On Islam







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Islamic Republic News Agency (Iran)

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Vatican Message to Muslims for Ramadan

"Christians Are Spiritually Close to You During These Days"

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 27, 2010 - Here is a text published today by the Vatican of a message sent to Muslims by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The message was sent on the occasion of the end of Ramadan.

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Christians and Muslims:
Together in overcoming violence among followers of different religions

Dear Muslim Friends,

1. 'Id Al-Fitr, which concludes Ramadan, presents, once again, a favorable occasion to convey to you the heartfelt wishes of serenity and joy on behalf of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Throughout this month, you have committed yourselves to prayer, fasting, helping the neediest and strengthening relations of family and friendship. God will not fail to reward these efforts!

2. I am delighted to note that believers of other religions, especially Christians, are spiritually close to you during these days, as is testified by the various friendly meetings which often lead to exchanges of a religious nature. It is pleasing to me also to think that this Message could be a positive contribution to your reflections.

3. The theme proposed this year by the Pontifical Council, Christians and Muslims: Together in overcoming violence among followers of different religions, is, unfortunately, a pressing subject, at least in certain areas of the world. The Joint Committee for Dialogue instituted by the Pontifical Council and al-Azhar Permanent Committee for Dialogue among the Monotheistic Religions had also chosen this topic as a subject of study, reflection and exchange during its last annual meeting (Cairo, 23 - February 24, 2010). Permit me to share with you some of the conclusions published at the end of this meeting.

4. There are many causes for violence among believers of different religious traditions, including: the manipulation of the religion for political or other ends; discrimination based on ethnicity or religious identity; divisions and social tensions. Ignorance, poverty, underdevelopment are also direct or indirect sources of violence among as well as within religious communities. May the civil and religious authorities offer their contributions in order to remedy so many situations for the sake of the common good of all society! May the civil authorities safeguard the primacy of the law by ensuring true justice to put a stop to the authors and promoters of violence!

5. There are important recommendations also given in the above mentioned text: to open our hearts to mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, for a peaceful and fruitful coexistence; to recognize what we have in common and to respect differences, as a basis for a culture of dialogue; to recognize and respect the dignity and the rights of each human being without any bias related to ethnicity or religious affiliation; necessity to promulgate just laws which guarantee the fundamental equality of all; to recall the importance of education towards respect, dialogue and fraternity in the various educational arenas: at home, in the school, in churches and mosques. Thus we will be able to oppose violence among followers of different religions and promote peace and harmony among the various religious communities. Teaching by religious leaders, as well as school books which present religions in an objective way, have, along with teaching in general, a decisive impact on the education and the formation of younger generations.

6. I hope that these considerations, as well as the responses which they elicit within your communities, and with your Christian friends, will contribute to the continuation of a dialogue, growing in respect and serenity, upon which I call the blessings of God!

Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran
President

Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata
Secretary

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Vatican Message to Muslims
"Poverty Has the Power to Humiliate"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 11, 2009 - Here is the text of the message made public today by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, addressed to Muslims at the end of Ramadan.

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Christians and Muslims:
Together in overcoming poverty

Dear Muslim Friends,

1. On the occasion of your feast which concludes the month of Ramadan, I would like to extend my best wishes for peace and joy to you and, through this Message, propose this theme for our reflection: Christians and Muslims: Together in overcoming poverty.

2. This Message of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has become a tradition cherished by us all, which is looked forward to each year and this is certainly a cause for joy. It has become, over the years, an occasion of cordial encounter in many countries between many Christians and Muslims. It often addresses a matter of shared concern, making it therefore conducive to a confident and open exchange. Are not all these elements immediately perceived as signs of friendship among us for which we should thank God?

3. Coming to the theme of this year, the human person in a situation of impoverishment is undoubtedly a subject at the heart of the precepts that, under different beliefs, we all hold dear. The attention, the compassion and the help that we, brothers and sisters in humanity, can offer to those who are poor, helping them to establish their place in the fabric of society, is a living proof of the Love of the Almighty, because it is man as such whom He calls us to love and help, without distinction of affiliation.

We all know that poverty has the power to humiliate and to engender intolerable sufferings; it is often a source of isolation, anger, even hatred and the desire for revenge. It can provoke hostile actions using any available means, even seeking to justify them on religious grounds, or seizing another man’s wealth, together with his peace and security, in the name of an alleged "divine justice". This is why confronting the phenomena of extremism and violence necessarily implies tackling poverty through the promotion of integral human development that Pope Paul VI defined as the "new name for peace" (Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 1975, n. 76).

In his recent Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate on integral human development in charity and truth, Pope Benedict XVI, taking into consideration the current context of efforts to promote development, underlines the need for a "new humanistic synthesis" (n. 21), which, safeguarding the openness of man to God, gives him his place as the earth’s "centre and summit" (n. 57). A true development, then, must be ordered "to the whole man and to every man" (Populorum Progressio, n. 42).

4. In his talk on the occasion of the World Day for Peace, 1st January 2009, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI distinguished two types of poverty: a poverty to be combated and a poverty to be embraced.

The poverty to be combated is before the eyes of everyone: hunger, lack of clean water, limited medical care and inadequate shelter, insufficient educational and cultural systems, illiteracy, not to mention also the existence of new forms of poverty "…in advanced wealthy societies, there is evidence of marginalization, as well as affective, moral and spiritual poverty…" (Message for the World Day of Peace, 2009, n. 2).

The poverty to be embraced is that of a style of life which is simple and essential, avoiding waste and respecting the environment and the goodness of creation. This poverty can also be, at least at certain times during the year, that of frugality and fasting. It is the poverty which we choose which predisposes us to go beyond ourselves, expanding the heart.

5. As believers, the desire to work together for a just and durable solution to the scourge of poverty certainly also implies reflecting on the grave problems of our time and, when possible, sharing a common commitment to eradicate them. In this regard, the reference to the aspects of poverty linked to the phenomena of globalization of our societies has a spiritual and moral meaning, because all share the vocation to build one human family in which all - individuals, peoples and nations - conduct themselves according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility.

6. A careful study of the complex phenomenon of poverty directs us precisely towards its origin in the lack of respect for the innate dignity of the human person and calls us to a global solidarity, for example through the adoption of a "common ethical code" (John Paul II, Address to The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, 27 April 2001, n. 4) whose norms would not only have a conventional character, but also would necessarily be rooted in the natural law written by the Creator in the conscience of every human being (cf. Rom 2, 14-15).

7. It seems that in diverse places of the world we have passed from tolerance to a meeting together, beginning with common lived experience and real shared concerns. This is an important step forward.

In giving everyone the riches of a life of prayer, fasting and charity of one towards the other, is it not possible for dialogue to draw on the living forces of those who are on the journey towards God? The poor question us, they challenge us, but above all they invite us to cooperate in a noble cause: overcoming poverty!

Happy ‘Id al-Fitr!

Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran
President

Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata
Secretary

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Middle Eastern Priest Explains Islam
Interview With Father Samir Khalil Samir

By Annamarie Adkins

BEIRUT, Lebanon, MARCH 4, 2009 - Confusion over Islam -- among Christians and Muslims -- may have peaked after Sept. 11, 2001, but many questions still remain.

That's why Jesuit Father Samir Khalil felt called to offer some answers, as an Islamic scholar, Semitologist, Orientalist and a Catholic theologian born in Egypt and based in the Middle East for more than 20 years.

The Jesuit priest teaches Catholic theology and Islamic studies at St. Joseph University in Beirut, is founder of the CEDRAC research institute and is author of, most recently, "111 Questions on Islam" (Ignatius).

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Samir speaks about his experience and efforts to build a mutual understanding between followers of the two Abrahamic faiths.


Q: Why did you agree to produce this book?

Father Samir: Two reasons. It was a year before 9/11 that I started discussing this topic with journalists, having interviews together. I noticed a great ignorance of Islam in the West -- Christians, non-Christians and nonbelievers.

In general, they had very poor knowledge of Islam. I thought I had to clarify. Their ignorance pushed some of them to be aggressive and negative toward Muslims. Some of them were very na´ve, believing everything they heard. Some even were using Islam to be aggressive toward Christianity. All of that is a consequence of ignorance.

The second reason was to help Muslims reflect on their own religion and faith. In a previous experience with Muslim youth in a Paris suburb, I noticed they didn't know almost anything about their own religion.

Speaking with different Muslim people I met in Europe -- in Germany during the summer, or in France where I teach, or in Italy where I was living -- it was always the same. Most Christians don't know their religion, either.

I wanted to give good information about Islam to help people not to have any false information or prejudice against it.

Q: How did the interviewers choose the 111 questions from the thousands that could have been asked?

Father Samir: The journalists I worked with had a lot of questions themselves, and questions from what people were asking them: about violence; whether Muslims would accept Western civilization; and about Muslims having problems with equality between men and women.

So, in fact, the questions are more directed to Western society so it could understand Islam better.

Q: Do you think most Muslims would be satisfied by the objectivity of your answers to the 111 questions? Why or why not?

Father Samir: My effort was to be objective; I tried, but you can never truly reach a perfect objectivity.

Certainly, not everybody will be happy. Some think Islam is a violent religion, or a religion against women; they will not be happy because they will say I am not clear enough about the violence and inequality of men and women.

People who think Islam is a religion of peace and equality between men and women, and that Mohammed elevated the status of women, will not be happy either.

Everyone has a position. Few people will be satisfied, if they are against or for Islam.

But those who want to know something serious about Islam will be able to make their own opinion, because they will have the facts in front of them in my book.

Q: The introduction to the book notes that it is an attempt to foster mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims. But many of your answers paint Islam and its origins in a very negative light. How do you think the average Christian's opinion of Islam will change after reading the book?

Father Samir: I don't think it was very negative, or negative at all; my intention is a better understanding. Not a feeling, but an understanding -- something that uses the head first, then the heart.

You have to first give serious information to promote dialogue and mutual understanding. If I don't say the whole truth, the truth will appear anyway, and the situation will be worse.

I am trying to build a mutual understanding, not built on compromises and false information. Dialogue starts with serious, academic, honest information about Christianity and Islam.

The answers are trying to be useful information; some answers are negative because the point is negative.

I don't know what the average Christian thinks. Nowadays, I suppose the majority has a negative opinion of Islam, before reading any book.

We, Arabs and Muslims, are in a crisis. When we Arabs -- Muslims and Christians -- speak together, we recognize we are in a bad situation. We had a glorious time in other centuries, but now we are at the bottom.

