I am honored to be with you today and to be asked to address you. This conference — Transforming Communities: Christians and Muslims building A Common Future — promises to be an important milestone in developing harmonious relations and better understanding between Christians and Muslims, and we pray that it will be successful in sha Allah.
The idea for this conference originates from the A Common Word Initiative of October 13th 2007, and the response of the previous General Secretary of the World Council of Churches — Reverend Dr Samuel Kobia. I had the
pleasure of discussing it with him when he visited Jordan in 2008. However, it is only now that this conference has come to fruition, so I must thank both Dr Kobia and Dr Fykse Tveit — as well as Dr Mohammad Al-Sharif, the
Director of the World Islamic Call Society, on the Muslim side.
As can be seen on www.acommonword.com, the A Common Word initiative focuses on ‘Love of God’ and ‘Love of the Neighbour’ as a joint platform for peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians, and after three years and various historical conferences it has emerged that, theologically speaking, Muslims and Christians do indeed share ‘Love of God’ and ‘Love of the Neighbour’ at the heart of their religions, even though these may be understood or interpreted differently. Indeed, on May 9th 2009, 2 at the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, Jordan, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI noted that: ‘the more recent A Common Word letter …. echoed a theme consonant with my first encyclical: the unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor, and the fundamental contradiction of resorting to violence or exclusion in the name of God (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 16)’.
Some Protestants in particular have questioned how Muslims and Christians can have ‘Love of God’ in common since we do not have the same conception of God, and since Muslims do not accept Trinitarian Theology. However, the Holy Qur’an clearly says: … our God and your God is One … (Al-‘Ankabut, 29: 46) and the Nostra Aetate (‘In Our Time’)
Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council of October 28th 1965 admits: ‘[Muslims] … worship God, who is One, Living and Subsistent, Merciful and Almighty’.
Moreover, we hardly need say that the Common Word of Love of God and the Neighbour lies in the subject not the object. Thus if we say that ‘we as Muslims and Christians have Love of God and the Neighbour in common’ this does not presuppose, logically speaking, that Muslims have exactly the same theology as Christians, any more than if we said ‘we all have love of country in common’ presupposes that we all come from the same country. Howbeit, the object of the initiative was not at all to reduce our religions to a common theological core but rather to find a common
essence — not denying all our many and irreducible differences — that would allow us to more easily be at peace and harmony with one another, and indeed practice love (caritas) towards one another.
This we should seek to do altruistically — not for a hidden ulterior motive such as building bridges so that we can more easily proselytize and convert one other; nor as a favour that we are condescendingly doing for each other; nor even as an act of alliance between us such that we expect the other side to reciprocate to other followers of our own religion; nor, finally, because we are all in the same boat and if we continue fighting we might destroy the whole world (ourselves included) — but rather because practicing caritas is the right thing to do, and because it is what God wants
us to do. Moreover, human love, when the motive is noble, always benefits the lover more than the beloved, who may or may not benefit from it and may not even be aware of it. As you all know better than I, love liberates us
from our own egos and changes our own souls.