A statement by leading Muslim scholars setting out the mainstream Islamic view on peace among the religions "for the sake of the world" has been described as "a historic breakthrough" by a leading Cambridge academic working on inter-religious issues.
Dr Aref Ali Nayed, visiting fellow at the Centre for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies in the faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge and Advisor on Muslim-Christian Dialogue issues to the Sheikh Muhammed bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding, was speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
Responding to challenges from ex-Times editor and Guardian commentator Simon Jenkins, who dismissed such statements as "platitudes" among religious leaders, Dr Nayed said that it was highly significant that Muslim scholars from across the historic traditions (Sunni, Shia and others) were coming together to make "mainstream theology" clear at a time when extremist voices were seeking to usurp it.
He said the the task of reforming mosques and schools depended upon the voices and testimony of "the most senior figures" and urged commentators not to focus only on "negativities" in the Muslim world.
Over 130 Muslim scholars and leaders from around the world have today released the text of a letter to Christian leaders that outlines proposed areas of understanding between the faiths and urges a search for "common ground."
Addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and and major leaders of Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Evangelical, Pentecostal churches and other Christian bodies, the 29-page letter offers interpretations of both the Qur'an and the Bible on the love of God, love of neighbour and other spiritual precepts that are similar in Christianity and Islam.
"The Unity of God, the necessity of love for [God], and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity," say 138 Muslim leaders, representing all branches of the faith, say in the letter entitled 'A Common Word Between Us and You.'
The news conference today at the National Press Club in Washington DC is extraordinary for two reasons, Muslims say: the importance of the proposed initiative and the unanimity among both Sunni and Shi'a leaders, the two major wings of Islam.
"The Quran is a strong invitation to interfaith dialogue and respect for one another," said Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, of the Islamic House of Wisdom, in Dearborn Heights. "Especially at this time, when we are at a crossroads of either more violence an war and destruction or returning to reason and responsibility, it is necessary for all of us to work together."
The letter is being issued the day before Eid al-Fitr, the joyous feast that ends Ramadan, one of the major days on the Islamic calendar. It also coincides with the anniversary of a controversial speech given by Pope Benedict in Germany last year, in which he quoted an ancient Christian Emperor about Islam in a way that many Muslims found offensive.
In the inter-faith dialogue that followed, some Christian leaders suggested that Muslims adopt a series of points of faith common to both traditions as a starting point for a far more intensive dialogue. The letter is intended as the Muslim response to that request.