Common ground with Islam?
During the week November 3-7 2008, 48 Muslim and Catholic theologians met in Rome to discuss a document elaborated last year by 138 senior Muslim scholars.
The document, A Common Word Between Us and You, proclaims itself to be an attempt to find common ground between the two religions in order to bring peace to the world.
The thesis of A Common Word is essentially that Christians should come to agreement with Muslims that love of God and love of neighbour are the most important aspects of the two faiths and therefore, instead of fighting one another, they should seek to outdo each other with good deeds.
The divinity of Christ
While, at face value, the treatise appears laudable, in actual fact it denies the most important aspects of Christianity and its mission. It is based on a verse from the Qur’an, namely Sura 3.64, which denies the identity of our God, the divinity, Sonship and Lordship of Christ, and defines us as in rebellion against the Muslim god if we reject these doctrines.
More worryingly still, previous Muslim invitations to ‘come to a common word’ or to ‘come to common terms’ have in fact constituted an invitation to accept Islam as the true religion, or at least to acknowledge Muhammad as the final prophet and therefore to endorse his writings and authority, which comes to the same thing. In 2007, four Christian scholars from Yale University wrote a Christian response to A Common Word that failed to see its pitfalls and 300 well-known leaders have already signed it.
The document wrongly assumes that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This is of fundamental importance, because how can two groups of people agree that love of God is the most important thing if it is not the same God that they are to love? Allah is said to have ‘no partners’ — that is, he is said to be a unity and not a Trinity. And herein lies the rub: to acknowledge the Lordship or Sonship of Jesus Christ is to say that he is God, or a ‘partner’ (in Muslim eyes) with God. This is blasphemy to Muslims and so the text invites Christians to agree that God has ‘no partner’.
Salvation is by grace
Another problem with this attempt to bridge the gap is that it is written with a Muslim mindset of rules, duties and good works, rather than the Christian understanding of salvation and grace. The document therefore urges that common ground should be built on the duties of loving God and neighbour and good works, which takes the heart out of the gospel entirely. The text claims that no one, including Jesus Christ, has said ‘anything better’ than the two greatest commandments. John 3.16 clearly says far more than that, for it declares ‘not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (1 John 4.10). No common ground can be found at the centre of the two religions; only on a superficial level can there be any such agreement.
Likewise, the Islamic worldview with which the text was written presupposes that the Qur’an is a valid, authoritative source and that Muhammad was an authentic prophet. Even the definitions of the ‘peace’ which is sought and the ‘neighbour’ who is to be loved contrast with the biblical ones, or even the Western ones, with which we are familiar. Surely the issue is in the interpretation of the detail here and any agreement reached would have to be very carefully drafted to avoid disputes of interpretation!
Attitudes to others
A Common Word is also disingenuous in suggesting that love of neighbour is a tenet of Islam. Such dissimulation is allowed by the Islamic doctrine of takiyya whenever the reputation of Islam is at stake. Not a single Qur’anic verse has been found that supports love of neighbour. In actual fact Islam teaches love of other Muslims and conversion of, or hostility towards non-Muslims.
While it is important to love and live in peace with Muslims and respect their religion, it is not usually from the Christian side that violence emanates (certainly in the West). In the light of this counterfeit basis for dialogue between the faiths, it is suggested that those Christian leaders who have signed Loving God and Neighbour Together: a Christian Response to ‘A Common Word between Us and You’ should consider withdrawing their signatures.
This may not be without cost, however. Revoking one’s signature to a peaceable and accepting response to A Common Word is a rejection of the invitation to convert to Islam. This is a rejection of the most peaceable offer of conversion in our generation. It is also a refusal to submit to Islam and it gives Muslims everywhere a Qur’anic ground to perpetrate jihad against those who do so. Those who are brave enough should count the cost.
Furthermore, we recommend reading The Truth About A Common Word at http://www.pilcrowpress.com/response.php. So far it is the most comprehensive Christian response to the Common Word proposal.