One year after Pope Benedict XVI made controversial remarks regarding Islam, a group of 138 Muslim leaders representing all the various denominations and traditions of Islam have published a letter to the Christian community called “A Common Word Between You and Us” (www.acommonword.com). This group includes people with different profiles: religious authorities, scholars, intellectuals, media experts, professionals, etc... It also includes people from different schools of mainstream Islam: Sunni (from Salafis to Sufis), Shi’i (J’afari, Ziadi, Isma’ili), and Ibadi. It includes figures from Chad to Uzbekistan, from Indonesia to Mauritania and from Canada to Sudan. Many of the individual signatories guide or influence millions of Muslims and hold positions of religious, social, and political responsibility. The accumlated influence of the signatories is too significant to ignore. The content of the document is powerful in its stunning simplicity. It lifts up two doctrines arguably at the very core of both religions: love of God and love of neighbor.
Despite historical theological tensions, this group of Muslims goes to great lengths to show that the Christian devotion is to the single God of the universe whom they also worship. The second core belief that this document points out as held in common between Muslims and Christians is the concern for neighbor. It receives little space in the document, no doubt because it is is so obviously at the heart of both faiths. The well documented letter cites not just the Koran, but also the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible.
So far, the Christian response has been astoundingly positive. A response stating that the Muslim letter was both encouraging and challenging was issued by 300 Christian leaders. Among the signatories are the expected mainline denominational leaders and liberal theologians, but also signing were televangelist Robert Schuller and evangelical leaders Jim Wallis (of Sojourners magazine) and Rick Warren (author of “The Purpose Driven Life”). The pope has also responded with an offer to meet with a delegation of Muslim leaders.
There is no doubt that this is a remarkable exchange at a critical time in the history of relations between the two religions that together represent 55% of the world's population. The conversation around shared beliefs needs to replace the name-calling that is becoming too common. We in the West have to give up the idea that all Muslims are represented by the militant fringe of “Islamo-fascists.” Likewise, Muslims need to resist the urge to paint the West with the broad brush of the term “the Great Satan.” In both religions, not only those who think the worst about the other, but also those willing to take violent action toward the other need to be reduced even further than the minorities that they are currently. Both documents agree that “the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.” The military force available to nations potentially on opposite sides of a what could amount to a renewal of the Crusades along with the frightening ability of terrorism to act as a catalyst demonstrate the fact that indeed the future of humanity may rest on the ability of all of us to love whatever God we serve will all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves.