Kargador at Dawn

Kargador at Dawn
Work in the Vineyard

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Unity and Fellowship in Diversity

Unity and Fellowship in Diversity
By Fr. Eliseo ‘Jun’ Mercado, OMI
Badaliyya – Philippines

Few years back (0ctober 13th, 2007 – which coincided with the end of Ramadan that year), 138 Muslim Scholars, Academics, Muftis, and Leaders from 43 nations representing the two major branches of the Islamic World (Sunni0 and Shi’a) and other smaller groups and sects wrote a letter to the Pope and other Christian Leaders (now known as “A Common Word’).  The title of the letter is NO accident. It is taken from a Sura (Chapter) of the Qur’an – Sura 3: 64 (Sura of the family of Imran) that states: “A Common Word between Us and You”.

The passage is a direct quotation from the prophet to the Christians when he sees that he cannot reach agreement with the Christians and the Qur’an. This is what the prophet said: “Come let us agree on at least one common ground: that we shall worship none but God and that we shall ascribe no partner unto him, and that none shall take other for lords beside God”.

The Letter has three major parts: the 1st is the Love of God in Islam and Love of God as the first and greatest commandment in the Gospel (al-injil); the 2nd is the Love of Neighbor, again, in Islam and in the Gospel; and 3rd is an invitation to come to “a common word between us and you”.

The Letter insistently stresses the unique devotion of the believers to one God.  The Love of God In the Islamic Tradition, God is the Lord (Rabb) of the worlds and he is All-Merciful (al-Rahmaan) and All-Compassion (al-Rahim).  And in the Gospel (al-injil): ‘God is Love’ (1John 4:8).  ‘We love, because God first loved us’ (1 John 4: 19).  Yes, our love of god springs from and is nourished by God’s love for us.  It is interesting to note that the Love of God is rarely used in the Qur’an but found abundantly in the Islamic mystical traditions (among the Sufi).  Usually the Muslims speak of ‘obedience to God’ or ‘adoration of God’.  

The other interesting point is the Love of Neighbor.  The Letter speaks that love of neighbor is the pinnacle of our duties toward our neighbors.  None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself’ the Prophet Muhammad said (pub). And in the New Testament, we similarly read: ‘whoever does not love the neighbor does not know God. (1 John 4: 8).  Thus speaking of the ‘Love of God’ and ‘Love of neighbor’ albeit with some nuances is a refreshing novelty in an official and public document with a broadening theological consensus (ijma).

Both Islam and Christianity have beautiful traditions of loving and forgiving enemies.  At the end of his life, Jesus Christ prayed for his enemies: ‘forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23: 34).  Similarly, the prophet Muhammad (pub) did the same when he was violently rejected and stoned by the people of Ta’if saying: ‘the most virtuous behavior is to engage those who sever relations, to give to those who withhold from you and to forgive those who wrong you’.  It is good to note that after the prophet was driven out of Ta’if, it was the Christian slave ‘Addas who went out to the prophet, brought him food, kissed him, and embrace him.

The Letter attempts to re-establish that relation that ought to exist between Christians and Muslims, especially in these dangerous times of extremism and radicalism that kill and persecute in the name of religion and god.  This is, in fact, clearly stated in the introduction by recalling that both Christians and Muslims constitute over 55% of the world’s population.  Without peace and justice between these two religions, there can be no sustainable and meaningful peace in the world. And when these two major religions come to a common word, peace and prosperity as well as care of the earth become more real and sustainable.

Another beautiful point in the letter is the acknowledgement and re-iteration of the Qur’anic passage that our religious diversities are destined/planned by God. “Had God willed, He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you. So vie one with another in good works. Unto God ye will all return and He will then inform ye of that wherein ye differ” (al-Ma’idah 5: 48).

This is truly a refreshing gust of wind in an age of extremism! The Letter invites all to come to a common word, that is, ‘to vie one with another in good works’ as a paradigm of our relationship. It points to the fact that Muslims and Christians can live together in peace and harmony despite their differences and moreover, God wants these differences!

Definitely, the Letter provides a new basis of the relationship between Muslims and Christians.  The letter, no doubt, invites all to pursue the common commitment and determination to establish peace among the believers and see beyond their differences the SIGN for those who know (for they are touched by God  - inna fi daalika la-aayaatin li-l-‘aalimina), that is, as the Mercy and Compassion of our Lord.

Editor’s Note:
1.     At present there are over 380 Muslim Scholars, Academics, Mufti and Leaders who have affixed their signatures to the Letter.
2.     All the Letter’s addressees: The Pope and All the other Christian Leaders of the pre-Chalcedonian Christianity and the Churches of Reformation including major Theological & Divinity Schools have positively responded to the Letter.
3.     There is a continuing Forum and Dialogue on the “Common Word”. The first one was in Europe, followed by USA, the Vatican and Saudi Arabia.
4.     In the Philippines, the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID Director Amina Rasul-Bernardo) and the Institute for Autonomy & Governance (IAG Senior Policy Adviser, Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI) continue the discourses on the ‘Common Word’.
5.     There is a complete publication on the Common Word compiling all the activities and forum on the letter in One Volume on the occasion of its 5th anniversary in 2012.  Anyone interested can avail of an e-copy … you need only to google common word…

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