The first seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum belongs to a long line of meetings that have been promoted above all since the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council Nostra Aetate, a point of reference for inter-religious dialogue. The visit of John Paul II to the mosque of Damascus and the visit of prayer of Benedict XVI to the Blue Mosque of Istanbul remain emblematic.
But the meeting of these days has two new features – one relating to method and the other to contents. At the level of method, the Forum appears on the Muslim side no longer as an initiative of individual personalities or States but as the expression of a general agreement. From the initial response to the Ratisborn address with its 38 signatories to the subsequent declaration A Common Word with the adherence of 138 personalities, which was subsequently expanded, the tendency on the Muslim side has been to achieve basic agreement to dialogue with Christians. This is not a secondary question because agreement for a large part of Muslim theology is one of the sources of the elaboration of doctrine.
The second new feature is that in this Forum, as in the open letter, the emphasis has been placed in a decisive way on the religious dimension, if not even on the strictly theological dimension. In the communiqué that preceded this event one reads that the composition of the delegations is ‘religious and not political’, ‘is separate from the diplomatic relations of States and was constituted on the basis of sapiential authority’. Indeed, it is evident that the statement of principle contained in the open letter must be verified in the light of its concrete translation into a context which is increasingly difficult for Christian minorities, as the continuing exodus of Christians from the Middle East demonstrates. However, the wish of the two parties is not to dissolve the specificity of the religious fact into, albeit important, geopolitical considerations.
One of the moving spirits of Islamic-Christian dialogue, Father Georges Anawati, loved to repeat that in this field it was necessary to arm oneself with ‘geological patience’. It would, therefore, be illusory to imagine that wounds that go back more than a thousand years can be healed in the space of a few months. The aim of the Forum is to explore the affirmation of love of God and neighbour in its theological and spiritual aspects but also in relation to its practical consequences for the defence of the dignity of the human person and the defence of religious freedom. The fifteen points of the final document offer different points of departure in this direction. It is certainly the case that today there are many questions which must be answered, but for a believer the most burning question is perhaps the simplest one: do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Without this mutual recognition everything becomes more difficult. The answer on the Catholic side is clear and was proposed by Lumen Gentium, in n. 16: ‘But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind’. This was an answer emphasised yesterday by Benedict XVI in his audience to the participants: ‘I am well aware that Muslims and Christians have different approaches in matters regarding God. Yet we can and must be worshippers of the one God who created us and is concerned about each person in every corner of the world’
On the Muslim side Seyyed Hossei Nasr stated: ‘For both, God is both transcendent and immanent, the provident creator of the world…the lover whose love embraces the whole created world’. This is the basic belief that inspires the continuation of dialogue.