The Achievements, by the Grace of God, of The ‘A Common Word’ Initiative During the first two Years since its launch, October 13th 2007 — October 13th 2009
(A) First Year: October 2007 — October 2008
Within the first year after its release, the ‘A Common Word’ Open Letter became the world’s leading interfaith dialogue initiative between Christians and Muslims specifically, unprecedented in its importance, scope and global ‘traction’.
Around 70 leading Christian figures responded to it in one form or another, including H.H. Pope Benedict XVI; H.B. the late Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexi II of Russia; the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams; Presiding Bishop of the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Mark Hanson; the President and General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reform Churches; the President of the World Baptist Alliance; Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia; the President of the World Council of Churches; the Council of Bishops of Methodist Churches; the Head of the World Evangelical Alliance; the Mennonite Church; Quaker leaders and a number of other Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs, Catholic Cardinals, Archbishops, Heads of National Churches, Heads of Theological Seminaries, well-known preachers, professors and leading Christian scholars of Islam. These responses were generally positive and friendly. For example, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, wrote the following in his response to ‘A Common Word’ of July 14th, 2008:
‘We find in it a hospitable and friendly spirit, expressed in its focus on love of God and love of neighbour – a focus which draws together the languages of Christianity and Islam, and of Judaism also …. Our belief is that only through a commitment to that transcendent perspective to which your letter points, and to which we also look, shall we find the resources for radical, transforming, non-violent engagement with the deepest needs of our world and our common humanity.’
Perhaps the most remarkable of these responses was an Open Letter published in the New York Times in November 2007 from over 300 leading US Evangelical and ‘Mainline’ leaders and Christian scholars written and organized by Professor Miroslav Volf and Yale Divinity School and entitled ‘Loving God and Neighbour Together’, and it led to the first major ‘A Common Word’ Conference held at Yale University in July 2008. In the meantime, the leading Muslim Scholars signing the initiative increased to over 300, with over 460 Islamic organizations and associations also endorsing it. A number of spontaneous local grass-roots and community-level Christian-Muslim initiatives of various kinds based on the Open Letter also sprung up all over the world in places as far apart as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Canada, South Africa, the USA, and Great Britain. ‘A Common Word’ also became the subject of a number of M.A. and M. Phil. dissertations in Western universities in various countries (including at Harvard University; the Theological Seminary at the University of Tübingen, Germany, and the Center for Studies of Islam in the UK), and it was studied also in various international interfaith conferences and gatherings including the World Economic Forum in Spring 2008. Thus over 500 news articles in English alone — carried by thousands of press outlets (not to mention countless ‘blogs’) — were written about ‘A Common Word’ in its first year. During that time it also became the central impetus behind the Wamp-Ellison Resolution in the US House of Representatives which passed in 2008, commending it. The year ended with a second major international interfaith conference based on the document co-hosted by Cambridge University, the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought and His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, held at Cambridge University and then at Lambeth Palace.
(B) Second Year: October 2008 — October 2009
‘A Common Word’ entered its Second Year as the basis of a very important conference in the Vatican: the first International Catholic-Muslim Forum, in November 2008, which was hosted by H.H. Pope Benedict XVI. Almost at the same time as this, the initiative was awarded Germany’s Eugen Biser Award of 2008 and the UK’s Association of Muslim Social ScientistBuilding Bridges Award of 2008. Thereafter, symposiums, lectures, workshops and conferences and other interfaith activities based upon ‘A Common Word’ spread endemically all over the world, spontaneously and without any co-ordination. These included the lectures and workshops in Cambridge University in February 2009; in Oman in March 2009; and in the Philippines; Richmond, Virginia; Egypt and Sudan over the course of 2009. Larger symposiums on ‘A Common Word’ were held also at the Mediterranean Dialogue of Cultures in November 2008; at the Brookings Institute in Qatar in January 2009; at Fuller Theological Seminary in May 2009; at ISNA in July 2009; and at Yale University again in September 2009. Full-blown conferences were held on ‘A Common Word’ in Portland, Oregon in March 2009; in the UAE and South Carolina simultaneously in March 2009 also; in Pakistan in April 2009, and in Australia in May 2009. Over the course of this second year a number of academic books and journals were dedicated to ‘A Common Word’: H.R.H. Prince Ghazi, Prof. Miroslav Volf and Merissa Yarrington edited a book on it for Eerdmans; another book was prepared by Professor Walid Ansary for Palgrave-Macmillan (to be released in 2010); Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding published an Occasional Paper on it entitled ‘A Common Word and the Future of Christian-Muslim Relations’; the journal Sophia in Washington DC dedicated an issue to it, as did the Beirut Theological Seminary; and in Jordan the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought issued a ‘White Paper’ booklet of all its most important texts. It was referred to also in many important gatherings or speeches including by Reverend Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the US and Canada, during the main sermon at the traditional Post-Inauguration Service at the National Cathedral for President Obama on January 21st, 2009; by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright during her testimony before the US Senate the following month, and by H.H. Pope Benedict XVI a number of times on May 8th and May 9th during His Holiness’s Holy Land Pilgrimage to Jordan. On Saturday May 9th during his address at the King Hussein State Mosque in Amman, H.H. Pope Benedict XVI said:
‘ …. and the more recent Common Word letter … echoed a theme consonant with my first encyclical: the unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbour, and the fundamental contradiction of resorting to violence or exclusion in the name of God (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 16)’.
In its second year, ‘A Common Word’ also yielded some practical steps and projects to ameliorate attitudes between Muslims and Christians: it was used by the NGO Habitat for Humanity as the basis for one of their joint projects; it became the inspiration (and part of the Charter) for a new high-level Forum and Foundation/Institute dedicated to improving Muslim-Christian ties (the ‘C-1’); it started to be taught in interfaith religious curricula in a number of universities including Cambridge University UK, and Georgetown University, Washington DC; a major documentary by 10,000 Films was produced about it in Arabic and in English in order to bring the initiative to a wider audience,God willing; a ‘sub-office’ of ‘A Common Word’ opened in Sohan, Islamabad dedicated to improving Muslim-Christian ties in Pakistan; and a joint Christian-Muslim religious reading list resource website was agreed to between a number of Christian and Muslim religious authorities in order that Christians may understand Muslims as Muslims understand themselves and vice versa.
Finally, at the end of the ‘A Common Word’s’ second year, on October 7th-8th 2009, Georgetown University and the Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, with the Royal Aal al-BaytInstitute for Islamic Thought’s Conference, held the fourth major conference on it entitled ‘A Common Word Between Us and You: A Global Agenda for Change’ with the specific aim of focusing on practical and actionable projects to assure peace and harmony between Muslims and Christians globally. At the same time the initiative was singled out for commendation by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2009 annual US Freedom of Religion Report, and it was also reportedly was apparently short-listed (together with the document’s author with Prince Ghazi of Jordan) for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
(Updated: November 2009)