Saturday, October 13, 2018

Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The human rights of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) codify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and both begin with the freedoms of religion and speech.  Those fundamental freedoms should be universal standards of legitimacy that define what is right, but Islamic nations subordinate human rights to Islamic Law (Shari’a), and its apostasy and blasphemy laws prevent any real freedom of religion and speech.
Religions are a source of moral and legal standards of legitimacy, but religious laws are incompatible with freedom, democracy and secular law.  A universal moral standard is required to transcend religious differences; and it should be the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions.  It’s a moral imperative and a common word of  faith and politics for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

That love command is not a substitute for human rights, but it has motivated Western democracies to make human rights fundamental standards of legitimacy.  Before the 18th century Enlightenment, blasphemy laws denied the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech in America, but they became first among America’s freedoms in the Bill of Rights.  And increasing religious diversity in Islamic nations will likely produce the same result.

Finding a universal moral principle to reconcile Christians and Muslims does not require extensive academic research.  The moral obligation to love God and our neighbors, even those of other races and religions, as ourselves, is familiar to Jews, Christians and Muslims.  While there have been numerous academic conferences on a common word, none have brought that universal and reconciling principle of altruistic and reconciling love to the public square.

Last week’s commentary acknowledged a minimalist standard of moral universalism that allows traditional religious differences, like those that define Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  That’s not an ideal but a practical reality in a world of conflicting standards of legitimacy. Until apostasy and blasphemy laws are eliminated, Muslim authorities should put love over law and refuse to enforce laws that conflict with the moral imperative of the greatest commandment.

As long as the US has strategic political objectives that require public support in Islamic nations, its foreign policy and military operations must respect local standards of legitimacy.  But if the greatest commandment is indeed a common word of faith for Christians and Muslims, then Muslim leaders should refuse to enforce oppressive religious laws that are incompatible with loving their neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as they love themselves.

Jesus taught that over 2,000 years ago, and the Apostle Paul confirmed it.  At a time when Mosaic Law was the standard of righteousness for Jews, much like Shari’a is for Muslims today, Paul wrote to the Romans that all of God’s commandments are summed up in one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.  Love does not harm to to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10).

Muslims in Islamic nations, like Americans, resent outsiders who criticize their religion, politics or laws.  Only Muslims will determine if and when they adopt libertarian human rights. In the meantime Jews, Christians and Muslims should work together to promote a common word of faith that puts altruistic love over law. Doing that would make the world a better place.

Over ten years ago a group of distinguished Islamic scholars offered the greatest commandment to Christians as a common word of faith.  It’s a moral imperative of faith that cannot be enforced by law, but it should define our standards of legitimacy.  As people of the book, Jews, Christians and Muslims need to instill that altruistic moral principle into our religion, politics and law.  If we can do that, we just might be able to save the world from ourselves.


A common word was introduced in 2007, and has since gained the support of a wide range of religious leaders.  See

Moral universalism is concerned with universal standards of legitimacy like a common word that define what is right and can serve as moral common ground to reconcile competitive religions like Christianity and Islam.  For an interfaith study guide that has that objective, see The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: the Heart of Legitimacy posted in Resources at home page of  On how conflicting standards of legitimacy affect human rights in military operations, see Back to the Future: Human Rights and Legitimacy in the Training and Advisory Mission, Special Warfare, Jan-Mar 2013, posted in Resources above.    .

Western democracies emphasize libertarian human rights in their constitutions and promote them overseas through the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  Under the Cairo Declaration Islamic nations condition the human rights of the ICCPR to the provisions of Shari’a that include apostasy and blasphemy laws that prohibit the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech and deny women equal protection of the law; and unlike Western democracies, they promote the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) that requires government to provide public welfare services such as employment and housing.  The conflict between the provisions of the ICCPR and the ICESCR at the international level is analogous to the political conflict at the national level between protecting fundamental freedoms and providing for the common good. For a more detailed discussion of the above issues in Barnes, Religion, Law and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy, see;;,

Much academic energy has been spent on the topic of moral universalism, which is at the intersection of religion, philosophy and politics.  There have also been numerous academic papers and conferences on the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, but little done to promote that universal moral standard of altruistic love in the public square where it might actually improve interfaith relations.  Perhaps academia with its emphasis on intellectual esoteria and scholarship is not the best place to promote a universal moral code. A recent hoax in which a few courageous academics sought to expose biased academic pretentiousness with “performatively absurd academic papers” that were accepted by academic journals indicted that we need to beware of fake (academic) knowledge as well as fake news.  See

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(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(1/4/15): Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(2/22/15): Religion and Human Rights
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(5/10/15): Religion, Human Rights and National Security
(5/17/15): Moral Restraints on the Freedom of Speech
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