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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Catholics and Muslims unaware of dialogue

Catholic seminaries and Islamic schools appear unaware of the
importance of the important steps taken by Benedict XVI and Muslim
scholars with “The Common Word.” At risk, therefore, is their
co-existence in an era of globalized religion.

The joint paper that came out of the
Catholic-Muslim Forum held last November in the Vatican is unknown in
India. Indian seminaries and madrassah (Islamic schools) are completely
unaware of the latest developments in Christian-Muslim relations. This
is harmful to the life of the two communities which represent small
minorities in the country. Nirmala Carvalho spoke about it with Fr
Christian W. Troll, who is in India for studies. A member of the
Catholic-Muslim Forum, the German Jesuit teaches at the Pontifical
Gregorian University (Italy) and the Sankt Georgen Graduate School in
Frankfurt (Germany).

Crucial for the growth of genuine inter-religious encounter and
dialogue on the various levels would seem to be that the religious
leaders and teachers of both religions are deeply convinced in faith:
it is God’s will that we should know about the other in order to
appreciate and respect one another and this desire and effort
constitutes an essential part of my mission as religious leader and
theologian. Religious leaders and teachers must invest energy and time
in genuine mutual knowledge and in Dialogue.

Much if not everything depends on religious leadership and teaching in
this area. Unfortunately, here even the “Open Letter and Call” singed
by more than 270 Muslim leaders and thinkers addressed to all the
important Christian Churches—which is a Muslim initiative—has not been
communicated down to the seminaries, madrassah, to the priests and
teachers and even less to the common believers.

Similarly, the resolutions at the Conference in Yale, Cambridge and
Rome have also not been “broken down” as it were to the great number of
practicing believers in both traditions. Ask any student of theology,
any priest or Maulvi, almost none of them is even aware that such an
initiative has been taken and that these important meetings have taken
place. This is tragic. If we are serious about Islam Christian dialogue
and if we do not want to make ourselves ridiculous in the public as
religious leaders, it would seem to be fundamental that such important
and costly initiatives on the highest level, in which a significant
number of Muslim and Christian leaders have taken part, be communicated
to wider sections of both religious communities and be made subject
matter for dialogues on various levels.

Theologically both Christianity and Islam are related to each other, we
both have Abraham as our father in faith. India is part of the global
village and for gainful solidarity in Asia and the western World,
Justice and Peace are essential and for obtaining this goal the process
of dialogue, among other things, is necessary. We must work with a
sense of urgency, the world is a globalised village in religious terms
also, and there are many challenges to overcome if believers of
different traditions are to live together in harmony.

Muslim-Christian relations are 1,400 years old. During that long
history there has never yet been an initiative like the Common Word. It
is deplorable that not much has been done to make it known and

In India, people belong to Dialogue groups which are on the level of
cordiality and friendship. But for far too long this dialogue process
has remained almost entirely on a sporadic and largely emotional level,
involving relatively few persons. Dialogue must be backed by knowledge,
shared thinking and a constructive spirit.

In India, both Christians and Muslims are minority communities and it
is imperative that both these minority communities live in harmony and
co-existence not to be a collective force but in order that both
Christians and Muslims make their respective contributions (inspired by
their respective faiths) to the formation and strengthening of the
‘common good’ in plural and democratic societies, societies which are
secular (in the sense of aspiring to being religiously neutral) and
which are committed to the human rights of all their members.

For however valuable it may be to achieve theological agreement over
the question of the double love-commandment—Love for God and Love for
neighbor—on its own this can hardly guarantee just and peaceful
co-existence within diversity. Much is being done in the name of love.
Christians and Muslims will have to spell out concretely and of various
level s of living how they wish to translate the commandment of love of
God and neighbor into sustainable ways of shared initiatives and

Very much indeed depends on religious leaders and teachers in India –
the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has taken this Islam-Christian
dialogue into the second gear, the Pope has begun the rational
procedure between two great religions both gifted with reason to search
for the greater truth in genuinely lived religious values, and this has
to be communicated effectively, religious leaders and teachers have a
responsibility of taking the dialogue process to seeking out
resolutions in spite of the differences for a common task. Dialogue
should take place on the ideological, theological and practical levels.

For dialogue on these levels to succeed the appropriate teaching and
information about the religious views and developments of the other,
the partner, religious community is a must. Are Christian and Muslim
seminaries and madrassah doing sufficiently in this respect? Do they
have the desire to do more? Is the ‘Islamic Studies Association’ of
India, founded more than thirty years ago by Catholic bishops, priests,
religious and laypeople to promote knowledge and understanding between
Muslims and Christians in India, receiving the attention and interest
it deserves? Beautiful common declarations on the international level
raise expectations. If they are not met, if there is not even an effort
to meet them, then frustration and ridicule will be the result.

Nirmala Carvalho writes for Asia News.