Solidarity with the Muslim Community
By Konrad Raiser
[The General secretary of the World Council of Churches at the beginning of Advent 2001 wrote to leaders of the Muslim community. In a cover letter to WCC member churches, Konrad Raiser wrote: "We are in solidarity in this difficult time and manifest our engagement for the spirit of dialogue and mutual trust that has developed over the past decades. This letter is translated from the German in: Evangelische Theologie 62, 2/2002.]
The blessed month of Ramadan and the Advent season holy for Christians, a time of fasting and reflection when believers prepare for Jesus Christ's birth, fall in the same week this year. They become one of the many signs making us in love with one another and uniting us in common obedience to God. In this difficult time, it is important to rediscover the spiritual bonds uniting us.
Fasting should remind us of God's presence. Believers are invited to be converted to God in humility and love in their personal life and as a community and to seek forgiveness and strengthening with him. The fasting period is a time of grace. We receive God's new grace for ourselves and the grace that we seek for one another. It is a time of piety, deep devotion and magnanimous charity. The patient abstinence of believers with which they show that people have other needs than food and that the body is their servant and not their master should remind us that having means sharing. It is a call to practice justice because just relations with others cannot be separated from true piety.
The terrible attacks of September 11 have been condemned by the competent authorities in the whole Islamic community and in the churches. Muslims everywhere refer to the principle of the Koran that no one may bear another's burden. Many of our Muslim friends remind one another and all of us of the commandment of the Koran that we may not be seduced by the hatred of others to do injustice and deviate from the path of justice. Muslims and Christians champion justice and warn against succumbing to the temptation of blind vengeance and indiscriminate revenge or retaliation. Churches in the US and outside open themselves in humility to the call of the Apostle not to repay evil with evil. Many Christians have declared that the response to terrorism may not stimulate the spiral of violence. Every act that destroys life whether through terror or war contradicts the will of God.
The recent tragic events have made manifest the vulnerability of all states and the fragility of the world order. A world in which more and more people and even whole nations are held in the most extreme poverty while others enjoy immense riches, in which one will is forced in the politics of powerful states provokes resentment in weaker states. The language of threat and the logic of war are the breeding grounds for violence. Terrorism cannot be overcome as long as the cries are not heard or noticed of those humiliated by ceaseless injustice, by the systematic withholding of their rights as persons and as peoples and by the arrogance of a power based on military strength. The only war out of this dilemma is in redressing the injustice fomenting violence between states and within states.
The violence of terrorism - in all its forms - should be denounced, especially by those who believe life is God's gift and therefore infinitely precious. Every attempt to intimidate others and bring indiscriminate death and suffering over them, from whatever side, must be condemned worldwide and generally. However the reaction to such acts may not be the stigmatization of Muslims, Arabs or other ethnic groups. The churches are called to drown out the voices of hostility to foreigners, racism and intolerance with their words of brotherliness, sisterliness and compassion. The voice of faith expressed in the numerous gestures of friendship and solidarity must be louder than the voices fed by fanaticism, fear and nihilism.
As Christians, we reject the tendency encountered in many western countries of regarding Muslims as a threat and drawing a negative picture of Islam in contrast to their own positive picture. Christians live under the divine command of bearing no false witness against their neighbor. The encounter of Christians with Islam and with Muslims requires intellectual sincerity and integrity. They must face their Muslim neighbors in the spirit of love, be receptive for their deepest faith convictions and see what God has done and is doing among them. The World Council of Churches remains committed to the dialogue between Muslims and Christians. The call for a renewed dialogue of the religions and cultures is often loud today. Such a dialogue can only bear fruits when built on trust, absolute respect for the identity and integrity of the other and readiness to understand the other from his perspective, his self-image and his history and present.
From the dialogue that Christians and Muslims conduct day after day in many parts of the world and from their cooperation, we have learned that our religious communities are not two monolithic blocks facing one another or rivaling each other. We have learned that possible tensions and conflicts may not draw bloody borders between Muslims and Christians. We know that religion is an expression of the deepest feelings and perceptions of individuals and communities. Its remembrances reaching far back in history are stored. Absolute loyalty is often demanded. However all this does not justify any uncritical reactions bringing people in conflict with one another instead of combining their powers despite their religious membership. Thus common principles of justice and reconciliation can be applied. Islam and Christianity must be liberated from the burden of representing group interests and biased faith interpretations. Their faith convictions must be starting points for a critical engagement in view of human weakness and the failure of the social, economic and political order.
It is time to set signs for a genuine cooperation, particularly through the engagement in common efforts, offering help to victims and defending human rights and humanitarian international law. This kind of cooperation is especially important at a moment when humanitarian work has to suffer under restrictions and suspicions and becomes secondary to political and propaganda goals and is frequently connected with war actions. It is time to deepen our encounter and share our pains, our mutual expectations and our hopes with one another.
The prayer for God's peace is at the center of Muslim and Christian spirituality. At the beginning of the fast month Ramadan, we'd like to welcome you with a work of peace and friendship.