Call for Muslim-Christian Unity 'Very Encouraging', Says Vatican Interfaith Head

A top Vatican official in charge of relations with Islam said a recent letter from Muslim scholars to Pope Benedict XVI and other global Christian leaders is "very interesting" and "very encouraging."

"I would say that this represents a very encouraging sign because it shows that good will and dialogue are capable of overcoming prejudices," Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran said Friday, according to The Associated Press.

The letter, entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You," calls for peace and understanding between Islam and Christianity, claiming that if the two communities are not at peace "the world cannot be at peace."

"Our common future is at stake," it added. "The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake."

The document has been hailed by many as unprecedented and historic as it includes the signatures of 138 Muslim clerics, scholars and intellectuals from all branches of Islam – Sunni and Shia, Salafi and Sufi, liberal and conservative. Among the signatories were no fewer than 19 current and former grand ayatollahs and grand muftis, noted Newsweek magazine.

Dr. Aref Ali Nayed, a senior adviser at the Cambridge Inter-faith Programmed at Cambridge University, told the British Broadcasting Corp. the letter was representative of the Islamic world.

"There are Sunnis, Shias, Ibadis and even the... Ismailian and Jaafari schools, so it's a consensus," he said.

Vatican official Tauran, who heads the pontifical council for inter-religious dialogue, similarly said the letter was "very interesting" because it "comes from both Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims" – two communities who have often remained separate, mingling regularly only during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.

It is also "a non-polemical document with numerous quotes from both the Old Testament and the New Testament," he added, according to the Catholic News Agency.

Using quotations from the Bible and the Koran to support their message, the authors of the letter 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."

Shortly after news of the letter was released, Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams, who is among the letter's recipients, responded, saying "[t]he call to respect, peace and goodwill should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries."

Williams, who leads the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, the third largest Christian denomination in the world, also stated that 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."

In addition to Benedict and Williams, Thursday's letter also addressed Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I, "first among equals" in the Eastern Orthodox Communion; Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches; as well as leaders of world groupings of Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed Christians.

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