The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, a California pastor and host of television's "Hour of Power," reaches 20 million Christian followers around the world. Sheik Al-Habib Ali Al-Jifri ranks among the 10 most popular Muslim preachers worldwide, with followers in the United States, Indonesia, Malaysia and across the Arab world.
On Wednesday, they shared a pulpit and a message: Muslims and Christians must come together and embrace their similarities. Loving God requires loving people, no matter their faith. And religion must be reclaimed from those who use it to divide people, or worse.
"Let's focus on what God wants us to do, to build, to redeem," Schuller told the audience of Muslim and Christian scholars and religious leaders from around the world who gathered at Yale for a conference that organizers described as a seminal moment in interfaith relations.
The conference grew out of a 2007 open letter, "A Common Word Between Us and You," signed by 138 Islamic scholars and clerics worldwide.
The letter laid out fundamental commonalities between Christianity and Islam — namely, that both scriptural, monotheistic religions share concepts of love of God and love for one's neighbors — and framed the importance of relations between the world's two largest religions in blunt terms: "If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace," the letter read. "With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world's inhabitants.
"Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake."
In a response that has now been signed by more than 500 people, Yale scholars offered a Christian perspective. It affirmed many of the "A Common Word" ideas and shared the letter's call for work — not just "polite ecumenical dialogue" — to reshape the relations between Muslims and Christians.
That gave way to this week's conference, which drew more than 150 Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders and scholars, including Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, grand muftis of several countries, an Iranian ayatollah and American evangelical leaders.
Similar conferences will be held during the next 15 months at Cambridge University, the Vatican, Georgetown University and in Jordan.
But participants made it clear that their real goal lies outside conferences. Real change must come at the grass-roots level, they said.
"What is the result that the world is going to see?" Al-Jifri asked in Arabic. (MORE)