Magazine article The Christian Century

'Allah Is My Lord and Yours'

Magazine article The Christian Century

'Allah Is My Lord and Yours'

Article excerpt

WHAT WOULD the world look like if the primary solidarities that ordered it were religious rather than national? This is not the world we live in, though there are signs that it's the one we're moving toward. Among those signs, ambiguous and interesting, is the public letter sent last May by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, to George W. Bush.

Ahmadinejad's letter received rather little sensible comment in the American media, and almost none that paid attention to the fact that it is framed as an address by one believer in God to another, and that it appeals to Bush to treat the faith he shares with Ahmadinejad as more important than what divides them.

Ahmadinejad begins the letter by asking whether U.S. foreign policy since 9/11, especially the war in Iraq, can be justified in Christian terms. "How," he asks, "can these actions be reconciled with ... duty to the tradition of Jesus Christ (PBUH) the Messenger of peace and forgiveness?" (PBUH, or "Peace Be Upon Him," is a traditional Muslim honorific for Jesus understood as prophet.)

The same question is then applied to other matters: to U.S. support of Israel; to U.S. opposition to the election of Hamas in Palestine; to the history of U.S. involvement in Iran over the past century; to the invasion and reconstitution of Afghanistan; to the depiction of events in the Middle East by U.S. media; and to the military expenditures of the U.S. government.

The letter continues with an appeal to Bush to consider how the prophets from Moses to Jesus would judge all this. Ahmadinejad asks Bush to take his Christianity seriously, and to join with himself in seeking to discern the proper application of the teachings of these prophets to current events: "We believe that a return to the teachings of the divine prophets is the only road leading to salvation.... Surely Allah is my Lord and your Lord, therefore serve him; this is the right path.... Service to and obedience of the Almighty is the credo of all divine messengers."

There follows an exhortation to Bush to return to his Christianity by taking the message of the prophets--one of whom is Jesus--seriously. Then, most strikingly, comes the claim that "liberalism and Western-style democracy" have failed and can no longer, if they ever could, serve the will of God as explained by the prophets. The future, says Ahmadinejad, belongs to those who are "flocking towards a main focal point that is the Almighty God." Doesn't Bush want to join them? Doesn't the fact that he is a follower of Jesus suggest that he should? The letter ends with a traditional Islamic phrase, "Peace to whoever follows the path"--the path, that is, of belief in and faithful response to the one God.

This letter is a political document, of course, and like all such it is no doubt duplicitous, multilayered and deliberately deceptive. But suppose that Ahmadinejad means what he writes to Bush about the importance of their shared faith, and that his appeal to Bush to take his Christianity seriously as something that should bring him close to Islam and to Muslims is at least in part serious. Can we Americans, especially we American Christians, hear this appeal? What might the results be if we could?

The speeches given before the UN on September 19 by Ahmadinejad and Bush gave no sign that either side hears the other. Bush spoke entirely in the language of diplomatic negotiation and political advocacy, as Ahmadinejad also largely did. But the latter's challenge to Bush to take his own religion seriously remains before us as a stimulus to thought, no matter whether its offerer is serious about it.

Unfortunately, we're likely to be deaf to this aspect of Ahmadinejad's letter because we live in a world in which transnational religious solidarities make almost no sense. We Americans may call ourselves Christian or Jewish or Muslim, and some few of us may even think and say that this is the most important thing about us, and that the solidarity we share with our coreligionists goes deeper than any other. …

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