What is A Common Word?

Christians and Muslims have had a very complicated history with one another, to say the least. Although there are examples through the years of peaceful encounters and positive regard, it has more regularly been a history characterized by significant hostility and violence. One need only check the news to find that this is still very much the case all the way up to the present day. What we are calling the Seeking A Common Word initiative is all about trying to change that.

The statement known as A Common Word Between Us and You first began to take shape in the context of a Qur’anic studies conference hosted in 2007 by the Royal Ahl al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, Jordan. The conference theme was love in Islamic Scripture, and it was only natural that the exploration of this topic would lead to an interest in comparative reflection with respect to places where the content of the Qur’an intersected with the Christian Scriptures and Hebrew Scriptures. The conference would end with the issuing of a public letter proposing exactly this kind of engagement, and would eventually be co-signed by 138 Muslim religious leaders and scholars from different parts of the world and across the diverse spectrum of global Islam. The title, A Common Word, is drawn directly from a passage in the Holy Qur’an, which speaks positively about the unique possibilities of dialogue with Christians and Jews as people of Scripture: “O people of the book! Come to a common word between us and you…” (Surah Ali’Imran, 3.64). It is an invitation, recorded in the Qur’an itself, to engage together in the task of interreligious dialogue.

A Common Word was addressed to the then leaders of many Christian churches and global communions, including the Bishop of Rome, Orthodox and Oriental Patriarchs, the senior Anglican and Lutheran bishops at the world level, and Christians leaders of many other denominations. It called on them – and by extension the members of their communities – to attend together to the common convictions found in both the Qur’an and the Bible regarding the inextricable connection between the central ideals of “love of God” and “love of neighbour.” While not minimizing the differences in the ways which Muslims and Christians understand and respond to God, nevertheless these primary convictions were seen as a basis for peaceable relationships, mutual learning, and common cause.

Since 2008, A Common Word has received formal responses and sign-on endorsements by Christian leaders and churches around the world. These have included the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC), and the United Church of Canada (UCC). In 2019, the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), jointly added their signatures as well, giving public expression to their intent as churches to adopt the spirit of A Common Word in their relations with the followers of Islam in Canada and abroad.

While symbolic gestures such as these are important, the real impact of an initiative like A Common Word is the capacity it has to generate genuine contact and relationship between Christians and Muslims at the level of the grassroots. It is for this reason that this Seeking A Common Word Local Dialogue Guide has been produced. Drawing on the content of the letter itself, as well as on examples of ways that various groups have used A Common Word to inspire local engagement, we have designed this set of resources to assist individuals and congregations across Canada to respond to the invitation to hold a ‘Day of Dialogue’ where they live, or to give some additional structure and support to those connections that have in many places have been forming for some time.

Whatever your context, it is our hope that you will find these materials useful for putting you and your group’s love of God into action through a dialogue of love, learning, and friendship with your Muslim neighbours, wherever you may find yourselves.

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