Ecumenical response to ‘A Common Word’ from Muslims
Ecumenical response to ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’ finds common ground between Christians and Muslims
The National Council of Churches Governing Board has approved an ecumenical response to the Muslim message, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” declaring Christianity and Islam “are compelled to find common ground.”
“A Common Word Between Us and You,” is a letter from 138 Muslim scholars worldwide (and subsequently signed by some 100 others) that seeks dialogue with Christians based on love of God and love of neighbor, two commandments central to both Islam and Christianity, as well as to Judaism. It stresses that peace in the world is integrally related to peaceful relations between Islam and Christianity. Given current tensions in the world, there is urgency in this appeal for dialogue.
The ecumenical response noted that at the heart of “A Common Word,” there is “a call for Christians to consider that Muslims are with us, and that this togetherness bears upon the state of the world. The importance of this call should not be underestimated … We pray, not only for the absence of enmity, but for the nurturing of friendship between our two communities.”
Dr. Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard University and chair of the NCC’s Interfaith Relations Commission, described “A Common Word” as a “historic document, a kind of a Muslim ecumenical letter, a bold and timely invitation.”
Eck said “there is no minimizing our differences, but our greatest commandments to the love of God and neighbor are common to us. Our very souls are at stake if we fail to come together in harmony.”
“The letter of the Muslim scholars to church leaders worldwide offers an unprecedented opportunity for collaboration between Muslims and Christians in the search for peace in the world,” said Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC Senior Program Director for Interfaith Relations. “In the United States, such an opportunity means the difference between friction and goodwill, between suspicion and friendship, in our communities.”
Many Christian leaders in the United States and throughout the world have reacted positively to this letter. One initiative meant to foster greater engagement among individual signers of both the letter and various responses has been led by the Yale Divinity School, which hosted a conference on “A Common Word” in August of this year that will be followed up with similar conferences at Cambridge University, the Vatican, and Georgetown University.
In affirmation of Muslim-Christian engagement, the Board welcomed “with gratitude” the October 2007 letter calling for a serious dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
Both Christians and Muslims “realize the urgency of talking with one another,” said Dr. Peter Makari, executive for Middle East and Europe for the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and vice chair of the NCC’s Interfaith Relations Commission.
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, president of the Islamic Society of North America, came to the Governing Board meeting to welcome the response.
“We need you to be seriously involved,” Syeed said. “When we hear the news in the Muslim world, about suicide bombers and the like, we are more pained than you because this is not what Islam represents. We must create models here that we can represent to the rest of the world. American Muslims are what Muslims can be in a democratic, pluralistic society. We need to take those steps together.”
“The NCC response to the Muslim letter is an ecclesial response, meaning it is from the churches , whose leaders thought it appropriate to respond ecumenically — and theologically, given the theological premises at the heart of the document — as the family of Christians to our brothers and sisters in the Muslim community,” Kireopoulos said after approval of the response, which came after a year-long study process. “It is the response of U.S. churches to what is a global Muslim invitation to dialogue.”