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A Common Word Between Us and You

On 13 October 2007, a year after 38 Muslim scholars sent an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI, 138 Muslim religious leaders addressed an open letter and call to the pope and other leaders of the Christian churches concerning the common ground between Christianity and Islam. This landmark document, with its Quranic exegesis, boldly identifies love of the one God and love of neighbor as common and core values for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Sponsored by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, Jordan, its signatories include distinguished academics, jurists and religious teachers from the worldwide Muslim community.

The complete text follows; biblical citations have been changed to the New American Bible translation and British usages, to the American.


The Testimonies of Faith

The central creed of Islam consists of the two testimonies of faith or Shahadahs, which state, “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.” These two testimonies are the sine qua non of Islam. He or she who testifies to them is a Muslim; he or she who denies them is not a Muslim. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammad said, “The best remembrance is: ‘There is no god but God.’ ”

The Best That All the Prophets Have Said

Expanding on “the best remembrance,” the Prophet Muhammad also said, “The best that I have said – myself, and the prophets that came before me – is: ‘There is no god but God, He Alone, He hath no associate, His is the sovereignty and His is the praise and He hath power over all things.’ ” The phrases that follow the first testimony of faith are all from the holy Quran; each describes a mode of love of God and devotion to him.

The words, “He Alone,” remind Muslims that their hearts must be devoted to God alone, since God says in the holy Quran, “God hath not assigned unto any man two hearts within his body” (Al-Ahzab 33:4). God is absolute and therefore devotion to Him must be totally sincere.

The words, “He hath no associate,” remind Muslims that they must love God uniquely, without rivals within their souls, since God says in the holy Quran, “Yet there are men who take rivals unto God: they love them as they should love God. But those of faith are more intense in their love for God” (Al-Baqarah 2:165). Indeed, “[T]heir flesh and their hearts soften unto the remembrance of God” (Al-Zumar 39:23).

The words, “His is the sovereignty,” remind Muslims that their minds or their understandings must be totally devoted to God, for “the sovereignty” is precisely everything in creation or existence and everything that the mind can know. And all is in God’s hand, since God says in the holy Quran, “Blessed is He in Whose Hand is the sovereignty, and, He is Able to do all things” (Al-Mulk 67:1).

The words, “His is the praise,” remind Muslims that they must be grateful to God and trust Him with all their sentiments and emotions. God says in the holy Quran:

For all these bounties and more, human beings must always be truly grateful:

The “Fatihah,” recited at least seventeen times daily by Muslims in the canonical prayers, reminds us of the praise and gratitude due to God for His Attributes of Infinite Goodness and All-Mercifulness, not merely for His Goodness and Mercy to us in this life but ultimately, on the Day of Judgment when it matters the most and when we hope to be forgiven for our sins. It thus ends with prayers for grace and guidance, so that we might attain – through what begins with praise and gratitude – salvation and love, for God says in the holy Quran: “Lo! Those who believe and do good works, the Infinitely Good will appoint for them love” (Maryam 19:96).

The words, “and He hath power over all things,” remind Muslims that they must be mindful of God’s Omnipotence and thus fear God. God says in the holy Quran:

Through fear of God, the actions, might and strength of Muslims should be totally devoted to God. God says in the holy Quran:

The words, “His is the sovereignty and His is the praise and He hath power over all things,” when taken all together, remind Muslims that just as everything in creation glorifies God, everything that is in their souls must be devoted to God:

For indeed, all that is in people’s souls is known, and accountable, to God:

As we can see from all the passages quoted above, souls are depicted in the holy Quran as having three main faculties: the mind or the intelligence, which is made for comprehending the truth; the will, which is made for freedom of choice; and sentiment, which is made for loving the good and the beautiful. Put in another way, we could say man’s soul knows through understanding the truth, through willing the good, and through virtuous emotions and feeling love for God. Continuing in the same chapter of the holy Quran (as that quoted above), God orders people to fear Him as much as possible; to listen (and thus to understand the truth); to obey (and thus to will the good); and to spend (and thus to exercise love and virtue), which, He says, is better for our souls. By engaging everything in our souls – the faculties of knowledge, will and love – we may come to be purified and attain ultimate success:

In summary then, when the entire phrase “He Alone, He hath no associate, His is the sovereignty and His is the praise and He hath power over all things” is added to the testimony of faith – There is no god but God – it reminds Muslims that their hearts, their individual souls and all the faculties and powers of their souls (or simply their entire hearts and souls) must be totally devoted and attached to God. Thus God says to the Prophet Muhammad in the holy Quran:

