More than 100 Muslim scholars have addressed warm Christmas greetings to Christians around the world, a message notable both for what it says and the fact that it was sent at all.
The greeting, sent by a group of 138 Sunni, Shiite, Sufi and other scholars who recently proposed a dialogue with Christian leaders, called for peace on Earth and thanked church leaders who have responded positively to their invitation.
Islam is a decentralized faith, with no pope or archbishop who can speak for believers as a group. Individual Muslim clerics previously have exchanged holiday greetings with Christians, but nothing on this scale has been done before.
"Al-Salaamu Aleikum, Peace be upon you, Pax Vobiscum," the greetings began in Arabic, English and Latin. The letter's text is available on the group's website, acommonword.com.
It noted that Christmas came just after the Muslim hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, recalling how the prophet Abraham almost sacrificed his son.
"God's refusal to let Abraham sacrifice his son is to this day a divine warrant and a most powerful social lesson for all followers of the Abrahamic faiths, to ever do their utmost to save, uphold and treasure every human life and especially the lives of every single child," it said.
"May the coming year be one in which the sanctity and dignity of human life is upheld by all," it added. "May it be a year of humble repentance before God and mutual forgiveness within and between communities."
The group, linked to an Islamic research institute headed by Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed bin Talal, wants a serious dialogue between Christian and Muslim theologians to help bridge a gulf in understanding between the religions.