A Common Word Between Us and You

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A Common Word between Us and You is an open letter, dated 13 October 2007, from leaders of the Islamic religion to leaders of the Christian religion. It calls for peace between Muslims and Christians and tries to work for common ground and understanding between both religions, in line with the Qur'anic commandment to "Say: 'O People of the Scripture! come to a common word as between us and you: that we worship none but God'" and the Biblical commandment to love God, and one's neighbour. In the time since its release, "A Common Word" opened an interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims. In 2008 the initiative was awarded the "Eugen Biser Award", and the "Building Bridges Award" from the UK's Association of Muslim Social Scientists.

Background[edit]

"A Common Word between Us and You" is a follow up to a shorter letter, sent in 2006, in response to Pope Benedict XVI's lecture at the University of Regensburg on 12 September 2006. This lecture, on the subject of faith and reason, had focused mainly on Christianity and what Pope Benedict called the tendency in the modern world to "exclude the question of God" from reason. Islam features in a part of the lecture. The Pope quoted a Byzantine Emperor's strong criticism of Muhammad's teachings. Pope Benedict clarified that this was not his own personal opinion, describing the quotation as being of a "startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded."

Throughout the world, however, many people thought the Pope's use of the quote insensitive. A very strong sense of injustice was expressed by many Muslims in response to the speech. One month later, 38 Islamic scholars, representing all branches of Islam, replied to Pope Benedict in "An Open Letter to the Pope," dated 13 October 2006. One year later, 138 Islamic personalities co signed an open letter entitled "A Common Word between Us and You." The letter aimed to promote interfaith dialogue.

Addressees[edit]

"A Common Word between Us and You" is addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Churches, the leaders of the larger Christian denominations, and to leaders of Christians everywhere. A list is as follows:

Authorship[edit]

The letter is signed by 138 prominent Muslim personalities from a large number of countries from several continents. These include academics, politicians, writers and muftis. Nearly half of the signatories are university academics or scholars. According to the letter's website, its author was Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.[1] Professor David Ford, director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme, helped launch the letter.[2][3] The following month, Ford was also one of the signatories on a Christian response seeking Muslim forgiveness.[4]

Signatories[edit]

Since the letter was originally sent on 18 October 2007, there have been a number of new signatories with the result that there are now over 300 Muslim signatories. Great effort was made to ensure signatories represented as broad a range of viewpoints from the Muslim world as possible. Signatories included:

Contents of the Letter[edit]

Main quotations from the Letter[edit]

"Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world's population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians."

"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 neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity."

""Of God's Unity, God says in the Holy Qu'ran: "Say, He is God, the One! God, the Self Sufficient Besought of all! (Al – Ikhlas 112:1–2)." Of the necessity of love for God, God says in the Holy Qu'ran: "So invoke the Name of thy Lord and devote thyself to him with a complete devotion (Al-Muzzammil 73:8)." Of the necessity of love for the neighbour; the prophet Muhammad said: "None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself."

"In the New Testament, Jesus Christ said: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One./ And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." This is the first commandment. / And the second, like it, is this: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12: 29–31)

"In obedience to the Holy Qu'ran, we as Muslims invite Christians to come together with us on the basis of what is common to us, which is also what is most essential to our faith and practice: the Two Commandments."

(In Islam)..."the call to be totally devoted and attached to God, heart and soul, far from being a call for a mere emotion or for a mood, is in fact an injunction requiring all-embracing, constant and active love of God. It demands a love in which the innermost spiritual heart and the whole of the soul-with its intelligence, will and feeling – participate through devotion."

"The Shema in the book of Deuteronomy (6:4–5), a centrepiece of the Old Testament and of Jewish Liturgy, says: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!/You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.""

"In the New Testament, when Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is asked about the Greatest Commandment, he answers: "But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, the gathered together./Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying,/"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?"/Jesus said to him, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind."/This is the first and greatest commandment./And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." /On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:34–40)."

"The commandment to love God fully is (thus) the First and Greatest Commandment of the Bible."

