Can Muslims and Christians work together to bring peace to the world?
That’s the question raised by A Common Word Between Us and You, a project supported by almost 300 Muslim clerics, scholars and intellectuals and more than 450 Islamic organizations.
The project has issued a letter to Christians around the world, inviting them to find common ground so that the two great religions can work towards peace.
“Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders,” the letter states. “Christianity and Islam are the largest and second-largest religions in the world and in history… together they make up more than 55 per cent of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world.”
If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the letter goes on to say, “the world cannot be at peace.”
For Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan, one of the architects behind the project, the effort is an “extended global handshake of religious goodwill, friendship and fellowship and consequently of inter-religious peace.”
The intent, he adds, is “simply to try to make peace between Muslims and Christians globally.”
The initiative takes its name from a verse in the Quran, which says: “O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. (Aal ‘Imran 3:64)
It goes on to quote the Prophet Muhammad, who said: “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself.”
It also invokes the Bible, quoting the words of Jesus in the book of Mark after he was asked to name the greatest commandment. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” he says. “This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
For organizers of A Common Word, these verses from the two holy books show that a “basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity.”
Despite differences, the letter says, “Islam and Christianity not only share the same Divine Origin and the same Abrahamic heritage, but the same two greatest commandments.”
More than 60 Christian groups and leaders have issued responses to the letter, including Pope Benedict XVI, who expressed his “deep appreciation for the gesture,” adding that “without downplaying our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can therefore look to what unites us.”
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, 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.”
Other groups that responded favourably included the Lutheran World Federation, the Baptist World Alliance, the United Methodist Church, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the U.S. National Council of Churches, and others.
Close to home, Mennonite Church Canada, which has its national office in Winnipeg, added its “voice of support and encouragement to your initiative… we bring to the celebration of the common word between us the firm conviction that Jesus’ command to love extends to all of humanity.”
Even U.S. President Barack Obama seemed to catch the spirit of the letter, invoking the Golden Rule during his speech about relations between the U.S. and Muslim world earlier this month in Cairo
“There’s one rule that lies at the heart of every religion — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us,” he said.
“This truth transcends nations and peoples — a belief that isn’t new,that isn’t black or white or brown, that isn’t Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It’s a faith in other people, and it’s what brought me here today.”
To be sure, there are differences to be resolved between Christians and Muslims — one letter won’t make them go away. But it’s a good start towards a journey that all of us surely want to take, towards greater peace and understanding.
As Scott Moreau, a professor of missions at Wheaton College, one of the most pre-eminent evangelical schools in the U.S., said of the letter: “We have to start somewhere, and at least opening the door is a critical first step.”
The letter can be found at A Common Word
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2009 A9