I hope that the book will help people understand things that concern them, like terrorism; there are some explanations, but not justifications. I can't justify terrorism, but I can explain why others are led to terrorist acts, I can also show that it has some support in the Koran and the Tradition -- sunnah.

Most Muslims choose peace and nonviolence. The 10% that chooses violence is stronger than the 90% that doesn't. Sometimes the bad part of humanity, though smaller, is stronger.

Q: Is a critical examination of Islam's history and sacred texts -- that is, subjecting the faith to reason -- even possible in the Muslim world? Why or why not?

Father Samir: Usually, in the Muslim tradition, faith is over everything; it is above reason.

If you tell a Muslim the Koran says something, but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says something contrary, the Muslim will say, "We have to follow God's words and law, and not the human rights laws."

In the Christian tradition, we find more people interpreting the Bible than Muslims interpreting the Koran. They had an interpretive movement in the Islamic world in 9th, 10th and 11th century, but then they went backward.

As for the relationship between reason and faith, today Muslims are in a negative period of their history. Certainly it is possible to unite the two, but they would have to work very hard. There are many reasons for this regression, but fundamentally, there is ignorance on the part of the Muslim clergy.
 
Q: What are the most common preconceptions about Islam you encounter among practicing Christians?

Father Samir: The most common preconceptions are rather negative: Muslims are not modern people; they are not open to others; Muslims are a violent group -- things like that.

You find the same negative preconceptions when you hear what Muslims say about Christians: They are unbelievers, pagans, immoral; they are aggressive.

What you hear about the United States is also very negative: It is imperialistic, it uses its power to dominate other people, etc.

This is common in humanity. Each one looks at the other from his point of view and notices what is different, and the difference is often seen as negative. As Christ said in the sixth chapter of Luke, verse 41: Why do you take note of the grain of dust in your brother's eye, but take no note of the bit of wood which is in your eye?

So, we have to learn that some differences are negative, some are positive.

We have different approaches to many things. For instance, the Trinity in our dogma is the deepest expression of communion with God himself -- he is loving and self-giving. But to Muslims, it is seen as something awful: three gods.

It makes them think Christians are like the old pagans, seemingly believing in more than one god.

Q: What question are you asked most often in your presentations about Islam?

Father Samir: Mostly, I hear questions about whether a good Muslim can be modern and faithful at the same time.

In Europe, especially in France, the question is whether Islam is compatible with a secular society. Another question is whether Islam is violent; this comes regularly. They wonder if this is something inherent to Islam, or simply a problem we have today.

Q: Historically speaking, Muslim lands rarely revert to Christianity or any other religion, and are generally intolerant of Christianity. Today we see explosive Muslim population growth in traditionally Christian lands such as Europe and North America. Should Christians fear the growth of Islam? What is the proper Christian response to the constantly expanding Muslim umma?

Father Samir: Muslims rarely convert to Christianity or other religions -- this is true. Even if we've seen in the last 10 years a change, in Algeria they are making laws against conversion to Christianity. But this does not stop the conversions.

The same is happening with less intensity in Morocco. In southern Africa, there is much more conversion.

You can see on YouTube an Al Jazeera clip in Arabic about the conversion of Muslims to Christianity. The response of the Libyan imam, who is responsible for the propagation of Islam in Africa, was wondering how to stop conversions to Christianity, saying that there have been 6 million Muslims converting to Christianity in Africa.

Why is Islam growing in Europe and America? Because Muslims have children.

Recently, I met one of my former students, an Algerian Muslim, and I asked him whether he had married and had children. He said he and his wife had three children, but this was just the beginning of their family. Meanwhile, you have Western people having one or two and saying that it's enough.

What I fear really is the indifference of many Christians to their own faith. You hear a lot of Christians saying that it doesn't matter if you are Christian or Muslim or Buddhist, the main thing is to love each other.

This is partly true, but you have to ask yourself, "How do we love each other better? If I really am a Christian, and living according to the Gospel, I will love better."

I don't fear Muslims. Knowing their faith and knowing the Gospel, the Gospel cannot fear the Koran.

Q: Have you seen an increase in interest among Christians since Pope Benedict's famous Regensburg address to gain knowledge and foster dialogue with Muslims? Is the reverse true as well?

Father Samir: I think the famous address of Pope Benedict at Regensburg was a very important step in the last decade.

The first reaction was very negative by Muslims; many Christians and Catholics said it was a mistake. After a while, when all this noise disappeared slowly, Muslims started to rethink it. Christians also started to ask themselves why the Pope quoted this sentence from the 14th century.

We all started, Christians and Muslims, to reflect on what he really said in this address. There was one sentence that was not wrong but difficult to explain -- because you have to go back to history -- but the address was eight pages.

Many in the West then realized it was very positive, in fact, that the Pope had put his finger on something very important. Faith is disappearing in the West. Reason is emptied from its original Greek spiritual meaning. People think if you can't prove physically something, it doesn't exist. Now people are starting to reflect anew on faith.

In the Muslim world, the same thing happened. One hundred and thirty-eight people, lead by Prince Al-Ghazi of Jordan, undersigned a very positive letter in response to Regensburg -- now 300 people have signed it, explaining that Islam and Christianity have a common double principle: love for God and for neighbor.

Two years later, in November of 2008, we had a meeting to discuss the issues brought up in the Regensburg address, with 30 Muslim and 30 Catholic representatives in Rome.

We had a wonderful discussion. It was not always easy, but very deep and open-minded, each person making a great effort to hear the other.

The last day we had to write a common statement. We came to a point at which it was impossible to go further -- the conflict was so strong -- dealing with the liberty of conscience.

Right before the end of meeting, before we were going to meet the Pope, Cardinal Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said, "Unfortunately, I have to announce something very sad; we couldn't reach a common agreement."

But a minute later, the great mufti of Sarajevo, imam Mustafa Ceric, representing the Muslim group, came and said, "I have good news for you: we agreed on point five dealing with the liberty of conscience." He explained that it was found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was undersigned by most Muslim countries, so there was no reason for the Muslim representatives to refuse it now.

We made small steps for two days, and on the third day found something to agree on.

We have decided to have a meeting every two years, one time hosted by Muslims and the next time hosted by Catholics.

This is an answer to Regensburg, and it was a very positive one.

Q: What, in your experience, are the most fruitful ways for fostering peace and goodwill between Christians and Muslims?

Father Samir: I as a Christian know that Muslims are loved by God. God loves them. This is very important. They are not enemies, they are not foreigners; they are, as sincere believers, members of our family.

Muslims are religious people essentially, because a good Muslim puts God above everything else in his life, normally. The same should be said for Christians, but I must recognize that often, in the West, Christians don't put God above everything else.

When I have any encounter with a Muslim, I know if I appeal to something religious in his and my life, we will agree. We will agree on values because we say these are coming from God.

I know we are all brothers. This is not a simple assertion; it's real. We are really brothers. We all descend from Adam. The intent of Islam is to adore the only God, and they think they achieve the mission initiated with Abraham through the prophets, Moses and Christ -- and Islam in the achievement.

It's clear for me as a Christian that the achievement is in Christ, because he is the Word of God. After God sent his Word, he cannot send another word, the Koran, to correct or fulfill his previous Word, Christ.

I disagree with Muslims that the Koran is the last word of God, and that Mohammad is the "seal of the prophets." For me, the seal is Christ and the Gospel.

Here we disagree, but this disagreement means a Muslim and I are seeking the perfection of God. This is not bad.

There is no exclusion, but with one condition. I am convinced the perfection and the achievement of perfection is in the Gospel, but I am also convinced a Muslim is seeking the same aim and the same God.

In religion, deep belief fosters peace between mankind. That belief does not foster exclusivity.

I am asking myself, "Why are Muslims spreading so much, are growing in the Western countries? Why in Europe are there 15 million Muslims? Would it be better if we didn't have Muslims there at all?"

The fact that Muslims are in North America and Europe means that they are my neighbors. They can find a Bible and open it, and find Jesus Christ. They can enter into a church; they can participate in prayer with us.

The tragedy is when they don't find the real Christian who will help them there.

In the past, we went over the ocean to convert Muslims and maybe it was almost impossible. Now the Muslim is in my country, my neighbor, and we don't do anything.

This is for me a pity. After all of our efforts for centuries to reach the Muslims, God has sent us Muslims at home and we pass up the opportunity of sharing the most beautiful reality we have, Christ and the Gospel.

The presence of Muslims in the West is the greatest benediction we could hope for. The question is whether we will open our heart and receive them as our brothers.

I have a mission toward them, and they think they have a mission toward me. They know the Koranic Jesus, and I have to show them the evangelical Jesus.

This is our mission. It is something beautiful and should give us more hope than anything else.

Everything is providential. There cannot be a very large movement of Muslims in the world for only economic reasons. God is sending them. Perhaps it's the best way for them to discover the true image of God -- that God is love.

Our mission is to testify that God is love and only love.

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Final Statement of Catholic-Muslim Forum
"Called to Be Instruments of Love and Harmony"

ROME, NOV. 6, 2008 - Here is the final declaration of the first seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, which concluded today in Rome.

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The Catholic-Muslim Forum was formed by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a delegation of the 138 Muslim signatories of the open letter called A Common Word, in the light of the same document and the response of His Holiness Benedict XVI through his Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Its first Seminar was held in Rome from 4-6 November 2008. Twenty-four participants and five advisors from each religion took part in the meeting. The theme of the Seminar was "Love of God, Love of Neighbour."

The discussion, conducted in a warm and convivial spirit, focused on two great themes: "Theological and Spiritual Foundations" and "Human Dignity and Mutual Respect." Points of similarity and of diversity emerged, reflecting the distinctive specific genius of the two religions.

1. For Christians the source and example of love of God and neighbour is the love of Christ for his Father, for humanity and for each person. "God is Love" (1 Jn 4, 16) and "God so loved the world that He gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3,16). God's love is placed in the human heart through the Holy Spirit.

It is God who first loves us thereby enabling us to love Him in return. Love does not harm one's neighbour but rather seeks to do to the other what one would want done to oneself (Cf. 1 Cor 13, 4-7). Love is the foundation and sum of all the commandments (Cf. Gal 5, 14).

Love of neighbour cannot be separated from love of God, because it is an expression of our love for God. This is the new commandment, "Love one another as I have loved you." (Jn 15, 12) Grounded in Christ's sacrificial love, Christian love is forgiving and excludes no one; it therefore also includes one's enemies. It should be not just words but deeds (Cf. 1 Jn, 4, 18). This is the sign of its genuineness.

