General Synod voted July 15 to sign on to “A Common Word Between Us and You” and endorse it as a model for Christian-Muslim dialogue.
“A Common Word” is a letter written in 2007 at the initiative of 138 Muslim scholars, clerics and political figures, according to the Rev. Scott Sharman, animator for ecumenical and interfaith relations, who gave a presentation to General Synod before the motion.
More than 400 Muslim leaders from around the world have since signed on to the letter, which is addressed to Christian leaders and is “an invitation to Christians to dialogue.” The title comes from a line from the Qur’an, Sharman said: “O People of the Book, come to a common word between us and you.”
The letter extends “an invitation to look at two foundational principles present within both of our respective scriptures: the call to love God above all things, and the call that follows from that, to love our neighbours. Love of God and love of neighbour is the starting ground.”
The resolution presented to General Synod involved two steps: becoming, as a church, signatory to the letter, and endorsing it to “use as a model…a kind of Christian-Muslim dialogue starter kit,” Sharman said.
The letter presents “a new kind of relationship between Muslims and Christians than has been possible for so much of our history,” according to Sharman. “It does not look for agreement, but it seeks to find common ground that could make for peace.” Since 2008, the letter has received 70 responses and nearly 200 sign-on endorsements by churches and Christian leaders.
Sharman also gave an example of the kind of interfaith ministry the letter hopes to inspire.
A Common Word Alberta formed in 2012, after an invitation by friends in the Sunni, Shi’a and Ismaili communities, Sharman said. The group was a mix of Anglicans, Lutherans, Mennonites, Roman Catholics and others. “Now, six years later, under the banner of A Common Word Alberta, a group that counts literally thousands of people, Christians and Muslims, are taking part in several occasions throughout the year in discussions of their scriptures, getting to know one another, sharing meals, sharing what their faith means to them, visiting one another’s places of prayer,” Sharman reported.
Speaking to why he believed this particular initiative was a valuable model of interfaith dialogue, Sharman highlighted three reasons.
Firstly, “A Common Word” is “not lowest common denominator”—meaning it does not require either faith to water down its beliefs or minimize differences in order to get along—he said. “In my view, that is not an authentic Anglican view of inter-religious dialogue.”
Secondly, he said, it is an ecumenical initiative, and thirdly, it is a “holistic effort.”
“There are some inter-religious efforts that perhaps tend toward the academic and the intellectual realm. There are some that are mostly on the level of making friends, sharing meals, maybe not going into the nitty-gritty questions. Both of those are important and have their place, but it’s better if those can be integrated.”
Sharman’s presentation was followed by a short speech by Imam Mohammad Shujaath Ali, an imam from the Vancouver area who works in connection with the BC Muslim Association.
Ali spoke to the importance of Christian-Muslim dialogue, saying, “it is not a human initiative for us Muslims—it is a divine obligation,” with the directive to “come to a common word” coming straight from the Holy Qur’an.
While the letter focuses on the common teachings of love of God and love of neighbour, Ali said, “these two are not the only two commonalities that we have. They are among many that we share with each other, and therefore I personally feel that these commonalities that we have between you and I as human beings, as the followers of faith, are so strong, so powerful to unite us than the differences that we have to divide us.”
Ali also said that Christians and Muslims should “open the doors of our congregations and our centres and our churches and mosques” to welcome each other, and form groups both locally and nationally to work together, “addressing the common challenges that serve as a threat to both of the faiths in this age of secularism and liberalism.”
Bishop of the diocese of Edmonton Jane Alexander also spoke briefly before the motion, which was on the no-debate list, was passed near-unanimously; six members of General Synod voted “No” (2.9%) while nine abstained.
“As I thought about this resolution, I was reminded of the words of [former Archbishop of Canterbury] Rowan Williams, who said that the growing awareness is that peace throughout the world is deeply entwined with the ability of all people of faith everywhere to live together in peace, justice, mutual respect and love. A radical, non-violent engagement with the deepest needs of our world and our common humanity. This need, to support this motion and ‘A Common Word,’ is seen across all the provinces of the Anglican Communion,” Alexander said.