A Common Word Between Us and You

I paid almost no attention to last year’s flap over Pope Benedict’s speech in Regensburg that offended so many Muslims; I gathered only that some fairly esoteric reference to a medieval emperor had set off rioting. However, Pat O’Donnell has brought to my attention an open letter from 138 Muslim leaders to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders. The open letter, entitled, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” represents an expansion upon the response that a smaller number of Muslim scholars made to Pope Benedict in October 2006, one month after Regensburg. The latest letter deserves more notice than it seems to be receiving.

First, since I know very little about Islam, and almost none of it theological, I found the basic argument of the document quite interesting:

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 authors take scriptural teachings on love of God and love of neighbor that are familiar to most Christians and pair them up with corresponding teachings in Islam that were certainly unfamiliar to me and probably would be to most Christians.

Second, although any number of Muslim scholars have publicly criticized al Qaeda and the like on theological grounds — essentially calling them bad Muslims — it has never been clear to me where the “mainstream” of Islamic thought was. The official website for “A Common Word” states that its 138 signatories include “scholars, clerics, and intellectuals” from “every denomination and school of thought in Islam” and from “[e]very major Islamic country or region in the world.” What do they say about religious toleration and religious violence?

Muslims, Christians and Jews should be free to each follow what God commanded them, and not have ‘to prostrate before kings and the like’; for God says elsewhere in the Holy Qur’an: Let there be no compulsion in religion…. (Al-Baqarah, 2:256). This clearly relates to the Second Commandment and to love of the neighbour of which justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part.

This implies a challenge:

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).

So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.

In the Christian tradition, I believe the appropriate response is, “Amen.”


9 Responses to “A Common Word Between Us and You”

  1. Douglas Karr Says:

    Thanks for posting this. It is, indeed, sad that it has not gotten the attention it deserves with the media. I’m not surprised, though.

  2. benthegreen Says:

    I have a similar lack of knowledge about Islam, but I also found the letter to be a cause for hope and a source of joy.

  3. darvish Says:

    Amen! I have also just posted on A Common Word

  4. thelaymansjournal Says:

    Most people don’t realize the similarities between Christianity and Islam. It is a shame mainstream Christians are more or less taught to hate Islam without ever opening the Qur’an (Koran) and learning about it. As I understand the two religions the biggest difference is simply the concept of the trinity. Mainstream Christianity makes a big deal out of this concept which became doctrine late in the 4th century. Islam rejects it. There are Christian “denominations” or “sects” that also reject it.
    I have read that this is the reason Islam exists in that the original Christian church was unitarian, but after Christ’s crucifixion the church either became infused with proselytizers who wanted to convert people so bad that they began to adopt pagan concepts into Christianity just to lure people in or the pagan’s infiltrated the Christian church purposefully in order to “divide and conquer” you might say. Either way the pagan ideals became a part of Christianity and if my memory serves me correctly it was in the 8th century when Muhammad “founded” Islam to restore the church to its original teachings. This is where the conflict began between Christianity and Islam.
    Now both Christianity and Islam have become more or less taken over by pagan principles and neither (for the most part) retain their original teachings, but really, they share a great deal in common. Islam is in fact, in a basic sense, a branch of Christianity. A large percentage of Christians have no clue of this.
    Please study the subject on your own to confirm what I have said as my memory is not very sharp, but this is my current understanding. Perhaps others who are more scholarly will comment.

  5. Mark Grannis Says:

    Thanks for writing, laymansjournal. I’m not sure I qualify as “more scholarly,” but I know that some of the bona fide scholars who follow this blog may be reluctant to wade into a discussion of Christianity’s relationship with Islam, not to mention a discussion of the differences between “the original Christian church” and the church “after Christ’s crucifixion.”

    I think it might be helpful to distinguish two very different lines of argument about religious toleration. One would be that although the world’s great religions teach somewhat different things about the nature of God and his creation, we also have points in common, including the proposition that we should love each other and that freedom of conscience must be respected. A second line of argument would be that the points of similarity between religions are more significant than the points of difference, and all of it is a little shaky anyhow, and if the differences are essentially within the margin of error then it certainly can’t make any sense to fight over it. Both arguments are compatible with the idea that we can’t know everything about God — and consequently, that we need to show humility about our own views and respect for the views of others. But in the first argument, peace is a command of both religions; in the second argument, peace is a default position that results from neither religion having much authority to command.

    I don’t know enough about Islam to know exactly where I get off the trolley on the points of agreement between Islam and Christianity. I am certain, however, that I get off the trolley well before the point at which we create false consensus by undermining the epistemological basis for one or both faiths. I would be surprised if the 138 signatories of “A Common Word” disagreed.

  6. thelaymansjournal Says:

    I would suggest further study into Islam and Christianity as well. Buy a Qur’an and read it. You may be very surprised and perhaps even delighted in some cases.
    I will admit that I have never completely read the Qur’an or the Bible, but I have read a good deal of both and enjoy them thoroughly. The Qur’an can be a bit of a hard read as there is much repetition, but if you can get past that it is great with exception to a few confusing scriptures.

  7. jared Says:

    This is the begining of the end of this chapter. Failed recognition of this letter on the part of those to whom it is addressed will cause an even greater widening of the rift between these two God worshiping faiths. It is arguably the most importiant religious document drafted by men, EVER. An attempt, to unify 3.4 billion souls under two simple commandments. I hope the christians place their response on the same shelf, with the same reocognitions, and we will have the two most importiant documents drafted by men ever!


  8. Rod Apfelbeck Says:

    I have to take exception with thelaymansjournal that, “mainstream Christians are more or less taught to hate Islam”. I don’t think this is true at all. If anything, we’ve been blissfully unaware of it. My “introduction” to it was when I read Malcom X’s autobiography in my 30’s. Obviously the next generation does not have the luxury of my ignorance. I think it is fair to say that “mainstream Christians” have a profound lack of knowledge about Islam. Although as soon as you read some of Stephen Prothero’s “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn’t”, it’s clear that we’re ignorant even of Christianity.

  9. thelaymansjournal Says:

    Perhaps if I revised my comment to read “Baptists are more or less taught to hate Islam” it would be more fitting. I was raised Baptist and they very much do teach people to hate Islam and then they try to kick dirt over their tracks by saying comments like “I love Muslims, but I hate their religion.” I found myself speaking like this and then I realized how wrong the Baptists were. I left that religion of malice and evil behind years ago. I am thankful my eyes were opened and I was released from that bondage.

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