Letter to the heads of Muslim religious communities throughout the world on the beginning of Ramadan
Sent to Muslim leaders and dialogue partners, 17 November 2001.
The blessed month of Ramadan and the Christian Holy time of Advent during which the faithful prepare themselves in fasting and recollection for the Nativity of Jesus Christ coincide this year. Thus, they become one among many signs that make us "nearest in affection" and draw us together in common obedience to God. The spiritual bonds that unite us need to be rediscovered anew in these trying times.
Fasting is indeed a reminder of God's presence. It invites believers, in their personal lives as well as in community, to turn to God in humility and love, seeking forgiveness and strength. Fasting is a time of mercy. We receive anew God's mercy upon us but also that which we beseech for each other. It is a time of piety, deepened devotion and generous alms-giving. The special endurance of believers, asserting that human beings have other needs than bread and that their bodies are their servants not their masters, reminds us that to have is to share. It is a call to render justice; for dealing justly with others is inseparable from true piety.
The abominable acts of September 11 were condemned by the authoritative voices throughout the Islamic community and among the churches. The Quranic principle that no soul shall bear another's burden was widely echoed by Muslims. We have heard many Muslim friends reminding themselves and all of us of the Quranic injunction not to let the hatred of others make us swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Muslims and Christians are standing up forcefully for justice, and have warned against the temptation of blind vengeance and indiscriminate retaliation. Churches, in the USA and beyond, have opened themselves in humility to the call of the apostle not to repay anyone evil for evil. Many Christians have affirmed that the answer to terrorism must not reinforce the cycle of violence. All acts which destroy life, whether through terrorism or in war, are contrary to the will of God.
The recent tragic events have shown the vulnerability of all nations and the fragility of the international order. A world in which more and more people and even whole nations are being consigned to extreme poverty while others accumulate great wealth is inherently unstable. The tendency to impose one's will - if need be, even by force - which is manifesting itself in the policies of powerful nations provokes resentment among the weaker ones. The language of threat and the logic of war breeds violence. As long as the cries of those who are humiliated by unremitting injustice, by the systematic deprivation of their rights as persons and as peoples and by the arrogance of power based on military might are ignored or neglected, terrorism will not be overcome. The answer is to be found in redressing the wrongs that breed violence between and within nations.
The violence of terrorism - in its various forms - is abhorrent, particularly to all those who believe that human life is a gift of God and therefore infinitely precious. Every attempt to intimidate others and inflict indiscriminate death and injury upon them is to be universally condemned, whoever are the perpetrators. The response to these inhuman acts, however, must not lead to stigmatizing Muslims, Arabs and any other ethnic groups. Churches are called to let the voices of fraternity and compassion drown those of hostility, racism and intolerance. The voice of faith, which has been expressed through the many initiatives of friendship and solidarity, needs to defeat those of bigotry, fear and nihilism.
As Christians we reject the tendency, not uncommon in many Western countries, to perceive Muslims as a threat and portray Islam in negative terms while projecting a positive self-image. Christians live under the divine commandment not to bear false witness against their neighbours. The encounter of Christians with Islam and with Muslims requires intellectual honesty and integrity. They need to be present with their Muslim neighbours in the spirit of love, sensitive to their deepest faith commitments, and recognizing what God has done and is doing among them. Here the dialogue between Muslims and Christians, to which the World Council of Churches remains strongly committed, finds its authentic meaning. Many today call for an intensification of the dialogue of religions and cultures. However, such dialogue cannot bear fruits unless it is built on trust, on an unequivocal respect for the identity and integrity of others, an openness to understand them on their own terms and a willingness to question one's self-understanding, history and present reality.
In the dialogue of life and the encounter of commitments between Christians and Muslims in various parts of the world, we have learned that our religious communities are not two monolithic blocks confronting or competing with each other. We have learned that tensions and conflicts, when they arise, do not and should not define bloody borders between Muslims and Christians. We recognize that religion speaks for the deepest feelings and sensitivities of individuals and communities, carries deep historical memories and often appeals to universal loyalties. But this does not justify uncritical responses that draw people into each other's conflicts instead of joining efforts, across religious loyalties, to apply common principles of justice and reconciliation. Islam and Christianity need to be released from the burden of sectional interests and self-serving interpretations of beliefs and convictions. Their beliefs should rather constitute a basis for critical engagement in the face of human weakness and defective social, economic and political orders.
This is the time for giving signs of genuine cooperation, particularly by engaging in joint efforts to provide assistance to the victims and to defend human rights and humanitarian law. This area of cooperation is critical at a time when humanitarian work suffers from restrictions and suspicions and is being used for political and propaganda purposes, to the point of being linked with the war operations. It is the time to deepen our encounter, share our pains, mutual expectations and hopes.
The prayer for God's peace is at the heart of the spirituality of Muslims and Christians. At the beginning of the month of Ramadan we greet you with a word of peace and friendship.
May your fast, and ours, be pleasant to God.