An articulated and peculiar text which could open a new season: this is the letter, one year after the Pope’s discourse at Regensburg, 138 Muslims addressed to the Pope entitled A Common Word Between you and us. In this issue Oasis Newsletter proposes some comments on the Appeal’s contents: that of Card. Angelo Scola, the Patriarch of Venice, of Bishop Paul Hinder, Vicar Apostolic of Arabia, of Stratford Caldecott, the Editor in Chief of Second Spring and a member of the Editorial Board of Communio, who from Oxford explicits the British reaction to the text, and that of Paolo Branca, Lecturer of Arabic Language at Milan Catholic University.
Southern Sudan, to Combonian priest Fr. Josè Vieira, who bears witness to the efficacious work of a young radio station which opens pathways to reconciliation at a moment when another war between the South and North of the country begins to be feared; to the Philippines, where Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra of Pime reveals the efficacious secret of the movement for dialogue Silsilah which continues to grow in spite of everything; to Morocco, where Claude Gamble, a member of the movement of the Focolari describes his reality, taking as his starting point the gaze of the young people with whom he works; to Burma: Andrea Pin, a jurist, underlines for us the provocation launched by that country on the theme of freedom.
The Patriarch of Venice: a Realistic and Encouraging Text
Card. Angelo Scola
The document is certainly an encouraging sign. First of all what is of note is the number and quality of those who have signed the document. This is not only a media event, because consensus is for Islam a source of theology and law. Even if those who have signed the document avoided a juridical formulation to it, it is still true that no text produced by the most extremist salafi groups has ever been able to claim a consensus equal to that witnessed by the 138 signatures at the bottom of the open letter. The approach is realistic, ‘if Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace’, and at its core it simply aims to ‘say to Christians that we, as Muslims, are not against them and that Islam is not against them so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their Religion’. In that sense, the Muslim leaders willingly identify themselves with those ‘others’ of whom Jesus says: “who is not against us is with us”.
The document, in the prospective of that double love, of God and one’s neighbour, underscores a vein of the Muslim tradition which has been partially placed in the shade due to the growth of fundamentalism. See the integral text >>>
The Christians of Arabia Wonder about the Open Letter
Living day after day in a Muslim country and being the bishop for the Catholics in six countries of the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi Arabia, I am particularly happy about the conciliatory language, which reveals the good intention of the authors. Looking at some of the signatories, the question might be raised of whether some of their earlier statements and publications can be interpreted or revised in the light of this letter, or whether its credibility should suffer because of their earlier statements. I am more than happy if the first of these two presumptions is the right one. Actually, we cannot speak about the love of God and love of the neighbour without taking a clear position regarding the human dignity of each individual person and his or her right to live and to grow in freedom. Both religions have to look critically at their own history and each one of them has to come to a clear answer without buts and ifs regarding its concrete applications. For Christians, love goes beyond neighbour to include the enemy too, whether that person belongs to their own religion or not, because our “heavenly Father makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Under no circumstances, therefore, may God be claimed as the instigator of hatred of others and the consequent doing of evil to them, whoever they may be.
I therefore fully share the statement of Aref Ali Nayed in his message of thanks for the Vatican’s message for the end of Ramadan 2007: “We must all unite in condemning all cruelty against even a single soul of God’s creatures, for that is equivalent to attacking all of humanity. We must unite in compassion against all cruelty, wherever it comes from, and whoever happens to practise it.”
Regarding the love of God and the love of the neighbour, Jews and Christians have literally a common ground, which is explicitly mentioned in the letter of the 138 Muslims. Taking the content and the quotations of the Open Letter I am surprised that it is addressed to Christian leaders only and not also to the Jewish leaders. Is it not a missed opportunity? The lack is the more regrettable as the central importance of the Jews today is crucial because of the political situation in the Middle East, a question requiring an answer which may be found at least partially in the application of the two main commandments by all who are involved. A common word should therefore include also the Jews. Does not the Qur’an already address both Jews and Christians when it speaks about the “People of the Book”? See the integral text >>>
The right keynote for relations between Muslims and Christians
In England the recent message addressed to Christian leaders, A Common Word Between Us and You, was generally well received, although inevitably some critics have complained that it glosses over serious and irreconcilable differences between Islam and Christianity. The Message locates common ground in the Qur’an, the Torah and the New Testament in the great injunction to love of God and love of neighbour.
