We Must Seek Common Ground

Since 9/11 anti-Muslim feeling has spread like a wildfire in our nation. “Jihad” is often considered as the way of all Muslims. Sadly this is especially true among many Christians — followers of Jesus, who lived and died to lead all persons to the Way, the Truth and the Life. I hope that the following story, with the help of Jane Lampman of the Christian Science Monitor, will help to change that.

The story begins in 2005 in Amman, Jordan. Muslim leaders, 138 of them, from across the world began to meet over the course of two years. Their aim was to stop the destructive intolerance within their own faith. They were and are working hard to foster internal peace by stopping some of their number from labeling others as “deviant” or even “not a Muslim” at all.

Further, during these two years, these Muslim teachers and leaders of Sunni and Shi’a persuasion began to admit their fears that tensions between Muslims and Christians could well destroy our world. In response, they put together a letter calling for dialogue with Christians. The letter is called “A Common Word between Us and You,” (abridged copy at http://www.acommonword.com).

Its closing words explain the seriousness of the leaders’ intentions: Recognizing that Christianity and Islam make up 55 percent of the world population, they warn, “If Muslims and Christians (intertwined everywhere as never before) are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. … With the terrible weaponry of the modern world … no side can unilaterally win a conflict. …Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world is perhaps at stake.”

The letter says, “the basis for peace and understanding already exists … part of … the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of One God and love of the neighbour.” With remarkable understanding they bring these the Islamic and Christian texts together. Passages where Jesus calls for love of God and neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40) are paralleled with the Qur’an’s: “Invoke the name of the Lord and devote thyself to Him with a complete devotion,” (Al-Muzzammil,73:8), and “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself,” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Iman, 67-1, Hadith No. 45).

The document also warns Muslims everywhere: “Justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part of love of neighbor.” And to those who “relish conflict and destruction, our very eternal souls are at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace.” This reminds me of the call to Christians in Hebrews 12:14-15: “Pursue peace with everyone. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.”

Many Christians have been responding positively; 300 Christian leaders signed a full New York Times page affirming the letter in November. This summer 100 leaders from each faith, from across the world, plan to meet in New England to begin the dialogue. Part of the Mennonite Church USA response was, “With you, we embrace the goal of loving our neighbors, while also recognizing that both Muslims and Christians often fall short of the ideal. We recognize that even today in too many situations … Muslims are threatened by Christians, and in other situations … Christians in Muslim regions experience restrictions and sometimes hostility. Let us repent of such actions,” (The Mennonite, Nov. 20).

I offer a few other suggestions: Use this information for discussion groups; urge leaders to study the information; pray for the summer Muslim-Christian dialogue. The U.S. has refused Muslims visas in recent years. Come to understand that so-called “Islamic terrorists” are not like “unbalanced individuals … on shooting sprees” as Dan Sernoffsky recently wrote. Most Muslims have never subscribed to such movements. And the above “Common Word between Us and You” underlines this by warning Muslims to not “relish conflict and destruction at the cost of their eternal souls.”

Alex Awad, a United Methodist missionary and pastor in East Jerusalem says that those Palestinians who become radical Muslim fighters do not join from religious motivation primarily. Rather, these fighters join out of their more than 50 years of frustrated peaceful attempts to gain back their homeland from Israel, (The Mennonite, Nov. 19, 2002). Consequently, while their farmland and homes continue to be bulldozed for building a dividing wall, they choose to violently sacrifice their lives, hoping to win justice for their people and land. Civilian lives are lost. But a Jewish peace group has posters available that say: “Israel’s siege of Gaza slowly starves 1.5 million people” (www.Jewish_Voice_For_Peace).

This post-Easter season, let us take similar, generous risks as our Muslims friends have taken in reaching out for peace with the Christian world. They were wise not to mention in their document the grievous injustices caused by extravagant U.S. financial and military involvement in Israel, which many of us believe is the key reason “Islamic terrorism” grows. May the power of the Resurrection empower us to gently yet persistently confront this major cause of violence and of Muslim-Christian distrust.


Shearer is an ordained minister in the Mennonite Church and a licensed professional counselor in North Lebanon.