Loving God and neighbor in Word and Deed:
Implications for Christians and Muslims
Background. In our increasingly interdependent world, religion remains a powerful force with the potential to either foster peace or provoke conflict. A unique and potentially history-changing opportunity arose with the publication of A Common Word Between Us and You in October 2007, an open letter to Christian leaders and communities from 138 influential Muslim clerics representing every school and sect of Islam from around the world. Compellingly, even if somewhat surprisingly, it states that what unites Christians and Muslims is their common commitment to love God and neighbor.
Among the most influential of the many Christian responses to the Common Word was a letter drafted in November 2007 by a group of scholars at Yale Divinity School, headed by Miroslav Volf, professor and director of theYale Center for Faith & Culture, and coordinated by Joseph Cumming, director of the Center’s Reconciliation Program. Endorsed by more than 300 of the most influential Christian leaders from this country and abroad, “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’” stressed that the dual commandment to love God and neighbor has the potential to reorient Muslim-Christian relations away from a “clash of civilizations.”
This reply, in turn, led His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, the primary drafter of A Common Word and President of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Jordan, to engage enthusiastically with Professor Volf and the Center’s staff in planning a series of top-level interfaith workshops and conferences, the first of which took place on July 24-31, 2008, on the Yale University campus, to be followed by others in October (Cambridge University), November (the Vatican), March 2009 (Georgetown University), and October 2009 (Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute, Jordan). We are hopeful that these meetings have the potential to redefine Christian-Muslim relations in the 21st century.
The Yale Workshop and Conference. The objective of the Yale workshop and conference was built on the foundation laid by the two widely-embraced documents. Together with H.R.H. Prince Ghazi, who is coordinating the participation of Muslim signatories, we set as our goal the exploration of ways in which the common commitments can help rectify distorted perspectives Muslims and Christians have of each other and repair relations between the Middle East and the West. If Muslims and Christians, who together comprise more than half the world’s population, can acknowledge mutual commitment to loving God and loving neighbor the boost to a dynamic and peaceful interdependence in our globalized world would be immense.
The conference, “Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Muslims and Christians,” included both a scholarly workshop and a broader conference. The workshop, on July 24-28, involved approximately 60 Christian and Muslim scholars, along with three Jewish observers. The discussions, undertaken through the presentation of scholarly papers and through panels and informal conversations, focused on five major areas: “Love of God,” “Love of Neighbor,” “Love and Speech about the Other,” “Love and World Poverty,” and “God is Loving.” The larger conference, July 28-31, involving approximately 70 Muslim participants 70 Christian participants, and 7 Jewish guests, extended the discussions of the scholarly workshop to a larger group of scholars and leaders.