A Common Word Between Us and You
is an open letter signed by 138 Muslimleaders, and produced under the auspices of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought of Jordan. Dated 13 October 2007, it is addressed to the Pope, andother Christian leaders throughout the world. What should Christians make of it, andhow should they respond?
A Common Word
ostensibly seeks to build a bridge over which Muslims andChristians may approach each other. It is important for Christians to consider carefully what is the nature of this bridge, and what are the implications of walkingout upon it.On the one hand, the letter invites Christians to join together with Muslims toestablish a sound basis for harmonious dialogue. According to the letter itself, thecontext it addresses is a potential impending disaster on a massive scale, a globalconflict between Christians and Muslims: ‘the very survival of the world is perhaps atstake’. (p.16) To avert this threat, the letter proposes a way to avoid hatred and strifethrough reaching out and securing common theological ground, which Christians andMuslims should agree on, which could provide a basis for communication andcooperation.On the other hand, the common ground which
A Common Word
invites Christians toagree on, includes
, which is the Islamicunderstanding of the unity of Allah. The message of
is one of the two core principles of Islam, the other being the prophethood of Muhammad.
1. Unpacking the Themes of the Common Word
1.1 Da‘wa: an invitation to Islam
This letter is, at its heart, an
to Christians to agree with Muslims oncertain Islamic teachings.The letter itself commences (p.4) with a citation from the Qur’an:
unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and contendwith them in the fairest way. Lo! Thy Lord is Best Aware of him who strayethfrom His way, and He is Best Aware of those who go aright (Sura 16:125).Likewise, the introductory summary to the letter concludes with these words:‘…in obedience to the Holy Qur’an, we as Muslims
Christians to cometogether with us…’Beginnings are very important in Islamic rhetoric, so the fact that the concept of
is highlighted at the start is a key to understanding the whole letter.What is the significance of ‘invitation’ in Islam? The Arabic word
, which may be translated ‘invitation’, ‘call’ or ‘summons’, refers to the task of spreading Islam inthe world.
is the technical term in Islam for proselytism.Sura 16:125, which heads the letter, is a famous proof text for
, and as such itframes and determines the meaning of what follows. To commence the letter in thisway is a clear announcement that this is an exercise in
This formal opening to