On October 13, the end of Ramadan, 138 Muslim religious leaders wrote to leaders of the world’s major Christian communities. This letter appeared one year after 38 Muslim scholars wrote to Pope Benedict XVI to challenge remarks he made in Regensburg, Germany in September 2006. (See my reflections on this event here.) The new missive, entitled “A Common Word between Us and You,” asserts that since “Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population,” world peace depends upon peace and justice between Christians and Muslims. Drafted by Muslims from various branches of Islam and from around the world, this letter conveys to Christians both common ground between the Abrahamic traditions as well as a common agreement among mainstream Muslims about the meaning of Islam itself. “If you look at the history of Islam and the Muslim world,” said John Esposito, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, “this is really the first time that we have an initiative where Muslims have collectively come together and agreed to what binds them to Christians.”
Divided into three parts, the letter follows a simple trajectory: all three faiths emphasize love of God and love of neighbor, and therefore, we share what the Qur’an calls “a common word:”
This letter’s quotations from the Qur’an help westerners unacquainted with the Qur’an and Islam to see the tradition’s main teachings as they are understood by devout and learned Muslims, and the scriptural roots for these tenets. Because of this common commitment to love of God and neighbor, the Muslim leaders “say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them—so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes …” The authors “invite Christians to consider Muslims not against and thus with them,” in accordance with their reading of Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50: “…he who is not against us is on our side.”
The letter concludes with a passage from the Qur’an that may surprise and encourage many Christians. It proclaims that the Qur’an confirms preceding scriptures and that “For each [tradition or community] We have appointed a law and a way. Had God willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works” (Al-Ma’idah, 5:38).
In these words, God, through the Prophet Muhammad, challenges us to accept plurality and “compete,” not through nuclear proliferation but through proliferation of justice, mercy, peace, and love. By our fruits we will be known.
We can only hope that Christians around the world, in our daily lives and through our appointed representatives will respond to this letter in words and deeds that promote hope and the intention to rise to the challenge to vie in virtue, not destruction. In my naiveté, I was shocked to learn only recently that some Christian Zionists believe in war, not peace: the war of the End Time that, they believe, will usher in the Kingdom of God. We hope that as we deepen our understanding of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we will renounce all such claims from any of the three traditions, understanding that, as the authors of “A Common Word between Us” insist, “our very eternal souls are all … at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony.”
(For excellent and informative reflections
on Christian Zionism, see Response
Magazine, April 2007, Vol. 39, No.
4, published by United Methodist Women,
475 Riverside Dr. #1501, New York, NY 10115
and “Christian Zionism and Peace
in the Holy Land,” published in Peace
Office Newsletter by the Mennonite
Central Committee, July-September 2005,
Vol. 35, No. 3, here.)
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