An article recently appeared in an Israeli news source concerning the pope’s new found pact with Islam. This article noted that "In 2008, the Vatican promoted 'Love of God, Love of Neighbor,' the first three-day forum with Islamic leaders." Sadly, this is not an endeavor limited to the Catholic church. Others, including evangelicals, have been deceived by this movement.
Love of God and love of neighbor are the central themes around which 138 Islamic scholars wrote a lengthy letter and distributed it to the most prominent Christian leaders world wide. The letter is known as the “Common Word” letter. It is very deceptive and must be understood for what it is – an invitation to Islam.
In October 2007, 138 Islamic scholars from multiple sects issued a carefully worded letter to Christian leaders. The letter received a significant amount of media attention: The New York Times printed the letter in its entirety on a full-page advertisement format. Fox News ran a story which can be seen here. The full text of the letter can be read here. An entire website has been devoted to the topic.
In essence, the letter purports to be an invitation for Christian and Muslims to ‘come together’ and focus on the common bonds of the two faiths: Love of God and love of neighbor. In reality though, the letter is much more sinister.
The verse from the Quran which forms the basis of the letter is Sura 3:64, which says, “Say: O People of the Book. Come to a common word between us and you; that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and none shall take others as Lords besides God..”
According to Islamic theology, the proper way to interpret the true meaning of any verse in the Quran is to refer to the ‘occasion of revelation.’ In other words, the real meaning of any verse can only be discerned by understanding the situation in which Muhammad found himself when that particular verse of the Quran was given to him (or invented by him!).
Sura 3:64 was revealed to (or invented by) Muhammad when he wrote a letter to Heraclius, emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 610 to 641 AD. We find the account detailed in the hadith of Sahih Muslim, book 19 (Kitab al-Jihad Wa’l-Siyar), chapter 728, hadith number 4380, which states:
From Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, to Hiraql, the Emperor of the Romans. Peace be upon him who follows the guidance. After this, I extend to you the invitation to accept Islam. Embrace Islam and you will be safe. Accept Islam, God will give you double the reward. And if you turn away, upon you will be the sin of your subjects.” O People of the Book, come to the word that is common between us that we should worship none other than Allah, should not ascribe any partner to Him and some of us should not take their fellows as Lords other than Allah. If they turn away, you should say that we testify to our being Muslims…
Take note: Sura 3:64 is tied directly to an invitation to Heraclius to accept Islam, and if he does so he will be safe. Conversely, if he does not accept the invitation, Muhammad’s army is free to force the issue by way of violence (note, this hadith is recorded in the book of Jihad). Historically then, the verse is tied directly to an invitation to embrace Islam or face the battles of jihad! This is how Muslims world wide interpret this verse.
We find the same tradition recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 4, book 52 (the book of Jihad), hadith number 191:
“In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful (This letter is) from Muhammad, the slave of Allah, and His Apostle, to Heraculius, the Ruler of the Byzantine. Peace be upon the followers of guidance. Now then, I invite you to Islam (i.e. surrender to Allah), embrace Islam and you will be safe; embrace Islam and Allah will bestow on you a double reward. But if you reject this invitation of Islam, you shall be responsible for misguiding the peasants (i.e. your nation). O people of the Scriptures! Come to a word common to you and us and you, that we worship. None but Allah, and that we associate nothing in worship with Him; and that none of us shall take others as Lords besides Allah. Then if they turn away, say: Bear witness that we are (they who have surrendered (unto Him)..
The intent and meaning of this verse is clearly an invitation to Islam. Yet sadly, many Christian leaders, including the pope and prominent evangelical Christian leaders accepted the letter and added their signature of endorsement!
I will not offer an extensive analysis here, for much has already been written on the matter. I personally collaborated, along with several others, in forming a critical analysis which was subsequently published by Dr. Mark Durie, and which can be read here.
In summary, Dr. Durie says of the letter:
The letter presupposes that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
- It has the appearance of being an exercise in da‘wa or Islamic proselytism.
The letter uses a ‘bait and switch’ tactic whereby Christians are invited to agree with Muslims on loving God and loving one’s neighbour, but this is exchanged by the end of the letter for an invitation to agree on tawhid, the Islamic understanding of the unity of Allah. In effect, Christians are being asked to accept Islamic monotheism as the foundation for interfaith dialogue and peaceful relationships.
However Islamic monotheism explicitly denies the incarnation, and is incompatible with other aspects of Christian belief.
This letter appears to be an attempt to Islamicize Christian-Muslim dialogue. True dialogue can only proceed by respecting the integrity of the other’s position.
The letter misleadingly offers the Islamic Jesus (Isa) as evidence of Muslims’ good will towards Christians.
The letter overlooks calls in the Qur’an to fight Christians, and the reality of human rights abuses against Christians in so many Muslim countries.
The discussion of ‘love thy neighbour’ is particularly weak. In Islam, calls to do good for one’s neighbour are traditionally taken to refer to one’s Muslim neighbour only.
The letter makes no reference to God’s love for humankind as a whole.
Crucial verses are cited without acknowledging traditional anti-Christian interpretations. For example:
the ‘common word’ theme verse of the letter (Sura 3:64) is associated with a declaration of war against the Byzantines, and is part of an anti-Christian polemic in the Qur’an,
the Sura Al-Fatihah is presented as the ‘greatest chapter’ in the Qur’an, but this chapter denounces Christians as those who have been ‘led astray’,
verses which are cited as ones which speak well of Christians (Sura 3:113-115) are traditionally understood to refer to converts to Islam,
the important Sura 112 – the Islamic Shema – is cited only in part, omitting the verses which denounce Trinitarian faith.
- The letter’s warnings of conflict if the invitation is not accepted could be read as a threat. This is unfortunate. Christians should be wary of accepting the presuppositions behind these warnings.