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Islam and peace

A letter from 138 Muslim scholars to
Christians, at the end of Ramadan, 2007


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Background:

One hundred and thirty eight prominent Muslim scholars from every sect within Islam wrote a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, to Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, and  Reformed churches or councils, and to the World Council of Churches. It was also directed to "leaders of Christian churches, everywhere." It is titled: "A Common Word Between Us and You," and was issued at the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month celebrating the delivery of the Qur'an to humanity. The signatories promote peace between Islam and Christianity, and expressed a desire for Christians "to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions." 1

The official website of "A Common Word" states:

"Never before have Muslims delivered this kind of definitive consensus statement on Christianity. Rather than engage in polemic, the signatories have adopted the traditional and mainstream Islamic position of respecting the Christian scripture and calling Christians to be more, not less, faithful to it."

"It is hoped that this document will provide a common constitution for the many worthy organizations and individuals who are carrying out interfaith dialogue all over the world. Often these groups are unaware of each other, and duplicate each other's efforts. Not only can A Common Word Between Us give them a starting point for cooperation and worldwide co-ordination, but it does so on the most solid theological ground possible: the teachings of the Qur'an and the Prophet r, and the commandments described by Jesus Christ u in the Bible. Thus despite their differences, Islam and Christianity not only share the same Divine Origin and the same Abrahamic heritage, but the same two greatest commandments."
2

The full letter is 29 pages long. 3 It was issued by Jordan's Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought after its annual convention during September in Amman.  They also issued an abridged text which appears below.


Extract: 'Without justice between us there can be no peace'

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

A Common Word between Us and You (Summary and Abridgement)

Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world's population.

Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.

The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour.

These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity.

The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.

The following are only a few examples: Of God's Unity, God says in the Holy Qur'an: "Say: He is God, the One! / God, the Self-Sufficient Besought of all!" (Al-Ikhlas, 112:1-2).

Of the necessity of love for God, God says in the Holy Qur'an: "So invoke the Name of thy Lord and devote thyself to Him with a complete devotion." (Al-Muzzammil, 73:8).

Of the necessity of love for the neighbour, the Prophet Muhammad said: "None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself."

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ said: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. / And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment./And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31)

In the Holy Qur'an, God Most High enjoins Muslims to issue the following call to Christians (and Jews - the People of the Scripture):

"Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him)." (Aal 'Imran 3:64)

The words "we shall ascribe no partner unto Him" relate to the Unity of God, and the words "worship none but God", relate to being totally devoted to God.

Hence they all relate to the First and Greatest Commandment.

According to one of the oldest and most authoritative commentaries on the Holy Qur'an the words "that none of us shall take others for lords beside God" mean "that none of us should obey the other in disobedience to what God has commanded".

This relates to the Second Commandment because justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part of love of the neighbour.

Thus in obedience to the Holy Qur'an, we as Muslims invite Christians to come together with us on the basis of what is common to us, which is also what is most essential to our faith and practice: the Two Commandments of love. 1


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Excerpts from the full letter:

  • "Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world's population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians."

    "The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity."
  • "If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world's inhabitants. Our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake."
  • "As Muslims, we 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."
  • And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony. God says in the Holy Qur'an:

"Lo! God enjoineth justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbiddeth lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorteth you in order that ye may take heed" (Al Nahl, 16:90).

Jesus Christ said:

"Blessed are the peacemakers..." (Matthew 5:9), and also: "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? "(Matthew 16:26). 2


Reactions to the letter:

  • The Guardian Unlimited news source commented:
"The authors' approach is one that can be expected to appeal to Pope Benedict, whose papacy has seen a shift in the Vatican's attitude to dialogue with the Islamic world. The Pope views contacts with Muslims as urgent and essential. But he has also signaled his impatience with the polite exchanges between theologians that have characterized the dialogue so far. Instead, what he has privately suggested is an 'ethical dialogue' in which the aim would be to single out principles that both sides share, and then try to build on those."

"There are two main items on the Pope's agenda: the use of religion in the Muslim world to justify violence; and what is known as reciprocity, a codeword for granting Christians in Muslim countries the same freedoms as Muslims enjoy in the west." 1
  • Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. He stated:
"The theological basis of the letter and its call to respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another are indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world, especially where Christians and Muslims live together. It is particularly important in underlining the need for respect towards minorities in contexts where either Islam or Christianity is the majority presence. ... The call should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries and I shall endeavor ... to do my part in working for the righteousness which this letter proclaims as our common goal." 1
  • Tony Blair, the former prime minister of England, said:
"This is the only way, in the modern world, to make sense of different history and culture, so that, instead of defining ourselves by reference to difference, we learn to recognize the values we share and define a shared future."
  • Simon Jenkins, a commentator for the Times Online does not see a future global struggle between Islam and Christianity threatening the survival of the world. He criticized the letter:

"The chief threat to world security at present lies in the capacity of tiny groups of political Islamists to goad the West into a rolling military retaliation. Extremists on each side feed off the others' frenzied scenarios so as to garner money and political support for their respective armies of the night. Each sees the other as a cosmic menace and abandons communal tolerance and peaceful diplomacy to counter it. The authors of this letter would be better employed vetting their own blood-curdling mullahs and madrasahs than in writing platitudes to the Pope."

Many readers of Times Online were not impressed by Jenkins' comments. 4


Dr Rowan Williams responded to this letter with one of his own: "A Common Word for the Common Good," issued on 2008-JUL-15. 5

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Riazat Butt & John Hooper, "Conflict between religions threatens future of the world, Muslim leaders tell Pope," The Guardian Unlimited, 2007-OCT-12, at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/
  2. "A Common Word" website is at: http://www.acommonword.com/ They have links to responses from Christian leaders, Jewish leaders, and the media.
  3. The full text of "A Common Word Between Us and You." is online at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  4. Simon Jenkins, "The biggest threat to the West lies within itself, not with Islam," Times Online, 2007-OCT-14, at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/
  5. Rowan Williams, Text of "A Common Word for the Common Good," 2008-JUL-15, at: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/ This is a DOC file.  It is also available in PDF format at: http://www.acommonword.com/

Site navigation:

Home pageIslam > here

Home page > World Religions > Islam > here

Home pagePeace > here

Home pageSpiritual topics > Peace > here


Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2007-OCT-16
Latest update: 2007-OCT-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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