Muslim Letter Reaches Out To Christians

Message of peace, understanding got help from area priest


A letter from Islamic scholars and leaders to Christian leaders this week urging peace and understanding between the two faiths was crafted with help from an Episcopal priest in Richmond.

The Rev. William L. Sachs, who directs the Center for Reconciliation and Mission at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Grove Avenue, said he was among a small group of Christians in the United States and Europe who were asked to comment on the letter as it was being developed.

“In part, it’s a response to something we hear here — ‘Why doesn’t the moderate Muslim majority step forward?’” Sachs said yesterday.

“This is more than just defining moderate Islam. It’s an effort to seek common ground between Muslims and Christians,” said Sachs, whose involvement with the letter grew out of conversations he has had with Muslim leaders in the Middle East during visits to Oman, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt.

The letter, dated Oct. 13, emphasizes shared principles of both faiths — love of one God and love of one’s neighbor. It says finding common ground is of utmost importance.

“If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world, with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants,” the letter says. “Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.”

The letter carries 138 signatures, including those of Muslim leaders from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Bosnia and Sudan. Among the U.S. scholars is Caner Dagli, an assistant professor of religion at Roanoke College in Salem.

It comes a year after 38 Muslim scholars sent an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI in response to a speech he made that contained controversial remarks about Islam. It also coincides with the Eid al-Fitr celebrations that mark the end of Ramadan.

Imad Damaj, president of the Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs, said: “It’s a very positive thing that scholars from different faiths are talking to each other and saying, ‘Let’s have a greater understanding and mutual tolerance and respect.’

“These things don’t usually get publicized, but when you have a terrorist group that issues a threat, it dominates the airwaves,” Damaj said.

Muslims, Christians and Jews in the Richmond area already work together on various initiatives, he said. For the past three years, they have built Habitat for Humanity homes and met to discuss various topics. Muslim leaders also meet with the Most Rev. Francis X. DiLorenzo, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, and work with the diocese to lobby the General Assembly on issues such as poverty, immigration and peace.

These faith relationships allow diverse people to start developing friendships and knowing each other, he said.

At St. Stephen’s, the Center for Reconciliation and Mission is also working to help improve relations between Christians and Muslims close to home. The center has organized classes, discussions and speakers on the topic of Christian-Muslim relations.

“We took a small group to one of Richmond’s mosques before the start of Ramadan,” Sachs said. The group felt “the sense of welcome, the sense of warmth, the interest, excitement and the idea that clearly there’s so much we hold in common.”

The letter from Muslim leaders is important because one group of leaders is reaching out to another, said Damaj, of the Virginia Muslim Coalition.

“Leaders have to do it, but also communities have to do it,” he said.