Muslim scholars call for peace with Christians
By Peter Graff in London
October 12, 2007
MORE than 130 Muslim scholars from around the globe have called for peace and understanding between Islam and Christianity, saying "the very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake".
In an unprecedented letter to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders, 138 Muslim scholars said finding common ground between the world's biggest faiths was not simply a matter for polite dialogue between religious leaders.
“If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace,” the scholars wrote.
"With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world's inhabitants.
“Our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake,” they wrote, adding that Islam and Christianity already agreed that love of God and neighbour were the two most important commandments of their faiths.
Relations between Muslims and Christians have been strained as al-Qaeda has struck around the world and as the US and other Western countries intervened in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Such a joint letter is unprecedented in Islam, which has no central authority that speaks on behalf of all worshippers.
The list of signatories includes senior figures throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe and North America.
They represent Sunni, Shiite and Sufi schools of Islam.
Among them were the grand muftis of Egypt, Palestine, Oman, Jordan, Syria, Bosnia and Russia and many imams and scholars.
War-torn Iraq was represented by both Shiites and Sunnis.
Mustafa Cagrici, the mufti who prayed with the Pope in Istanbul's Blue Mosque last year, was also on the list, as was the popular Egyptian television preacher Amr Khaled.
'Mainstream voice drowned out'
The letter was addressed to the Pope, leaders of Orthodox Christian churches, Anglican leader Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the heads of the world alliances of the Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and Reformed churches.
Williams said he welcomed it as “indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world”.
“The call to respect, peace and goodwill should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries,” he said.
A Vatican official in Rome said the Roman Catholic Church would not comment until it had time to read the letter.
Aref Ali Nayed, one of the signatories and a senior adviser to the Cambridge Interfaith Program at Cambridge University in Britain, said the signatories represented the “99.9 per cent of Muslims” who follow mainstream schools and oppose extremism.
“In Islam we have had a problem for some time now where the mainstream voices are drowned out by a minority that choose violence,” he said.
Nayed said organisers of the letter had set up an ad hoc network among Muslim leaders that could lead to more cooperation in future.
“These people don't take their signatures lightly,” he said.
“We are trying to institutionalise this so we don't lose it.”
The overture to Christians could be followed by similar letters addressed to Jews or secularists, he added.
Pope Benedict sparked Muslim protests last year with a speech hinting Islam was violent and irrational.
It prompted 38 Muslim scholars to write a letter challenging his view of Islam and accepting his call for serious Christian-Muslim dialogue.
The Pope repeatedly expressed regret for the reaction to the speech, but stopped short of a clear apology sought by Muslims.
The new letter argues in theological terms, giving quotes from the Koran and the Bible that show both Christianity and Islam considered love of God as their greatest commandment and love of neighbour as the second greatest.
“The basis for this peace and understanding already exists,” it said.
“It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the one God and love of the neighbour.”
It is gratifying to see that there are at least some Islamic Scholars who are willing to reduce the animosity between Muslims and Christians but must be noted that these 130 signers constitute only a fraction of tens of thousands of others who are considered as scholars. There is no reason to believe that the Islamic fanatics and those who sponsor them have an interest in living in peace with non Muslims, or will abandon their plan to dominate not only the Islamic countries also the non Muslims.
Much of the Muslim violence against Christians has been directed against the helpless native Christians, often as a matter of retaliation against the so-called Christian West, which they have justified by citing a real or imagined injustice against a Muslim State. It is a known fact that Christians living in Muslim countries do not decide the social, political, economic or militaristic conducts of any Western country. Since the Pope's misstatement, a while ago, and a Danish news paper publication of Cartoons insulting the Prophet Mohammed dozens of Christian churches in Iraq have been bombed, hundreds of thousands of their adherents were forced to flee their home, and many were killed. Such indiscriminate reprisals are not only irrational also demean Islam. It is unjust to punish all Christians for somthing this or that socalled Christian country may do. No one in his right mind will considers Musilsms of the world responsible for the killing and the enslaving of Christians in Sudan. Punishing the innocent for the crime of the guilty is considered a sin in Koran but Muslim scholars have failed to educate the public about such facts, allowing the criminals to interpret the Koran as they please.
In their letter the Scholars state;
"As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them -- so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes…" When have Christians of the Middle East waged war against Muslims for any reason, oppressed them or have driven them out of their homes? The answer is never, yet the Christian communities in Muslim countries have been historically subjected to such injustices and even more. A good example of this is the present day persecution of the Christians in Iraq.
Muslim Scholars have failed to teach their brethren that Western countries are ruled predominantly by religiously neutral governments who care little about the Christians in the Muslim world and are often willing to sacrifice them for the sake of their country's economic or geopolitical ambitions.
While Islamic Scholars outreach to the Christian leaders in the west is admirable a more important task for them would be to come up with a bill of rights for the Christian communities in the Muslim world who are often persecuted because of slightest excuses for lack of such rules. These rights if honored by most Muslims will go a long way in portraying Islam as a kind and caring religion, and perhaps will reduce support for the militant extremists who are determent to portray Islam as a religion of death and destruction.