WASHINGTON – Prominent Muslims have extended an olive branch to Christians around the world on the eve of Eid Al Fitr, the feast marking the end of Islam’s month-long fast of Ramadan.
In an open letter addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, to the heads of all Christian churches, and to Christians in general, prominent Muslim leaders stated that “the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.”
“An historic event,” is how John L. Esposito, a professor at Georgetown University and director of the center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, described the unprecedented global initiative by Muslim leaders in reaching out to the Christian world.
A communiqué issued on behalf of 138 of the world’s most-senior Muslim leaders – including several prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood – refers to the letter that was sent to the heads of all Christian churches as “a dramatic-and-groundbreaking display of international solidarity.”
In this unprecedented document, the world’s most-senior Muslim leaders state that Muslims and Christians share the same belief in the principles of love of one God and love of one’s neighbor.
The Georgetown scholars point to the similarities between the Holy Koran and the Holy Bible:
In speaking of God’s Unity, the Koran says: “He is God, the One! God, the Self-Sufficient, Besought of all!” (Al Ikhlas, 112:1-2).
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ said: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Mark 12:29-31)
What all these versions, thus, have in common – despite the language differences between the Hebrew Old Testament, the original words of Jesus Christ in Aramaic, and the actual transmitted Greek of the New Testament – is the command to love God fully with one’s heart and soul, and to be fully devoted to Him.
“If you look at the history of Islam and the Muslim world this is really the first time in history that we have an initiative where Muslims have collectively come together and agreed to what binds them theologically to Christians,” said Esposito.
“Everyone is interested in political-and-economic contentions, difficulties, struggles, wars,” said Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University during a press conference marking the occasion Thursday.
The differences between Christians and Muslims, say the theological experts, is a difference of theology rather than politics.
“Without a theological solution, without a certain sense of accepting the other … all other solutions are expediency and, sooner or later, they wither away,” said Nasr.
“Post 9/11, a common question is: where are the moderate Muslim voices?” said Esposito. “This historic document is a crystal-clear message of peace and tolerance from 138 Muslim leaders from across the Islamic world,” said Esposito.
The authors of the letter believe that, with over-half of the world’s population consisting of Muslims and Christians, meaningful world peace can only come from peace and justice between those two faiths.
The signatories of the document, who include some of the world’s most-influential Islamic leaders and thinkers, are calling for tolerance, understanding, and moderation. What is unique in this approach is not only the Muslim address to Christians, but also the fact that it marks “an historic achievement in terms of Islamic unity.”
What is significant, in this case, is that this initiative groups Muslims right across the spectrum, both Sunnis and Shiites, together with different schools of thought within those two branches of Islam.
The driving force behind this letter and a previous one a year ago has been the Royal Academy of Jordan, an international-and-nongovernmental Islamic institute headquartered in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
Similar statements were released in various cities around the world at about the same time.