Not all the responses were violent, however, and the more moderate voices within Islam published a document which came to be known as ‘The Common Word Initiative’ from its title ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’. It was drawn up and signed by 138 significant Muslim scholars and clerics from around the world. Now it has over 20,000 signatories on the web. It was a significant initiative because it came from Muslims determined to open up a dialogue with Christian leaders and has given birth to important interreligious dialogues, especially between Islam and Christianity, as well as World Interfaith Harmony Week. The Abridged version of the document begins
“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. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.
The basis for this 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 neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity.” ................“Thus in obedience to the Holy Qur’an, we as Muslims invite Christians to come together with us on the basis of what is common to us, which is most essential to our faith and practice.”
For academics there is much to discuss in the document – is love really the basis of Christianity, what about God’s love for us? It opens the way for some significant theological discussions but for us more ordinary folk it is a sound basis on which to base our desire and hopes to establish good relations with our Muslim brothers and sisters. And World Interfaith Harmony Week as well as Interfaith Week in the UK can be a focus for this.
The United Nations Resolution sets out the purpose of the week. Recognising the importance of interreligious dialogue for mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation it
1. Reaffirms that mutual understanding and interreligious dialogue constitute important dimensions of a culture of peace;
2. Proclaims the first week of February every year the World Interfaith Harmony Week between all religions, faiths and beliefs;
3. Encourages all States to support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week, based on love of God and love of one’s neighbour or on love of the good and love of one’s neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions;
The week is an attempt to highlight the good interfaith initiatives that are taking place all over the world. It would be hard to find anyone today who did not agree that good interfaith relations are necessary for peace but more difficult to find too many people willing to give time and energy to it. One off events are good, visits to one another’s place of worship interesting and maybe even disturbing for some, attending interfaith services an opportunity to pray beside one another if not with one another but if interfaith is to truly contribute to a culture of peace it needs, to be built on solid interfaith friendships. It’s only within the context of trust and friendship that we can begin to talk about some of the difficult issues that divide us and cause tension between us. And interfaith friendships, like all friendships, take time and energy. In my experience this means simply spending time with one another and engaging in conversations, meetings, actions that of themselves don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Interfaith friendships mean being human together, sharing the high and low points of one another's lives, sharing meals and above all learning about the faith of others as well as sharing my own. For me one of the joys of interfaith work has been the joy of making good friends. And sometimes I feel closer to friends in other faiths than I do to some people in my own and I know I’m not the only person to experience this. While good neighbourliness and a sharing of aspects of our common life as citizens is authentic dialogue, interreligious friendships are more intentional and focussed on a sharing of faith, spirituality, experience and commitment. They're not a means to an end that is political or even social though I do believe they sow the seeds of peace in our world. They also bring about personal transformation as we learn to appreciate difference and gain insights into our own faith.
An effective way of doing this is to study and read the scriptures of other faiths with an open mind, open to the insights of others. Scriptural Reasoning is an approach that allows believers of different faiths to reflect on scriptures with a common theme from each of their faiths. It's edifying to hear how believers understand their scripture, to see the similarities and differences but also the wisdom which we can all apply to our lives. I like scriptural reasoning because it’s a simple way that allows for some depth to a conversation that often gets to the heart of our faiths so that it is indeed a dialogue of heart to heart. It's this kind of dialogue that develops the trust and respect that enables us to ask the hard questions. It also allows us to understand the complexities and tensions within religions and of the need for all of us to support what is best in each of our faiths. There is a strong anti- religious feeling around especially in secular Europe and religions need one another. They need to stand up for one another and to speak well of one another. Just after his inauguration in 2013 Pope Francis wrote to the Muslim community and called on Christians and Muslims to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers and to do so not only in the presence of someone from another faith "but always and everywhere, avoiding unfair criticism or defamation”. This echoes a quote from Diana Eck that I often use "people of every religious tradition depend upon one another to interpret one another fairly and accurately. We are the keepers of one another’s image …. This is a sacred trust"
It's a small step but one we're all capable of and one that will make its own contribution to world peace and harmony if we live by it.