Muslim Scholars Appeal to Christian Scholars for Dialogue and Peace - “A Common Word”

Sheila Musaji (updated version)

Posted Oct 29, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Muslim Scholars Appeal to Christian Scholars for Dialogue and Peace on Eve of Eid

by Sheila Musaji

last updated 11-29-2007

On the eve of Eid al Fitr at the end of Ramadan, 138 Muslim scholars from all over the world representing both Sunni and Shia, Salafi and Sufi, and all of the madhabs (schools of thought) have signed and sent out a letter entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You” to 25 Christian leaders calling for peace and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims for the sake of the world.  The letter was addressed to the Pope, the Orthodox Patriarchs, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the heads of the world alliances of the Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and Reformed churches.

This is a truly an important document, and Insh’Allah (if God is willing) will be a call for peace that will resonate with both Muslims and Christians.  The diversity and eminence of the signatories of this letter requesting dialogue and peace can only strengthen the resolve of the majority of the world’s Muslims to continue standing against extremism, and also these well respected scholars now provide a unified entity that can engage in the necessary dialogue.  This is a Muslim voice that is loud and clear and beautifully represents mainstream Islam.  This letter clearly undermines the position of Muslim extremists and also undermines the propoganda of those who have refused to hear the Muslim voices against extremism that have been attempting for some time to gain the world’s attention.

“For centuries there have been theological contentions between Christianity and Islam that have had vast political implications. As there is so much need for mutual understanding and accord, it is essential to provide a solution to these contentions through deeper appreciation and comprehension of the position of the other,” said Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University and President of the Foundation of Traditional Studies. “This document, prepared on the basis of profound knowledge of Islam and the best of intentions to extend a hand of friendship to Christianity, is signed by major scholars across the spectrum of Islamic thought. It is a very important step taken by Muslims to bring about better understanding between themselves and their Christian brothers and sisters, thereby assisting in that crucial task of creating harmony among religions and peoples, the task to which all those who are seriously concerned with the Future of humanity must dedicate themselves.” [11]

The signatories include a number of North American Muslim scholars ( Sheik Mohammed Nur Abdullah, Muzammil Siddiqui on behalf of the entire Fiqh Council of North America*, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Dr. Akbar Ahmed, Mr. Nihad Awad (CAIR), Dr. Caner Dagli, Prof. Dr. Alan Godlas, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, Shaykh Kabir Helminski,  Dr. Ibrahim Kalin, Prof. Dr. Hafiz Yusuf Z. Kavakci, Shaykh Dr. Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Dr. Joseph Lumbard, Prof. Dr. Ingrid Mattson (ISNA), Imam Zaid Shakir - members of the Fiqh Council of North America are:  Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Chairman, Shaikh Muhammad Nur Abdullah, Vice Chairman, Dr. Mohamad A. El Sheikh, Executive Director, Dr. Jamal Badawi, Executive Member, Dr. Ihsan Bagby, Executive Member, Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, Executive Member, Dr. Deina Abdelkader, Dr. Muhammad Akbar, Mrs. Zainab Alwani, Dr. Muneer Farid, Shaikh Muhammad Hanooti, Imam Yahya Hendi, Dr. Yusuf Z. Kavakci, Dr. Muhammad Qatanani, Imam Hassan Qazwini, Dr. Ahmad Shleibak, Dr. Salah Soltan, Dr. Ali Solaiman, Shaikh Abdur Rahman Khan, Executive Member )  as well as muftis and scholars from:  Algeria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia, Brunei, Canada, Caucusus, Chad, Croatia, Egypt, France, Gambia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, UK, and the Ukraine.

“This is a determination by mainstream, traditional Muslim scholars and authorities who cover all the branches of Islam, and that’s very unusual,” says David Ford, Director of the Inter-Faith Program at the University of Cambridge, who helped launch the letter in London this morning. “It is unapologetic — but not aggressive, not defensive — and is genuinely hospitable in all directions. It’s also modest. It doesn’t claim to be the final word; it’s ‘a’ common word.” [6]

The following summary is from the letter itself:

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 r 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.

Highlights from the letter as noted in articles published immediately after release:

“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,” the scholars wrote.  “Our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake,” they wrote, adding that Islam and Christianity already agreed that love of God and neighbor were the two most important commandments of their faiths.  [1]  Using quotations from the Bible and the Koran to bolster their message, the scholars warned that “our very eternal souls are ... at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony.” [2]  ““Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between leaders,” the Muslim scholars said. The faiths comprise more than half of humanity, “making the relationship between these communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world.”  [3]  The letter ends with a quote from the Koran — “Vie one with another in good works ... Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ” — before making a final plea for peace: “So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works.” Surely that’s a sentiment people of all faiths can share. [6]  “The Unity of God, the necessity of love for [God], and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.” [9]

Some early responses:

“Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, gave an immediate welcome to the letter, of clear relevance to a city so diverse, which has itself suffered the effect of religious extremism. He said, rightly, that such a move deserves a serious response by Christian leaders. He also made the important point that in any dialogue Judaism, the third pillar of the three monotheistic religions, should not be marginalised. By quoting the Torah as well as the New Testament, the signatories imply the debt of Islam, as well as Christianity, to Judaism. More explicit acknowledge-ment would do much to further world peace.” [4]

