Response by Prof. David Ford, Cambridge Interfaith Program to Muslim Scholars’ Letter

Prof. David Ford

Posted Oct 16, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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A Common Word Between Us and You

A response by Professor David Ford, Director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme

This historic statement gives the right keynote for relations between Muslims and Christians
in the 21st century. It is what we have been missing since 9/11/2001. The most impressive list
of signatories from all the main Muslim traditions and countries have made a clear and
powerful proclamation of love for God and for all neighbours. The message is rich and deep,
and it goes to the heart of Muslim faith as expressed in the Quran. It also goes to the heart of
the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament.

There are three main reasons why this is so important.

First, it is unprecedented in bringing together so many of the leading religious authorities and
scholars of Islam and uniting them in a positive, substantial affirmation. This is an astonishing
achievement of solidarity, one that can be built on in the future.

Second, it is addressed to Christians in the form of a friendly word, it engages respectfully
and carefully with the Christian scriptures, and it finds common ground in what Jesus himself
said is central: love of God and love of neighbour. I like its modesty – it does not claim to be
the final word but to be ‘a common word’, one that Muslims and Christians (and, I would also
add, Jews and many others) can share with integrity. This is shared ground, mutual ground,
where there is the possibility of working further on issues that unite and divide us. This
common word does not pretend that there are no differences between Muslims and Christians
(for example, on the Christian teaching about Jesus rather than the teaching of Jesus). It takes
a vital step forward, and wisely does this by concentrating mainly on each tradition’s
scriptures, those core texts that are so often misused but which, in my experience, also have
the resources for enabling deeper mutual understanding and trust.

Third, it opens a way forward that is more hopeful for the world than most others at present in
the public sphere. Its combination of Islamic solidarity around core teaching together with
friendly address to Christians should be seen as setting a direction for the twenty-first century.
It challenges Muslims and Christians to live up to their own teachings and seek political and
educational as well as personal ways to do this for the sake of the common good. It invites
them to go deeper into their own faith at the same time as going deeper into each other’s. It
cries out to be followed through by many initiatives in the same spirit. These should be
among Muslims, among Christians, between Muslims and Christians, and between them and
those of other faiths and no faith. They should be in many spheres of life and at all levels -
local, regional and global. It is deeply encouraging that the Royal Academy of Jordan has had
the courage, imagination and practical capacity to achieve this. Now the Royal Academy
needs to be joined by many others in following this through.

An obvious question is: but will this have any impact on the violent extremism that afflicts the
world? I do not think that problem has a simple one-off solution. But any long-term solution
will have to include four elements:

• Muslim solidarity around an understanding of their faith that clearly excludes violent,
uncompassionate acts, programmes and language;
• better Christian understanding of Islam;
• deeper engagement between Muslims and Christians that makes use of the resources at
the heart of their faith, such as their scriptures;
• a concern for the flourishing of the whole human family and the whole planet.

I find all four in ‘A Common Word’. If sufficient people and groups heed this statement and
act on it then the atmosphere will be changed into one in which violent extremists cannot

I think that many people have longed for a statement like this. Its significance is not that it
offers anything novel but that it selects so wisely from the riches of both scriptures and opens
them up in a way that is highly relevant to the present situation. I found myself deeply moved
by its vision of what it calls ‘the all-embracing, constant and active love of God’ and ‘the
necessity and paramount importance of love for – and mercy towards – the neighbour’, and by
its concern not only for that half of the world’s population who are Muslim or Christian but
also for every single other person and the whole of creation.

David F. Ford
Regius Professor of Divinity
Director, Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme
University of Cambridge

The Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme is dedicated to engagement with Judaism,
Christianity and Islam, with their interrelations, and with their relations to other religions
and to secular understandings and forces. Besides academic research and teaching it is
developing a programme of public education.

Copy of original letter sent to Editor of Islamica Magazine.