St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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A Common Word

Many Americans harbor fears about Islam, whether silently or spoken aloud.  We should be open about this.  No good can come from hiding such feelings and thoughts.  Some Christian leaders have spoken against Islam, particularly since 9/11 and subsequent military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Many people worry about Pakistan and its alleged complicity with Al-Qaeda.  We live in a world of heightened suspicions about the tactics and motives of many people associated with the name of Islam.

There is another side to all of this, however.  Suspicion can turn into curiosity, given a little nudge, and that has also happened.  Americans, and the western world in general, have not had much experience with Islam until the last quarter-century.  Many locales have seen the growth of three-way dialogues among Jews, Christians, and Muslims.   Such dialogue should increase for the sake of understanding and community harmony.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims are called Abrahamic Faiths because they descend from a common ancestor.  The Qur’an calls Jews and Christians “peoples of the book” who share a common background with Islamic faith.  Each of the three faiths rests upon scriptural grounds, and the Qur’an considers these grounds to be interrelated.  Jesus is referred to frequently in the Qur’an.  Even though Christians and Muslims view Jesus differently, we can rejoice that he is referred to with great reverence in another sacred text.

Toward the end of 2007 a number of Islamic scholars set forth a document called A COMMON BETWEEN YOU AND US.  This was intended to open dialogue between Christians and Muslims and was in direct response to a speech given by Pope Benedict xvi in which he quoted harsh words about Islam from a medieval source.  Hot heads rose up, but cooler heads prevailed in A COMMON WORD.

A COMMON WORD began with a small group but at last count over three hundred Muslim scholars, clerics, and professional people have now signed on to the document in support of its content and aim.  Many individuals and groups of Christians and Jews have also endorsed the thrust of the document.  Conferences have been held in various places, beginning at Yale University, since its publication.

The document is too long, and its subsequent history too rich, for adequate summary.  But to whet your appetite:  A COMMON WORD focuses primarily on love of God and love of neighbor, calling us all to the centrality of both of these actions to our lives.  The document stresses the Oneness of God and seeks to find – to this writer – new ways to embrace Christians, with whom Islam has had quarrels over the teaching of the Holy Trinity.  While recognizing that Christianity and Islam are very different religions, and with no attempt to gloss over those differences, the document calls Christians to faithfulness to their own understanding of love of God and love of neighbor.  The writers emphasize that Islam is not against Christianity or Christians and that, according to the Muslim understanding of Jesus’ words in the New Testament (Mark 9:40; Luke 9:50), Christianity need not be against Islam or Muslims.

For more information online, go to the web site: http://acommonword.com and explore the various links.

Las Cruces is an ideal place for such an interfaith event.  There is a sizeable Muslim community here; there is a sizeable Muslim Student Association at New Mexico State University.  We are a community of Christians and Jews as well.  There are courses at the University introducing students to religious studies on a regular basis.  The time is ripe to open up a dialogue.  A COMMON WORD can help.  I am willing to help.  Let’s see what we can do.

published 15 May 09