“Early responses indicate that Christian leaders are welcoming the “Common Word” with open arms. In Britain the bishop of London told NEWSWEEK that the letter would “invite” young people to view the world as “a place where dialogue is possible, instead of a place full of threats.” America’s evangelical Christian leaders are being similarly positive. Rod Parsley, senior pastor of the World Harvest Church in Ohio, says, “My prayer is that this letter begins a dialogue that results in Muslims and Christians uniting around the love we have for each other as God’s children.” [5]

Professor David Ford, director of the Cambridge Interfaith programme, said the letter was unprecedented. “If sufficient people and groups heed this statement and act on it then the atmosphere will be changed into one in which violent extremists cannot flourish.” [7]

The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the letter, and said: “The theological basis of the letter and its call to ‘vie with each other only in righteousness and good works; to respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill’, are indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world, and 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.  There is much here to study and to build on. The letter’s understanding of the unity of God provides an opportunity for Christians and Muslims to explore together their distinctive understandings and the ways in which these mould and shape our lives.    The call to respect, peace and goodwill should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries and I shall endeavour in this country and internationally, to do my part in working for the righteousness which this letter proclaims as our common goal.” The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, also responded to the letter, and said: “I welcome this open letter and the proposal for a global conversation between religious scholars which it contains. Such a conversation could be a significant contribution to building the peace between the billions who follow a spiritual path in their lives.”  [8]

“The Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella group for U.K. evangelicals, released a statement saying that “any approach that is seeking to draw different religions into dialogue for the purpose of peace must be encouraged.” Still, the statement warned, “genuine and important differences between the two faiths remain.” [12]

Scott Alexander, director of Catholic-Muslim Studies at the Catholic Theological Union, said “The significance of this initiative is that there is no one institution in the Muslim world that speaks for all or most Muslims the way there is in Roman Catholic Christianity,” Alexander said. “What is extraordinary and exciting is that the Muslim community is thinking of creative ways to organize itself so it can effectively participate in dialogue on a global scale.” [13]

“The letter, which quotes from both the Bible and the Koran, gives “compelling reasons why Muslims and Christians should work together,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.” [14]

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and president of the Lutheran World Federation, Geneva.  ” The letter attests to both the love of God and our shared heritage of true hospitality to one’s neighbor. These commandments convey prophetic witness for mutual and vital co-existence that Christians and Muslims must embrace in one another. The letter further references how the commands to love God and neighbor are linked “between the Qur’an, the Torah and the New Testament.” I encourage everyone everywhere to read the beauty of these passages found in the sacred texts of the Abrahamic faiths, which signify God’s vision for how and whom we love in a broken world. This common vision for Jews, Muslims, and Christians signifies fidelity and fellowship in a world where conflict offends our common heritage as children of God.”  [18]

Negative Reviews:

And, then of course there are those who want to see a clash of civilizations and insist on perverting and twisting even something so clear to make it appear that this plea for understanding is actually a Muslim threat.  They report this story with headlines such as “Muslim Clerics Warn Pope Over Criticizing Islam…”, “Muslims to Christians: make peace with us, or the survival of the world is at stake” & The Muslim Letter to the Pope  by Robert Spencer,  ‘Make peace with us – or we’ll kill you!’ by Hal Lindsay, Muslims Lie Re Peace Bridge to Lull Non-Muslims by J. Grant Swank, and Who Speaks for Islam? by John F. Cullinan,  Islamic Extremists Accept Peace Bid?, by J. Grant Swank, Anxious for Dhimmitude, by Mark D. Tooley, The New Islamists by Daniel Johnson, About that Muslim Letter to the Pope, Mona Charen, Islam’s Peace Offensive, Stephen Brown and Jamie Glazov, Robert Spencer says it’s “‘Absurd’ for Muslims to claim Islam on equal footing with Christianity”, Muslim letter to the Pope, Robert Spencer, Muslim Scholars’ Open Letter to Pope: A Pack of Lies and Deception, by MA Khan.  A Common Word Between Us and You is a Call for Conversion
by Ryan Evans.  Muslim Scholars’ Letter to Pope: Marking the Anniversary of Lies and Deception, by Jack Diamond




The Official Website of A Common Word

Full text of letter

Additional signatories:  Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago November 17, 2007, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Hanafi Scholar, November 6, 2007 , Professor Tariq Ramadan, Senior Research Fellow St Antony’s College (Oxford), President of the European think tank: European Muslim Network (EMN) in Brussels October 26, 2007, Mehrézia Labidi-Maiza, International Co-ordinator of Religious Women for Peace Network. and Member of the Inter-Religious Council leading the RfP organization October 18, 2007, Dr. Hisham A. Hellyer, Senior Research Fellow, University of Warwick, UK October 15, 2007, Amir Hussain, PhD, Associate Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles October 14, 2007, Dr. M. Saud Anwar, Co Chair, American Muslim Peace Initiative.
October 13, 2007, Shaikh Ahmad Kutty October 13, 2007

