(CNSNews.com) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter to President Bush is essentially a call on the American leader to embrace Islam, according to an Islamic specialist and author.
While some media accounts described aspects of the letter as an attempt at interfaith dialogue, Robert Spencer homed in on terminology used by Ahmadinejad.
In his letter, the Iranian leader asks Bush: "Do you not think that if all of us come to believe in and abide by these principles, that is, monotheism, worship of God, justice, respect for the dignity of man, belief in the Last Day, we can overcome the present problems of the world ...?"
In traditional Muslim belief, Spencer wrote on his Dhimmi Watch website, "it is only Islam that guarantees 'monotheism, worship of God, justice, respect for the dignity of man, belief in the Last Day.' "
Also in his letter, which contains verses from the Koran, Ahmadinejad asks Bush whether he will accept an invitation to make "a genuine return to the teachings of prophets, to monotheism and justice, to preserve human dignity and obedience to the Almighty and his prophets."
A UPI story on Tuesday said Ahmadinejad had "suggested Bush return to Christian teachings," while an Associated Press report said the letter gave insight into a man "seeking to build on a shared faith in God."
While Ahmadinejad does make nine references to Jesus and 11 to Christ, Muslims consider Jesus to have been just one Islamic prophet among many, while Mohammed was entrusted with the final divine revelation.
The notion that Allah is the same deity as the Judeo-Christian God has also been disputed, as witnessed by the furor among evangelical leaders after Bush said in a 2003 press conference that he believed Christians and Muslims "worship the same god."
In the letter, Ahmadinejad said "all divine religions share and respect one word, and that is monotheism, or belief in a single God and no other in the world."
The French wire service AFP quoted Iran's hard-line Siasat-e Rooz daily as saying of the letter: "We expect the government to make the enemy understand that it should change its hostile positions, as the future belongs to Islam."
"It has been the prophet's way to invite the infidel leaders to the right way," it said.
According to unconfirmed Iranian reports, mullahs have in the past encouraged foreign leaders to convert to Islam.
Six months before his death in June 1989, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini reportedly wrote to Mikhail Gorbachev, predicting the imminent collapse of communism and inviting the Soviet leader to examine Islam as the only alternative.
Last November another senior cleric, Hojatolislam Mohammad Reza Hakimi, was quoted as saying that he had given Cuba's Fidel Castro a Spanish translation of some Islamic texts and "almost managed to convince him to become a Muslim."
Hakimi said Iran's religious authorities had officially invited Castro to convert.
(The report prompted some satirical articles by Iranian media organizations outside the country. Castro was a fitting convert, noted one, as he had not shaved his beard for many years.)
Writing in the Persian Journal on Monday, Iranian international law consultant Bahman Aghai Diba said the tradition in Islam of writing missives to heads of states was established by Mohammed, who sent letters to the king of Iran and the emperor of Rome.
"They did not take the letters as serious and they paid dearly for this inattention."
Washington has played down the significance of Ahmadinejad's 18-page letter, which has been described as the first such open communication by Iranian leaders since the Islamic revolution.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called it "broadly philosophical," saying there was nothing in it that addressed problems like the nuclear issue and terrorism "in a straightforward way."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tehran was trying to change the subject from the international community's demands that it stop enriching uranium.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal this week, Iranian analyst and author Amir Taheri said the U.S. needed "an open, honest and exhaustive debate on what to do with a regime that claims a mission to drive the U.S. out of the Middle East, wipe Israel off the map, create an Islamic superpower, and conquer the world for 'The Only True Faith.' "
"The options are clear: retreat and let the Islamic Republic advance its goals; resist and risk confrontation, including military conflict; or engage the Islamic Republic in a mini-version of Cold War until, worn out, it self-destructs," he said.
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