The controversy over the Islamic initiative to dialogue ('A Common Word') and the response of a group of Christian theologians ('A Christian Reponse') continues unabated. For details of the debates, have a look at www.stfrancismagazine.info in its March 2008 issue.
The Rev Colin Chapman wrote an article that we'll publish on the StFrancisMagazine in June, defending why he signed the controversial 'A Christian Response'. Here some parts of that article to make you want more!
Rev Colin Chapman:
Let me begin by explaining why I felt positive about ACW when it first appeared and why I signed the Yale Response. I will then summarise the main arguments developed in several recent Christian statements which have been critical of both ACW itself and the Yale Letter (e.g. by Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund and Mark Durie, www.acommonword.blogspot.com). Finally I will explain why I disagree with these cautious and critical responses.
Reasons for a positive response
- The signatories represent many different kinds of Islam, and include leaders and scholars from many different countries. Never before has such a wide cross-section of Muslim leaders come together to issue an appeal of this kind.
- Since ACW is an invitation to Christians to engage in further dialogue, we either accept the invitation, decline it or ignore it. Declining or ignoring an invitation as serious as this sends a very unhelpful message to the Muslim world.
- It recognises the seriousness of the political issues dividing the world, suggesting that ‘our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.’ This is no exercise in detached, philosophical or theological dialogue.
- In emphasising ‘the primacy of total love and devotion to God’ and ‘all-embracing constant and active love of God’, it uses Jewish and Christian scripture to sum up ideas which are seen as fundamental also in Islam. It is extraordinary that Muslims are attempting to summarise some of their key beliefs not in traditional Islamic language but in language drawn from Jewish and Christian scriptures.
- It avoids polemical approaches by recognising the common ground as well as differences between the two faiths, and expresses the hope that ‘this common ground be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us …’
- It recognises the importance of human rights issues, saying that ‘justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part of love of the neighbour’.
- By suggesting that ‘the Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is … the common ground between Christianity and Islam’, it seems to recognise that Christians acknowledge the oneness of God and might be genuine monotheists.
- It also seems to recognise that Christian beliefs about Jesus may not amount to the cardinal sin of shirk (association, i.e. putting a created being on the level of the Creator). ‘Taking other lords beside God’ is interpreted to mean that ‘Muslims, Christians and Jews should be free to each follow what God has commanded them, and not have “to prostrate before kings and the like” …’
Reasons for cautious or critical responses
- The interpretation of several Qur’anic verses in ACW is significantly different from traditional interpretations. For example the key verse from which the title, A Common Word, is taken, (‘O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God …’ 3:64), in its original context is not an invitation to an open-ended dialogue, but rather a plea for Jews and Christians to accept an Islamic formula about the oneness of God.
- The letter is an example of taqiyya (usually translated ‘dissimulation’), the principle which, in the words of Patrick Sookhdeo, ‘allows Muslims to practise deception in certain circumstance. Mark Durie speaks of the Letter’s ‘indirectness’, implying that it is not entirely honest in its presentation and intentions.
- Far from being an invitation to genuine dialogue, it amounts to a missionary call, inviting Christians to accept an Islamic understanding of the oneness of God as the basis for dialogue. In the words of Mark Durie, ‘Christians are being asked to accept Islamic monotheism as the foundation for interfaith dialogue and peaceful relationships’. Similarly, Patrick Sookhdeo writes: ‘Although presented as interfaith dialogue, the letter can equally be viewed as a classical example of Islamic da‘wa (mission). It is a call to accept the Muslim concept of the unity of God (tawhid) and therefore to reject the incompatible Christian views of the Trinity and the deity of Christ… The message is that if Christians will accept Islam’s concept of the unity of God (thus denying the basic doctrines of the Trinity and deity of Christ), Muslims will accept the Christian values of love for God and neighbour as central to Islam. Thus a radical revolutionary change in Christianity is demanded in exchange for a superficial change of emphasis in Islamic perceptions.’
- There are so many things that are not mentioned in ACW. There is no reference, for example, to the militant verses in the Qur’an, no acknowledgement of God’s love for humankind as a whole, no recognition of human rights abuses against Christians in Islamic countries, and no apology for the crimes of Muslims against non-Muslims.
- Positive responses to ACW from Christians will have a harmful effect on Christians living in Islamic countries. Mark Durie believes that ‘the tone adopted in the Yale Response will come across as capitulation, and it will signal abandonment of the cause of their persecuted brother and sisters in Christ.’
For the full article, read www.stfrancismagazine.info in June 2008!