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Christian leaders ask for Muslim forgiveness

(Wam) / 26 November 2007

ABU DHABI—Peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians stand as one of the central challenges of this century, according to leading Christian leaders.

Responding to an open letter in October signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals from around the world, the Christian leaders also asked the Muslim world for forgiveness “We want to begin by acknowledging that in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in excesses of the “war on terror”) many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbours. Before we “shake your hand” in responding to your letter, we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world”, they said in the letter which was made available to the press here yesterday.

Following is the full text of the letter:

As members of the worldwide Christian community, we were deeply encouraged and challenged by the recent historic open letter signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals from around the world. A Common Word Between Us and You identifies some core common ground between Christianity and Islam which lies at the heart of our respective faiths as well as at the heart of the most ancient Abrahamic faith, Judaism. Jesus Christ’s call to love God and neighbour was rooted in the divine revelation to the people of Israel embodied in the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). We receive the open letter as a Muslim hand of conviviality and cooperation extended to Christians worldwide. 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 neighbours.

Muslims and Christians have not always shaken hands in friendship; their relations have sometimes been tense, even characterized by outright hostility. Since Jesus Christ says, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye” (Matthew 7:5), we want to begin by acknowledging that in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in excesses of the “war on terror”) many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbours. Before we “shake your hand” in responding to your letter, we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.

Religious Peace-World Peace “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.” We share the sentiment of the Muslim signatories expressed in these opening lines of their open letter. Peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians stand as one of the central challenges of this century, and perhaps of the whole present epoch. Though tensions, conflicts, and even wars in which Christians and Muslims stand against each other are not primarily religious in character, they possess an undeniable religious dimension. If we can achieve religious peace between these two religious communities, peace in the world will clearly be easier to attain. It is therefore no exaggeration to say, as you have in A Common Word Between Us and You, that “the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.” Common Ground What is so extraordinary about A Common Word Between Us and You is not that its signatories recognize the critical character of the present moment in relations between Muslims and Christians. It is rather a deep insight and courage with which they have identified the common ground between the Muslim and Christian religious communities.

What is common between us lies not in something marginal nor in something merely important to each. It lies, rather, in something absolutely central to both: love of God and love of neighbour.

Surprisingly for many Christians, your letter considers the dual command of love to be the foundational principle not just of the Christian faith, but of Islam as well. That so much common ground exists-common ground in some of the fundamentals of faith-gives hope that undeniable differences and even the very real external pressures that bear down upon us can not overshadow the common ground upon which we stand together. That this common ground consists in love of God and of neighbour gives hope that deep cooperation between us can be a hallmark of the relations between our two communities.

Love of God We applaud that A Common Word Between Us and You stresses so insistently the unique devotion to one God, indeed the love of God, as the primary duty of every believer. God alone rightly commands our ultimate allegiance. When anyone or anything besides God commands our ultimate allegiance-a ruler, a nation, economic progress, or anything else-we end up serving idols and inevitably get mired in deep and deadly conflicts. We find it equally heartening that the God whom we should love above all things is described as being Love. In the Muslim tradition, God, “the Lord of the worlds,” is “The Infinitely Good and All-Merciful.” And the New Testament states clearly that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Since God’s goodness is infinite and not bound by anything, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” according to the words of Jesus Christ recorded in the Gospel (Matthew 5:45). For Christians, humanity’s love of God and God’s love of humanity are intimately linked. As we read in the New Testament: “We love because he [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our love of God springs from and is nourished by God’s love for us. It cannot be otherwise, since the Creator who has power over all things is infinitely good. Love of Neighbour We find deep affinities with our own Christian faith when A Common Word Between Us and You insists that love is the pinnacle of our duties toward our neighbours. “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself,” the Prophet Muhammad said. In the New Testament we similarly read, “whoever does not love [the neighbour] does not know God” (1 John 4:8) and “whoever does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). God is love, and our highest calling as human beings is to imitate the One whom we worship. We applaud when you state that “justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part” of the love of neighbour. When justice is lacking, neither love of God nor love of the neighbour can be present. When freedom to worship God according to one’s conscience is curtailed, God is dishonoured, the neighbour oppressed, and neither God nor neighbour is loved. Since Muslims seek to love their Christian neighbours, they are not against them, the document encouragingly states. Instead, Muslims are with them. As Christians we resonate deeply with this sentiment. Our faith teaches that we must be with our neighbours-indeed, that we must act in their favor-even when our neighbours turn out to be our enemies. “But I say unto you,” says Jesus Christ, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Matthew 5:44-45). Our love, Jesus Christ says, must imitate the love of the infinitely good Creator; our love must be as unconditional as is God’s-extending to brothers, sisters, neighbours, and even enemies. At the end of his life, Jesus Christ himself prayed for his enemies: “Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

