A key Muslim leader here told a group of seven North American Lutheran bishops Jan. 13 that Christians and Muslims must work together for peace and justice. Sheikh Tayseer Rajab Al-Tamini, supreme judge of the Islamic Shari'a Courts in Palestine, suggested that world Muslim and Christian leaders meet soon and deliver "a strong message to the world" for peace in the wake of failed political negotiations and escalating violence in Gaza.
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The bishops were part of a group of 44 bishops representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), who visited the West Bank and Israel Jan. 6-13. The bishops met with religious, political and community leaders, and visited religious sites.

Their visit focused on support and encouragement for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL).

Al-Tamini is a member of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, consisting of Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders. He noted that half the world's population is either Christian or Muslim. "It is our destiny to live together as Muslims and Christians with mutual respect," he said. "We hope the Jews can do the same." The sheikh said he hopes Israel will end its occupation of Palestinian land and end discriminatory policies toward Palestinians.

Al-Tamini said the deaths of children, women and elderly people in Gaza, the result of the war between Israel and Hamas, are "heartbreaking." More than 1,000 Palestinians have died and nearly 5,000 have been injured, according to news reports.

Thirteen Israelis have died. The sheikh referred to recent attacks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the destruction of 20 mosques in Gaza, saying that the Holy Land must be "atrocity free."

Hanson and the sheikh have met previously. "I treasure and appreciate your attitude toward the Palestinian cause. We rarely find an international leader standing with us like you," he told the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop and president of the Lutheran World Federation. God created the world for all people to live in peace, Al-Tamini said, adding that "pluralism is the will of God."

Hanson responded that the bishops' visit here came at an especially tragic time because of the Gaza war. Lutherans reject all forms of terrorism, he said. Hanson said he is concerned that if Israel crushes Hamas, it will inflame radical elements throughout the world. "I hope global leaders can call for an end to this war," Hanson said, emphasizing that it was important that religious leaders speak with one voice.

Al-Tamini followed up by suggesting that Hanson contact Prince Ghazi bin Muhammed of Jordan. Hanson met Prince Ghazi in 2005 in Jordan, and they discussed developing greater understanding between Christians and Muslims for peace.

In 2007 Muslim scholars delivered to Christians a message, "A Common Word Between Us and You." It was an invitation to Christians to work with Muslims for peace and justice throughout the world. The supreme Islamic judge proposed that Christian and Muslim leaders meet in Jordan to develop their own "common word"
of peace and justice. Christians and Muslims "must come together for a stronger voice. In Gaza, the politicians totally failed," Al-Tamini said.

The Rev. Margaret G. Payne, bishop, ELCA New England Synod, Worcester, Mass., said such a meeting of Muslims and Christians "sounded like a great way to implement 'A Common Word.'"

"I am happy and pleased that we had this meeting," said the Rev. Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national bishop. "I am excited that we are working together as Muslims and Christians for peace.

This is especially important for those who see us as enemies."