Spiritual leaders representing Christians and Muslims from around the world gathered in the Masjid Muhammad, the Nation’s Mosque, in Washington, DC on July 13 to discuss relations between the two communities and celebrate the launch of a book titled, God Needs No Defense: Reimagining Muslim – Christian Relations in the 21st Century.
The event was sponsored by the Institute for Humanitarian Islam, an organization which seeks to “restore rahmah (universal love and compassion) to its rightful place as the primary message of Islam” and present Islam as “one of many paths through which humans may attain spiritual perfection”; the Center for Shared Civilizational Values, established by Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization; and the World Evangelical Alliance, a network of churches which represent 600 million evangelical Christians.
Imam Talib M. Shareef, President of the Masjid Muhammad, pointed to the fact that “We are one human family under Almighty God” as a reason to recast Muslim-Christian relations, which have been strained by various conflicts in history.
“We ask Almighty God to bless this movement—to bless this alliance—which is really an invitation for us to embrace our shared identity as humans first, and to value our intrinsic nature to live together, to coexist,” he said.
Dr. Thomas K. Johnson, World Evangelical Alliance Special Envoy to Engage Humanitarian Islam and co-editor of God Needs No Defense, explained that while God needs no military defense, “what may be appropriate for us as Christians and Muslims together is a very high degree of literary and theological engagement with each other… We can imagine a new future. We don’t have to follow the past into a way of jihads and crusades. We can, perhaps, with the grace of God, figure out a new way that Christians and Muslims can live together.”
He did not, however, affirm Islamic beliefs.
“There are real differences between Islam and Christianity. They are, as I would suggest, irreducible,” he admitted.
Nevertheless, he said, “it’s been clear that we really agree on some very foundational issues about how we should live in society… Together, we know we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Together, we know that we believe in human dignity, in a God-given human dignity that comes before anything that any state or nation says or does. Together, we recognize that there is a universal, God-given moral law that’s built into the fabric of creation, into the fabric of our lives, and that’s at the foundation of conscience and moral reason.”
So, he concluded, “Muslims and Christians can really agree at a deep level… even if we cannot share our religions or join our religions, we can live together as good neighbors and we have the principles to do so.”
Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, Secretary General/CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance, recounted a story in his youth of when he was separated from his parents. A young African Muslim boy took Schirrmacher to his house and gave Schirrmacher something to eat even though they themselves had no food—Schirrmacher surmised that the family probably borrowed from their neighbors to feed him.
The lesson that Schirrmacher learned from this experience was, “If we have compassion for others, then we can build up a peaceful, a just world. We can survive. And then in this situation, it’s time to go for deep theological discussions, but not the other way around. If we want to start with discussions and wait until we have one [a peaceful and just world], and only then want to help the others, this is not in any of our religions… How can you say that you love God if you meet someone who has nothing to eat… and not give him something to eat? If you don’t give him something to eat, he is the image of God [and] you are allowing the image of God to die. How in the world can you then say, ‘I love God’?… Sometimes experience is the better theology if you realize how people can be who have nothing, and yet have everything because they have compassion for others.”
The event closed with a signing of the Nation’s Mosque Statement by representatives of the three sponsoring organizations and other religious leaders in the audience.
The statement reads: “Spiritual leaders of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization; the World Evangelical Alliance which represents 600 million protestants in 140 countries; and Masjid Muhammad, The Nation’s Mosque, a community of the late Imam W. Deen Mohammed, in Washington, DC, the first mosque in the United States built by descendants of enslaved African Americans, call upon people of good will of every faith and nation to join in building a global alliance founded upon shared civilizational values. This global alliance seeks to prevent the political weaponization of identity, curtail the spread of communal hatred, promote solidarity and respect among the diverse people, cultures, and nations of the world, and foster the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order founded upon respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being.”