a joint press conference by Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia, and John Esposito, Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. By pointing out the similarities between the Bible and the Koran, between Christianity and Islam, the letter’s signatories are hoping to convince Christian leaders to “come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions.”
Quoting from both holy texts, the letter notes that both Christianity and Islam require believers to believe in only one god and insists that it is the same god. It points out that both religions are founded on goodwill, not violence, and that many of the fundamental truths that were revealed to Muhammad are the same ones that came to other Christian and Jewish prophets.
Because of this, the letter says, Muslims are duty-bound by the Koran to treat believers of other faiths with respect and friendship — and that Muslims expect the same in return. “As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them — as long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes.”
With Christians making up one-third of the world’s population and Muslims making up one-fifth, the letter says that finding common ground, “is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders.” Is it, instead, essential for the survival of humanity. “The relationship between these two religious communities [is] 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. 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.”
This letter comes on the anniversary of another open letter to the Pope last year, which was signed by 38 Muslims clerics and was response to a speech on Islam in which the Pope quoted a medieval text saying it is a violent religion: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Pope later apologized, saying that he had only used the quote — an opinion which he said he doesn’t share — to condemn violence motivated by religion and to highlight the need for exchange and understanding between the faiths.
Now Islamic leaders have come together again — in greater numbers — to try and make that happen. Ending the letter with a quote from the Koran, they write: “So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works.” Surely that’s a sentiment people of all faiths can share.