For Muslims, as set out in "A Common Word," love is a timeless transcendent power which guides and transforms human mutual regard.

This love, as indicated by the Holy and Beloved Prophet Muhammad, is prior to the human love for the One True God. A Hadith indicates that God's loving compassion for humanity is even greater than that of a mother for her child (Muslim, Bab al-Tawba: 21); it therefore exists before and independently of the human response to the One who is 'The Loving.' So immense is this love and compassion that God has intervened to guide and save humanity in a perfect way many times and in many places, by sending prophets and scriptures. The last of these books, the Qur'an, portrays a world of signs, a marvellous cosmos of Divine artistry, which calls forth our utter love and devotion, so that 'those who have faith, have most love of God' (2:165), and 'those that believe, and do good works, the Merciful shall engender love among them.' (19:96) In a Hadith we read that 'Not one of you has faith until he loves for his neighbour what he loves for himself' (Bukhari, Bab al-Iman: 13).

2. Human life is a most precious gift of God to each person. It should therefore be preserved and honoured in all its stages.

3. Human dignity is derived from the fact that every human person is created by a loving God out of love, and has been endowed with the gifts of reason and free will, and therefore enabled to love God and others. On the firm basis of these principles, the person requires the respect of his or her original dignity and his or her human vocation.

Therefore, he or she is entitled to full recognition of his or her identity and freedom by individuals, communities and governments, supported by civil legislation that assures equal rights and full citizenship.

4. We affirm that God's creation of humanity has two great aspects: the male and the female human person, and we commit ourselves jointly to ensuring that human dignity and respect are extended on an equal basis to both men and women.

5. Genuine love of neighbour implies respect of the person and her or his choices in matters of conscience and religion. It includes the right of individuals and communities to practice their religion in private and public.

6. Religious minorities are entitled to be respected in their own religious convictions and practices. They are also entitled to their own places of worship, and their founding figures and symbols they consider sacred should not be subject to any form of mockery or ridicule.

7. As Catholic and Muslim believers, we are aware of the summons and imperative to bear witness to the transcendent dimension of life, through a spirituality nourished by prayer, in a world which is becoming more and more secularized and materialistic.

8. We affirm that no religion and its followers should be excluded from society. Each should be able to make its indispensable contribution to the good of society, especially in service to the most needy.

9. We recognize that God's creation in its plurality of cultures, civilizations, languages and peoples is a source of richness and should therefore never become a cause of tension and conflict.

10. We are convinced that Catholics and Muslims have the duty to provide a sound education in human, civic, religious and moral values for their respective members and to promote accurate information about each other's religions.

11. We profess that Catholics and Muslims are called to be instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole, renouncing any oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism, especially that committed in the name of religion, and upholding the principle of justice for all.

12. We call upon believers to work for an ethical financial system in which the regulatory mechanisms consider the situation of the poor and disadvantaged, both as individuals, and as indebted nations. We call upon the privileged of the world to consider the plight of those afflicted most severely by the current crisis in food production and distribution, and ask religious believers of all denominations and all people of good will to work together to alleviate the suffering of the hungry, and to eliminate its causes.

13. Young people are the future of religious communities and of societies as a whole. Increasingly, they will be living in multicultural and multireligious societies. It is essential that they be well formed in their own religious traditions and well informed about other cultures and religions.

14. We have agreed to explore the possibility of establishing a permanent Catholic-Muslim committee to coordinate responses to conflicts and other emergency situations and of organizing a second seminar in a Muslim-majority country yet to be determined.

15. We look forward to the second Seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum to be convened in approximately two years in a Muslim-majority country yet to be determined.

All participants felt gratitude to God for the gift of their time together and for an enriching exchange.

At the end of the Seminar His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI received the participants and, following addresses by Professor Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr and H.E. Grand Mufti Dr. Mustafa Ceriƒ, spoke to the group. All present expressed satisfaction with the results of the Seminar and their expectation for further productive dialogue.

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Papal Address to Catholic-Muslim Forum
"Find a Common Ground for Building a More Fraternal World"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 6, 2008 - Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today upon receiving in audience participants from the first meeting of the Catholic-Muslim Forum.

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Dear Friends,

I am pleased to receive you this morning and I greet all of you most cordially. I thank especially Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran as well as Shaykh Mustafa Ceric' and Mr Seyyed Hossein Nasr for their words. Our meeting takes place at the conclusion of the important Seminar organized by the "Catholic-Muslim Forum" established between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and representatives of the 138 Muslim leaders who signed the Open Letter to Christian leaders of 13 October 2007. This gathering is a clear sign of our mutual esteem and our desire to listen respectfully to one another. I can assure you that I have prayerfully followed the progress of your meeting, conscious that it represents one more step along the way towards greater understanding between Muslims and Christians within the framework of other regular encounters which the Holy See promotes with various Muslim groups.

The Open Letter "A Common Word between us and you" has received numerous responses, and has given rise to dialogue, specific initiatives and meetings, aimed at helping us to know one another more deeply and to grow in esteem for our shared values. The great interest which the present Seminar has awakened is an incentive for us to ensure that the reflections and the positive developments which emerge from Muslim-Christian dialogue are not limited to a small group of experts and scholars, but are passed on as a precious legacy to be placed at the service of all, to bear fruit in the way we live each day.

The theme which you have chosen for your meeting -- "Love of God, Love of Neighbour: The Dignity of the Human Person and Mutual Respect" -- is particularly significant. It was taken from the Open Letter, which presents love of God and love of neighbor as the heart of Islam and Christianity alike. This theme highlights even more clearly the theological and spiritual foundations of a central teaching of our respective religions.

The Christian tradition proclaims that God is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:16). It was out of love that he created the whole universe, and by his love he becomes present in human history. The love of God became visible, manifested fully and definitively in Jesus Christ. He thus came down to meet man and, while remaining God, took on our nature. He gave himself in order to restore full dignity to each person and to bring us salvation. How could we ever explain the mystery of the incarnation and the redemption except by Love? This infinite and eternal love enables us to respond by giving all our love in return: love for God and love for neighbour. This truth, which we consider foundational, was what I wished to emphasize in my first Encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," since this is a central teaching of the Christian faith. Our calling and mission is to share freely with others the love which God lavishes upon us without any merit of our own.

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. Together we must show, by our mutual respect and solidarity, that we consider ourselves members of one family: the family that God has loved and gathered together from the creation of the world to the end of human history.

I was pleased to learn that you were able at this meeting to adopt a common position on the need to worship God totally and to love our fellow men and women disinterestedly, especially those in distress and need. God calls us to work together on behalf of the victims of disease, hunger, poverty, injustice and violence. For Christians, the love of God is inseparably bound to the love of our brothers and sisters, of all men and women, without distinction of race and culture. As Saint John writes: "Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen" (1 Jn 4:20).

The Muslim tradition is also quite clear in encouraging practical commitment in serving the most needy, and readily recalls the "Golden Rule" in its own version: your faith will not be perfect, unless you do unto others that which you wish for yourselves. We should thus work together in promoting genuine respect for the dignity of the human person and fundamental human rights, even though our anthropological visions and our theologies justify this in different ways. There is a great and vast field in which we can act together in defending and promoting the moral values which are part of our common heritage. Only by starting with the recognition of the centrality of the person and the dignity of each human being, respecting and defending life which is the gift of God, and is thus sacred for Christians and for Muslims alike -- only on the basis of this recognition, can we find a common ground for building a more fraternal world, a world in which confrontations and differences are peacefully settled, and the devastating power of ideologies is neutralized.

My hope, once again, is that these fundamental human rights will be protected for all people everywhere. Political and religious leaders have the duty of ensuring the free exercise of these rights in full respect for each individual's freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. The discrimination and violence which even today religious people experience throughout the world, and the often violent persecutions to which they are subject, represent unacceptable and unjustifiable acts, all the more grave and deplorable when they are carried out in the name of God. God's name can only be a name of peace and fraternity, justice and love. We are challenged to demonstrate, by our words and above all by our deeds, that the message of our religions is unfailingly a message of harmony and mutual understanding. It is essential that we do so, lest we weaken the credibility and the effectiveness not only of our dialogue, but also of our religions themselves.

I pray that the "Catholic-Muslim Forum", now confidently taking its first steps, can become ever more a space for dialogue, and assist us in treading together the path to an ever fuller knowledge of Truth. The present meeting is also a privileged occasion for committing ourselves to a more heartfelt quest for love of God and love of neighbour, the indispensable condition for offering the men and women of our time an authentic service of reconciliation and peace.

Dear friends, let us unite our efforts, animated by good will, in order to overcome all misunderstanding and disagreements. Let us resolve to overcome past prejudices and to correct the often distorted images of the other which even today can create difficulties in our relations; let us work with one another to educate all people, especially the young, to build a common future. May God sustain us in our good intentions, and enable our communities to live consistently the truth of love, which constitutes the heart of the religious man, and is the basis of respect for the dignity of each person. May God, the merciful and compassionate One, assist us in this challenging mission, protect us, bless us and enlighten us always with the power of his love.

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Vatican Message to Muslims for Ramadan
"Christians and Muslims Must Work to Safeguard the Dignity of the Family"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 19, 2008 - Here is a text published today by the Vatican of a message sent to Muslims by the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The message was sent on the occasion of the end of Ramadan.

* * *

Christians and Muslims:

Together for the dignity of the family

Dear Muslim friends,

1. As the end of the month of Ramadan approaches, and following a now well-established tradition, I am pleased to send you the best wishes of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. During this month Christians close to you have shared your reflections and your family celebrations; dialogue and friendship have been strengthened. Praise be to God!

2. As in the past, this friendly rendez-vous also gives us an opportunity to reflect together on a mutually topical subject which will enrich our exchange and help us to get to know each other better, in our shared values as well as in our differences. This year we would like to propose the subject of the family.

3. One of the documents of the Second Council Vatican, Gaudium et Spes, which deals with the Church in the modern world, states: 'The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family. Hence Christians and all men who hold this community in high esteem sincerely rejoice in the various ways by which men today find help in fostering this community of love and perfecting its life, and by which parents are assisted in their lofty calling. Those who rejoice in such aids look for additional benefits from them and labour to bring them about.' (n. 47)

4. These words give us an opportune reminder that the development of both the human person and of society depends largely on the healthiness of the family! How many people carry, sometimes for the whole of their life, the weight of the wounds of a difficult or dramatic family background? How many men and women now in the abyss of drugs or violence are vainly seeking to make up for a traumatic childhood? Christians and Muslims can and must work together to safeguard the dignity of the family, today and in the future.

