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Religion and Society

A Common Word to heal Secular wounds

Interview to Sohail Nakhooda, care of Maria Laura Conte

How do you judge the reactions to the letter of the 138 after those first months?


The worldwide response has been tremendous. The document was sensitively written and was the result of a sincere effort by Muslim clergy, theologians and leaders to open a path of dialogue and cooperation with Christian communities worldwide.


There is no doubt in my mind that this initiative is one of the most significant in Muslim-Christian relations and it will potentially enable both communities to move from polite rapport to mutual respect and cooperation.


High level talks between the Muslim leaders and Church leaders and academic centers are already underway to explore the issues the document raises and work on key issues of mutual concern.




Numerous criticisms and objections were raised, however..


The Common Word document definitely caught people by surprise, particularly the naysayers in both religions who prefer to keep complete theological distance to legitimize their polemics. Sadly, such voices rise in Europe and even in Italy feeding Islamophobic attitudes.


I would say that discussion and dialogue, rather than polemics, is already happening in several regions of the world and at several levels. The document generated dialogue within and between communities. Its aim is not to whittle away differences in doctrine or, say, soteriology, but it is more about a recognition that we need to retrieve and learn to appreciate shared history and shared theological principles. It opens up countless interpretative possibilities that could potentially enrich Muslim-Christian understanding and co-operation. We have to move beyond simply “tolerating” the Other to actually “respecting” them.




The Letter joined the whole world or only some more sensible cultural contexts?


To understand better this point, it is useful to consider the great number of contacts recorded on the official website of the document and coming from Muslim and non-Muslim countries.


130 countries visiting the Common Word website since its launch!


Besides, it has received considerable coverage in the Muslim press as well as in the international one, and it is encouraging discussion at local and institutional levels. This media blitz, as it were, ensured that the international public was made aware of this initiative.


The document is helping the communities to see that such isolation from each other is not going to benefit anyone, and is in fact likely to be the reason for an escalation in future conflict. If conflicts in human history never moved beyond angry words that would not be so bad, but often they go on to trespass boundaries of disagreement and inevitably descend into violence. That is something we must try to avoid,


Building inter-religious dialogue on anything other than on theological grounds would ultimately lead to failure.



What are the most innovative aspects of the text?



What is significant, and seminal, about A Common Word is that it starts from unity and moves to difference, rather than from difference to unity.


It began with unity, that is, with what both communities shared deeply. That unity, or sharedness, was to be the basis for difference. This is an altogether different way of approaching the problem of intercultural relations and of plurality; it preservers their religious and cultural identities; it enables each to come together on solid theological grounds whose basis are in their own scriptures and which both share. They may disagree, and naturally they will, but when dialogue is based on the dual principles of love of God and of neighbor, it will ensure that they always leave as friends and that their disagreement does not escalate into all-out conflict


Dialogue can be a way of witnessing one’s faith, but it cannot be a place for missionary zealots to proselytize!




How do you read the diversity, geographical and that of schools of the signatories?


What is significant, though, is that the Muslim signatories to the Common Word really do come from a broad section of the Muslim ummah. They come from over 40 countries and include leaders from all the eight schools of law of the Sunni, Shi‘a and other schools. This consensus gives the initiative a veritable authority that has the power to make systemic changes in Muslim theological and social discourse. No other, and I repeat, no other dialogue initiative has ever been able to form such a Muslim coalition of authorities who really carry weight in their constituencies.


This typifies the strength of conviction that many feel for A Common Word. I am certain that A Common Word can heal deep wounds accumulated over centuries of strife, stereotypes and misunderstandings.




* The integral contribution of S. Nakhooda will be published in the next issue of Oasis Review to be published on May 2008