A powerful mainstream movement launched by 138 Muslim scholars and religious leaders will issue a unique Christmas message to the Christian world warning against those Islamic extremists who “relish conflict and destruction”.
The group seeks to strengthen what it sees as mainstream Islam against extremist groups. “The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake,” the group cautioned.
The message, described as historic by prominent Christian theologians, is intended to push forward the first steps of high-level dialogue between the two faiths, which will also involve Pope Benedict XVI.
Stressing the sanctity of every individual life, the group calls for healing and peace in a suffering world.
The Christmas letter, according to its Muslim authors, will thank Christians who responded positively to the first letter of the 138 that was published on October 11 calling for dialogue with the Christian world.
The 138 include senior Islamic figures from across the Arab world and beyond, and from the diverse strands of Sunni, Shia and Sufi Islam. The grand muftis of Egypt, Russia, Bosnia and Kosovo have signed, as well as two ayatollahs from Iran, and European and American scholars.
Their appeal for dialogue was immediately welcomed by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and other leading Christian figures, culminating in a letter signed by 300 and published in the New York Times on November 18.
The Pope – who had deeply offended Muslims with a speech in 2006 when he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as saying the Prophet Mohammed had brought “things only evil and inhuman” – replied in late November, expressing his “deep appreciation” and inviting representatives of the 138 to the Vatican. However, the time he took in answering and the framework he offered for dialogue, with the emphasis on social and moral rather than theological issues, raised concerns among the 138.
Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, chairman of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute of Islamic Thought, has replied warmly to the Pope on behalf of the 138, accepting his invitation.
Elaborating on the Pope’s proposals for dialogue, Prince Ghazi also suggested three specific topics for discussion: respect for the dignity of every human being, an objective knowledge of both religions, and a commitment to promoting mutual respect among the younger generation.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007