Although the idea that Islam shares the same God and the same prophets as Christianity and Judaism, albeit with some key differences in interpretation, is basic knowledge to Muslims, that idea is a revelation to many Christians in particular. The letter was sent to the Pope to try to persuade him to endorse the shared origins of Christianity and Islam, since many Christians are reluctant to take the word of Muslims themselves in this era of tense relations between the two faiths.
The Pope has been open to increased dialogue and has been willing to meet with the Muslim delegation, but he has shown reluctance about acknowledging that Muslims and Christians in fact believe in the same God and the same prophets and that Islam is in the same line of teachings as that of all the former prophets in the Judeo-Christian record. Instead, his interests seem to have been toward improving situations for Christians in Muslim-majority countries and improving women's rights in certain countries like Saudi Arabia.
The Common Word initiative was started in part in response to a statement by the Pope in 2006 claiming that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) spread Islam through violence, as well as to meet pressing needs for dialogue in a post-9/11, post-Prophet Cartoon Scandal world. The project is not just aimed at the Pope, who represents and leads a fraction of the Christian world, but to a great number of Christian and Jewish organizations. The website for A Common Word contains excerpts of the letter, news, and responses from various Christian and Jewish groups.
Many religious leaders and organizations are eager to work together with Muslims for peace and understanding in the context of this initiative. One typical letter of response reads in part:
"Addressed to leaders of Christian churches around the world, your letter expresses an intent to engage seriously with Christians in dialogue that is grounded in the authentic religious convictions of our respective communities. Based upon the love of God and the love of neighbor – the two great commandments central to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism – your letter invites Christians to join with Muslims to forge ties of peace. This is a bold and timely invitation….We agree that striving together as people who would seek to be peacemakers – as Christians and Muslims, and also in cooperation with people of other religious traditions – for fairness, justice, and mutual goodwill is indeed necessary for the welfare of the world. We note in 'A Common Word' that the Arabic word translated 'common' as used in the Qur'an ('Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you.' [3:64]) also means 'just' and 'fair'. Thus we are called to a 'just word' or a 'fair word' between one another. It is our belief that proclaiming this just word together, and acting in accordance with it, will contribute significantly to a just world for all."
There are certain issues on which Muslims, Christians, and Jews are not likely to agree, such as the Trinitarian versus the Unitarian view of God or the matter of the crucifixion of Jesus (peace be upon him). But by agreeing to disagree on these matters, the purpose is to rather build upon the common beliefs and heritage of all three faiths with the intent of increasing dialogue and cooperation while decreasing the violence, hatred, ignorance, and bad will among the practitioners of these faiths.