Perspectives: Christianity and Islam
What attitude toward Islam is consistent with our Christian identity?
There is in us a certain fear of Islam. Fear engenders fear and leads to aggression. Endorsing half-truths or false facts, arising from fear, makes the situation for Christians in the Holy Land more difficult and even dangerous in their relationship with Muslims. Most of us know little about Islam and its culture, which experienced its heyday as part of the Silk Road trading route. It is alien to us, even though Western civilization owes much to Islamic thinkers and scholars.
I do not think our knowledge of Islam is confined to that of the crusades, which all-too-often gives us a somewhat distorted picture of the victory over the Muslims at the Battle of Lepanto through the Rosary. In recent times, we have had more and more interaction with Muslims in our respective countries. As with our other beliefs, one rarely sees what unites us but almost always notices what divides us, especially vis-&aagve; -vis religious and cultural differences. But you can also look at it from another angle: it is not unreasonable to consider Protestantism as having served as a reminder to Catholics to place the Bible as the word of God’s word more at the center of its teachings. Similarly, Islam could help remember that the Trinity is but one God.
We are called upon to change our attitude toward Islam.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, prefect of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue said recently at a conference in Granada, “We must not fear Islam, but I would say more: Christians and Muslims, when they profess their own faith with integrity and credibility, when they dialogue and make an effort to serve society, constitute a richness for the latter.”
Pope Benedict XVI also states in the Instrumentum Laboris, that “[w]e need to be freed from everything that blocks and isolates us: fear and mistrust of one another, greed and selfishness, unwillingness to accept the risk of vulnerability to which we are exposed when we open ourselves to love.”
Our concern is to protect the Christians in the Holy Land and to support them in their tasks to witness to the Risen Lord through the church’s many works of charity and to engage in dialogue with Muslims (and Jews) in order to seek the truth that unites them as one.
I suggest that we be inspired by St. Francis and Sultan Malik al-Kamil who, during the fifth crusade, succeeded where politicians of the time failed. The two managed to reach a true meeting of the minds, which resulted in great mutual respect. St. Francis was not only an idealist who preached sermons to flowers and birds, but a peacemaker. Their encounter should serve a message for today’s society, in which cultural, ethnic and religious identities have become so important. For in the work for peace and justice, it is a prerequisite to stand strong in our faith and traditions, learn from the virtues of others and grow in respect for each other.
Rev. Guido A.M. Gockel, M.H.M.