a common word :: muslims, christians, and two commands of love

One hundred thirty eight Muslim leaders have sent a letter to the foremost Christian leaders of the world urging peace and reconciliation between the two faiths. Below is a summary of the letter, the longer version can be found here, or at the organization’s website.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

A Common Word between Us and You
(Summary and Abridgement)

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. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity. The following are only a few examples:

Of God’s Unity, God says in the Holy Qur’an: 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 Qur’an: 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 the Holy Qur’an, God Most High enjoins 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)

The words: we shall ascribe no partner unto Him relate to the Unity of God, and the words: worship none but God, relate to being totally devoted to God. Hence they all relate to the First and Greatest Commandment. According to one of the oldest and most authoritative commentaries on the Holy Qur’an the words: that none of us shall take others for lords beside God, mean ‘that none of us should obey the other in disobedience to what God has commanded’. This relates to the Second Commandment because justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part of love of the neighbour.

Thus in obedience to the Holy Qur’an, 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 of love.

This letter represents an honorable step toward reconciliation–Christians must give God thanks and praise for the wisdom, the care, and the love that has gone into this effort. We can all say together that war is sin; war multiplies sin; and none of us can love God and hate our human brothers and sisters at the same time.

I applaud this effort, and would sign a letter to be returned to these men if one were written. I would write one if I were authorized to speak for anyone other than myself. I hope that Bishop Mark Hanson, who represents me as president of the ELCA and Lutheran World Federation spearheads a reciprocal effort.

Continued fighting between Christians and Muslims is spiritually devastating to people of both faiths, and everyone else affected by our violence. It is not God’s will that we kill one another! If people of faith, both faiths, understand these greatest commands rightly we must confess our sin and complicity: there can be no truth where there is murder in God’s name.

That said, no one is pretending that Christianity and Islam are the same.

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 Qur’an, the Torah and the New Testament. What prefaces the Two Commandments in the Torah and the New Testament, and what they arise out of, is the Unity of God—that there is only one God. For the Shema in the Torah, starts: (Deuteronomy 6:4) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! Likewise, Jesus said: (Mark 12:29) “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one”. Likewise, God says in the Holy Qur’an: Say: He, God, is One. / God, the Self-Sufficient Besought of all. (Al-Ikhlas, 112:1-2). Thus the Unity of God, love of Him, and love of the neighbour form a common ground upon which Islam and Christianity (and Judaism) are founded.

There can be no compromise for Muslims on God’s unity, “There is no god but God, He alone, he hath no associate.” And likewise, there can be no compromise for Christians that God’s unity can only be understood in terms of three-ness. God has no equal, but God is the tri-personal association of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

There should be no naive illusion. If we worship the same God, then we say irreducibly contradictory things about him. The BBC’s gloss on this, “[The letter] also insists that Christians and Muslims worship the same god” represents a gross misunderstanding. As soon as such a statement leaves the mouth it is inevitably qualified on both sides. These differences cannot be elided over in “polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders.” But irreconcilable difference does not necessarily entail violence; disagreement can be a civil relationship–these Muslim leaders are wise enough to recognize that.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God.”

Our differences will never be worked out in war. When we can come to a table, share a meal, and speak to one another without violence in our hearts–then our differences can arise in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Human blood cries out from the ground demanding that all of us repent of violence and hatred. We must recognize that cry. Where we ourselves do not participate in violence and hatred, we often tolerate it in others, or benefit from economic and political systems whose component parts foment hatred and unrest. This too is a matter for self-examination and corporate repentance.

For both Muslims and Christians, love of God and love of neighbor are the conditions on which the pursuit of truth and righteousness rests. If we cannot live together, then the love of God is far from earth indeed.

5 Replies to “a common word :: muslims, christians, and two commands of love”

  1. Thanks for sharing this with the blogging community. It is a beautiful sentiment! Love and a common thread is all it is going to take.

    Salaam and Shalom

  2. A good start and a desirable goal. I hope there is enough support in the moderate community to protect these brave souls when the radicals come calling. Too many intellectuals have been disappeared over the years for making statements like this. I have been waiting (and praying) for groups like this to gain traction within their communities and start to exert significant peaceful influence.

  3. Hanane:
    Thank you for stopping by!

    Good to hear from you, friend! From what I could tell reading through the letter’s signatures, its supporters are widespread–which makes it unlikely that they will all disappear anytime soon. Thankfully. Hopefully their voices are amplified!

    For our part, I imagine that the best thing that can be done to give these movements traction is to dialogue with people like these and leave the extremists on the margin until they are willing to come and join the conversation. We live in a big world, and there is plenty of room for a wide range of beliefs, but there is not enough room for anyone’s thoughtless violence. When extremists on both sides (we have our own!) are willing to speak to the “other” as persons, we will be a lot closer to greater peace. Those of us who are already tuned to that goal can accelerate the process by facilitating venues in which people of wildly different stripes might meet and converse respectfully. That is the beauty of diversity.

    I’ll join my prayers to yours.

  4. Two things for those interested:

    1. Visiting A Common Word will allow you to endorse the letter yourself, if you genuinely find this agreeable. I was number 50, there have now been 500 some odd…

    2. Bishop Mark Hanson did indeed write a letter of response, for which I am thankful. Response letters from other Christian leaders are available at the organization’s website as well.

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