The distinguished theologian, Prof. David Ford of Cambridge University, believes that «This historic statement gives the right keynote for relations between Muslims and Christians in the 21st century. It is what we have been missing since 9/11/2001. The most impressive list of signatories from all the main Muslim traditions and countries have made a clear and powerful proclamation of love for God and for all neighbours. The message is rich and deep, and it goes to the heart of Muslim faith as expressed in the Qur’an. It also goes to the heart of the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament.» His response ended with these words: «I think that many people have longed for a statement like this. Its significance is not that it offers anything novel but that it selects so wisely from the riches of both scriptures and opens them up in a way that is highly relevant to the present situation. I found myself deeply moved by its vision of what it calls ‘the all-embracing, constant and active love of God’ and ‘the necessity and paramount importance of love for and mercy towards the neighbour’, and by its concern not only for that half of the world’s population who are Muslim or Christian but also for every single other person and the whole of creation.»
The Archbishop of Canterbury stated that «The theological basis of the letter and its call to respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another, are indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world especially where Christians and Muslims live together,» adding an appeal for reciprocity: «It is particularly important in underlining the need for respect towards minorities in contexts where either Islam or Christianity is the majority presence.» He agreed that the common scriptural foundations for Jews, Christians, and Muslims could potentially be the basis for justice and peace in the world. «The call should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries, and I shall endeavour in this country and internationally to do my part in working for the righteousness which this letter proclaims as our common goal». See the integral text >>>
A Word to be Read and Spread in the Muslim World
Notwithstanding the misunderstandings and the exploitations, the lectio magistralis of Joseph Ratzinger in Regensburg seems to have given rise to an exchange of messages which cannot be undervalued.
As we are aware, the Islamic authorities are often influenced by the regimes of the countries where they live, but on this occasion it would seem that the need not to interrupt communication at a religious level has prevailed in respect of any potential reticence or orientations, more or less imposed. Indeed, the document does not linger on the polemic points which have predominated in the preceding intervention but seeks to return to the essence of the two respective traditions in order to identify common elements.
If the Koranic quotations abound, the biblical ones are not absent, with a style in substance honest and based on the need to seek harmony between the two principal world religions. It is true that the message does not explicitly address also the Jews, referred to together with Christians as the “People of the Book” by Islamic belief, but on the one hand it is understandable that the text has not wanted to broaden (and complicate) a theme which is already in itself delicate and for that matter well contextualised by the recurrence. On the other hand it is favourably striking that in the biblical quotations the opening explicitly addressed to the Jews, has not been omitted for a self-serving purpose: “Listen, Israel “, a term which is in certain circles taboo.
Even the language betrays an effort towards proximity, where it underlines the two principal commandments which unite the Jewish-Christian message and the Muslim one: love of God and love for one’s neighbour. Such elements as absolute monotheism, fear and obedience to the Creator, fundamental to the Islamic conception, are not dissimulated in order to please, but are reread from a universal perspective which attempts to go beyond different sensibilities and forms of expression with the clear intention to bring out shared tendencies and preoccupations.
The only weak point would appear to be the fact that one is evidently dealing with a document which has been thought out and written with the addressees in mind, but it is also our duty to give it the necessary importance so that even in the Islamic world it is recognised and valued, especially where discriminated minorities are present and various forms of tension if not conflicts which still involve ethnic-religious aspects.
To limit oneself to say that one could have done more or even worse, completely snub these words claiming to be the only authentic holders of criticism and self-criticism would mean losing out on an opportunity which awareness and a sense of responsibility would instead induce to value for the common interest. See the integral text >>>