Muslim-Christian Dialogue: Courtship in Letters

If, like me, you missed the news of last month’s joint statement from 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders, don’t worry. This week, the response statement of 300 Christian scholars has made headlines and the obligatory ad in the NY Times.

Below the fold I include my favorite two scriptural references from the Muslim statement, A Common Word, the introduction to it, and part of a Jewish response from Prof. Peter Ochs, a leader of the 2000 Debru Emet Jewish statement to Christian leaders.

(Hat tip: Chronicles of Atlantis, which links to the Catholic response. The Pope, who started all this with his “controversial” Regensburg Lecture in October 2006, has not yet weighed in)

(Left) Dr Anas Sheikh-Ali officially delivering A Common Word to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev. Dr Rowan Williams, in Lambeth Palace on October 11th, 2007.
(Right) Monday, November 26, 2007 at the Cultural Foundation of Abu Dhabi, Muslim Scholars invited and hosted Prof. Dr. Miroslav Volf of Yale’s Center for Faith and Culture in order to thank him and his colleagues for their embrace of the ‘A Common Word’ document issued last month by over 138 Muslim Scholars.

Update: Insight into Pope Benedict’s process of engaging Islam here.

Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him). (Aal ‘Imran 3:64)

We thus as Muslims invite Christians to remember Jesus’s words in the Gospel (Mark 12:29-31):

… the LORD our God, the LORD is one. / And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. / And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

A Common Word Between Us and You


On October 13th 2006, one month to the day after Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address of September 13th 2006, 38 Islamic authorities and scholars from around the world, representing all denominations and schools of thought, joined together to deliver an answer to the Pope in the spirit of open intellectual exchange and mutual understanding. In their Open Letter to the Pope (see english.pdf), for the first time in recent history, Muslim scholars from every branch of Islam spoke with one voice about the true teachings of Islam.

Now, exactly one year after that letter, Muslims have expanded their message. In A Common Word Between Us and You, 138 Muslim scholars, clerics and intellectuals have unanimously come together for the first time since the days of the Prophet r to declare the common ground between Christianity and Islam. Like the Open Letter, the signatories to this message come from every denomination and school of thought in Islam. Every major Islamic country or region in the world is represented in this message, which is addressed to the leaders of all the world’s churches, and indeed to all Christians everywhere.

The final form of the letter was presented at a conference in September 2007 held under the theme of “Love in the Quran,” by the Royal Academy of The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Jordan, under the Patronage of H.M. King Abdullah II. Indeed, the most fundamental common ground between Islam and Christianity, and the best basis for future dialogue and understanding, is the love of God and the love of the neighbor.

Never before have Muslims delivered this kind of definitive consensus statement on Christianity. Rather than engage in polemic, the signatories have adopted the traditional and mainstream Islamic position of respecting the Christian scripture and calling Christians to be more, not less, faithful to it.

It is hoped that this document will provide a common constitution for the many worthy organizations and individuals who are carrying out interfaith dialogue all over the world. Often these groups are unaware of each other, and duplicate each other’s efforts. Not only can A Common Word Between Us give them a starting point for cooperation and worldwide co-ordination, but it does so on the most solid theological ground possible: the teachings of the Qu’ran and the Prophet r, and the commandments described by Jesus Christ u in the Bible. Thus despite their differences, Islam and Christianity not only share the same Divine Origin and the same Abrahamic heritage, but the same two greatest commandments.

Wal-Salaamu ‘Alaykum,
Pax Vobiscum

© 2007 C.E., 1428 A.H.
The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought
See: or:



from Peter Ochs

I trust the coming months are a time for Christians and Muslims to come to assimilate what has just happened. My experience with Dabru Emet leads me to offer the following suggestions (should Christian-Muslim experiences be similar to ours):

  • Expect negative reactions as well as positive ones and be prepared to ask appropriate signatories (and their Christian complements) to respond to these reactions, gently but also with doctrinal firmness: in private and then, if the reactions were made public, publicly as well. This will take organization and funding.
  • Nurture strong local associations of respected religious leaders and thinkers and jurists who support A Common Word and who could nurture the next step as well as respond to concerns about this first step.
  • Consider composing a scholarly publication that would supplement the Word (comparable to our book, Christianity in Jewish Terms.)
  • Consider preparing supplemental, educational materials: different publications or websites appropriate to different regions and communities. (Comparable to the work of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, and their book Irreconcilable Differences? which has been used for local church and synagogue and inter-communal groups.)
  • After a year or so of strictly Christian-Muslim response and study, consider engaging Jewish scholars for another level of inter-Abrahamic study and response.
  • Now, however, is the time for intensive and somewhat more local relations to be formed and work undertaken….

4 Responses to “Muslim-Christian Dialogue: Courtship in Letters”

  1. Scott Says:

    This link is to a strange site in 9 languages that seeks converts to Islam by first addressing suicide and isolation in very professional style. Once one clicks “Know More” to find happiness, a clunky page appears with numerous topics. A female Arabic name with a gmail address offers to answer any of your questions.

    WordPress shows my daily which search entries bring my blog traffic. Yesterday, the one search for “muslim christian letter” must have brought her to my humble blog entry on the topic. Dialogue as an opportunity to convert. Not surprising, no harm.

  2. Scott Says:

    ooops, the 2nd paragraph should start,”Wordpress shows ME daily”

  3. Amy Says:

    I see this as a peaceful means of working with Muslim faith community and the North American faith community though I still get a feeling the communities are not quite on the same page yet of the Matthew 12:29-31.

    In the end times is there not increases of famine, wars and persecutions and the flooding of the earth for the new heaven and earth Mth 24 AND 25. Rev 10 also is a good start to see the world is only temporary and the new heavens and new earth with Christ the King arrival on the clouds. So the communities must realize we will have peace only till our words are shown into plougshares and take the word of God to heart that truthfully God’s plan is much bigger than we all understand.

    We must pray and work viligantly to help one another love God and serve one another as the bible says before we get too far off from what Matthew Gospel is trying to tell us today to do.

  4. A Free Spirit Says:

    I suppose the question might involve how two parties can learn to disagree. I must admit the rigidity sanctioned under the rubric of religion would not be acceptable in other domains. Perhaps this means there is a larger problem…

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