A letter the world’s Muslim leaders sent to Pope Benedict and the heads of other Christian churches this week could herald a breakthrough in interfaith relations, said professor Mahan Mirza of Chico State University’s department of religious studies.
“It delights me,” Mirza said of the letter that was made public Thursday.
Signed by 138 of the most senior Muslim leaders from all branches of Islam, the lengthy letter is a brilliantly constructed argument as to why Islam is an essential member of the Abrahamic tradition, along with Judaism and Christianity, Mirza said.
It’s clear that Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God and that the three faiths are closely related, he said. Recently, however, a trend has developed to separate Islam from the other two Abrahamic faiths — to see it as something quite different.
The letter from the Muslim leaders aims to counter this trend. It was addressed to the pope, the head of the Anglican church, leaders of the Lutheran and Methodist churches, the Orthodox Church and “leaders of Christian churches everywhere,” stated a news release sent out on behalf of the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, an organization based in Jordan that promotes awareness of Islam.
“With over half of the world’s population consisting
of Muslims and Christians,” the release states, “the letter’s authors believe that meaningful world peace can only come from peace and justice between these two faiths.”
A speech by Pope Benedict in September of 2006 is described in news accounts as one reason for the letter’s being written.
In that speech, the pope angered many Muslims when he quoted a medieval text that linked Islam with violence. When a worldwide furor over his speech erupted, Benedict said he didn’t intend a slur against Islam.
In October of last year, 38 Muslim leaders wrote to the pope, responding to his speech and accepting his “expression of sorrow” over the offense his comment caused.
This week’s letter was sent on the one-year anniversary of the letter from the 38 leaders to the pope.
The second letter focuses on “the shared belief of both Muslims and Christians in the principles of love of one God and love of the neighbor,” the release said.
Mirza, who read the letter on the Internet Thursday, said it offers compelling proof that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
People ought to read the letter for themselves, he said. “It’s quite remarkable how they do it — it’s a fantastic read.”
Mirza said the Quran itself offers evidence that Jews, Christians and Muslims share a faith in the same God. It declares, “Say we believe in God and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes and that which Moses and Jesus received and that which the prophets received from the Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered.”
Mirza is in his first year of teaching at Chico State. Originally from Pakistan, and a Muslim himself, he came to the United States in 1992. He studied at Hartford Seminary, which was started by Congregational ministers in 1833 and has the oldest Christian-Muslim relations program in the country. Recently, he earned his doctorate from Yale University.
Mirza is teaching courses on Islam and on the three monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Next semester, he’ll give a class on the Quran.
He is married and has three sons.
This week’s letter from the Islamic leaders was delivered just as Muslims are about to celebrate the festival of Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, which commemorates Muhammad’s inspired receiving of the Quran.
“It seems to be just a happy coincidence that the anniversary for the first letter falls on this year’s Eid, which is a time for joy and celebration,” Mirza said.
Staff writer Larry Mitchell can be reached at 896-7759 or [email protected].