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. It is unprecedented in its scope in both the Christian and the Muslim worlds. In 2008 the initiative was awarded the "Eugen Biser Award", and the "Building Bridges Award" from the UK's Association of Muslim Social Scientists.
"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.
"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:
- Bartholomew, Patriarch of Constantinople
- Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa
- Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
- Theophilos III, Patriarch of the holy City of Jerusalem
- Alexy II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
- Pavle, Patriarch of Belgrade and Serbia
- Daniel, Patriarch of Romania,
- Maxim, Patriarch of Bulgaria,
- Ilia II, Archbishop of Mtskheta – Tbilisi, Catholico-Patriarch of All Georgia
- Chrisostomos, Archbishop of Cyprus
- Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece
- Sawa, Metropolitan of Warsaw and All Poland
- Anastasios, Archbishop of Tirana, Duerres and All Albania
- Christoforos, Metropolitan of the Czech and Slovak Republics
- Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Apostolic Throne of St Mark
- Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians
- Ignatius Zakka I, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church
- Mar Thoma Didymos I, Catholicos of the East on the Apostolic Throne of St Thomas and the Malankara Metropolitan
- Abune Paulos, Fifth Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Tekle Haymanot, Arcbishop of Axum
- Mar Dinkha IV, Patriarch of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East
- The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams
- Mark S Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and President of the Lutheran World Federation
- George H Freeman, General Secretary, World Methodist Council
- David Coffey, President of the Baptist World Alliance
- Setri Nyomi, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches
- Samuel Kobia, General Secretary, World Council of Churches
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. Professor David Ford, director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme, helped launch the letter. The following month, Ford was also one of the signatories on a Christian response seeking Muslim forgiveness.
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
- List of addressees
- Summary and Abridgement
- Love of God
- Love of God in Islam
- Love of God as the first and greatest commandment in the Bible
- Love of the neighbour
- Love of the neighbour in Islam
- Love of the neighbour in the Bible
- Come to a Common Word Between Us and You
Main quotations from the Letter
"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."
- Response by David F. Ford, director of the Cambridge Inter–Faith Programme, 13 October 2007: "This historic agreement gives the right keynote for relations between Muslims and Christians in the 21st century...there are three main reasons why this is so important. First, it is unprecedented in bringing together so many of the leading religious authorities and scholars of Islam and uniting them in a positive, substantial affirmation. This is an astonishing achievement of solidarity, one that can be built on in the future. Second, it is addressed to Christians in the form of a friendly word, it engages respectfully and carefully with the Christian scriptures, and it finds common ground in what Jesus Himself said is central: love of God and love of neighbour....third it opens a way forward that is more helpful for the world than most others at present in the public sphere....it challenges Muslims and Christians to live up to their own teachings and seek political and educational as well as personal ways to do this for the sake of the common good."
- Response by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair on 13 October 2007: "This is the only way, in the modern world, to make sense of different history and culture, so that, instead of defining ourselves by reference to difference, we learn to recognise the values we share and define a shared future."
- Response by Yale Divinity School's Centre for Faith and Culture 13 October 2009: "What is so extraordinary about A Common Word between Us and You" is not that its signatories recognise the critical character of the present moment in relations between Christians and Muslims. It is rather the deep insight and courage with which they have identified the common ground between the Muslim and Christian communities. What is common between us lies not in something marginal, nor in something merely important to each. It lies, rather, in something absolutely central to both: love of God and love of neighbour...that so much common ground exists – common ground in some of the fundamentals of faith – gives hope that undeniable differences and even the very real external pressures that bear down upon us can not overshadow the common ground upon which we stand together. That this common ground consists in love of God and of neighbour gives hope that deep cooperation between us can be a hallmark of the relations between our two communities."
- Response by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury: "We are deeply appreciative of the initiative you have taken and welcome "A Common Word between Us and You" as a significant development in relations between Christians and Muslims...to your invitation to enter more deeply into dialogue and collaboration as part of our faithful response to the revelation of God's purpose for humankind, we say: Yes! Amen."
- During a visit to the Middle East by Pope Benedict XVI on 9 May 2009, he made a speech to an assembly of religious leaders at the King Hussein State Mosque, Jordan, and said about "A Common Word": "Such initiatives clearly lead to a greater reciprocal knowledge, and they foster a growing respect for what we hold in common and for what we understand differently. Thus, they should prompt Christians and Muslims to probe even more deeply the essential relationship between God and His world so that together we may strive to ensure that society resonates in harmony with the divine order. In this regard, the co operation found here in Jordan sets an encouraging and persuasive example for the region, and indeed the world, of the positive, creative contribution which religion can and must make to civic society."