The Prophet Muhammad did similarly when he was violently rejected and stoned by the people of Ta’if. He is known to have said, “The most virtuous behaviour is to engage those who sever relations, to give to those who withhold from you, and to forgive those who wrong you.” (It is perhaps significant that after the Prophet Muhammad was driven out of Ta’if, it was the Christian slave ‘Addas who went out to Muhammad, brought him food, kissed him, and embraced him.) The Task Before Us “Let this common ground”-the dual common ground of love of God and of neighbour-“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. If we fail to make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony you correctly remind us that “our eternal souls” are at stake as well.

We are persuaded that our next step should be for our leaders at every level to meet together and begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another. It is with humility and hope that we receive your generous letter, and we commit ourselves to labor together in heart, soul, mind and strength for the objectives you so appropriately propose.

*Harold W. Attridge, Dean and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament, Yale Divinity School *Joseph Cumming, Director of the Reconciliation Program, Yale Center for Faith and Culture, Yale Divinity School *Emilie M. Townes, Andrew Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology, Yale Divinity School, and President-elect of the American Academy of Religion *Miroslav Volf, Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology, Yale Divinity School Martin Accad, Academic Dean, Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (Lebanon) Scott C. Alexander, Director, Catholic-Muslim Studies, Catholic Theological Union Roger Allen, Chair, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania Leith Anderson, President, National Association of Evangelicals Ray Bakke, Convening Chair, Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding Camillo Ballin, Bishop, Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait (Roman Catholic) Barry Beisner, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Northern California Federico Bertuzzi, President, PM Internacional, Latin America James A. Beverley, Tyndale Seminary, Canada Jonathan Bonk, Executive Director, Overseas Ministries Study Center Gerhard B?wering, Yale University Joseph Britton, Dean, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale John M. Buchanan, Editor/Publisher, The Christian Century Joe Goodwin Burnett, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska Samuel G. Candler, Dean, Cathedral of St. Philip, Atlanta Juan Carlos C?rdenas, Instituto Iberoamericano de Estudios Transculturales, Spain Joseph Castleberry, President, Northwest University Colin Chapman, Author David Yonggi Cho, Founder and Senior Pastor, Yoido Full Gospel Church, Seoul, Korea Richard Cizik, Vice President, National Association of Evangelicals Corneliu Constantineanu, Dean, Evangelical Theological Seminary, Croatia Robert E. Cooley, President Emeritus, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Harvey Cox, Harvard Divinity School John D’Alton, President, Melbourne Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Australia Andr? Delbecq, University of Santa Clara Keith DeRose, Yale University Andr?s Alonso Duncan, CEO, Latinoamerica Global, A.C.