[1] Peter Graff in Reuters

[2]  Jonathan Petre in the Telegraph

[3] Ruth Gledhill, The Times Online

[4] The Times Online

[5] Emily Flynn Vencat in Newsweek

[6] Jumana Farouqi in Time

[7] BBC News

[8] Ed Beavan, Religious Intelligence site

[9] Ekklesia news brief

[10]  Reuters

[11] Head News Service

[12] Madison Trammel in Christianity Today

[13] Letter in Chicago Tribune

[14]  Theo Milonopoulos in The Boston Globe

[15]  Emerging voice of mainstream Islam, BBC News

[16] Christian Leaders Ponder Muslim Scholars’ Appeal for World Peace, CNS News

[17]  Vatican welcomes Muslim peace initiative, Reuters

[18] Presiding Bishop of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Responds to Letter from Muslim Scholars

[19] Transcript of press conference on Muslim letter to Benedict XVI (John Esposito and Seyyed Hossein Nasr)

[20] A resonant voice, Juan Mercado

[21] Archbishop of Canterbury’s response

[22] Response by Prof. David Ford, Cambridge Interfaith Program to Muslim Scholars’ Letter

[23] U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Response to Muslim Scholars’ Letter

[24] Harvard and Yale Divinity School Scholars Welcome Letter From Muslim Scholars

[27]  Presiding Bishop of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Responds to Letter from Muslim Scholars

[26] Common beliefs key to uniting old religious foes, Barney Zwartz

[27]  Muslims Call for Interfaith Peace, Michelle Boorstein

[28] Moderate Muslims speak – to Christians, Jane Lampman

[29]Pave the Way Foundation Commends the True Leaders of Islam for Letter of Outreach to Christians

[30] Letter From Muslim Leaders Deemed “Very Encouraging” By Vatican

[31] Can Religious Leaders Redeem the Future of the World?, Mohammad Gill

[32] National Council of Churches execs welcome Muslim leaders’ letter

[33] Misgivings and skepticism about Muslim scholars letter to Christians, Abdus Sattar Ghazali

[34] Christianity a hodgepodge of competition, Steve Gushee

[35]About that Muslim Letter to the Pope, Mona Charen

[36]  Muslim Scholars, Pope Benedict talk Peace, George Bush talks Apocalypse, Karen Fish

[37] Prof. John Renard, Saint Louis University 10-23

[38]  Vatican will respond to Muslim letter

[39] Faithworks welcomes letter from Muslim scholars

[40]  Muslim scholars urge Benedict to back dialogue appeal

[41]Peter Ochs, Speaking the Truth (Dabru Emet), Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, Co-Founder, Society for Scriptural Reasoning, University of Virginia

[42]  Iain Torrance, President of Princeton Theological Seminary and Professor of Patristics

[43]  Clifton Kirkpatrick, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

[44]  Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, World Council of Churches (WCC)

[45]  Abbot Mark Serna, O.S.B., Monastic Interreligious Dialogue

[46]  Only two cheers for Muslim letter from Bishop of Rochester

[47]  The Peacemaking Process, J. Dudley Woodberry

[48]  Muslim ‘peace’ letter spurs little Christian action, Michelle Vu

[49]  The President of the Baptist World Alliance, the Rev David Coffey’s response to the letter

[50] Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury Cancel George Bush’s Crusade, Karen Fish

[51]  Muslim Global Letter Needs a Rational Answer, Brian Trent

[52] A resonant voice,  Juan Mercado, Philippines

[53] Common beliefs key to uniting old religious foes, Australia

[54]  Pontifical Institute’s Response

[55]  Muslim clerics reach out, John L. Allen

[56]  Cardinal Pell: Prospects for peace and rumours of war: Religion and democracy in the years ahead

[57] Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. Lebanon

[58]  Response from Fr. Tom Michel for UCAN (United Catholic Asian News)

[59]  Response from Prof. Kenneth Vaux, Professor of Theological Ethics, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary

[60]  Prof. John Esposito, Founding Director, Al-Waleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University

[61]  Response from Prof. Dr. Christian Troll, S.J.

[62]  Dr Paul D. Murray, Director of the Centre for Catholic Studies

[63]  Statement by Hazel Blears, UK Secretary of State for Communications

[64]  Response from H.E. Cardinal Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice

[65] Appreciation of An Open Letter and Call from Muslim Religious Leaders “A Common Word between Us and You”, by the staff members of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) of Rome

[66] Response from Prof. Karen Armstrong

[67] Yale Center for Faith and Culture response

[68]  “A Common Word” and Christian-Muslim Dialogue

[69]  Pope accepts Muslim call for dialogue, plans meeting 11-29-07

[70] Pope’s response to Muslim scholars letter

[71] Response of 300 Christian scholars in full page NY Times Ad 11-18-07

[72] Cardinal Pell of Australia

[73] Editors of The Christian Century

[74] Response of the Mennonite Church, USA

[75] Response of Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Great Britain



originally published 10/13/07