Muslim Scholars Seek Reconciliation With Christians

It is called A Common Word Between Us and You. It is a letter, signed last month by 138 Muslim scholars from around the world and addressed to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders. It stresses the importance of finding common ground between the two faiths. Priscilla Huff reports.

From Friday prayers in a mosque in Iran to Sunday services in a church in middle America, different days and places of worship divide Islamic and Christian believers.

Conflict between Islam and Christianity has existed for centuries.

And the al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, and the U.S.-led response in Afghanistan and Iraq have strained relations even more. Now, representatives from Islam are hoping a piece of paper can begin to resolve the differences.

Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America explains the genesis of the letter.  “The letter begins with a verse from the Koran. It says, go ahead and invite your brothers and sisters from the people of the book, that is, the Jews and Christians, and emphasize – unite – on your common word.”

The letter emphasizes what Islam and Christianity have in common — belief in only one God, love of one’s neighbor.

“This gives hope, actually, because when you hear everyday, the news of death and destruction in the name of religion, then people become so disappointed, so dismayed,” he says. “They wonder if there is going to be an end to this kind of tragedies, this kind of demonizing of religion.”

The Episcopal Bishop of Washington, John Bryson Chane, says finding common ground is critical at a time when the world is at risk.

“I think we’re looking at core teachings from these three great Abrahamic traditions that have been quite silent on these issues but are now starting to emerge, based on the fact that anybody can push a button and destroy a whole population, or for that matter the global community in a matter of minutes. I mean, that’s not good Christian stewardship, that’s not good Islamic stewardship, it’s not good Jewish stewardship.”

Bishop Chane says the issues facing the world are too complex for everyday politics –

from Pakistan’s political crisis, to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear development, to the debate in the American presidential campaign about the armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Politicians and diplomacy have been divisive and are clearly not capable of handling the complexities that are now part of the unrest and the violence that is very much part of the Middle East and other parts of the world. Therefore one needs to take a look at the role of religion, its part in being a player in these negotiations,” says the bishop.

Many within academic and religious circles are counting on the document to initiate a dialogue between Islam and Christianity.

John Esposito is a professor of religion at Georgetown University. He told us, “This is an initiative that I think has some traction. And I know, there’s a desire on the part of a critical mass of Muslims who want to move forward, but to be quite frank, I’m concerned about the Christian leadership, and it’s how the Christian leadership responds that will affect how this moves forward.”

Together, Christians and Muslims make up more than half of the world’s population. The authors of A Common Word say they fear if these two religious communities cannot be at peace, the world cannot be at peace.