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)."
The Common Word website Frequently Asked Questions section 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 dialog 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." 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.
- A workshop and conference was held at Yale University, USA between 24 and 31 July 2008. The conference was entitled, "Loving God and Neighbour in Word and Deed: Implications for Muslims and Christians." The conference was convened by the Yale Centre for Faith and Culture in collaboration with the Royal Al –Bayt Institute and held at Yale University. Over 120 leading Muslim and Christian leaders and scholars attended the event. A statement was issued at the end of the conference which included the following: "Participants of the conference agreed that: 1. Muslims and Christians affirm the unity and absoluteness of God. We recognise that God's merciful love is infinite, eternal and embraces all things. This love is central to both our religions and is at the heart of the Judeao-Christian-Islamic monotheistic heritage. 2. We recognise that all human beings have the right to the preservation of life, religion, property, intellect, and dignity. No Muslim or Christian should deny the other these rights, nor should they tolerate the denigration or desecration of one another's sacred symbols, founding figures or places of worship. 3. We are committed to these principles and to furthering them through continuous dialogue. We thank God for bringing us together in this historic endeavour and ask that He purify our intentions and grant us success through His all encompassing Mercy and Love. 4. We Christian and Muslim participants meeting together at Yale for the historic "A Common Word" conference denounce and deplore threats made against those who engage in interfaith dialogue. Dialogue is not a departure from faith; it is a legitimate means of expression and an essential tool in the quest for the common good.
- A conference, titled "A Common Word and Future Muslim-Christian Engagement," was hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury in collaboration with the University of Cambridge Inter Faith programme and the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute and held at the University of Cambridge with a final session at Lambeth Palace between 12 and 15 October 2008. The conference brought together a small group of scholars and religious leaders from the Muslim and Christian communities for discussion and fellowship. A communiqué was issued at the end of the conference which included the following: "we are conscious that our meeting represented the most significant gathering of international Muslim leaders ever to take place in the United Kingdom, matched by a similarly wide diversity of traditions and geographical backgrounds amongst the Christian participants....We have committed ourselves to the following over the coming year:
- To identify and promote the use of educational materials, for all age groups and in the widest possible range of languages, that we accept as providing a fair reflection of our faiths
- To build a network of academic institutions, linking scholars, students and academic resources, with various commitments and teams which can work on shared values
- To identify funds to facilitate exchanges between those training for roles of leadership within our religious communities
- To translate significant texts from our two religious traditions for the use of the other
- As we prepare to return, each to our own countries and contexts, we resolve to act on the oft repeated desire to find the means of ensuring that the two letters we have discussed and the wonderful fruits of our time together are spread amongst our co religionists, that the spirit of collaboration, mutual respect and desire for greater understanding may be the mark of our relationship for the benefit of all humankind."
- Between 4 and 6 November 2008 the first seminar of the Catholic-Muslim forum was held at in Rome, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Inter Religious Dialogue and the Royal Al-Bayt Institute in Amman. The seminar ended with an audience with Pope Benedict XVI at which an address was made by Sheikh Mustafa Ceric and Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
- Pope Benedict's address included the following: "I am well aware that Muslims and Christians have different approaches in matters regarding God. Yet we can and must be worshippers of the one God who created us and is concerned about each person in every corner of the world. Together we must show, by our mutual respect and solidarity, that we consider ourselves members of one family: the family that God has loved and gathered together from the creation of the world to the end of human history."