5. Given the high esteem in which both Muslims and Christians hold the family, we have already had many occasions, from the local to the international level, to work together in this field. The family, that place where love and life, respect for the other and hospitality are encountered and transmitted, is truly the 'fundamental cell of society.'

6. Muslims and Christians must never hesitate, not only to come to the aid of families in difficulty, but also to collaborate with all those who support the stability of the family as an institution and the exercise of parental responsibility, in particular in the field of education. I need only remind you that the family is the first school in which one learns respect for others, mindful of the identity and the difference of each one. Interreligious dialogue and the exercise of citizenship cannot but benefit from this.

7. Dear friends, now that your fast comes to an end, I hope that you, with your families and those close to you, purified and renewed by those practices dear to your religion, may know serenity and prosperity in your life! May Almighty God fill you with His Mercy and Peace!

Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran    President

Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata        Secretary

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Statement on Islamic-Catholic Committee Meeting
"There Can Be No True and Lasting Peace Without Justice"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 15, 2008 - Here is a statement from the Islamic-Catholic Liaison Committee on its 14th meeting, which ended Friday.

* * *
With the help of God, the Islamic-Catholic Liaison Committee held its fourteenth meeting in the Vatican, on 11-13 June 2008, correspondent to 7-9 Jumada the 2nd 1429 H. The Catholic Delegation was headed by H.E. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Vatican City, while the Islamic Delegation was headed by H.E. Prof. Dr. Hamid bin Ahmad Al-Rifaie, President of the International Islamic Forum for Dialogue, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The theme was "Christians and Muslims as Witnesses of the God of Justice, of Peace and of Compassion in a World Suffering from Violence". The topic was treated from a religious point of view according to the teaching of our two religious traditions. Both sides agreed on the following points:

1) From the inherent dignity of each human being stem fundamental rights and duties.

2) Justice is a priority in our world. It requires, beyond the implementation of the existing legal provisions, the respect of the fundamental needs of individuals and peoples through an attitude of love, fraternity and solidarity. There can be no true and lasting peace without justice.

3) Peace is a gift from God and also requires the commitment of all human beings, and particularly believers, who are called to be vigilant witnesses to peace in a world afflicted by violence in many forms.

4) Christians and Muslims believe that God is compassionate and therefore they consider it their duty to show compassion towards every human person, especially the needy and the weak.

5) Religions, if authentically practised, effectively contribute in promoting brotherhood and harmony in the human family.

The participants were honoured to be received by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who encouraged them to continue their endeavours for the promotion of justice and peace.

Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran
President
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

Prof. Dr. Hamid Ahmad Al-Rifaie
President
International Islamic Forum Dialogue

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Muslim proposal needs critical observations, says German Jesuit

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- Welcoming the invitation to dialogue proposed by 138 Muslim scholars, Christian theologians must demonstrate they take the initiative seriously by highlighting its promises and acknowledging potential pitfalls, said a German Jesuit expert on Islam.

Jesuit Father Christian W. Troll, a professor of Islamic studies, spoke May 6 at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University about "A Common Word," the letter Muslim scholars sent to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders in October.

The letter outlined their proposal for a new level of Christian-Muslim theological dialogue focused on common teachings about faith in one God, love of God and love of neighbor.

"We must be the first to recognize the beauty of the form and content of this letter," Father Troll said.

But "together with gratitude, esteem and trust, this kind of dialogue requires study, criticism and the desire to learn from and inform the other; otherwise it is just a spectacle without dignity," he said.


Asked why so much of the Christian reaction to the letter seemed to move immediately from hailing it as a breakthrough in Christian-Muslim relations to pointing out problems or omissions, Father Troll said respect for the Muslim scholars' seriousness required Christian scholars "to translate this esteem for Muslims into constructive and even critical observations."

One common criticism, reflecting a concern of Pope Benedict, is that the letter failed to raise the topic of religious freedom.

Father Troll said that while Christians and Muslims in many parts of the world are engaged in serious dialogue and cooperative projects, "which are more important than an occasional dialogue in the Vatican," dialogue can take place only where both Christians and Muslims are free to practice their faith.

"This is why I ask my Muslim friends to do what they can to defend religious freedom," Father Troll said.

Father Troll and Jesuit Father Christiaan van Nispen, a professor of Islamic studies who teaches in Cairo, Egypt, said one of the most important things about the letter is the number and variety of Muslim scholars who signed it.

Father Troll said, "With this initiative, we see the emergence of something like an intra-Islamic ecumenical movement," bringing together Sunnis and Shiites from all over the world.

Father van Nispen said, "I find it interesting that, at least until now, there have not been attacks against this letter" from other Muslims "even though it represents a new approach" to Christianity.

"In Islam, there is no 'magisterium,' no doctrinal authority, but what is most important is consensus" among community leaders and more broadly among believers, he said. "This letter is certainly an expression of a certain consensus -- at least 240 scholars have now endorsed it."

Another element the priests identified as interesting was the Muslim scholars' use of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures.

Father Troll said it was "a highly significant fact" that the letter quotes the Bible and does so with a positive tone.

"Does this indicate something of a break with classical Islamic doctrine, which regards the Jewish and Christian Scriptures as corrupted forms of the original revelation of God?" he asked.

Father Troll said that if the scholars intended to demonstrate a willingness to recognize the Jewish and Christian Bibles, even if differences of interpretation remain, they should have said so explicitly.

Father van Nispen said it is essential that Christians remember "there is not just one form of Islam, just as there does not exist one form of Christianity; even though all the Christian churches are centered on the person of Christ, deep doctrinal differences exist."

And, he said, "if among different Christians theological dialogue is not easy," people should not expect Christian-Muslim dialogue to be easy.

The Muslim scholars' letter, he said, is an important part of creating "a climate which will allow us to meet in all our diversity."

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Catholic-Muslim Statement on Dialogue
"Faith and Reason Are Intrinsically Nonviolent"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 30, 2008 - Here is a statement released at the conclusion of the sixth colloquium between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Center for Interreligious Dialogue of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization.

The colloquium began Monday and ended today.

* * *

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (Vatican) and the Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organisation (Tehran, Iran) held their sixth Colloquium in Rome from 28 - 30 April 2008 under the joint presidency of His Eminence Cardinal Jean-Louis TAURAN, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and His Excellency Dr. Mahdi MOSTAFAVI, President of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organisation.

The delegation of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue was composed as follows:

- His Excellency Archbishop Pier Luigi CELATA

- His Excellency Archbishop Ramzi GARMOU

- Reverend Monsignor Khaled AKASHEH

- Reverend Monsignor Prof. Piero CODA

- Reverend Father Prof. Michel FÉDOU, S.J.

- Prof. Vittorio POSSENTI

- Dr. Ilaria MORALI

The delegation of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organisation was composed as follows:

- Hojjat al-Islam Dr. Mohammad Jafar ELMI

- Hojjat al-Islam Dr. Mohammad MASJEDJAMEI

- Dr. Abdolrahim GAVAHI

- Hojjat al-Islam Dr. Seyyed Mahdi KHAMOUSHI

- Hojjat al-Islam Dr. Hamid PARSANIA

- Dr. Rasoul RASOULIPOUR

- Mr. Mohsen DANESHMAND

The participants, with the help of six papers presented by three scholars from each side, examined the theme Faith and Reason in Christianity and Islam, which was developed through three subthemes from the point of view of Catholics and Shi'a Muslims: 1) Faith and reason: Which relation? 2) Theology/Kalam as inquiry into the rationality of faith; 3) Faith and reason confronted with the phenomenon of violence.

And the end of the meeting the participants agreed upon the following:

1. Faith and reason are both gifts of God to mankind.

2. Faith and reason do not contradict each other, but faith might in some cases be above reason, but never against it.

3. Faith and reason are intrinsically non-violent. Neither reason nor faith should be used for violence; unfortunately, both of them have been sometimes misused to perpetrate violence. In any case, these events cannot question either reason or faith.

4. Both sides agreed to further co-operate in order to promote genuine religiosity, in particular spirituality, to encourage respect for symbols considered to be sacred and to promote moral values.

5. Christians and Muslims should go beyond tolerance, accepting differences, while remaining aware of commonalities and thanking God for them. They are called to mutual respect, thereby condemning derision of religious beliefs.

6. Generalization should be avoided when speaking of religions. Differences of confessions within Christianity and Islam, diversity of historical contexts are important factors to be considered.

7. Religious traditions cannot be judged on the basis of a single verse or a passage present in their respective holy Books. A holistic vision as well as an adequate hermeneutical method is necessary for a fair understanding of them.

The participants expressed their satisfaction with the level of the presentations and the debates as well as the open and friendly atmosphere during the colloquium.

The participants were honoured and pleased to be received at the end of the colloquium by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who was particularly satisfied with the choice of the theme and the venue of the meeting.

The next colloquium will be held in Tehran within two years, preceded by a preparatory meeting.

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Vatican Aide Responds to Muslim Professor
"We Do Not Think the Church Merits the Accusation of Lack of Respect"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 30, 2008 - Here is a Vatican Radio translation of a May 27 response from Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, to a note from Professor Aref Ali Nayed.

The professor, a representative of the 138 Muslim scholars who wrote the Pope and other Christian leaders regarding Muslim-Christian dialogue, expressed concerns about the Pope baptizing former Muslim Magdi Allam at the Easter vigil, and raised other issues as well.

Allam, a deputy editor of Italy's daily Corriere della Sera, published the testimony of his conversion, parts of which can be read at ZENIT's Web page.

* * *

The note by Professor Aref Ali Nayed concerning the baptism administered by the Pope to Magdi Allam on the Easter vigil merits close consideration.

Let us, then, make a few observations.

Firstly, the most significant statement is without doubt the author's affirmation of his will to continue the dialogue toward a more profound mutual knowledge between Muslims and Christians. He in no way questions the journey that began with the correspondence and the contacts established over the last year and a half, between the Muslim signatories of the well-known letters and the Vatican, in particular through the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. This process must continue, it is extremely important, it must not be interrupted, and has priority over episodes that may be the subject of misunderstandings.

Secondly, administering baptism to someone implies a recognition that that person has freely and sincerely accepted the Christian faith in its fundamental articles, as expressed in the "profession of faith" which is publicly proclaimed during the ceremony of baptism. Of course, believers are free to maintain their own ideas on a vast range of questions and problems, on which legitimate pluralism exists among Christians. Welcoming a new believer into the Church clearly does not mean wedding all that person's ideas and opinions, especially on political and social matters.