Diana L. Eck, Harvard University Bertil Ekstrom, Executive Director, Mission Commission, World Evangelical Alliance Mark U. Edwards, Jr., Senior Advisor to the Dean, Harvard Divinity School John Esposito, Director Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University David Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity, Cambridge University Timothy George, Dean, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University Roberto S. Goizueta, Boston College Bruce Gordon, University of St. Andrews William A. Graham, Dean, Harvard Divinity School Lynn Green, International Chairman, YWAM Frank Griffel, Yale University Edwin F. Gulick, Jr., Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky David P. Gushee, President, Evangelicals for Human Rights Kim B. Gustafson, President, Common Ground Elie Haddad, Provost, Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Lebanon L. Ann Hallisey, Hallisey Consulting and Counseling Paul D. Hanson, Harvard Divinity School Heidi Hadsell, President, Hartford Seminary David Heim, Executive Editor, The Christian Century Norman A. Hjelm, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, retired Carl R. Holladay, Candler School of Theology, Emory University Joseph Hough, President, Union Theological Seminary, NY Bill Hybels, Founder and Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church Nabeel T. Jabbour, Consultant, Professor, Colorado Shannon Sherwood Johnston, Bishop Coadjutor, Episcopal Diocese of Virginia David Colin Jones, Bishop Suffragan, Episcopal Diocese of Virginia Stanton L. Jones, Provost, Wheaton College, IL Tony Jones, National Coordinator, Emergent Village Riad A. Kassis, Theologian, Author, Consultant Paul Knitter, Union Theological Seminary, NY Manfred W. Kohl, Vice President of Overseas Council International, USA James A. Kowalski, Dean, Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, NY Sharon Kugler, University Chaplain, Yale University Peter Kuzmic, President, Evangelical Theological Faculty Osijek, Croatia Peter J. Lee, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Virginia Linda LeSourd Lader, President, Renaissance Institute Tim Lewis, President, William Carey Int’l University John B.Lindner, Yale Divinity School Duane Litfin, President, Wheaton College Greg Livingstone, Founder, Frontiers Albert C. Lobe, Interim Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee Rick Love, International Director, Frontiers Douglas Magnuson, Bethel University Peter Maiden, International Coordinator, OM Danut Manastireanu, World Vision International, Iasi, Romania Harold Masback, III, Senior Minister, The Congregational Church of New Canaan, New Canaan, CT Donald M. McCoid, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America C. Douglas McConnell, Dean, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary Don McCurry, President, Ministries to Muslims Brian D. McLaren, Author, Speaker, Activist Kathleen E. McVey, Princeton Theological Seminary Judith Mendelsohn Rood, Biola University Steve Moore, President and CEO, The Mission Exchange (formerly EFMA) Douglas Morgan, Director, Adventist Peace Fellowship Richard Mouw, President, Fuller Theological Seminary Salim J. Munayer, Academic Dean, Bethlehem Bible College, Jerusalem Rich Nathan, Senior Pastor, Vineyard Church of Columbus David Neff, Editor in Chief and Vice-President, Christianity Today Media Group Alexander Negrov, President, St. Petersburg Christian University, Russia Richard R. Osmer, Princeton Theological Seminary George E. Packard, Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies of the Episcopal Church Greg H. Parsons, General Director, U.S. Center for World Mission Doug Pennoyer, Dean, School of Intercultural Studies, Biola University Douglas Petersen, Vanguard University of Southern California Sally Promey, Yale Divinity School Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., Loyola Marymount University David A. Reed, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto Neil Rees, International Director, World Horizons Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., Fuller Theological Seminary Leonard Rogers, Executive Director, Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding William L. Sachs, Director, Center for Reconciliation and Mission, Richmond Lamin Sanneh, Yale Divinity School Andrew Saperstein, Yale Center for Faith and Culture Robert Schuller, Founder, Crystal Cathedral and Hour of Power Elizabeth Sch?ssler Fiorenza, Harvard Divinity School Francis Sch?ssler Fiorenza, Harvard Divinity School William Schweiker, University of Chicago Donald Senior, C.P., President, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago C. L. Seow, Princeton Theological Seminary Imad Nicola Shehadeh, President, Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary David W. and K. Grace Shenk, Eastern Mennonite Missions Marguerite Shuster, Fuller Theological Seminary John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Regent College, Vancouver Glen Stassen, Fuller Theological Seminary Andrea Zaki Stephanous, Vice President, Protestant Church in Egypt Wilbur P. Stone, Bethel University, MN John Stott, Rector Emeritus, All Souls Church, London Frederick J. Streets, Yeshiva University William Taylor, Global Ambassador, World Evangelical Alliance John Thomas, President and General Minister, United Church of Christ Iain Torrance, President, Princeton Theological Seminary Michael W. Treneer, International President, The Navigators, CO Geoff Tunnicliffe, International Director, World Evangelical Alliance George Verwer, Founder and former International Director, OM Harold Vogelaar, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago Berten A. Waggoner, National Director, Association of Vineyard Churches Jim Wallis, President, Sojourners Rick Warren, Founder and Senior Pastor, Saddleback Church, and The Purpose Driven Life, Lake Forest, CA J. Dudley Woodberry, Dean Emeritus, Fuller School of International Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary Christopher J.H. Wright, International Director, Langham Partnership, London Robert R. Wilson, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Yale Divinity School Nicholas Wolterstorff, University of Virginia Godfrey Yogarajah, General Secretary, Evangelical Fellowship in Asia Community Council of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, Dayton, OH.

 
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