A number of Danish churches have praised an open letter published by 138 prominent Muslim scholars and have pledged to meet with leaders of Islam in Denmark to continue this exchange.
The dean of Copenhagen cathedral, the Rev Anders Gadegaard, told Ecumenical News International that he and the general secretary of the Danish National Council of Churches, Mads Christoffersen, sent a response on behalf of churches in Denmark to the Muslim scholars' letter of October 2007 to church leaders around the world.
"The letter is a comprehensive, brave, and learned document that incorporates an opening in
relation to Christianity that is unique in the history of the world," said the response signed by Gadegaard and Christoffersen, which was published on 10 April in the Danish newspaper, the Kristeligt Dagblad (Christian Daily).
The newspaper reported the following day that three of the 138 Muslim scholars had expressed extreme anti-Jewish sentiments, and it quoted people who questioned how the Danish church representatives could defend dialogue with such individuals, Gadegaard told ENI. He said the veracity of the charges against the three Muslim scholars was being investigated.
The 16 member churches of the church council who were signatories to the response said the Muslim letter "represents an important step in the essential dialogue between adherents of the world's two largest religions".
The Muslim scholars' letter came after Denmark had been in world headlines in 2006 over the insistence by some Danish newspapers to carry, for the sake of freedom of speech, cartoons said to be satirical, but deemed offensive by many Muslims and which stirred angry and sometimes violent reactions in the Islamic world.
In their response to the Muslim scholars, the Danish church leaders said they supported their recognition of the need for dialogue. "Similarly, we also believe that inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue and cooperation cannot be viewed as being optional, but must be seen as a necessity if one wants to promote true respect and avoid violent conflicts," said Gadegaard and Christoffersen in their letter.
The Danes said the content of the Muslims' letter was remarkable for a number of reasons.
"It is unique for a Muslim text to portray Jesus through his own words in the Bible and not merely by references drawn from the Quran," they stated. "And it is positive that learned Muslims so clearly recognise that Christians believe in the one God (and not in three); even though significant differences exist regarding how Islam and Christianity view the one God.
"The letter invites a common understanding of what unites Christians and Muslims in theological and ethical terms," said the Danish church letter. It added, "Our common foundation is the belief in the one God as Lord and Creator and in the common view of life and man, that follows from this; that life is sacred, God-given, and that all mankind is created by God in his image (or as Muslims articulate this: created by God as his deputy, who mirrors God's qualities) and is infinitely worthy and inviolable; that people are, therefore, equal and should be treated with respect."
The Danish church leaders also noted a common basis for dialogue could be found in the support of both faiths for the love of one's neighbour.
They said the Muslim letter was, "unusually accommodating towards Christianity and seeks to make its point not merely from its own standpoint, but also by using terminology and figures of speech inspired by the Bible."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]