These verses epitomize the Prophet Muhammad’s complete and utter devotion to God. Thus in the holy Quran, God enjoins Muslims who truly love God to follow this example, in order in turn to be loved by God:

Love of God in Islam is thus part of complete and total devotion to God; it is not a mere fleeting, partial emotion. As seen above, God commands in the holy Quran: “Lo! My worship and my sacrifice and my living and my dying are for God, Lord of the Worlds. He hath no partner.” The call to be totally devoted and attached to God heart and soul, far from being a call for a mere emotion or for a mood, is in fact an injunction requiring all-embracing, constant and active love of God. It demands a love in which the innermost spiritual heart and the whole of the soul – with its intelligence, will and feeling – participate through devotion.

None Comes With Anything Better

We have seen how the blessed phrase, “There is no god but God, He Alone, He hath no associate, His is the sovereignty and His is the praise and He hath power over all things” – which is the best that all the prophets have said – makes explicit what is implicit in “the best remembrance” (“There is no god but God”) by showing what it requires and entails, by way of devotion.

It remains to be said that this blessed formula is also in itself a sacred invocation – a kind of extension of the First Testimony of faith (“There is no god but God”) – the ritual repetition of which can bring about, through God’s grace, some of the devotional attitudes it demands, namely, loving and being devoted to God with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, all one’s mind, all one’s will or strength and all one’s sentiment. Hence the Prophet Muhammad commended this remembrance by saying:

The commandment to love God fully is thus the First and Greatest Commandment of the Bible. Indeed, it is to be found in a number of other places throughout the Bible including: Deuteronomy 4:29, 10:12, 11:13 (also part of the Shema), 13:3, 26:16, 30:2, 30:6, 30:10; Joshua 22:5; Mark 12:32-33 and Luke 10:27-28.

However, in various places throughout the Bible, it occurs in slightly different forms and versions. For instance, in Matthew 22:37 (“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”), the Greek word for heart is kardia, the word for soul is psyche, and the word for mind is dianoia. In the version from Mark 12:30 (“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength”) the word strength is added to the aforementioned three, translating the Greek word ischus.

The words of the lawyer in Luke 10:27 (which are confirmed by Jesus Christ in Luke 10:28) contain the same four terms as Mark 12:30. The words of the scribe in Mark 12:32 (which are approved of by Jesus Christ in Mark 12:34) contain the three terms kardia (heart), dianoia (mind) and ischus (strength).

In the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength”). In Hebrew the word for heart is lev, the word for soul is nefesh, and the word for strength is me’od.

In Joshua 22:5, the Israelites are commanded by Joshua to love God and be devoted to Him as follows:

What these versions thus have in common – despite the language differences between the Hebrew Old Testament, the original words of Jesus Christ in Aramaic, and the actual transmitted Greek of the New Testament – is the command to love God fully with one’s heart and soul and to be fully devoted to Him. This is the First and Greatest Commandment for human beings.

In light of what we have seen to be necessarily implied and evoked by the Prophet Muhammad’s blessed saying: “The best that I have said – myself, and the prophets that came before me – is: ’There is no god but God, He Alone, He hath no associate, His is the sovereignty and His is the praise and He hath power over all things,’ ” we can now perhaps understand the words “The best that I have said – myself, and the prophets that came before me” as equating the blessed formula “There is no god but God, He Alone, He hath no associate, His is the sovereignty and His is the praise and He hath power over all things” precisely with the “Greatest and the First Commandment” to love God, with all one’s heart and soul, as found in various places in the Bible.

That is to say, in other words, that the Prophet Muhammad was perhaps, through inspiration, restating and alluding to the Bible’s First Commandment.

God knows best, but certainly we have seen their effective similarity in meaning. Moreover, we also do know that both formulas have another remarkable parallel: the way they arise in a number of slightly differing versions and forms in different contexts, all of which, nevertheless, emphasize the primacy of total love and devotion to God.


There are numerous injunctions in Islam about the necessity and paramount importance of love for – and mercy toward – your neighbor. Love of neighbor is an essential and integral part of faith in God and love of God because in Islam without love of the neighbor there is no true faith in God and no righteousness. The Prophet Muhammad said: “None of you has faith until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.” And: “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself.”

However, empathy and sympathy for the neighbor – and even formal prayers – are not enough. They must be accompanied by generosity and self-sacrifice.

