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December 5, 2007
Column #1,371
Muslim - Christian Peace?
By Mike McManus

"The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians," asserted an unprecedented open letter on October 13  by 138 Muslim world leaders sent to the Pope, World Council of Churches, Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican and Evangelical leaders.

They asserted, "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 neighbor. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity."

The statement quotes the Holy Qur'an in which "God Most High enjoins Muslims to issue the following call to Christians and Jews…O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God.  And the Prophet Muhammad is quoted, "None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself."

Thus, the statement is called "A Common Word Between Us and You," and may be found at www.acommonword.com.

The Vatican responded by agreeing that Christians "should look to what unites us, namely, belief in the one God…"  Pope Benedict XVI "was particularly impressed by the attention given in the letter to the two-fold commandment to love God and one's neighbor," and offered to meet with a delegation of the Muslims.

The Protestant response was far more effusive.

Some 300 evangelical and mainline Protestant leaders issued a statement that they "were deeply encouraged and challenged by the recent historic open letter" by Muslims which "identifies some core common ground between Christianity and Islam," as well as "at the heart of the most ancient Abrahamic faith, Judaism. Jesus Christ's call to love God and neighbor was rooted in the divine revelation to the people of Israel."

"In this response we extend our hand, our own Christian hand in return, so that together with all other human beings we may live in peace and justice as we seek to love God and our neighbors," said a response published as a full page ad in The New York Times November 18.

However, Since Jesus advised, "First, take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye," Protestants apologized for sins "against our Muslim neighbors" in the past (the Crusades) and in the present (excesses of the "war on terror.")

"Before we `shake your hand' in responding to your letter, we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world."

Some of the Christian signers winced at such language. Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, said there were words "that were not quite what I would write." But other evangelicals encouraged him to sign on, which he did, because "the statement would be helpful to Christians who live and minister in Muslim-majority countries and cultures."

Nihad Awad, Executive Director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, told me he signed the Muslim letter "to challenge assumptions in the West that the Muslim world is under extremist and terrorist rule.  This is mainstream Islam, moderate Islam."

However, the West only reads about the extremists, even those with government authority.  For example, Gilliam Gibbons, a British teacher in Sudan was arrested last week for allowing children to name a teddy bear "Mohammad," which the government said was an "insult" to the Prophet.  She could have been given 40 lashes! Crowds demonstrated at the Presidential Palace demanding execution, chanting: "No tolerance: Kill her by firing squad."  The court did sentence her to 15 days. International outrage prompted deportation, instead.

On the other hand, we tend not to recognize American offenses to Muslims. When Hamas fairly won an election in Gaza, the U.S. refused to recognize the result, calling Hamas "terrorist."

Remarkably, the Muslim statement argued "justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part of love of neighbor."  Churches are not even allowed in Saudi Arabia.  As the Protestant response put it, "When freedom to worship God according to one's conscience is curtailed, God is dishonored, the neighbor oppressed, and neither God nor neighbor is loved."

However, "The Common Word" opens a new vista of hope for Christian-Muslim dialogue.  Joseph Cumming, Director of Reconciliation at Yale's Center for Faith and Culture, and a primary author of the Protestant response, plans major conferences, one spiritual and another, political.

He urges local Christians to take two steps. "First, pray for this process, that God's will be done. Second, if this is to work, there needs to be face-to-face dialogue between Muslims and Christians on what it means to love each other."

       How can you be a peacemaker? Contact your local mosque.
 
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