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A Common Word Between Us and You: History In The Making

November 30, 2007
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Ramadan 1428 A.H, 2007 C.E – 138 Muslim Scholars, including ISNA’s Ingrid Mattson, once one of Chicago’s very own – Grand Mufti of Bosnia Mustafa Ceric (formerly of the Islamic Cultural Center in Northbrook), Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir of the Zaytuna Institute, came together to extend their hand out to the Christian community through an open letter titled “A Common Word Between Us and You”.  The letter concisely calls to the attention of Muslims and Christians that world peace cannot be achieved without peace and justice between our two communities.

It goes further to elaborate on the two basic commonalities between Islam and Christianity which are fundamental to both religions but more so fundamental to the basis in which we can achieve peace and justice between us; love of the One God and love of the neighbor:

“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.”

Today, the open letter “A Common Word Between Us and You” has received numerous positive responses from the Christian community as well as the Jewish community.  The most significant of these responses has been a response by over 300 leading Christian scholars which took out a full page ad in the New York Times to relay their message and the latest response relaying Pope Benedict’s message to Prince Ghazi.

Pope Benedict relayed through Cardinal Bertone that his deep appreciation for the gesture, the positive spirit which inspired the text and for a common commitment to promoting peace in the world.  Additionally Pope Benedict is willing to receive Prince Ghazi and a select group of signatories chosen by Prince Ghazi as well as organizing  a working meeting between the delegation and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue with the cooperation of some specialized Pontifical Institutes (such as the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies and the Pontifical Georgian University).

The Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture’s drafted letter in which over 300 Christian theologians and leaders were signatories was a detailed response in which our commonalities were expressed in greater detail:

“What is so extraordinary about A Common Word Between Us and You is not that its signatories recognize the critical character of the present moment in relations between Muslims and Christians. It is rather a deep insight and courage with which they have identified the common ground between the Muslim and Christian religious 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 neighbor. Surprisingly for many Christians, your letter considers the dual command of love to be the foundational principle not just of the Christian faith, but of Islam as well. 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 neighbor gives hope that deep cooperation between us can be a hallmark of the relations between our two communities. Love of God We applaud that A Common Word Between Us and You stresses so insistently the unique devotion to one God, indeed the love of God, as the primary duty of every believer. God alone rightly commands our ultimate allegiance. When anyone or anything besides God commands our ultimate allegiance—a ruler, a nation, economic progress, or anything else—we end up serving idols and inevitably get mired in deep and deadly conflicts.”

Additionally, the Yale Divinity School’s response included an apology to Muslims:

“Muslims and Christians have not always shaken hands in friendship; their relations have sometimes been tense, even characterized by outright hostility. Since Jesus Christ says, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:5), we want to begin by acknowledging that in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in excesses of the “war on terror”) many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbors. Before we “shake your hand” in responding to your letter, we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.”

You may visit www.acommonword.com to see the full text of the open letter, all of the responses as well as endorse the message yourself.

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