The baptism of Magdi Cristiano Allam provides a good opportunity specifically to underline this fundamental principle. He has the right to express his own ideas. They remain his personal opinions without in any way becoming the official expression of the positions of the Pope or of the Holy See.

As for the debate concerning the Pope's lecture at Regensburg, explanations for interpreting it correctly in accordance with the Pope's intentions were given some time ago and there is no reason to question them once more. At the same time, some of the themes touched upon then, such as the relationship between faith and reason, between religion and violence, are naturally still the subject of reflection and debate, and of differing points of view, because they concern problems that cannot be resolved once and for all.

Thirdly, the liturgy of the Easter vigil was celebrated as it is every year, and the symbolism of light and darkness has always been a part of it. It is a solemn liturgy and its celebration by the Pope in St. Peter's Square is a very special occasion. But to accuse the Pope's explanation of the liturgical symbols -- something he always does and in which he is a master -- of "Manichaeism" reveals perhaps a misunderstanding of Catholic liturgy rather than a pertinent criticism of Benedict XVI's words.

Finally, let us in turn express our own displeasure at what Professor Nayed says concerning education in Christian schools in Muslim-majority countries, where he objects to the risk of proselytism. We feel that the Catholic Church's great educational efforts, also in countries with a non-Christian majority (not just Egypt but also India, Japan, etc.) where for a very long time the majority of students in Catholic schools and universities are non-Christian and have happily remained so (while showing great appreciation for the education they have received), deserves a quite different evaluation. We do not think the Church today merits the accusation of lack of respect for the dignity and freedom of the human person; these suffer entirely different violations to which priority attention must be given. Perhaps the Pope accepted the risk of this baptism also for this reason: to affirm the freedom of religious choice which derives from the dignity of the human person.

In any case, Professor Aref Ali Nayed is an interlocutor for whom we maintain the highest respect and with whom a faithful exchange of views is always worthwhile. This allows us to trust in the continuation of dialogue.

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Magdi Allam Recounts His Path to Conversion
Benedict XVI Baptized the Journalist at Easter Vigil

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2008 - Here is a translation of Magdi Allam’s account of his conversion to Catholicism. The Muslim journalist was baptized by Benedict XVI at Saturday's Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.



An abbreviated form of this account appeared as a letter to Paolo Mieli, the director of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. Allam is the paper’s deputy director. The Italian version of the complete text is available at magdiallam.it.

* * *

Dear Friends,

I am particularly happy to share with you my immense joy for this Easter of Resurrection that has brought me the gift of the Christian faith. I gladly propose the letter that I sent to the director of the Corriere della Sera, Paolo Mieli, in which I tell the story of the interior journey that brought me to the choice of conversion to Catholicism. This is the complete version of the letter, which was published by the Corriere della Sera only in part.

* * *

Dear Director,

That which I am about to relate to you concerns my choice of religious faith and personal life in which I do not wish to involve in any way the Corriere della Sera, which it has been an honor to be a part of as deputy director “ad personam” since 2003. I write you thus as protagonist of the event, as private citizen.

Yesterday evening I converted to the Christian Catholic religion, renouncing my previous Islamic faith. Thus, I finally saw the light, by divine grace -- the healthy fruit of a long, matured gestation, lived in suffering and joy, together with intimate reflection and conscious and manifest expression. I am especially grateful to his holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who imparted the sacraments of Christian initiation to me, baptism, confirmation and Eucharist, in the Basilica of St. Peter’s during the course of the solemn celebration of the Easter Vigil. And I took the simplest and most explicit Christian name: “Cristiano.” Since yesterday evening therefore my name is Magdi Crisitano Allam.

For me it is the most beautiful day of [my] life. To acquire the gift of the Christian faith during the commemoration of Christ’s resurrection by the hand of the Holy Father is, for a believer, an incomparable and inestimable privilege. At almost 56 […], it is a historical, exceptional and unforgettable event, which marks a radical and definitive turn with respect to the past. The miracle of Christ’s resurrection reverberated through my soul, liberating it from the darkness in which the preaching of hatred and intolerance in the face of the “different,” uncritically condemned as “enemy,” were privileged over love and respect of “neighbor,” who is always, an in every case, “person”; thus, as my mind was freed from the obscurantism of an ideology that legitimates lies and deception, violent death that leads to murder and suicide, the blind submission to tyranny, I was able to adhere to the authentic religion of truth, of life and of freedom.

On my first Easter as a Christian I not only discovered Jesus, I discovered for the first time the face of the true and only God, who is the God of faith and reason. My conversion to Catholicism is the touching down of a gradual and profound interior meditation from which I could not pull myself away, given that for five years I have been confined to a life under guard, with permanent surveillance at home and a police escort for my every movement, because of death threats and death sentences from Islamic extremists and terrorists, both those in and outside of Italy.

I had to ask myself about the attitude of those who publicly declared fatwas, Islamic juridical verdicts, against me -- I who was a Muslim -- as an “enemy of Islam,” “hypocrite because he is a Coptic Christian who pretends to be a Muslim to do damage to Islam,” “liar and vilifier of Islam,” legitimating my death sentence in this way. I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a “moderate Islam,” assuming the responsibility of exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Quran. I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive.

At the same time providence brought me to meet practicing Catholics of good will who, in virtue of their witness and friendship, gradually became a point of reference in regard to the certainty of truth and the solidity of values. To begin with, among so many friends from Communion and Liberation, I will mention Father Juliàn Carròn; and then there were simple religious such as Father Gabriele Mangiarotti, Sister Maria Gloria Riva, Father Carlo Maurizi and Father Yohannis Lahzi Gaid; there was rediscovery of the Salesians thanks to Father Angelo Tengattini and Father Maurizio Verlezza, which culminated in a renewed friendship with major rector Father Pascual Chavez Villanueva; there was the embrace of top prelates of great humanity like Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Monsignor Luigi Negri, Giancarlo Vecerrica, Gino Romanazzi and, above all, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who personally accompanied me in the journey of spiritual acceptance of the Christian faith.

But undoubtedly the most extraordinary and important encounter in my decision to convert was that with Pope Benedict XVI, whom I admired and defended as a Muslim for his mastery in setting down the indissoluble link between faith and reason as a basis for authentic religion and human civilization, and to whom I fully adhere as a Christian to inspire me with new light in the fulfillment of the mission God has reserved for me.

Mine was a journey that began when at four years old, my mother Safeya -- a believing and practicing Muslim -- in the first in the series of “fortuitous events” that would prove to be not at all the product of chance but rather an integral part of a divine destiny to which all of us have been assigned -- entrusted me to the loving care of Sister Lavinia of the Comboni Missionary Sisters, convinced of the goodness of the education that would be imparted by the Catholic and Italian religious, who had come to Cairo, the city of my birth, to witness to their Christian faith through a work aimed at the common good. I thus began an experience of life in boarding school, followed by the Salesians of the Institute of Don Bosco in junior high and high school, which transmitted to me not only the science of knowledge but above all the awareness of values.

It is thanks to members of Catholic religious orders that I acquired a profoundly and essentially an ethical conception of life, in which the person created in the image and likeness of God is called to undertake a mission that inserts itself in the framework of a universal and eternal design directed toward the interior resurrection of individuals on this earth and the whole of humanity on the day of judgment, which is founded on faith in God and the primacy of values, which is based on the sense of individual responsibility and on the sense of duty toward the collective. It is in virtue of a Christian education and of the sharing of the experience of life with Catholic religious that I cultivated a profound faith in the transcendent dimension and also sought the certainty of truth in absolute and universal values.

There was a time when my mother’s loving presence and religious zeal brought me closer to Islam, which I occasionally practiced at a cultural level and in which I believed at a spiritual level according to an interpretation that at the time -- it was the 1970s -- summarily corresponded to a faith respectful of persons and tolerant toward the neighbor, in a context -- that of the Nasser regime -- in which the secular principle of the separation of the religious sphere and the secular sphere prevailed.

My father Muhammad was completely secular and agreed with the opinion of the majority of Egyptians who took the West as a model in regard to individual freedom, social customs and cultural and artistic fashions, even if the political totalitarianism of Nasser and the bellicose ideology of Pan-Arabism that aimed at the physical elimination of Israel unfortunately led to disaster for Egypt and opened the way to the resumption of Pan-Islamism, to the ascent of Islamic extremists to power and the explosion of globalized Islamic terrorism.

The long years at school allowed me to know Catholicism well and up close and the women and men who dedicated their life to serve God in the womb of the Church. Already then I read the Bible and the Gospels and I was especially fascinated by the human and divine figure of Jesus. I had a way to attend Holy Mass and it also happened, only once, that I went to the altar to receive communion. It was a gesture that evidently signaled my attraction to Christianity and my desire to feel a part of the Catholic religious community.

Then, on my arrival in Italy at the beginning of the 1970s between the rivers of student revolts and the difficulties of integration, I went through a period of atheism understood as a faith, which nevertheless was also founded on absolute and universal values. I was never indifferent to the presence of God even if only now I feel that the God of love, of faith and reason reconciles himself completely with the patrimony of values that are rooted in me.

Dear Director, you asked me whether I fear for my life, in the awareness that conversion to Christianity will certainly procure for me yet another, and much more grave, death sentence for apostasy. You are perfectly right. I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith. And I will be more so after the courageous and historical gesture of the Pope, who, as soon has he knew of my desire, immediately agreed to personally impart the Christian sacraments of initiation to me. His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.

For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the abuse and the violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice. In Italy there are thousands of converts to Islam who live their new faith in peace. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists who lurk among us. By one of those “fortuitous events” that evoke the discreet hand of the Lord, the first article that I wrote for the Corriere on Sept. 3, 2003 was entitled “The new Catacombs of Islamic Converts.” It was an investigation of recent Muslim converts to Christianity in Italy who decry their profound spiritual and human solitude in the face of absconding state institutions that do not protect them and the silence of the Church itself. Well, I hope that the Pope’s historical gesture and my testimony will lead to the conviction that the moment has come to leave the darkness of the catacombs and to publicly declare their desire to be fully themselves. If in Italy, in our home, the cradle of Catholicism, we are not prepared to guarantee complete religious freedom to everyone, how can we ever be credible when we denounce the violation of this freedom elsewhere in the world? I pray to God that on this special Easter he give the gift of the resurrection of the spirit to all the faithful in Christ who have until now been subjugated by fear. Happy Easter to everyone.

