Violence in the Middle East astounds us with the intensity of its anger and hatred. There appears to be no room for reason and common sense. These horrific happenings impel us to “stretch out our hand” to befriend those of a faith different from our own.

What is our common ground? We are all human beings. Regardless of our nationality or ethnicity, we are born and we die. Regardless of how wealthy or poor we are, we are born and we die. Birth and death are inevitable and unavoidable. Birth and death are part of our common ground.

Between birth and death, most of us confront major challenges. Often our responses are based on misperceptions. Sometimes our responses reflect emotions of hate, fear, arrogance and retaliation. Between birth and death, we all are subject to changes internally and externally. Impermanence is part of our common ground.

As human beings, we depend upon one another. What did you have for breakfast? Did you grow that food yourself? Could it be grown without sun, soil and moisture? Did you pick a tangerine from a tree, or did you depend on someone else to harvest, transport and distribute it? Interdependence also is part of our common ground.

As human beings, we share the same planet. How we respond to the environment influences how others experience the environment. As scientific studies have documented, no one is untouched by the impacts of climate change. This, too, is part of our common ground.

From my Muslim friends, I have learned that the term “jihad” is widely misunderstood. Among its meanings, “jihad” may refer to internal as well as external efforts to be a good Muslim. Among internal efforts are peaceful battles for self-control and improvement. To followers returning from a military campaign, the Prophet Mohammed said, “This day we have returned from minor jihad to major jihad.” Major jihad refers to the peaceful battle for self-control, an internal battle we all share.

Unfortunately, the concept of “jihad” has been hijacked by extremist groups to justify violence. Actually, however, this has been true for extremist groups in each of the major religions: Hindu, Christian, Judaism, Buddhism as well as Islam. This too is our common heritage.

Western leaders have long urged Muslims to do more to counter the jihadist ideology. In February, President Obama said moderate Muslims have a responsibility to reject “twisted interpretations of Islam.” Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, urged Muslim leaders to say Islam is a religion of peace – “and mean it.”

Understandably, Muslims have not taken kindly to such hectoring. Indeed, it is not our task to judge or condemn. Delving deep within core values, we need to dissolve our own misperceptions.

What then is to be done? Within our community, opportunities abound. Forums offer inter-faith dialogues. Libraries, under auspices of the Maine Humanities Council, offer Muslim Journeys, which focus on books written by Muslims and provide insights into Muslim values and ways of life. Last autumn, Falmouth Library offered the series moderated by Reza Jalali.

Most importantly, we scrutinize our own behavior. Toward others, are we invariably tolerant, compassionate, and non-judgmental? We learn to dissolve negative emotions by discovering their source and applying appropriate remedies. In addition, we enhance positive actions of love, tolerance and compassion. Each tradition offers ways of proceeding.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is to refrain from retaliation. We must stop the vicious cycle of violence and its heartrending consequences. Hatred breeds hatred. Anger breeds anger. Arms merely escalate the cycle.

Clearly, we are interdependent. That is part of our common ground. Lyrics based on a poem by John Donne repeatedly return to me:

No man is an island

No man stands alone.

Each man’s joy is joy to me.

Each man’s grief is my own.

Let us “stretch out our hand” to our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Sally Merrill lives in Cumberland.