Sunday, December 30, 2007

Challenges of “A Common Word”

On Wednesday October 10, to mark the anniversary of a letter written by 38 top Islamic clerics to the Pope following his apparent criticism of Islam last year, a new 29-page letter was released, signed by 138 influential Islamic clerics, under the auspices of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, Jordan. The missive challenged the Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and 25 other named Christian leaders, together with "Leaders of Christian Churches, everywhere" that it is time that Muslims and Christians recognized just how similar they are; and how that since between them, they comprised of 55% of the entire mankind— the fate of the world depends on their entering into a sustained religious dialogue. At the London edition of the world-wide launching of the letter, David Ford, Director of the Inter-Faith Program at the University of Cambridge, observed that the signatories cover “all the branches of Islam”.
. Quoting from both the Koran and the Bible, and while noting that ".. Islam and Christianity are obviously different religions," the letter nevertheless harped on what it deems as common grounds between the two religions. These, in the opinion of the Moslem scholar-authors, include: 1) both require believers to believe in only one god, and it's the same god. 2) Both religions are founded on goodwill, not violence, and 3) that many of the fundamental truths, particularly the requirement to love fellow human beings — are the same in both religions. Based on these, 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.” (Read the letter at
At Church Arise! we certainly wish this latter “duty” were true: then we would not have had to feature with such regularity (see the front page of this edition, again), pathetic stories about moslems mauling and killing Christians – and that’s talking of just Nigeria alone! Could it not be that the three premises identified above, and on which this “duty” is based, are shaky in the first place?
How lovely, noble and altogether reasonable, the final proposition is the Islamic letter!: "So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works" . But why would the moslem zealots, from Bauchi to Sokoto to Somalia, not heed this sound advice coming from their own rank? The crucial issue, as we have often highlighted over the years, is whether individuals should be allowed (not to say encouraged), if they wish, to freely move from either of these two religions to the other? For the Christian faith, denying such liberty would tantamount to a negation of the clear last command of the risen Saviour and would usher in nothing but sure death of the faith. This then is the uncommon ground that needs to be addressed!

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