"There are numerous injunctions in Islam about the necessity and paramount importance of love for – and mercy towards – the neighbour. Love of the neighbour is an essential and integral part of faith in God and love of God because in Islam without love of the neighbour there is no true faith in God and no righteousness. The Prophet Muhammad said: "None of you has faith until you love for your brother what you love for yourself." And: "None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself.""

"Whilst Islam and Christianity are obviously different religions – and whilst there is no minimising some of their formal differences – it is clear that the Two Greatest Commandments are an area of common ground and a link between the Qu'ran, the Torah and the New Testament."

"In the Holy Qu'ran, God Most High tells Muslims to issue the following call to Christians (and Jews-the People of the Scripture): "Say: O people of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him)." (Aal'Imran 3:64)"

"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, (in accordance with the verse of the Holy Qu'ran (Al-Mumtahinah, 60:8)"

"Muslims recognise Jesus Christ as the Messiah, not in the same way Christians do (but Christians themselves anyway have never all agreed with each other on Jesus Christ's nature), but in the following way: ...the Messiah Jesus son of Mary is a Messenger of God and His Word which He cast unto Mary and a Spirit from Him..(Al – Nisa 4: 171). We therefore invite Christians to consider Muslims not against and thus with them, in accordance with Jesus Christ's words here."

"Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders. Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. Together they make up more than 55% of the world's population, making the relationship between these two communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. 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. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake."

"Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to one another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual good will."

Favourable reaction[edit]

He also commented " …. and the more recent Common Word letter which echoed a theme consonant with my first encyclical: the unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor, and the fundamental contradiction of resorting to violence or exclusion in the name of God (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 16)."

Unfavourable reaction[edit]

The Common Word website Frequently Asked Questions section[5] addresses much of the criticism of the letter's perceived lack of inclusiveness: "This document is a first step, but one that strives to lay a solid foundation for the construction of many worthy edifices. The document can not be expected to do everything at once. Moreover, many of these issues were already addressed in the Amman Message. The website further acknowledges concerning the letter being a form of "propaganda": "If you mean by that witnessing and proclaiming one's faith with compassion and gentleness, then yes. If you mean forcing one's views on others, then no."

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, a Vatican official, welcomed dialogue but commented that real dialogue with Muslims is difficult. He pointed out imbalances, such as opposition or limitations to the building of churches in some Muslim countries, whilst in Christian countries, Muslims are free to build mosques. He also said, "Muslims do not accept that one can discuss the Koran in depth, because they say it was written by dictation from God.... With such an absolute interpretation, it is difficult to discuss the contents of faith."[6] However, Cardinal Tauran is quoted as saying that his remarks were not exclusivist and that Muslims and Christians are to engage in a substantive dialogue concerning theological and spiritual foundations.[7]

Follow-up[edit]

Publications[edit]

A number of academic books and journals have emerged in the past 12 months dedicated to "A Common Word:"

References to A Common Word in speeches

Reference to A Common Word has been made in a number of speeches, including the main sermon by Sharon E Watkins at the traditional presidential post-inauguration service at the National Cathedral, Washington DC for President Barack Obama on 21 January 2009. Former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright referred to A Common Word during her testimony before the US Senate in February 2009, and Pope Benedict XVI referred to A Common Word on several occasions on 8 and 9 May 2009, during the course of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Practical projects inspired by A Common Word

In the course of 2008 "A Common Word" inspired a number of initiatives between Muslims and Christians, including:

Press[edit]

Nearly 700 articles have appeared about "A Common Word" in English language press outlets around the world. Virtually every newspaper in the Middle East, and the West has run at least an article on the initiative. There is a long list of press cuttings about the initiative on the A Common Word website.[8]

Website[edit]

The website for A Common Word was launched on 10 October 2007. The site includes a popup box which asks visitors to endorse the letter. As at 26 August 2010 the site had recorded 8,109 endorsements of the message, out of around 350,172 visitors to the website.[citation needed]

The official website contains the full text of "A Common Word between Us and You," a list of signatories, addressees, responses, media resources (including a regular update of media comment), downloads and translations, new signatories, pictures and a variety of other information about a variety of other activities and events related to "A Common Word."

References[edit]

External links[edit]