Written by Rebecca Woods
Mohammed Sammak, Secretary General of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, sought to correct misunderstandings about Islam during his Suncoast Saturday presentation at General Synod 28. Some of those misunderstandings, he observed, are held by Christians about Muslims, and some are held by Muslims about Islam itself.
The Qu'ran mentions the Bible twelve times. The verses call upon the people of the Bible - Christians - to follow what God revealed to them in the Bible: to be better Christians.
Sammak told the story of the first encounter between Christians and Muslims, when a delegation of Christian leaders from Yemen came to Medina to speak with the Prophet Mohammed. He received them at his mosque.
They carried on discussions throughout the day, and then the group decided to pray. When Mohammed invited them to pray in the mosque, the Christians demurred. They were still not persuaded he was an authentic prophet, so they stepped outside to speak with their God.
They returned to the mosque and continued their conversations. When the discussion ended, they returned home. As Sammak put it, “They remained Christians, and they went home.”
Shortly afterward, the Prophet Mohammed dictated a covenant to define the relationship between the Muslim rulers and Christian citizens of the emerging state, intended to endure "until the end of time." Its opening summarizes the import of the document: "I protect and defend Christians and their churches.” As Sammak summarized the remainder of the lengthy text, it made Christians full citizens entitled to full protection of their neighbors and rulers of the state, including a formal tax exemption for churches and support for Christians charged with crimes as they resolved the accusations.
What would it be like if Christians and Muslims agreed to such a covenant as the principles for Christian-Muslim relations into the future? “We are different, and we are going to remain different until the end of time,” said Sammak. "This is one of the symbols of the greatness of God, to create these colors that we live with."
Sammak then defined dialogue as "the art of searching for the truth in the point of view of the other."
Among the initiatives to engage in truth-seeking dialogue was the 2007 document "A Common Word," signed by 138 Muslim scholars including Sammak. It was directed toward Christians, but Sammak confessed the authors were thinking more of the Muslim readers than Christians, encouraging them to better understand the foundations of relationship between the two faiths.