“Peace be upon you,” began the Muslim message to Christians this year on the occasion of the birth of Christ. The message continued by citing the words of Christ reported in the Holy Qur’an: “Peace be upon Jesus Christ who says ‘Peace is upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am resurrected.’”
On 13 October 2007, 146 Muslim scholars (138 original signers and another eight who signed later), sent a letter entitled A Common Word to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders. These scholars represent a broad cross-section of the Islamic community, including Sunni and Shi’i Muslims from more than 40 countries, experts in Islamic jurisprudence and other religious sciences, business and political leaders, university presidents and professors, and practitioners of Sufi spirituality.
Positive responses to the letter came almost immediately from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Secretary-General of the World Council of Churches, and other Christian leaders. On 27 November, the Vatican Secretary of State responded in the name of Pope Benedict XVI, expressing the Pope’s “deep gratitude” for the Muslim initiative and inviting the Muslim scholars to send a delegation to Rome to carry forward a joint exploration of common elements between Christianity and Islam.
Now the Muslim scholars have carried forward the correspondence with a message which links the significance of the Christian celebration of Christ’s birth with the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice (Id al-Adha). The Muslim feast, which coincided with Christmas this year, commemorates Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son at God’s command and celebrates God’s substitution of a ram, thus refusing the sacrifice of Abraham’s son. In this, the Muslim scholars perceive “a Divine warrant and a most powerful social lesson for all the followers of the Abrahamic faiths, to ever do their utmost to save, uphold and treasure every single human life and especially the life of every single child.”
The Muslim scholars expressed their gratitude toward the many Christians around the world who responded positively to the invitation to come to “a common word” between the followers of the two religions.
The message concludes with a prayer for the New Year. “May the coming year,” state the Muslim scholars, “be one in which the sanctity and dignity of human life is upheld by all.” The scholars call upon all, Muslim and Christian, to “humble repentance before God, and mutual forgiveness within and between communities.”
For over 30 years now, the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has sent a greeting and message to Muslims on the occasion of the Feast of Breaking the Fast (Id al-Fitr) at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, but this is the first time that Muslims have sent a joint message to Christians on the occasion of Christmas.
ZY03913.1473 November 30, 2007 46 EM-lines (524 words)
Father Tom Michel, member of the Jesuits’ Indonesian province, was head of the Office for Islam of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue for 13 years, from 1981 to 1994. The office was formerly called the Secretariat for Non-Christians. Currently the Jesuits’ secretary for interreligious dialogue, he was for several years executive secretary of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.