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.”