God says in the holy Quran:

And also:

Without giving the neighbor what we ourselves love, we do not truly love God or the neighbor.


We have already cited the words of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, about the paramount importance, second only to the love of God, of the love of neighbor:

It remains only to be noted that this commandment is also to be found in the Old Testament:

Thus the Second Commandment, like the First Commandment, demands generosity and self-sacrifice and “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

A Common Word

While Islam and Christianity are obviously different religions – and while there is no minimizing some of their formal differences – it is clear that the two Greatest Commandments are an area of common ground and a link between the Quran, the Torah and the New Testament.

What prefaces the Two Commandments in the Torah and the New Testament, and what they arise out of, is the Unity of God – that there is only one God. For the Shema in the Torah, starts: (Deuteronomy 6:4) “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!” Likewise, Jesus said: (Mark 12:29) “The first [of all the commandments] is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone.’ ”

Likewise, God says in the holy Quran: “Say: He, God, is One. God, the Self-Sufficient Besought of all” (Al-Ikhlas 112:1-2). Thus the Unity of God,love of Him, and love of the neighbor form a common ground upon which Islam and Christianity (and Judaism) are founded.

This could not be otherwise since Jesus said: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). Moreover, God confirms in the holy Quran that the Prophet Muhammad brought nothing fundamentally or essentially new: “Naught is said to thee (Muhammad) but what already was said to the messengers before thee” (Fussilat 41:43). And: “Say (Muhammad): I am no new thing among the messengers (of God), nor know I what will be done with me or with you. I do but follow that which is Revealed to me, and I am but a plain warner” (Al-Ahqaf 46:9). Thus also God in the holy Quran confirms that the same eternal truths of the Unity of God, of the necessity for total love and devotion to God (and thus shunning false gods), and of the necessity for love of fellow human beings (and thus justice), underlie all true religion:

Come to a Common Word!

In the holy Quran, God Most High tells Muslims to issue the following call to Christians (and Jews – the People of the Scripture):

Clearly, the blessed words, “we shall ascribe no partner unto Him,” relate to the Unity of God. Clearly also, worshiping “none but God” relates to being totally devoted to God and hence to the First and Greatest Commandment. According to one of the oldest and most authoritative commentaries (tafsir) on the holy Quran – the Jami’ Al-Bayan fi Ta’wil Al-Quran of Abu Ja’far Muhammad bin Jarir Al-Tabari (d. 310 A.H., 923 C.E.) – “that none of us shall take others for lords beside God,” means “that none of us should obey in disobedience to what God has commanded, nor glorify them by prostrating to them in the same way as they prostrate to God.” In other words, that Muslims, Christians and Jews should be free to each follow what God commanded them, and not have “to prostrate before kings and the like”; for God says elsewhere in the holy Quran: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Al-Baqarah 2:256). This clearly relates to the Second Commandment and to love of neighbor of which justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part. God says in the holy Quran:

We thus as Muslims invite Christians to remember Jesus’ words in the Gospel (Mark 12:29-31):

As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them – so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes, (in accordance with the verse of the holy Quran [Al-Mumtahinah 60:8] quoted above). Moreover, God says in the holy Quran:

Is Christianity necessarily against Muslims? In the Gospel, Jesus Christ says:

According to the Blessed Theophylact’s Explanation of the New Testament, these statements are not contradictions because the first statement (in the actual Greek text of the New Testament) refers to demons, whereas the second and third statements refer to people who recognized Jesus, but were not Christians. Muslims recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah, not in the same way Christians do (but Christians themselves anyway have never all agreed with each other on Jesus Christ’s nature), but in the following way: “the Messiah Jesus son of Mary is a Messenger of God and His Word which he cast unto Mary and a Spirit from Him” (Al-Nisa’ 4:171). We therefore invite Christians to consider Muslims not against and thus with them, in accordance with Jesus Christ’s words here.

Finally, as Muslims, and in obedience to the holy Quran, we ask Christians to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions “that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God” (Aal ’Imran 3:64).

Let this common ground be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us, for our common ground is that on which hangs “the whole law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). God says in the holy Quran:

Between Us and You

Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders. Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. Together they make up more than 55 percent of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world.

If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.

And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony.

God says in the holy Quran: “Lo! God enjoineth justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbiddeth lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorteth you in order that ye may take heed” (Al Nahl 16:90). Jesus Christ said: “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and also, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Matthew 16:26).

So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill. God says in the holy Quran:

Wal-Salaamu ‘Alaykum
Pax Vobiscum

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