Richard J. Mouw: How to speak out interreligiously

A patient and pain-staking word, rather than a quick try for a satisfying one, brings greater wisdom and peace.

Like many others, I wanted to hear more right after 9/11 from Muslim leaders in the United States. I was looking for a strong word from them condemning the horrible acts of terrorism. But in talking to many of them subsequently, I came to understand their sense of caution. They wanted to say something substantive on the subject, but at the same time they were fearful for their own people. They were genuinely worried that speaking out could bring acts of reprisal against innocent Muslims from the advocates of violence in the Islamic community.

What did happen as a result of 9/11 was a new sort of Muslim-Christian dialogue that focuses on issues of violence and love, peace and interreligious understanding. The seminary that I lead successfully applied for a major grant from the United States Justice Department to engage in discussions with Muslim leaders, both nationally and internationally. The kind of results that we achieved, along with other dialogues of a similar nature, were highlighed in a very public way by a strong statement issued by thirty-eight Muslim scholars from around the world, in the form of a 2006 document addressed to Christians: “A Common Word Between Us and You.” This statement, which details what the Muslim leaders see as teachings which they share with Christians, has led to continuing conversations. The basic concerns of that lengthy document are captured nicely in these comments:

"Whilst Islam and Christianity are obviously different religions -- and whilst there is no minimising some of their formal differences -- it is clear that the Two Greatest Commandments are an area of common ground and a link between the Qur’an, the Torah and the New Testament. . .

So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill."

Not a bad basis these days for interreligious dialogue. Or for cooperation amidst disagreement in general.

Richard J. Mouw is president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.