Dear friends, let us go forward on the way of truth, of life and of freedom with my best wishes for every success and good thing.

Magdi Allam

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Announces Seminar "Love of God, Love of Neighbor"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 5, 2008 - Here is the communiqué released today by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue upon concluding a two-day meeting with Muslim scholars in the Vatican in which the religious representative established the Catholic-Muslim Forum.

* * *

In the light of the Open Letter "A Common Word" signed by 138 Muslim scholars, and the response of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, through the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a Delegation of the Signatories of the Open Letter met with a Delegation representing the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (Vatican City) in the offices of the same Pontifical Council on Tuesday, March 4th and on Wednesday, March 5th 2008. Five participants from each side participated in the meeting.

The participants were:

Catholic Participants:

1. His Eminence Cardinal Jean-Louis TAURAN, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

2. His Excellency Archbishop Pier Luigi CELATA, Titular Archbishop of Doclea, Secretary, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

3. Msgr. Khaled AKASHEH, Head Officer for Islam, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

4. Fr. Miguel Ángel AYUSO GUIXOT, M.C.C.J., President, Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies.

5. Prof. Dr. Christian W. TROLL, S.J., Visiting Professor, Pontifical Gregorian University.

Muslim Participants:

1. Sheikh Professor Abdal Hakim MURAD, President, Muslim Academic Trust, UK.

2. Prof. Dr. Aref Ali NAYED, Director, Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center, Amman, Jordan.

3. Dr. Ibrahim KALIN, SETA Foundation, Ankara, Turkey.

4. Imam Yahya PALLAVICINI, Vice-President, CO.RE.IS. (Comunità Religiosa Islamica), Italy.

5. Mr. Sohail NAKHOODA, Editor-in-Chief, Islamica Magazine, Amman, Jordan.

In order to further develop Catholic-Muslim dialogue, the participants agreed to establish "The Catholic-Muslim Forum" and to organize the first Seminar of the Forum in Rome from 4 to 6 November 2008. Twenty-four religious leaders and scholars from each side will participate. The theme of the Seminar will be "Love of God, Love of Neighbor". The sub-themes will be "Theological and Spiritual Foundations" (1st day) and "Human Dignity and Mutual Respect" (2nd day). The Seminar will conclude with a public session on the 3rd day. The seminar participants will be received by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Jean-Louis TAURAN

Sheikh Prof. Abdal Hakim MURAD

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Conclusion of Vatican-Muslim Meeting

Conclusions of Monotheistic Religions Meeting

"Encouragement to Continue to Engage in Dialogue"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 28, 2008 - Here is the final declaration of the annual meeting of the joint committee for dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Permanent Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue Among the Monotheistic Religions. The meeting took place Monday and Tuesday in Cairo.

* * *

-- Believing in the role of monotheistic religions in providing a firm foundation for the values of peace, truth, justice, right behaviour and cooperation in the development and use of the earth's resources for the benefit of the whole of humanity, thus realising fraternity, peace and happiness for all peoples;

-- Affirming that it is important that these noble principles and exemplary values guide human behaviour, especially at the present time when boundaries and distinctions between peoples are decreasing and the phenomenon of violence, extremism, terrorism is increasing, together with contempt for religions, religious values and everything that is considered sacred;

-- Taking into consideration the place of al-Azhar al-Sharif, its history and its distinguished role within the Islamic world;

-- Taking into consideration also the specific task of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue within the Catholic Church;

-- Recognizing on both sides the importance of mutual knowledge and of the search for common ground between the two religions as a basis for wider cooperation and improved relations;

-- The Joint Committee held its annual Meeting at al-Azhar headquarters on Monday 25 February and Tuesday 26 February 2008 under the joint presidency of Professor Sheikh Abd al-Fattah Alaam, Wakil of al-Azhar, and President of the Permanent Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue with Monotheistic Religions, and His Eminence Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

The Committee, with the help of papers presented by Reverend Father René-Vincent de Grandlaunay and Professor Abdallah Mabrouk al-Naggar, examined the theme of Faith in God and Love of Neighbour as the Foundations for Interreligious Dialogue.

During its exchanges the Committee underlined common principles and emphasised shared spiritual and moral values. These help to form the conscience and enlighten reason, providing guidance to thought and behaviour, in particular as regards relations with brothers and sisters of the other religion. The Committee also discussed the question of freedom of expression, noting that it can never justify harming people's feelings in religious matters, thus creating strained relations and destroying brotherly love.

The Committee strongly condemned the republication of offensive cartoons and the rising number of attacks against Islam and its Prophet, as also other attacks against religion. Note was taken of the words of Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech to the Ambassador of Morocco to the Holy See, in which he expressed his conviction that: "in order to favour peace and understanding between peoples and human beings, it is necessary that their religions and symbols be respected, and that believers not be the object of provocations which cause harm to their religious commitment and feelings." (20 February 2006).

The members of the Committee expressed their satisfaction at the agreement reached, seeing this as an encouragement to continue to engage in dialogue.
At the end of the meeting the participants agreed upon the following recommendations:

1. To affirm that all religions respect the dignity and honour of the human person without consideration of race, colour, religion or conviction, and condemn any offence against personal integrity, property and honour;

2. To foster true respect for religions, beliefs, religious symbols, holy Books and whatever is considered sacred: religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian, as well as intellectuals and educators, should make every effort to inculcate these values in their activities in places of learning and in all levels of society;

3. To appeal to those responsible for the mass media, whether written or broadcast, in all countries, to be vigilant that freedom of expression not be taken as a pretext for offending religions, convictions, religious symbols and everything that is considered sacred, but rather to oppose extremism, to encourage mutual acceptance, love and respect for all, regardless of their religion;

4. To encourage exchange of views on matters of common concern which may arise;

5. To assess the application of these recommendations during the coming meetings of the Committee.

The Committee agreed that is next would be held in Rome, 24-25 February, 2009.

His Eminence Cardinal?Jean-Louis TAURAN
President of the Pontifical Council?for Interreligious Dialogue

Professor Sheikh?Abd al-Fattah Muhammad ALAAM
President of the Committee for Dialogue?Al-Azhar

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Samir Khalil on Islam
by Wlodzimierz Redzioch

The king of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, came to the Vatican on November 6. This visit was soon defined a historic event. In your opinion, what will the meeting between the Pope and the Guardian of the two Sacred Mosques (this is the title of the Saudi sovereign) lead to?

Father Samir Khalil, S.J.: We must bear in mind that when King Abdullah was still prince apparent, he met John Paul II on May 25th, 1999. He is a very open-minded man who, during the Beirut summit of the Arab League, proposed a reasonable solution to the Middle East conflict, which involved the recognition of the State of Israel in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967.

The meeting between the Pope and the Saudi king was meant to promote peace, justice and moral values.

Peace is of vital importance to the Middle East, an area which has experienced war (or non-peace) for almost 60 years. The war in the Middle East (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular) is the ultimate origin of international terrorism. Saudi Arabia's plan involves the whole region. The greatest Sunnite moral authority says: "We want peace." The promotion of peace is the common ground of Christians and Muslims.

One of Islam's traditional aims is the promotion of justice between nations and between social classes. The Saudi sovereign's intention to cooperate with the Vatican in the promotion of justice is of great importance, as there is a lot to do in this field. Yet I think that it would be best to start from Saudi Arabia, a country greatly affected by social injustice, especially as far as the condition of immigrants is concerned. Christian-Muslim dialogue is also meant to point out that justice cannot be confined to the Christian and Muslim world, but must be universal.

The third point is about the promotion of Christian values.

The Muslim world sees the West as devoid of moral and ethical values. I hear this accusation whenever I talk to Muslim immigrants living in Europe; they say: "Europeans have no moral principles."

European laws and customs with regard to sexual ethics (trial marriage, sexual freedom, extramarital sex) and the family (unmarried couples, homosexual unions) are a scandal to them. In such cases I have to explain to these people that Western society is not necessarily Christian; that it was originally based on Christian values, but later abandoned its foundations. Dialogue for the promotion of moral and ethical values thus becomes very important.

Also, the relevance of moral values was one of the main points of the Pope's speech at Regensburg. Benedict XVI criticized the Western world for its concept of reason which keeps out the ethical and spiritual dimension, as opposed to the Greek and Evangelical vision, in which the word logos includes this dimension.

The Western world therefore, having such a restricted concept of reason, cannot but come into contact with the Muslim world, with Asia, Africa, in short with other civilizations.

Another point which everyone stressed was that both the king and the Holy Father said that "violence and terrorism have no religion or country." In other words, they cannot be justified by religion or love of one's country (nationalism).

This is a statement with very important implications. In these words we find an echo from the Pope's speech in Regensburg. Here Benedict XVI quoted Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, who defined violence as contrary to God's nature and religion. The problem is that both the Old Testament (the Torah) and the Koran contain lots of violence and seem to justify the violent. The condemnation of violence justified by religion implies a re-interpretation of these sacred texts and the use of hermeneutics to give them their right meaning.

The last point of the talks was raised by the Holy See; it was the important question of religious freedom. I was surprised to see that all the papers and press agencies covered this issue.

It is an important fact in Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslim symbols are banned, where owning a Bible or a cross or celebrating the Mass, even privately, is forbidden.

We do not expect Saudi Arabia to change its religious policy overnight, but the Vatican decided to voice its opinion, to raise the question without forcing the hand of Saudi political leaders. Let us hope that representatives of other countries too will remind Saudi Arabia of this question, as this is not about religion alone, but involves respect for basic human rights.

If people are not free to practice their religion, to preach it or even to embrace another religion, a basic human right is denied. The Western world, which is so concerned about human rights, remains silent when it comes to religious freedom in China or Saudi Arabia.

You have quoted several times from the masterly speech that Benedict XVI made at Regensburg University more than a year ago, which triggered off a wave of violent protests. That speech, which was an invitation to dialogue, was at first misunderstood. Anyway, things are changing now . . .

Samir Khalil, S.J.: Yes, indeed, even though 38 Muslim representatives wrote a letter to the Pope. This year the letter has been signed by 138 people.

Who was the letter addressed to in practice?

Samir Khalil, S.J.: If we read the list of the addressees, we can have a complete and accurate picture: in addition to the Pope, the letter is addressed to Eastern Churches; to the patriarchs of Chalcedonian and pre-Chalcedonian Churches; to Protestant Churches; and finally to the World Council of Churches. This proves that behind this letter there is somebody with an in-depth knowledge of Christianity and the history of the Church.

What about the authors and signers of this letter?

