By Dr. Joe Thomas
In the fall of 2007 a group of 138 Muslim leaders and scholars issued an open letter to Christians everywhere. A Common Word between Us and You, as it is named, is a call for peace between Christians and Muslims and for an intensification of dialogue between the two great monotheistic faiths. The robust response from Christian leaders, churches and academics has been overwhelmingly irenic and positive, rightly seeing this as a unique opportunity to interact with a segment of the Muslim community that is not radicalized. The many Christian responses have also been engaging, noting key differences between Christian and Muslim beliefs. Christian have also gently nudged Muslims to reflect more on how the fundamental truths expressed in A Common Word should lead Muslim nations and communities to embrace such notions as the right to change religions and greater freedom for religious conversation. A Common Word has also allowed Christians to consider and to confess our own sinful interactions towards Muslims over the many preceding centuries.
The title for A Common Word between Us and You is taken from a passage from the Qur’an:
Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God….(Aal ‘Imran 3:64)
A Common Word seeks to find common ground for Christians and Muslims to live in peaceful co-existence. As the letter notes, Christians and Muslims together make up over 55% of the world’s population. If there is no peace between the two religions there will be no peace in the world.
So what is the common ground that exists between Christians and Muslims? A Common Word argues that Christians and Muslims find unity in each religion’s foundational principles: love of God and love of neighbor, with the unity of God undergirding the two great commandments.
It is no surprise for the readers of “A Word from Urbana Seminary” to hear that Christianity teaches the oneness of a loving God, and that His love is reflected back through those made in His image by their love for Him and for each other. The teachings of Jesus in Mt. 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-31 state this plainly. And as Jesus states in Mt. 22:40, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” What is probably new to our readers are the authors’ claim in A Common Word that Islam teaches the same two great commandments. We will reflect more on this over the next few weeks, but let us agree for the moment that this is an unexpected and helpful starting point for Christian and Muslim dialogue and even friendship.
Finally, as part of their call for peace between the Christians and Muslims, A Common Word recognizes that there will be no peace without justice and freedom of religion among and between the followers of Christianity and Islam. Significantly, the authors of A Common Word argue that part of loving your neighbor entails embracing these two fundamental human rights.
One can see now why this document has generated such excitement and the reason there has been such a robust and positive response from Christian leaders around the world. Let me know what you think.
You can access A Common Word between Us and You at http://www.acommonword.com/.