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Religion and Society

The right keynote for relations between Muslims and Christians

In England the recent message addressed to Christian leaders, A Common Word Between Us and You, was generally well received, although inevitably some critics have complained that it glosses over serious and irreconcilable differences between Islam and Christianity. The Message locates common ground in the Qur'an, the Torah and the New Testament in the great injunction to love of God and love of neighbour.


The distinguished theologian, Prof. David Ford of Cambridge University, believes that «This historic statement gives the right keynote for relations between Muslims and Christians in the 21st century. It is what we have been missing since 9/11/2001. The most impressive list of signatories from all the main Muslim traditions and countries have made a clear and powerful proclamation of love for God and for all neighbours. The message is rich and deep, and it goes to the heart of Muslim faith as expressed in the Qur'an. It also goes to the heart of the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament.» His response ended with these words: «I think that many people have longed for a statement like this. Its significance is not that it offers anything novel but that it selects so wisely from the riches of both scriptures and opens them up in a way that is highly relevant to the present situation. I found myself deeply moved by its vision of what it calls 'the all-embracing, constant and active love of God' and 'the necessity and paramount importance of love for and mercy towards the neighbour', and by its concern not only for that half of the world's population who are Muslim or Christian but also for every single other person and the whole of creation.»


English newspapers summed up the response of Christian leaders as "welcoming." Many of them expressed the hope that a «joint statement from so many prominent, moderate Muslim scholars could change the atmosphere, making it more difficult for terrorism and extremism to flourish.» The Archbishop of Canterbury stated that «The theological basis of the letter and its call to respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another, are indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world especially where Christians and Muslims live together,» adding an appeal for reciprocity: «It is particularly important in underlining the need for respect towards minorities in contexts where either Islam or Christianity is the majority presence.» He agreed that the common scriptural foundations for Jews, Christians, and Muslims could potentially be the basis for justice and peace in the world. «The call should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries, and I shall endeavour in this country and internationally to do my part in working for the righteousness which this letter proclaims as our common goal.»


Down on the "streets," the response of Christians has not all been so positive. I have heard several people even question the implication of the Message that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Theological differences are never going to disappear. Cultural differences continue. The hope that the Message inspires is that such tensions can at least be discussed within the context of a common commitment to charity.


It seems that, whatever criticisms these Muslim leaders and thinkers may have of Pope Benedict's Regensburg address, they have once more responded in a constructive way, finding common ground at the level of our common humanity before God. There are many Muslims who are seeking, like many Christians and Jews, to defend belief in the sacred against a tide of profanity, to prevent the destruction of the natural world that God has entrusted to us, and to live according to the will of God in their own fashion. This Message can only have helped them to do so.


Stratford Caldecott, the Editor in Chief of "Second Spring" and Second Spring Books, a member of the Editorial Board of the American "Communio"