June 22, 2008

Muslim scholars address Christian leaders [The Event]

One hundred and thirty-eight Muslim scholars issued a 29-page letter to Christian leaders, including the Pope [Church of Rome] and the Archbishop of Canterbury [Church of England] last October 2007. The following are excerpts from the news article found here.

  • 138 prominent Muslim scholars from every sect of Islam urged Christian leaders "to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions", spelling out the similarities between passages of the Bible and the Qur'an. The letter was issued by Jordan's Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought following its annual convention last month in Amman. Many of the signatories are grand muftis who each have tens of millions of followers. It is the second open letter from the institute to the Vatican. The first was sent after the Pope's Regensburg address last year, which angered Muslims when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who spoke of the Prophet Muhammad's "command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

  • "If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world's inhabitants. Our common future is at stake," the letter said. "The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake."

  • "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."

  • Dr Nayed, a senior adviser to Cambridge University's interfaith program, said: "Every person who extends his hand ... would like something in return but we're offering this as free love. It's not a competition. It's not about reciprocity."

  • The authors' approach is one that can be expected to appeal to Pope Benedict, whose papacy has seen a shift in the Vatican's attitude to dialogue with the Islamic world. The Pope views contacts with Muslims as urgent and essential. But he has also signalled his impatience with the polite exchanges between theologians that have characterised the dialogue so far. Instead, what he has privately suggested is an "ethical dialogue" in which the aim would be to single out principles that both sides share, and then try to build on those.
    There are two main items on the Pope's agenda: the use of religion in the Muslim world to justify violence; and what is known as reciprocity, a codeword for granting Christians in Muslim countries the same freedoms as Muslims enjoy in the west. The situation in this respect has been getting more critical. Christian Arabs are leaving Palestine, Iraq and other Muslim countries in growing numbers. At the same time, anti-conversion laws are being enforced from Egypt to Pakistan.

  • "The theological basis of the letter and its call to respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another are indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world, especially where Christians and Muslims live together," he said. "It is particularly important in underlining the need for respect towards minorities in contexts where either Islam or Christianity is the majority presence."
  • The common scriptural foundations for Jews, Christians and Muslims would be the basis for justice and peace in the world, he added.
    "The call should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries and I shall endeavour ... to do my part in working for the righteousness which this letter proclaims as our common goal."

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