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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Finding a common word

Virginia dialogue pairs Lutherans and Muslims

Christians and Muslims "share more than 95 percent of their religion," said Mourad Amer, a Muslim engineer committed to a joint dialogue in Newport News, Va., that has sought common ground among the two religious bodies for three years.

In a search for mutual understanding, several Lutherans, a Roman Catholic, an Episcopalian and five Muslims began the dialogue several years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Known as the Common Word Inter-Faith Group, members have focused on what they have in common rather than the differences, Amer said.

ELCA pastor Dan Jungkuntz (left) attends
ELCA pastor Dan Jungkuntz (left) attends Friday prayer with Mourad Amer at a mosque in Hampton, Va.

Group leader Dan Jungkuntz is a pastoral counselor and ELCA pastor. "I am so touched by what I have learned about Islam," he said. Each week, he now joins the Muslims' Friday prayer at a local mosque.

The group began their twice-a-month Saturday morning dialogues with "Al Fatiha," the opening prayer of the Quran, and ended with the Lord's Prayer.

After meeting for three years, they crafted a joint response to "A Common Word between Us and You," an open letter from 138 Muslim scholars. The letter was sent to leaders of Christian church bodies around the world, including ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson.

In their response, the Newport News group shared reflections followed by "intense conversation." Challenges to understanding and appreciating each other's traditions primarily stem from theological differences, group members say. They placed obstacles to the common word into three categories: theological differences, human willfulness and the current geopolitical situation.


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