Christianity and Islam comprise the world's largest communities of faith - 2.1 billion Christians and 1.5 billion Muslims. If these two religious traditions cannot find ways to keep peace between themselves, the world will be in very serious trouble. As Brian McLaren posted earlier on the God"s Politics blog, a group of 138 Muslim scholars and clerics recently sent an open letter to Christians around the world, A Common Word Between Us and You. In it, they proposed that
Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world's population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.
The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.
A group of scholars at Yale Divinity School's Center for Faith and Culture wrote a response, Loving God and Neighbor Together. To date, the response has been endorsed by almost 300 Christian theologians and leaders, and it appeared on Sunday as a full page ad in The New York Times. The response begins by acknowledging that
... we were deeply encouraged and challenged by the recent historic open letter. ... We receive the open letter as a Muslim hand of conviviality and cooperation extended to Christians world-wide. In this response we extend our own Christian hand in return, so that together with all other human beings we may live in peace and justice as we seek to love God and our neighbors.
After affirming the Muslim letter's emphasis on love of God and love of neighbor as central to both faiths, the Christian response concludes
"Let this common ground" - the dual common ground of love of God and of neighbor - "be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us," your courageous letter urges. Indeed, in the generosity with which the letter is written you embody what you call for. We most heartily agree. Abandoning all "hatred and strife," we must engage in interfaith dialogue as those who seek each other's good, for the one God unceasingly seeks our good. Indeed, together with you we believe that we need to move beyond "a polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders" and work diligently together to reshape relations between our communities and our nations so that they genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another. Given the deep fissures in the relations between Christians and Muslims today, the task before us is daunting. And the stakes are great. The future of the world depends on our ability as Christians and Muslims to live together in peace.
Religious communities should not resolve their differences by killing each other. We must prevent the "clash of civilizations" that some predict or even desire. Irresponsible calls to war against "Islamo-facism," even by some Christian leaders must be countered with the spirit of the above declarations. That's why I signed this response to our Muslim counterparts and would encourage each of you to find ways to enter in to this dialogue. It's time to stop shouting and start talking. Out of that might come something even better than mere peace and dialogue - like actual interfaith collaboration in resolving some of the planet's most dangerous threats and challenges. Isn't that a better role for religion?