A Common Word

A friend complained two days ago that news programmes seem to delight in reporting disasters and setbacks. But before he had finished speaking an item came on that seemed good news. 130 Muslim scholars have just written to the Pope and other Christian leaders appealing from greater understanding and cooperation between the two faiths, whose adherents number more than half the planet's population.

The Muslims make a simple point; basic to both faiths is a call to love God with all the energy of mind and heart and to love others ‘as yourself.’ Between the lines there is the unwritten question; how could a country (the USA) which considers itself Christian and puts so much emphasis on trust in God – even writing it on their bank notes – have so little hesitation in turning its war engines on a Muslim country (Iraq)? The unforeseen bad effects of this attack are spreading like ripples over the planet and the Muslim scholars are making a strong plea to return to basics.

They cite the Qu’ran and the Bible side by side to show the ‘common word between us and you.’

So invoke the Name of the Lord and devote thyself to Him with a complete devotion. (Al-Muzzammil 73:8)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark12:30)

None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Iman, Hadith No. 13)

You shall love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12: 31)

It is a stunning gesture since it cuts through all the misunderstanding, suspicion and hostility that have existed between people of these faiths for so long. (At times the document also includes the Jews – ‘the People of the Scripture’). It aims to get behind all the events that have divided us so as to reach the original message of our faiths. If we agree on these fundamentals can we not live out their implications without always getting sidetracked by the endless contingencies of history?

The scholars also seem to want to undermine the drift towards fundamentalism that has arisen in both our faiths. Those who piloted planes into the twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001, appear to have derived inspiration by twisting the message of the Qu’ran to their purpose. Those who label some Arab countries as evil and detain and torture their citizens in the name of democracy and freedom also appear to draw some of their inspiration from a contorted view of Christianity.

By appealing to the call to total surrender to an all loving, all powerful God – which is common to both faiths – the Muslims are calling Christians to join with them in turning away from the cul de sacs into which we have blundered. Can we not build together on the beliefs that are common to us? The Middle East is predominantly Muslim. What is called ‘the west’ is predominantly Christian. But in Africa both faiths exist side by side, often peacefully, sometimes with tension. We could give a lead in responding on the ground to this ‘common word.’

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