We are living through dangerous times. Christians and Muslims cannot afford more misunderstanding.
The challenges our world is facing are profound: The U.S. has forces engaged in armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, among other places. We have global poverty and starvation, threatening several places such as Yemen and East Africa.
The more wars we fight in Muslim lands, the more grievances Muslims will have. You would think that after decades of fighting these unwinnable wars we would have learned that negotiations will bring better results. But no, we are still expanding our engagement; it seems war is our default position.
In the meantime, organizations with warped ideas about Islam, like ISIS, keep finding new recruits as long as they can claim that Islam is under attack from the U.S. and its allies and that the future of Islam is in grave danger.
Intellectuals of goodwill, both Christian and Muslim, thought peace would begin if we could only identify convincing common ground for adherents of the two religions. They launched the Common Word Initiative. But this was not enough.
People on both sides have grievances and they need to feel their grievances are recognized and properly addressed.
The U.S. feels it was targeted by Islamists on 9/11, and is still targeted for attacks. Its war in Afghanistan and its invasion of Iraq were a direct response to that attack, but so far the war on terror did not produce more security in this part of the world. It probably created more terrorists.
Christians here feel that Christian minorities in Muslim-majority countries are often persecuted. They don’t have equal rights and they are targeted in certain areas by Islamists who commit atrocities against them.
Muslims, on the other hand, feel Europeans committed atrocities while colonizing Muslim areas. The Europeans fragmented Muslim lands by creating national states with artificial borders. This led to conflicts that are still raging. Borders are still being redrawn.
The Muslim world feels the West facilitated the creation of the state of Israel but is not taking responsibility to solve the resulting problems between Israel and its neighbours. Peace, the Muslim world feels, is theoretically possible, but practically out of reach.
While the U.S. was not a colonizing power, it is seen today as the legal heir to the western interests and the power that is keeping conflicts in the Muslim world raging. Oil, many think, is all the west cares about.
Muslims, especially in the Arab world, say that after the American tanks rolled into Iraq, an army of missionaries tried to convert them. They accuse the U.S. of not only using false pretexts to invade their land, but also suggest its real aim is to spread the Christianity of the conqueror.
The grievances on both sides are real and need to be addressed. We can’t afford to keep this conflict growing. People of goodwill are doing their best to build trust and to help put an end to the conflict.
More than a year ago, 250 of the world’s eminent Islamic leaders convened in Morocco to discuss the rights of religious minorities and the obligation to protect them in Muslim-majority states. The meeting was successful and we now have the Marrakesh Declaration, calling for the writing of constitutions to guarantee individual freedoms.
The declaration was followed by an important conference at Egypt’s Al-Azhar, one of the most authoritative religious institutions of the Sunni world. The conference’s concluding document was called the “Declaration of al-Azhar on Mutual Islamic-Christian Coexistence.”
The grand imam read the final communiqué, which spoke of replacing the language of “minorities” and “majorities” with the principle of citizenship, with equal rights and responsibilities for all citizens, regardless of religion, ethnicity or language. He went on to issue a strong call for protecting freedom of belief, particularly religious belief, rejecting all religious coercion. This is a major step forward.
On April 24, Al-Azhar hosted Pope Francis for yet another conference to forge stronger ties and call for peace and reconciliation among Christians and Muslims. In a video message posted online, Francis said his visit was “a message of brotherhood and reconciliation” with the Muslim world.
“Our world is torn by blind violence, a violence that has also struck the heart of your beloved land,” Francis said. “Our world needs peace, love and mercy.”
These Christian and Muslim leaders are giving us hope, telling all of us that they recognize the grievances we have and offer solutions based on mutual respect. It is high time for our political leaders to join the effort, assuring all of us that a new language of reconciliation will be used for the sake of our future generations.
Safi Kaskas is co-author with David Hungerford of The Qur’an – with References to the Bible, a new contemporary English translation of the Quran with 3,000 references to similar passages found in the Christian Bible