A Common Word

September 8, 2008

Since Christians began praying daily for the Muslim world during the thirty-day season of Ramadan in 1992, many stories of Muslims meeting ‘Isa’ (Jesus) through dreams or encounters with true ‘Isa’ followers have come to light from various corners of the globe.

Perhaps as an answer to such prayers, a significant discussion has been initiated by 138 Muslim leaders, inviting Christian leaders to to explore with them the commandment to love God and love our neighbours. Contrary to popular conceptions of Islam, this commandment, they claimed, was A Common Word both to Islam and Christianity.

Lynn Green, initiator of the Reconciliation Walk down the old Crusader trail, recently joined the ‘Common Word Between Us’ discussion at Yale University. While some warn against compromise or deception, Lynn argues that ‘it is in the interests of peace and of the Kingdom of God, for us to build on the common ground and mutual understanding we have with Muslims.’

One of the foremost Muslim scholars in the world today, Professor Dr. Seyyed Nasr summarized the spirit of the meeting stating that ‘the Common Word that we are asked to accept and share does not demand of us to forgo the truth or to relativize it in the name of religious accord-as happens in so much of the shallow ecumenism prevalent today that is willing to sacrifice truth for the sake of expediency.’

Co-host was the evangelical Professor Dr. Miroslav Volf from Croatia, author of the award-winning book, Exclusion and Embrace

Several previous impressions Lynn had had about Muslim/Christian relations were reinforced by this discussion, including the following:

1. The vast majority of Muslims are dismayed at the way their religion has been used as a justification for violence that is essentially politically motivated.

2. A very large percentage of Muslims, probably a strong majority, is committed to peaceful relationships with Christians and holds a clear respect for Christians who really believe their own scriptures and seek to follow Jesus.

3. Those Muslims and Christians who live in isolated, mono-cultural settings are the ones who so easily resort to language and/or actions of hatred and fear. While those who have friends, colleagues or even casual acquaintances with ‘the other’ cannot sustain the fear and hatred.

4. We sometimes call these Muslims ‘moderates’, but that label doesn’t fit very well, nor is there any other convenient description for them. They are very often deeply devout, but have been influenced by Sufi experience (the stream of mystical or spiritual thought), or Shia ishtihad, (the process of progressive interpretation of Islam) or the pluralism of countries with various religions living together. Whatever the source, these Muslims are very anxious to regain peaceful relationships with Christians.

5. If we do not recognize these Muslims, who might well still be in the majority, and work with them towards peace and dialogue then they will be overtaken by the more extreme elements who want world domination and especially seek the destruction of Western culture and nation-states.

6. Our tendency to make sweeping anti-Muslim statements plays into the hands of the extremists by causing offense and anger among Muslim youth all over the world. Those offended young people are then prey for al Qaeda and related extremist groups.

7. Our insensitivity to Christian populations in Muslim majority nations (like Egypt or Syria or Pakistan) reinforces the impression of a deeply divided Church and that diminishes Muslim respect for our faith and undermines what could be a powerful witness for Jesus.

8. The single most damaging moment in the recent history of Muslim/Christian relationships was when President Bush used the term ‘crusade’ to describe our response to the terrorists of 9/11. The vast majority of the Muslim world was ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with us against the terrorists, but that statement shocked them (we find it very hard to understand how hateful that word is to them) and began a process of alienation that has continued over the past seven years.

9. If professing Christians were more serious about the commands of Jesus–love of enemies, peacemaking and forgiving–the distinction between our governments’ actions and that of true Christians would be much more obvious to Muslims. It seems that every time a Christian leader makes a strong anti-Muslim statement, it is published around the Muslim world.

10. The Muslim scholars who were there in Yale are very well informed about all Christian mission activity and missiological thinking. They are sometimes not resistant to transparent initiatives by Christians in their countries but are very antagonistic to anything the appears to be deceptive or coercive or offering material benefits for converting from Islam.

11. In spite of how we see the Muslim world becoming richer and more powerful they still feel that all the power is on the Christian, or Western, side. They often feel they are fighting a losing rearguard action against an all-powerful western consumer culture. They are especially concerned about their young people. They pointed out that the vast majority of the children of the most influential Muslim leaders attend Western education institutions. They asked, “Wouldn’t you feel a bit threatened if 90% of your children attended Muslim schools and universities?”

12. It is so important that we continue with mission initiatives into the Muslim world, but they must be led by people who sincerely seek to follow the demanding commandments of Jesus. These missionaries must not be defensive or aggressively patriotic about their nations and the way Muslims perceive them. We can give thanks that the global Christian mission force is not primarily Western now. That is Good News for Muslims!

Further sessions are scheduled for both this year and next.

Till next week,

Till next week,

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