Samir Khalil, S.J.: They represent 43 countries, Muslim and non-Muslim (Western countries in particular). Amongst them there are mufti (i.e. fatwa leaders), religious leaders, scholars, and common people.

In addition to representatives of the two large Muslim communities (Sunnites and Shiites), there are representatives of smaller groups, sects and even opposite orientations, like the most mystical one (sufi), most of which are based in the Western world.

How could representatives of various Islamic "denominations" come to an agreement?

Samir Khalil, S.J.: It was made possible by the mediation of the king of Jordan and the Aal al-Bayt Foundation (i.e. the family of the Prophet of Islam) headed by the king's uncle, Prince Hassan. This man probably represents the best which is to be found within Islam. He has always supported dialogue with all religious, political and cultural institutions and has always worked for peace and concord. I have met him four times (in Toronto, Rome, Amman and Madaba) and I have always been amazed by his generosity and open-mindedness.

Unlike the Catholic Church, Islam has no supreme authority; the Muslim world is therefore so diversified that it is difficult to understand who represents it. What can we do about this?

Samir Khalil, S.J.: The deep division in the Muslim world is a big problem. Yet Islam is characterized by the concept of ijma (consensus). In Islamic tradition there are three foundations for each article of faith: the Koran, tradition (Mohammed's life and sayings), and agreement within the community of believers, also known as ijma.

Now, this third element had never been properly developed. On the contrary, when an imam says something, another imam will say something different, or even the opposite, the following day. The letter signed by these 138 personalities (let us note that eight new signatories have added their names) does not say that all Muslims see eye to eye, but proves that attempts are being made to achieve some agreement.

Let us now come to the letter's content.

Samir Khalil, S.J.: The first point I would like to stress is that the title is a quotation from the Koran: "A word in common between you and us" (Sura of Imran's family, 3:64).

This is what Mohammed says to Christians: when he realizes that he cannot come to an agreement with them, he says: "Come, let us agree on one thing at least, that we worship one God alone (i.e., the uniqueness of God) and that we will never recognize anyone as our lord except God." Note that this "common word" does not include Mohammed in any way. Here he is not referred to as the prophet or God's last messenger.

What this passage underlines is that there is only one God. This is positive, even though it is said in the Koran.

The letter has three sections:

The first is entitled "Love of God" and has two subsections: "Love of God in Islam" and "Love of God as the First and Greatest Commandment in the Bible." Actually the title in Arabic is more precise: it reads "in the Gospels." The use of the word "Bible," which includes the Old and New Testaments, makes it possible to include Judaism in our conversation, even though the letter is addressed to Christians alone.

The second section is entitled: "Love of One's Neighbor" (hubb al-jar). Like the first one, this section is divided into two subsections: "Love of One's Neighbor in Islam" and "Love of One's Neighbor in the Bible." Once again, the Arabic original reads: "in the Gospels."

The third section concludes the letter by taking up the quotation from the Koran: "Come for a word in common between you and us."

So, the love of God and of one's neighbor provides the basis for dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Samir Khalil, S.J.: It's true, but there is an interesting fact to notice: the lexicon used here is Christian, not Muslim. The word "love," largely used by Christians, is rarely found in the Koran.

It is not even included among God's names. In fact, if we analyze the first part of the letter, the one about love of God in Islam, we find out that Muslims call "love" what we Christians would rather refer to as "obedience to God." Yet they use this term to conform to the Christian lexicon. Muslims usually speak of worship of God, of recognition of His uniqueness.

However, the reference to love of God contained in this letter is a novelty. This is probably a clever way to refer to Benedict XVI's first encyclical "God is love" (Deus caritas est). Anyway, the letter shows the attempt at getting close to the Christian lexicon, even though this involves the risk of calling different things by the same name.

Another instance is provided by the word "brethren." This word does not exist in the Koran; it is typical of the New Testament. The Arabic text does not have "brethren," but jar, which is to be interpreted as "neighbor" in a physical sense ("the family next door" e.g.), unlike the Christian term qarib, which means "brethren."

The authors of the letter mingle Muslim with Christian phrases. They take two different approaches depending on whether they quote from the Koran or from the Bible. Quoting from the Koran, they say "God said," like every true Muslim. Quoting from the Bible, they say "as the New Testament says" or "as the Gospels say." In other words, they approach the Bible in scientific terms, from the scholar's point of view, whilst they approach the Koran from the believer's point of view, without using a scientific terminology.

How do Muslims see the Old and New Testaments, then?

Samir Khalil, S.J.; When they quote from the Old and New Testaments, they take it for granted that the Bible is God's word. This fact too is relatively new. This concept is theoretically stated in the Koran, but rejected in practice. Muslims often regard the Bible as a text manipulated through additions to the original core (muharrafah or mubaddalah).

The 138 signers of the letter go so far as to make explicit reference to Saint Paul about the concept of "heart." Saint Paul is usually rejected by Muslims on the grounds that he betrayed Jesus' message, which they regard as Islamic.

They often say that Jesus announced the same faith as the Koran, but that Saint Paul introduced the Trinity, Redemption by the Cross and rejection of Mosaic law.

All these little signs show a sincere attempt at dialogue with regard to language and biblical testimony. There are also allusions to Judaism in the attempt to integrate it into this vision.

The phrase "people of the Scripture," for example, is a clear reference to the Jews as well, even though the letter is officially addressed to Christians. From now on we will say that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are centered on love of God and of one's neighbor. This is really something new, something never said before in the Muslim world.

You have been talking about the letter's positive aspects. Are there any elements which you don't find too convincing?

Samir Khalil, S.J.: The authors of the letter chose those passages from the Koran which are closest to the Bible, even though the former contains texts that depart from Christian doctrine.

This is important, but if we stop at this, our dialogue will be conducted on an ambiguous basis. In Christian tradition there is a search for a foundation in common with other religions, or rather, with all cultures. In Christian terms this foundation is not provided by the Koran or the Bible, as this would exclude non-believers, but by natural law, i.e. a common ethics which atheists too can accept.

In his speech addressed to the International Theological Commission on October 5, the Pope referred to moral natural law "to justify and illustrate the foundation of a universal ethics belonging to the great patrimony of human wisdom, whereby all rational creatures participate in God's eternal law."

Referring to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Benedict XVI declared: "Moral life revolves around man's desire for and submission to God, the source and judge of all good and the cause of man's perception of his neighbor as his equal."

The Holy Father goes on to say that natural law, "in itself accessible to every rational creature, provides a basis for dialogue with all men of good will and with the whole of civil society.

In other words, the Pope says that universal ethics based on natural law and not the Holy Scripture provides the basis for dialogue.

Samir Khalil, S.J.: The letter sent to Christians by the Muslim experts stops at what the Bible and the Koran have in common. This is certainly a big flaw. In my opinion the next step should be trying to bring Christians and Muslims together on a more universal basis.

This would involve a reference to some elements contained in the Holy Scripture, provided these are acceptable to everybody; anyway we should go as far as to lay the foundations for universal dialogue.

On the other hand, the attitude of the 138 Muslim representatives is easy to understand, as they aim at restoring relations with the Christian world.

This is clearly stated in the preface to the letter, where it is said that "we, Christians and Muslims, make up 55% of the world population." Hence the possibility for us to impose universal peace, if we are able to come to an agreement. It is a tactical, a near political approach.

The authors of the letter ask Christians "to regard Muslims as their allies, not their enemies." This proves that they see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as wars on Islam.

Samir Khalil, S.J.: Unfortunately Muslims tend to see the West as a Christian power without realizing how secularized it has become and how far it has moved from Christian ethics.

This vision reinforces the cultural and religious conflict theory just when attempts are being made at contrasting such a theory. The Americans are not in Iraq or Afghanistan as Christians oppressing Muslims. There are political interests at stake. Therefore, even though we know that the U.S. president is a Christian and that he is guided by his faith, we cannot in any way define the war in Iraq as a Christian war on Muslims.

Islam is usually thought of as an intolerant religion; it is therefore striking that the letter closes with an appeal to tolerance and respect for differences.

Samir Khalil, S.J.: It's true. The Koranic verse on tolerance is quoted at the end of the letter. It runs as follows: "God would have united you into one community, had he wanted to. Nevertheless, he decided to test you and see the use you will make of what you have been given.

"Therefore compete with one another in the accomplishment of good actions; all of you will return to God and he will inform you about your differences" (Sura of the laid table, n̊ 5:48).

This is the last but one sura in the Koran, which means that it cannot be abrogated or superseded by another one, as the theory of Koranic interpretation, called theory of the repealer and the repealed (al-nasikh wa-l-mansukh) has it.

This verse is of crucial importance, as it states that our religious differences are traceable to God.

Therefore dialogue implies competing in the accomplishment of good actions. This is an excellent conclusion, as it means that we can coexist despite our differences; not only that, it is stated that these differences are the work of God!

The signers of the letter are a small group, nor do they represent the whole of Islam; hence the question: "Will this letter, which is addressed to Christians, produce a positive impact on the Muslim world?"

Samir Khalil, S.J.: I am sure that this letter is also addressed to Muslims, even though this not explicitly stated. How will it affect the Muslim world as news of kidnappings of priests, persecution of converts and oppression of Christians keep pouring in? There has been no comment from Muslims so far.

Yet, in due course, this letter will receive greater approval and bring together a greater number of Muslim believers. It is above all desirable that the questions we are most concerned about, i.e., religious freedom, the absolute value of human rights, the relationship between religion and society, and the use of violence, may soon be taken into serious consideration.

Let us now return to current affairs. Certain Arab countries are known to support the spread of Islam in the world with huge amounts of money paid to Muslim extremists, terrorists included. The oil price has been soaring over the last months, with lots of petrodollars flooding into the coffers of Muslim countries. Isn't there a possibility for these billions of dollars to be used in support of Muslim fundamentalism or even terrorism?

Samir Khalil, S.J.: All this money will no doubt be employed to give further support to religious proselytism. Saudi Arabia, which claims to be the keeper of the Sacred Places, and considers the spread of Islam a religious and political question, is the first country responsible for this operation.

The danger stems from the fact that this proselytism is not so neutral or peaceful as Saudi authorities make it out to be. Saudi Arabia supports a particular conception of Islam known as Wahhabism, so called after the name of an 18th century jurist, characterized by a strong rigorist and fundamentalist bias.

An intolerant and extremely violent variety of Islam is thus catching on. This is the paradox of Saudi Arabia: on the one hand it opens to the Western world; on the other hand it supports the most fundamentalist version of Islam, thus encouraging violent fringes; Saudi authorities fight terrorism and support Wahhabism at the same time; they should realize that a certain kind of terrorism originates from Wahhabism.

