Muslim clerics demand peace, or else...
The letter is welcome because it is a joint communication from both Sunni and Shi'a scholars, and it is revealing because it is in essence a demand for submission. This is perhaps unsurprising, since the salvation of Allah is attained only through works, and the peace of Islam only through submission. By calling for unity, and setting out the parameters of ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’, the focus is on the lowest denominators – the love of God and love of one's neighbour. The problem is the absence of a doctrine of God, an understanding of the Trinity, and an acceptance of who constitutes one’s neighbour.
The latter point is not semantic. Jesus was clear that everyone is one’s neighbour, yet while Mohammed on occasion urged respect for ‘the people of the Book’ (ie monotheists), there is nothing but death and destruction consistently ordained for ‘idolaters’. Thus this document offers nothing to the world’s Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhists, whose practices presumably have to continue to be eradicated.
It is one thing to set out a grand theoretical statement, but quite another to articulate the praxis. The appeal is for all religions to work together, but Islam has set out its non-negotiable ‘red lines’ first. There is a veiled rebuke to Jihadists: ‘And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony.’ But the inclusion of ‘for their own sake’ is easily refuted by those for whom murder is in defence of Allah, and blessed martyrdom is the reward for their selfless sacrifice. The Muslim scholars further state: ‘As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them - so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes.’ Again, the hand of friendship is extended on their terms; no mention of what may be the cause of the conflict or oppression. This basically says that peace and friendship are offered only if you cease your defence of and support for Israel; if you permit Shari’a practices in your countries; if Islam and the Qur’an are ‘respected’ and placed alongside your Christianity and your Bible.
In ‘love’ is patience and tolerance, yet while there are many tolerant Muslims, tolerant Islam is an oxymoron. Thus this letter talks in apocalyptic terms of the ‘survival of the world’ being at stake if Muslims and Christians do not make peace with each other. But the peace that Jesus gives is not as the world gives, and the only peace that Islam knows is that of unqualified surrender and submission. It is naïve of the Bishop of London the Right Rev Richard Chartres to spell out the similarities between passages of the Bible and the Qur’an. There are similarities between Jesus and Father Christmas, but nothing to justify joint global conferences. And what of the differences? Amidst the abundance of quotations which purport to support their calls for unity, there is no reference to 5:17, which dismisses Christians as non-believers, 4:171, which denies the crucifixion, or of 9:30, which says that those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God are accursed, or 9:29, which mandates war against Jews and Christians. Such verses have to addressed if there is to be any true and honest dialogue.
As Archbishop Williams is once again silent, it falls to that great man of God, the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, to respond on behalf of the Church of England Continuing. He points out that for all the apparent similarities of the monotheistic faiths, Christians and Muslims do not actually believe in the same thing: ‘Dialogue must be in the integrity of each faith, rather than on terms set by one,' he said. 'They speak of the unity of God. Christians want to uphold the unity of God but their understanding is not the same of the Muslim one. Christians understand God as the Father the source of all existence, the Word is the one through whom the creation comes into existence and the Spirit refreshes and renews creation. What the Qur’an condemns, we do not believe. Whatever our doctrine of God, there are fundamental issues that must be addressed, such as refugees fleeing because of their faith and because of persecution… But what I would stress is that dialogue between partners must be conducted in the integrity of each faith. One partner cannot dictate the terms on which dialogue must be conducted. This document seems to be on the verge of doing that.'
He said the document appeared to be calling for dialogue on the basis of Muslim belief in the unity of God. Dr Nazir-Ali said: 'If that were the case, we would all be Muslim. I would say, we need mutual witness and learning as well as witness to faith. I am quite happy for Muslims to witness to me. But it is not a one-way street.'
He criticised parts of the document, which goes in great detail into Qur’anic passages which emphasise the unity of God. Dr Nazir-Ali said: '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 none and not associated with partners, that we must not take others for Lord. It refers to various verses in the Qur’an which accuse Christians of taking Jesus and others as their Lord besides Allah.' The verse the entire letter is based on, he said, is 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".'
According to Dr Nazir-Ali, '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. We believe in God as source from whom everything is brought into being. Jesus is God's word and presence for us but is also human.'
In fact, the document does emphasise the humanity of Jesus, in line with Qur’anic teaching. Dr Nazir-Ali said: 'That is fine, but he is also God's presence for us. We believe in one God but how we believe in one God is not the same as how Muslims believe in one God. There is an implicit assumption here that what Muslims believe is normative and everyone else has to fall into line.'
He added that what Qur’an condemns as false belief, such as the view that the Trinity consists of Father, Son and Blessed Virgin Mary, is not believed by Christians in the first place. Dr Nazir-Ali said: 'Please find out from us what we really believe. That is one of the purposes of dialogue. Ok, we may disagree about the nature of God but there are many other important areas of dialogue as well. There is justice, compassion, fundamental freedom, freedom to express beliefs, persecution of peoples. All these are matters of dialogue. Only one of them, the need for peace, is mentioned here.'
Quite. But that is because the word ‘peace’ is simply a euphemism for Islam.
Cranmer urges those Christian leaders to whom this letter is addressed to respond firmly, corporately, and theologically. If the response is conciliatory, divided, and sociological, it will be seen as a weakness, a lack of conviction, and an open invitation for Islam to fill the spiritual void.