John on October 13, 2007 at 6:59 pm
Recently, a group of 138 Islamic religious scholars sent a formal letter to the Pope, the head of the Orthodox and Anglican churches and other church leaders. The letter has gotten much positive press as a “offer of peace.”
Ruth Gledhill, religion writer for the London Times, quotes an Anglican bishop who is an expert on Islam:
The bishop criticises parts of the document, which goes in great detail into Koranic passages emphasising the unity of God. “One thing the document implies is that Christians have compromised their monotheism. It does this by implication, with all the business of saying we must agree that God is only one and not associated with partners, that we must not take others for Lord. It refers to various verses in the Koran which accuse Christians of taking Jesus and others as their Lord besides Allah.”
The verse the entire letter is based on, Dr Nazir-Ali says, is Koran 3:64. “Say, ‘O followers of the scripture, let us come to a logical agreement between us and you: that we shall not worship except GOD; that we never set up any idols besides Him, nor set up any human beings as lords beside GOD.’ If they turn away, say, ‘Bear witness that we are submitters’.”
He said: “This verse says that if we are going to talk it must be on the basis that you [the Christians] are no longer associating others with God. What I would say to that is that Christians uphold belief in one God vigorously but our understanding of the oneness of God is not the Muslim understanding.
Ruth concludes this way:
My fear is that this letter betrays a fundamental lack of understanding about Christianity.
Beyond the doctrinal misunderstanding lies the more important issue of what the document fails to acknowledge about our current state of affairs. Melanie Phillips, author of Londonistan, has read and digested the letter (you can see the letter itself here). Here’s Melanie’s take:
First and foremost, it purports to be a plea to Muslims and Christians to make peace with each other. But this implies that both are at war with each other. This is untrue. The Islamic world â€” or part of it â€” has waged war on the Christian (and Jewish) western world. The Christian world is merely responding in self-defence. It is the Islamic world which says it wants to conquer the Christian. The Christian world does not say it wants to conquer Islam, merely that Islam should stop trying to conquer it. Yet the Islamic world pretends that the Christian world is engaged in an act of exterminatory aggression against it.
That lie is the motor of the jihad. That lie is fundamental to the absence of peace between the religions. Yet this letter fails totally to acknowledge this seminal fact. It says:
The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.
Very true; but for this piety to be any more than a meaningless truism, the Islamic world has to end its aggression. The letter makes no acknowledgement of this. All the emphasis is on the Christian world altering its behaviour. So its inescapable implication is that for peace to occur, the Christian world must abandon its own self-defence. In other words, there can be no peace without the Christian world surrendering to Islam.
When the aggressor sends a letter of peace, it would be a nice show of sincerity if he’d first apologize for all the attacks or at least promise to call off the dogs. The “peace” letter does neither.
That said, I do think there’s an opening here for dialog. And I’m convinced Pope Benedict is the right man to open a dialog with Islam, i.e. he’s not mealy-mouth ecumenicist.