Seyyed Hossein Nasr is an 82-year-old Iranian Islamic philosopher and University Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University.

On 6 November 2008 Seyyed Hossein Nasr delivered a paper at the Catholic-Muslim Forum held in the Vatican from 4-6 November. Here are some timely excerpts from Nasr’s address delivered seven years ago.

He begins by affirming that both Christians and Muslims are equally called to work for the peace of the human community.

Whether we are Chrsitians or Muslims, we are beckoned by our religions to seek peace.

There can be no more blessed act in our times than the creation of deep accord between God’s religions, especially the two religions that have the largest numbers of followers in the world, namely Christianity and Islam. Indeed, God summons us to the Abode of Peace, and blessed are the peacemakers.

Zaleski, Philip. The Best Spiritual Writing 2011. NY: Penguin Books, 2010. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “We And You – Let Us Meet In God’s Love” pp. 137-151.

But, Nasr goes on to acknowledge that historically Christianity and Islam share a tragic legacy of violence. Both belief systems have been used justify violence:

Speaking of Christian and Islamic civilizations, it must be noted that the name of both religions has been associated with violence in certain periods of their history. To associate only Islam with violence is to overlook the fact that over the centuries many more Muslims have been killed by Christians than Christians by Muslims.143

However, Nasr also acknowledges that in our present context it is true that among world religions, Islam tends to be more often associated with violence than other world faiths. He offers an interesting explanation for this fact.

If there is more violence today carried out in the name of Islam than of Christianity, that is not due to the support of violence by one religion and opposition to violence by the other, but rather the result of the relative strength of each religion today. If Christianity in the West is no longer associated with violence, it is because of the weakening of Christianity before the onslaught of secularism. One could hardly imagine calling French or British Soldiers to war these days in the name of Christianity, in contrast to older days from the Crusades to the destruction of natives in the Americas when Christianity being strong was used oftentimes by political forces to legitimize wars and violence. To associate Islam simply with violence and Christianity with non-violence is to make virtue out of necessity. 143

Power and violence appear to go hand in hand. Whether it is Christians, Muslims, capitalists or atheists who hold power, history  bears testimony to the sad reality that, whatever the beliefs of those in charge, they all eventually resort to violence in an attempt to protect their hegemony.

 So, the only generalization that can be made about the relationship between belief systems and violence is the one Nasr offers in conclusion when he says,

The task to confront and oppose violence in all its forms is in fact a task in whose realization both Muslims and Christians must work hand in hand.145

To “work hand in hand” with someone requires opening to the risky vulnerability of relationship. We can only “work hand in hand” when we commit to being honest and open with one another. If we start with the demand that we in our little group have all the answers and you must eventually come to share our version of the truth, we will never “work hand in hand.”

If we hope to find peace in the world, we must extend to one another deep respect and reverence. We are all creatures of God. No matter what theological formulations we may use to express that truth or what practices we adopt to nurture our awareness, the Image of God resides in every human being. There is vastly more that unites us than that divides us. We will benefit the world to the degree that we concentrate on that in which we find our common humanity most deeply expressed rather than demanding conformity of belief and practice.