- Seyyed Hossein Nasr's address included the following: "With so many profound similarities, why then have we had such a long history of confrontation and opposition? The answer is that we of course also have our differences which have providentially kept Christianity and Islam distinct and separate. Let us mention just a few of them. We emphasise Divine Unity and reject the idea of a triune God while you emphasise the Trinity while believing God to be One. We and you both revere Christ but in a different manner, and we do not accept the Christian account of the end of His earthly life. And yet, we Muslims also accept Christ as the Messiah (al Masih) and expect his Second Coming at the end of the history of present humanity. We emphasise Divine Law (al- shari'ah) as rooted in the Qu'ranic revelation, while Christ asserted his break with the Law in the name of the Spirit. Therefore, Christians do not have the same conception of Divine Law as do Jews and Muslims. Nor do Christians have a sacred language as does Islam, but have used, and some still do use, several liturgical languages. You and we, we both believe in religious freedom, but we Muslims do not allow an aggressive proselytising in our midst that destroys our faith in the name of freedom any more than Christians would if they were in our situation. The encounter of Christianity with modernism, including secular humanism and rationalism associated with the Age of Enlightenment, has also been very different from the experience of that encounter with Islam. Perhaps then we can each learn something from the other in this very significant matter. We should join together in the battle against the desacralising and anti religious forces of the modern world, and joining effort should bring us closer together. Secularism would certainly not be a source for the creation of further distance between us."
- The Final Declaration of the Catholic Muslim Forum at Rome included the following: "We profess that Catholics and Muslims are called to be instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole, renouncing any oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism, especially that committed in the name of religion, and upholding the principles of justice for all."
- The Eugen Biser Award was conferred on Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, Sheikh Al–Habib All-Jifri and Reisu–l-Ulema Mustafa Ceric on 22 November 2008. The award was received by Prince Ghazi, Sheikh Al-Habib All-Jifri and Reisu–l-Ulema Mustafa Ceric in recognition of their contribution to Muslim – Christian dialogue. In the course of his speech of acceptance, Prince Ghazi said: "We were aiming to try and spread peace and harmony between Christians and Muslims all over the world, not through governments and treaties but on the all-important popular and mass level, through the world's most influential popular leaders precisely – that is to say through the leaders of the two religions. We wanted to stop the drum beat of what we feared was a growing popular consensus (on both sides) for world wide (and thus cataclysmic and even apocalyptic) Muslim –Christian jihad/crusade. We were keenly aware, however, that peace efforts required also another element: knowledge. We thus aimed to try to spread proper basic knowledge of our religion in order to correct and abate the constant and unjust vilification of Islam, in the West especially....I would like to say that "A Common Word" does not signal that Muslims are prepared to deviate from or concede one iota of any of their convictions in reaching out to Christians – nor, I expect, the opposite. Let us be crystal clear: A Common word is about equal peace, NOT about capitulation."
- Numerous conferences, workshops, speeches and other inter faith activities inspired by or exploring "A Common Word" have appeared spontaneously, throughout the world. These have included lectures and workshops in Cambridge University in February 2009, in Oman in March and April 2009, and, also in 2009, in the USA, Egypt and Sudan. Symposiums took place at the Mediterranean Dialogue of Cultures in 2008, the Brookings Institute in Qatar in 2009, the Fuller Theological Seminary in 2009, the Islamic Society of North America Conference in 2009 and Yale University in 2009.
- A Conference, hosted by Georgetown University, the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding and the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought and entitled "A Common Word between Us and You A Global Agenda for Change" was held between 6 and 8 October 2009 at Georgetown University. The purpose of the conference was to identify suitable projects to further the aims of "A Common Word" across the world.
A number of academic books and journals have emerged in the past 12 months dedicated to "A Common Word:"
- Prince Ghazi, Professor Miroslav Volf and Merissa Yarrington edited a book about the initiative for the publisher Eerdmans
- A book was prepared by Georgetown Professor Ibrahim Kalin for the academic publisher Palgrave – Macmillan (which is due to be released in 2010)
- Georgetown University's Centre for Muslim – Christian Understanding published an Occasional Paper on the initiative entitled "A Common word and the Future of Muslim Christian Relations"
- The Washington DC based academic journal Sophia, and the Beirut Theological Seminary dedicated issues to "A Common Word."
- The Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought issued a booklet summarising issues related to "A Common Word."
- Islamica Magazine dedicated a dossier to the document, Issue 21 released February 2009.
- 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:
- A project sponsored by the NGO "Habitat for Humanity."
- The establishment of C1, a high level, international forum for the improvement of Muslim-Christian relations, co-chaired by Richard Chartres, Lord Bishop of London, and Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt
- A film documentary produced in Arabic and English, by "Ten Thousand Films" will help in spreading "A Common word" around as wide an international audience as possible
- The establishment of an office in Sohan, Islamabad dedicated to the improvement of Muslim Christian relations in Pakistan
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.
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.
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." The website includes a page where visitors are able to leave comments.