plus: a google search that comes up with everybody who is talking about the letter, but no actual links to the letter…
Muslim Leaders Send Peace Message
Oct. 11, 2007
By Jumana Farouky
It is time that Muslims and Christians recognized just how similar they are — the fate of the world depends on it. That’s the message being sent out today by 138 Muslim leaders and scholars in an open letter to their Christian counterparts saying that world peace hinges on greater understanding between the two faiths.
The 29-page letter — entitled “A Common Word between Us and You” — is addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and 25 other named Christian leaders and “Leaders of Christian Churches, everywhere”. Organized by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, Jordan, it’s the first time so many high-profile Muslims have come together to make such a public call for peace. Launched first in Jordan this morning, and then in other countries over the course of the day, the letter gets its final unveiling at a joint press conference in Washington D.C. this afternoon by Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia, and John Esposito, Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. By pointing out the similarities between the Bible and the Koran, between Christianity and Islam, the letter’s signatories are asking Christian leaders to “come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions.”
The signatories include Sheik Mohammed Nur Abdullah, Vice President of the Fiqh Council of North America; Sheikh Salem Falahat, Director-General of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan; Hasan Shariatmadari, head of the Iranian National Republicans party and Sheikh Ikrima Said Sabri, former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Imam of Al-Aqsa Mosque. “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.”
Quoting from both holy texts, the letter notes that “whilst Islam and Christianity are obviously different religions — and whilst there is no minimizing some of their formal differences,” both require believers to believe in only one god and it’s the same god. It points out that both religions are founded on goodwill, not violence, and that many of the fundamental truths that were revealed to Muhammad — such as the necessity for the total devotion to God, the rejection of false gods, and the love of fellow human beings — are the same ones that came to other Christian and Jewish prophets.
Because of this, the letter says, Muslims are duty-bound by the Koran to treat believers of other faiths with respect and friendship — and that Muslims expect the same in return. “As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them — as long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes.”
With Christians making up about 33% of the world’s population and Muslims making up around 22%, the letter says that finding common ground, “is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders.” Is it, instead, essential for the survival of humanity. “The relationship between these two religious communities [is] the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. No side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.”
This letter comes on the anniversary of another open letter to the Pope last year, which was signed by 38 Muslims clerics and was response to a speech on Islam in which the Pope quoted a medieval text saying it is a violent religion: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Pope later apologized, saying that he had only used the quote — an opinion which he said he doesn’t share — to condemn violence motivated by religion and to highlight the need for exchange and understanding between the faiths.
Now Islamic leaders have come together again to try and make that happen. “This is the way forward,” says Ford. “To combine Muslim solidarity around core teachings together with friendly address to Christians and respect for the public good as a whole.” 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.
A Muslim Letter to Christians
Oct 11, 2007
By Emily Flynn Vencat
Getting religious leaders to agree on anything is notoriously difficult. So this morning’s announcement—that 138 of the world’s most powerful Muslim clerics, scholars and intellectuals from all branches of Islam (Sunni and Shia, Salafi and Sufi, liberal and conservative) had come together to write a letter to the world’s Christian leaders—is being hailed as something of a miracle.
In a display of unprecedented unity, the letter—which calls for peace between the world’s Christians and Muslims—is signed by no fewer than 19 current and former grand ayatollahs and grand muftis from countries as diverse as Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq. It is addressed to Christianity’s most powerful leaders, including the pope, the archbishop of Canterbury and the heads of the Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist churches, and, in 15 pages laced with Qur’anic and Biblical scriptures, argues that the most fundamental tenets of Islam and Christianity are identical: love of one (and the same) God, and love of one’s neighbor.
On this basis, the letter, entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You,” reasons that harmony between the two religions is not only necessary for world peace, it is natural. “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 … Our very eternal souls are all at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace,” the letter reads. “It’s an astonishing achievement of solidarity,” says David Ford, director of the Cambridge University’s Interfaith Program. “I hope it will be able to set the right key note for relations between Muslims and Christians in the 21st century, which have been lacking since September 11.”
One profound obstacle to establishing positive relations among mainstream Muslim and Christian groups, argues Ford, has been the lack of a single, authoritative Muslim voice to participate in such a dialogue. This letter changes that. “It proves that Islam can have an unambiguous, unified voice,” says Aref Ali Nayed, a leading Islamic scholar and one of the letter’s authors.
Getting the letter written was no mean feat. Highly placed and extremely well-connected leaders at Jordan’s Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman have been working for more than three years to make it happen. The institute won’t say who was the driving force behind the effort—if indeed it was any single person—because that would undermine its collaborative nature. But Nayed, whom experts believe was one of the key draftsmen, says that the country of Jordan and its leaders played a very important role. “Jordan is the Switzerland of the Middle East,” Nayed says. The Royal Institute was responsible for the widely read Open Letter to the Pope following his controversial speech last year, which was signed by 38 high-level Muslim leaders.
Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammed, the Royal Institute’s chairman, was likely instrumental in bringing the signatories together this time. As a member of the Jordanian royal family, Prince Ghazi is a powerful politician, and he is also considered by Muslims to be a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad. “The contacts wouldn’t be an issue [for him],” says John Esposito, Director of the Center for Muslim and Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.
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.”
Even with such endorsements, the question remains: Will the letter have any practical impact? Could it possibly help reduce the incidence of violent extremism and terrorism? Experts hope that because the letter’s authors have millions of followers in both the Muslim and Christian worlds the answer is a (very qualified) yes. “Given that there’s no simple one-off solution to terrorism,” says Cambridge’s Ford, “this letter does have all the elements necessary to move in that direction.” Among those elements are the authors’ solidarity on the subject of nonviolence and their clear plea for greater understanding between followers of the two faiths.
Jordan’s Royal Institute sees the letter as the first step in a long process of opening up peaceful dialogue between Muslims and other religions around the world. A letter to the Jews is already in the works; the seeds of the next effort are evident in the current letter’s quotations not only from the New Testament but also from the Torah. Eventually, says Nayed, the Muslim signatories plan to write a missive to the secular community. “The world is a garden,” says Nayed. “We can focus on the weeds or we can focus on the fruit. And we are choosing to focus on the fruit.”