As Ruth Gledhill among others reports, 138 Muslim leaders are calling for peace between Christians and Muslims, but are also warning that if there is no peace
The “survival of the world” is at stake.
How should Christians react to this call? The issue is not a simple one because the Muslim leaders are calling for this peace to be based around “the common essentials of our two religions”. In their letter they claim to describe these essentials, but in controversial terms. Christians can surely agree with these Muslims that the two great commandments to love God and love one’s neighbour are central. But many will share the reservations of the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who points out the real differences between the two faiths.
Specifically, the Muslim leaders write:
Finally, as Muslims, and in obedience to the Holy Qur’an, we ask Christians to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions … that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God … (Aal ‘Imran, 3:64).
Let this common ground be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us, for our common ground is that on which hangs all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:40).
But this concept of the unity of God seems to contradict the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and so can hardly be described as common ground, let alone “the common essentials of our two religions”.
One reaction to this, suggested by Dr Nazir-Ali, is to take this letter as an attempt by Muslim leaders to “dictate the terms on which dialogue must be conducted”, indeed more or less to expect that Christians become Muslims. Some have even inferred a threat to world peace if the terms are not accepted.
But there is a more positive response which can and should be offered. We should assume or at least hope that these Muslim leaders are genuine in seeking world peace and dialogue with other religions. We as Christians should then continue this dialogue with Muslims in the hope of finding some points which we can really agree as “the common essentials of our two religions”. In the process we will also find some issues on which there are irreconcilable differences. But hopefully we can find enough common ground that we can agree to pursue peace and not war.
But as Christians we need to ensure that any peace terms are even-handed. We can offer to Muslims the right to worship and express their beliefs freely in Christian countries, but we should insist also that Christians have the right to worship and express their beliefs in Muslim countries – but both sides should renounce coercive and manipulative tactics. If they expect that Christians should be free to convert to Islam, we must also insist that Muslims have the right to become Christians. We should insist that a condition for world peace is a level playing field on matters like this. From then on, perhaps we should say, let the best man, or the best God, win! If as Christians we believe our faith is superior to Islam, we should expect it to have the greater success in attracting human hearts, minds and spirits.