November 9, 2007


Dialogue with Muslims is the way to find truth and peace

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Did you know that Christians and Muslims together make up more than half of the world’s population?

Christians represent more than a third of the people on the planet while Muslims represent one-fifth. Together, we are 55 percent of humanity. This fact alone makes relations between these two “great world religions” a matter of global importance.

Add to that the historic animosity between us—the atrocities committed in the names of Jesus and Allah—and the current horrors of terrorism, war and political corruption, and there can be no question that dialogue between Christians and Muslims should be a matter of grave importance to all people of good will.

What does authentic dialogue require? Mutual respect, tolerance and a desire for genuine understanding of the beliefs, customs and distinctively different world views of Christianity and Islam.

What are the main obstacles to dialogue? Ignorance, suspicion, bigotry, militarism and fundamentalism on the part of minority factions on both sides of the conversation.

Recently, 138 Muslim leaders and scholars from various regions of the world sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders—including the patriarchs of many Orthodox Churches, the archbishop of Canterbury, the president of the Lutheran World Foundation, the general secretary of the World Methodist Council and the president of the Baptist World Alliance.

The Muslim leaders who signed this document come from every school of thought in Islam. They urge dialogue and the search for “common ground” between Muslims and Christians.

The letter, which was sponsored by the Jordan-based Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, quoted extensively from both the Bible and the Quran in an attempt to highlight the similarities between the two faith traditions.

According to this diverse group of clerics, scholars, elected officials and other Muslim leaders, “The basis for 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 neighbor. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The unity of God, the necessity of love of the neighbor, is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.”

Never before has a group of Muslims offered this kind of comprehensive analysis of the potential positive relationship between Christianity and Islam. The letter proposes what the signatories believe is a mainstream Islamic position that respects Christian beliefs and traditions, and seeks to find a common basis for interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

Unfortunately, this same group of Muslim leaders has now criticized the Vatican’s response to their letter.

In an Oct. 12 interview with Vatican Radio, French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, called the letter “a very encouraging sign because it demonstrates that good will and dialogue are capable of overcoming prejudices.”

However, in a subsequent comment to the French newspaper La Croix, Cardinal Tauran is quoted as saying that authentic dialogue with Muslims is not possible since “Muslims do not accept that one can discuss the Quran in depth, because they say it was written in dictation by God. With such an absolute interpretation, it’s difficult to discuss the contents of faith.”

The Muslim leaders think Cardinal Tauran has missed the point.

“Dialogue is by definition between people with different views,” they say. “Its purpose is to see where there is common ground in order to meet there and thereby make the world better, more peaceful, more harmonious and more loving.”

We agree that dialogue is essential, and we hope that Cardinal Tauran’s comments have been taken out of context (not unlike the Holy Father’s Regensburg lecture a year ago).

Real dialogue requires all concerned to be open, honest and direct about what unites us, and what divides us, as people of faith in the one God.

It also involves a willingness to work together on concrete, practical issues that we clearly hold in common: the sacredness of human life, the value of family life, education, employment, service to the poor and needy, environmental issues, and the fight against corruption, injustice and the evils of war.

No one pretends that the conversation between Christianity and Islam is simple or easy to maintain. Let’s pray for open, honest and unapologetic dialogue among Muslims and Christians (and our elder brothers and sisters in faith, the Jews).

This is the way to peace. May the Spirit of God guide us and sustains on this difficult, but critically important, journey.

—Daniel Conway

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