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Yale Divinity scholars' statement on Christian/Muslim relations received warmly by Muslim community

A statement written by Yale Divinity School scholars calling for loving relations between the Christian and Muslim communities has received a warm response from a number of prominent Muslim leaders.

Among those responding favorably to the YDS-initiated statement, entitled Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to a Common Word Between Us and You, were Sheikh Ali Juma', grand mufti of Egypt; Sheik al-Habib Ali al-Jifri, leader of the Tabah Foundation in Abu Dhabi, which disseminates information aimed at “ clarifying Islam's doctrines, ideals and direction”; Aref Ali Nayed, director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Amman, Jordan; and Sheikh Ali al-Hashimi, advisor for judicial and Islamic affairs to the president of the United Arab Emirates.

Reactions from those Muslim leaders were delivered to Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at YDS, during a Nov. 26 visit Volf made to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Al-Jifri and Nayed both attended a press conference with Volf that was called to discuss the statement being circulated by Volf and other YDS scholars.

Juma' expressed his thanks to Volf in a conference call following the press conference and also issued a written statement in which he said he was “very pleased” with the Loving God and Neighbor Together statement, which was published in its entirety as a full-page advertisement in the New York Times on Nov. 18, along with the names of scores of Christian leaders who had endorsed it. Other YDS faculty involved with releasing the statement originally, in October, along with Volf were Dean Harold Attridge; Joseph Cumming, director of the Reconciliation Program at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture; and Emilie M. Townes, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology and president of the American Academy of Religion.

Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and Sheik al-Habib Ali al-Jifri of the Tabah Foundation at the press conference in Dubai.

According to a summary of the Dubai press conference provided by organizers, al-Jifri said he was particularly touched by the “spiritual humility” of the document. Loving God and Neighbor Together acknowledges “sinning” against Muslims by Christians, citing the Crusades and war on terror, and says, “We ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.”

Meanwhile, Nayed expressed support on behalf of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute, whose 100 fellows had supported the Muslim statement that led to the Loving God and Neighbor Together response. The Muslim statement by scholars, clerics and intellectuals— A Common Word Between Us and You — pointed to love of God and love of neighbor as shared principles that can serve as a solid foundation for peace and understanding.

During the evening following the press conference, Volf met with al-Hashimi, who observed, according to the press conference summary, that a foundation for Christian/Muslim dialogue had been created by the Common Word statement and the Christian responses to it, including the YDS-generated statement that has been signed by more than 300 Christian leaders.

During Volf's Dubai trip, discussion also took place about plans for follow-up conferences involving Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders—in the United States, United Kingdom and Middle East.

Loving God and Neighbor says, " A Common Word Between Us and You identifies some core common ground between Christianity and Islam which lies at the heart of our respective faiths as well as at the heart of the most ancient Abrahamic faith, Judaism. Jesus Christ's call to love God and neighbor was rooted in the divine revelation to the people of Israel embodied in the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). We receive the open letter as a Muslim hand of conviviality and cooperation extended to Christians worldwide. In this response we extend our own Christian hand in return, so that together with all other human beings we may live in peace and justice as we seek to love God and our neighbors."

Joining the Yale Divinity School scholars in endorsing Loving God and Neighbor Together were Christians at various points on the theological spectrum, including, for example: Rick Warren, evangelical pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA and author of The Purpose Driven Life, and Harold Masback III of The Congregational Church of New Canaan in Connecticut; William Graham, dean of Harvard Divinity School, and Richard Mouw, president of evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary; John M. Buchanan of The Christian Century, a mainline Protestant publication, and David Neff of the evangelical flagship publication Christianity Today; Diana Eck of Harvard Divinity School and Marguerite Shuster of Fuller Theological Seminary.

The diversity of the signatories to the Christian document--which also included Catholics and Orthodox -- mirrored the wide appeal of the Muslim document, as the 138 signers of the Common Word letter included leaders and scholars from the Middle East, Gulf states, North Africa, Turkey, Indonesia and virtually every corner of the Muslim world, representing all major schools of Islamic thought.

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