LONDON – The spiritual leader of the third largest Christian denomination in the world was one of the first to welcome an unprecedented call for peace and understanding between Islam and Christianity from some of the world's most powerful Muslim clerics, scholars and intellectuals.
"If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace," stated a letter carrying 138 signatures, including those of Muslim leaders from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Europe and the United States. "With the terrible weaponry of the modern world, with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the worlds inhabitants."
In response, Archbishop Rowan Williams, who leads the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, said "[t]he call to respect, peace and goodwill should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries."
"The theological basis of the letter and its call to 'vie with each other only in righteousness and good works; to respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual good will,' are indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world, and especially where Christians and Muslims live together," the Anglican leader also stated.
In addition to Williams, Thursday's letter also addressed Pope Benedict XVI, head of the Roman Catholic Church; Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches; Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I, "first among equals" in the Eastern Orthodox Communion; as well as leaders of world groupings of Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed Christians.
In the letter, entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You," Muslim scholars from around the world said "finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders."
"Our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake," it stated.
Using quotations from the Bible and the Koran to support their message, the scholars argued that the most fundamental tenets of Islam and Christianity are identical: love of one (and the same) God, and love of one's neighbor.
"[L]et our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works," they urged in the 15-page letter.
"Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to (one) another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill."
In a statement released by the Evangelical Alliance, which represents more than a million evangelical Christians in the United Kingdom, church leaders said the letter "rightly draws attention to the fact that love of God and love of neighbor are central to the Quran and the Bible."
"Any approach that is seeking to draw different religions into dialogue for the purpose of peace must be encouraged," the alliance stated.
"There is a real challenge to both faiths to counter extremism and those who would pursue the path of violence," the U.K. leaders added. "If this letter can help in that fight, then we are grateful for it."
While the Evangelical Alliance praised the call for peace and understanding, it also acknowledged the differences between the two faith groups.
"As the letter also acknowledges, genuine and important differences between the two faiths remain," the group noted.
"Neither Christianity, nor Islam, is built on an abstract notion of love or faith. Rather, Christianity is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, the God who became flesh and lived among us."
Still, EA General Director Joel Edwards said he welcomed any movement from the Islamic world that is directed at peaceful engagement between faiths.
"All major faiths need to look back in their history and recognize that we all have a moral and spiritual responsibility to ensure that our philosophical convictions are not used to support acts of extremism," he stated.
"It's a daunting and urgent task which cannot be done unilaterally by any faith, and it must also be done with a mutual respect and tolerance."
According to Newsweek, signers of the letter hail from all branches of Islam – Sunni and Shia, Salafi and Sufi, liberal and conservative – and include no fewer than 19 current and former grand ayatollahs and grand muftis.
Christian Post correspondent Daniel Blake in London contributed to this report.