A Common Word
In October 2007 a group of 138 prominent Muslim personalities; leaders and scholars, addressed an open letter to leaders of Churches and Christian organisations. This initiative has been seen as one of our time’s most important ones to reach out across religious boundaries between the two major religions represented in Europe. The significance of the initiative, and the responses ignited by it, may result in increased understanding and to the reduction of tension and misunderstandings between these two major religious communities.
Background and Intention
“If Muslims and Christians ar not at peace, the world cannot be at peace”. This quotation from A Common Word explains much of the background and the intention behind it. The two largest religions of the world must live in peace to the true to their sources and foundations, as well as be responsible in a time in history when the collected force of our military weaponry is beyond imagination. “The very survival or the world itself is at stake”.
The search for common ground is increasingly important as the two religious communities continue to intertwine through migration, trade, culture and politics.
Starting Point: Love of God and Love of Neighbour
Referring to the Old Testament of the Bible and bringing in passages from the New Testament and the Quran, the authors point out the substantial common foundation of the two faiths: the love of one God an of our neighbour. Peace becomes the single word that collects the essenceof the twofold conceptof love as well as the necessary precondition for co-existence.
“So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.”
A Common Word sparked off a series of replies from Christian addressees and has lead to numerous discussions, seminars and conferences, out of which many replies and statements have emerged.
Among the responses — be they secular, Jewish or Christian — there are mostly positive echoes ond welcoming acknowledgements of the initiative of the 138 Muslims. Some relplies also hold reservations regarding the theology of the Letter.
How Common is the Word?
A Common Word focusses on the similarities of the holy scriptures and theologies of the religious traditions. Readers have echoed the good intention of the letter, repeating also the necessity of peaceful co-existence. Theologically some readers have found the strong emphasis on one God to be too much dependent on Muslim theology, and not sufficiantly taking into account the uniqueness or the Christian trinitarian teachings. The common ground they argue may have to be found elsewhere than on a common understanding or God’s being.
The Muslim – Catholic relations were under some strains one year prior to the release of A Common Word. In total the communication between the Muslim leaders and the Vatican has been substantial, resulting in a top level Catholic-Muslim Forum that took place in the Vatican November 2008. THe outcome is seen as promising for the relations, and the official statement indicates a following up of the Catholic-Muslim Forum.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, generally regarded as the most prominent leader of world Anglicanism, introduces his response to the letter by giving his interpretation.
“We interpret your invitation as saying ‘let us find a way of recognizing that on some matters we are speaking enough of a common language for us to be able to pursue both exploratory dialogue and peaceful co-operation with integrity and without compromising fundamental beliefs.” Williams said in his 17-page letter.
From the Communiqué of the Second Meeting of the Chief Rabbis of Israel and the Archbishop or Canterbury, Jerusalem 31st October 2007:
“The ‘Common Word’, though addressed to Christian Churches, also makes clear its respect for Hebrew scripture in citing directly from the Book of Deuteronomy and in acknowledging the inspiration that this provided for their understanding of the Quranic teachings on the unity and love of God and of neighbour. In promoting these values we commit ourselves and encourage all religious leaders to ensure that no materials are disseminated by our communities that work against this vision. We have agreed that in responding to the Common Word, it will be important to consider carefully together how the perspectives of Christians and Jews are properly held together.”
The full communiqué
The ECRL 2007 Executive Committee Meeting Statement:
“The letter represents a positive and constructive spirit and comes at a crucial time for Muslim-Christian relations.”
“The European Council of Religious Leaders further wolcomes the positive responses already offered by a number of church leaders an encourages all Christian leaders to study the document and give further responses.” Read the full statement here.
Letters, meetings, seminars, conferences, new singnatories, news articles and media debates have followed the issuing of the letter A Common Word. Some examples:
2008 November 04 – 06: Catholic-Muslim Forum in the Vatican
2008 October 18 – 20: The World Council of Churches (WCC) met in Chavannes-de-Bogis, Switzerland – for consultations with a number of Christian world communions, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and the Roman Catholic Church – all in all some 50 church leaders and experts on Christian-Muslim dialogue to attempted to provide a space for churches and communions to share their initiatives and theological resources for engaging with Muslims, and to identify substantial issues for Christian theology in relation to Christian-Muslim dialogue. More here.
2008 October 12 – 15: A major international conference of Muslim and Christian scholars and religious leaders held at Cambridge University: A Common Word and Future Muslim-Christian Engagement
A Common Word and ECRL Contributions
ECRL members, signatories of A Common Word:
President, Federal Society for Muslims in France; General Secretary of the European Islamic Conference (EIC), France; Member of the International Fiqh Academy
H.E. Shaykh Prof. Dr. Mustafa Cerić
Grand Mufti and Head of Ulema of Bosnia and Herzegovina
H.E. Shaykh Nezdad Grabus
Grand Mufti of Slovenia
A Common Word is still open for new signatories, out of which the following from World Conference on Religions for Peace has added their name:
October 18, 2007: Mehrézia Labidi-Maiza
International Co-ordinator of Religious Women for Peace Network and Member of the Interreligious Council
Final Statement of the November 2008 Catholic-Muslim Forum
Archbishop Rowan Williams response as anMS Word Doc 17-page letter.
Jewish Response in the Communiqué of the Second Meeting of the Chief Rabbis of Israel and the Archbishop or Canterbury, Jerusalem 31st October 2007: Text of the communiqué
The World Council of Churches Chavannes-de-Bogis, consultations on Christian-Muslim dialogue. To be read here.