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A Common Word Between Us and You:
Some initial reflections
Daniel A Madigan SJ
     
Daniel Madigan SJ, of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims, assesses the recent letter to the Pope and Christian leaders from 138 Muslim scholars, and the hopes and difficulties it raises for dialogue between the two faiths.
     
Perhaps the best place to begin trying to understand the motivation of A Common Word is at the end.  The authors note that, since together we make up more than half the world's population, there will be no peace in the world unless Muslims and Christians find a way to live at peace with one another.  They surely echo the feelings of many when they say that "our common future is at stake.  The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake."  In a world that increasingly ready to see our current situation as a winner-takes-all struggle between two incompatible civilizations, this is a welcome reminder that there is an alternative: we can still try to envision a common future.

The signatories rightly believe that the resolution of our conflicts lies not merely in political negotiation but in finding a common theological basis that can ground our mutual commitments and give them an authority beyond the calculations of temporary expediency.  So they undertake to demonstrate the common ground we share in our belief in the unity of God, in the necessity of complete devotion to God and of love towards the neighbour.  They quite rightly refuse to accept the idea, all too often expressed even by members of the Roman Curia, that Muslims are incapable of entering into theological dialogue.

However dramatic may be the current world context that prompted it, this open letter to Christian leaders by 138 Muslim scholars and authorities should probably be read against a longer timeline. Forty-some years ago over two thousand Catholic bishops at Vatican II approved an epoch-making statement that, as Pope Benedict has several times reaffirmed, remains the official position of the Church with regard to Muslims.  Though it did not deal with some of the more substantial differences between our faiths, Nostra Aetate, as it was entitled, focussed on the things we have in common, which are the basis for the esteem for Muslims that the Council professed.  The bishops concluded: "Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, this sacred synod urges all to forget ['transcend' or 'overcome' might have been a better choice of words] the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all humanity social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom."

The Catholic Church has a well-defined authority structure that makes possible the enunciation of such a clear change in policy, and its implementation through control over the training of priests and the appointment of bishops.  Even so, the Council's positions, especially with regard to Muslims, are still not broadly enough known or accepted.  They are sometimes dismissed as just outdated pastoral advice appropriate for the optimistic 60's, but hopelessly out of touch with twenty-first century realities.

No other religious community, Christian or non-, has such an authority structure. Everywhere else authority is more diffuse-we might even say democratic.  It has to be painstakingly negotiated, and binding consensus is often elusive.  We should therefore be particularly grateful to this group of Muslim scholars that they have succeeded in arriving at a statement like this, subscribed to by such a broad representation.  One might read their letter as a first collective Muslim response to Nostra Aetate, a response that agrees to adopt the same approach as the Council: the bracketing of differences in order to affirm common beliefs, and an appeal to work together for justice and peace in the world.

A Common Word forms part of a larger project, focused in Jordan, to develop an authoritative consensus on what it means to be Muslim in our time.  In so doing the Amman project seeks to fill a vacuum in the leadership of the worldwide Muslim community-a vacuum that has in recent years been filled by the extremist voices only too well known to us through the world's media.  In media terms, such reasoned and scholarly voices may be no match for the sabre-rattling diatribes that make for good television, but they deserve to be taken seriously and given the widest possible diffusion. We can only hope that this letter, though it may well have to struggle as Nostra Aetate does to be accepted as authoritative, will favour just as momentous a change of mentality.

The authors are not the "moderate Muslims" with whom everyone professes to be ready to dialogue.  What a patronizing term that is! We seem to be looking for Muslims who "don't take it all too seriously" and who are ready to tell us what we want to hear.  It is against "moderates" of this kind in the Catholic Church that bishops fulminate at election time.  "Cafeteria Catholics"-take the bits you like and leave the rest-are roundly condemned, but similarly picky Muslims are celebrated.  The presumption seems to be that a commitment that takes seriously the whole Islamic tradition is incapable of dealing with the modern world.  In fact the opposite would seem to be the case: the reactionary and intransigent ideologies that drive terrorism and puritanical repression are not drawing on the whole of the Islamic tradition, but rather a truncated and impoverished reading of it.

The group of scholars behind A Common Word are ignorant neither of the breadth and depth of the Islamic tradition, nor of Christianity.  Among them are people like Mustafa Ceric, grand-mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who knows both the Western academic world and traditional Islamic learning, as well has having first-hand experience of the genocidal rage driving some Christians.  We would be mistaken to think that they are pushovers who will settle for a ceremonial acknowledgement of fellowship without a serious intellectual and spiritual engagement, and frank political talk.  In their patient but insistent correspondence since Regensburg they have shown a determination to pursue this discussion with seriousness and respect.

For several decades, of course, it was the Church that made much of the running in interreligious dialogue, but our interlocutors feel that in recent years our pace has faltered somewhat and that, at least in Rome, there is no great energy for dialogue even if we still profess a commitment to it.  It may be discomfiting for us, but the initiative seems now to be in the hands of others.

Though addressed to a long list of popes, patriarchs and other church leaders, A Common Word surely has another audience as well.  In keeping with the aim of the Amman project, it is implicitly addressed to Muslims, modeling for them a methodology and a mode of discourse appropriate to a dialogical approach to relations with other believers, and also providing the authoritative textual underpinnings for it. The letter spends much of its energy on outlining the obligation on Muslims to be devoted completely to God, to love God and to be grateful for all God has given.  In this context, one might have hoped for a more explicit recognition of the political implications of such devotion: the relativizing of all power, ideologies and political projects.  However good and divinely-sanctioned they may seem to us, they are not God, and therefore are not ultimate.  This will be an essential element in further dialogue; it is the theological key that takes us beyond mere disagreement about power relations and political alternatives.

I tend to bristle when I hear the words "all religions." They usually accompany a hasty generalization that owes more to wishful thinking or projection than to attentive observation of what the various religions do actually claim or profess.  It is surprising and disappointing to note how often even academic writing falls back on such pieties, and each religion is reduced to a particular variation on the generic theme of religion. A Common Word does not quite fall into that trap, since it confines itself to speaking only of the Abrahamic traditions of Christianity and Islam (with Judaism unfortunately only making the occasional, parenthetical appearance.  Yet the letter does open itself to a reductionist reading-one that Christians might want to examine more closely-when it says in part III, "Thus the Unity of God, love of Him and love of the neighbour form a common ground upon which Islam and Christianity (and Judaism) are founded." There has been a slide from the unexceptionable affirmation earlier in the paragraph that the obligation to love God and one's neighbour is a common element in the sacred texts of our traditions, to the more questionable claim that the dual commandment of love is the foundation of all three.

In fairness to our Muslim colleagues, it should be admitted that many Christians too will propose a shorthand rendition of Jesus' saying about the greatest commandments as the kernel of his teaching and the foundation of Christianity.  But are they right? Is that all there is to the Gospel? Does the Word become incarnate simply to remind us of a few important verses from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, verses that some of Jesus' contemporaries among the rabbis would also have recognized as summing up "the Law and the Prophets"? Is Jesus' mission primarily to remind us of an obligation already revealed centuries before? Is all the rest of his living, dying and rising somehow only ancillary to this?

We should note that when Jesus gives his answer to the question of the greatest commandment, it is always in the context of controversy.  Matthew (Mt 22:35) and Luke (Lk 10:25) both note that it was a question intended to trap him.  The cautious answer to a trick question can hardly be considered the foundation of a religion.  If the subject under discussion is commandments, then surely those two are the greatest.  But is there nothing to the Good News other than commandment and obligation? When the lawyer who poses the commandment question in Mark's gospel warmly reaffirms Jesus' reply, Jesus says to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God" (Mk 12:34).  Not far from it, but not quite there.  Commandments are fine as far as they go, but the Kingdom goes further than that.  The Gospel is not a simple cut-and-paste job on the Torah, with a more pithy selection of commandments. Before all else it is about what God has done for love of us.  What we are to do flows from that and is made possible by it.

When A Common Word speaks of "the love of God," it means our love for God, and that almost always in terms of obligation-as witness the repeated use of 'must' and 'should' in part I.  Yet personal experience is enough to make us realize that true love cannot be commanded or conditioned; it is freely given and received.

No New Testament writer has devoted more attention to the question of divine love than the one known there as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" and whom we call John. In his first letter he says, "This is what love is: not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us ..." (1Jn 4:10).  "We love," John tells us, "because God first loved us" (1Jn 4:19).  Throughout John's work there is a constant outward movement of love: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you" (Jn 15:9).  "Just as I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34).  That is Jesus' "new commandment," given to his disciples just before his death.  A command not to love him, or the Father, but rather to dwell in the love he bears us.  Dwelling in that love means allowing it to transform us so that we in our turn love others.  In this context Jesus uses the telling image of a vine and its branches.  The nutrient sap of the vine enables the branches to produce fruit, yet the fruit is for the benefit neither of the vine nor of the branches - it is for others.  All love originates in God and flows ever outward from there, transforming all who will allow themselves to be suffused by it.  It does not turn back on itself, demanding reciprocation, but pours itself out for the beloved-even for the ungrateful.

Both John and Paul recognize the central importance of the fact that it was not on the basis of our perfection or even repentance that God's love for us was manifested, but while we were still sinners (1Jn 4:10; Rm 5:6).  If there is a foundation to Christian faith this is surely a major pillar of it.

A similar understanding of divine love is not entirely lacking in the Islamic tradition, but it does not find a place in A Common Word, possibly because it confines itself to quoting Qur'ân and hadith in order to address the broadest possible Muslim audience.  Still, it might have appealed to the verse Q 5:54 in which it is said that "God will bring a new people: He will love them, and they love will love Him." Commenting on this verse some Sufi writers have observed that God's love for human beings precedes their love for God, and if it were not for the fact that God had favoured us by His primordial love, mercy, and compassion, humanity could never have loved God and His creatures.  In this lies an important point for our continuing theological dialogue.

Just as there are reservations about how foundational for Christianity is the commandment to love God, so also one must question whether the commandment to love one's neighbour is fundamental.  There are two elements in the gospels that relativize it.  The first comes from Luke's gospel where Jesus' questioner, having failed to trap him with the commandment question, has another try and asks, "And who is my neighbour?" (Lk 10:29).  The parable Jesus tells in response-the Good Samaritan-actually turns the man's question on its head.  After having described the extraordinarily generous and compassionate response of this religious outsider to a Jew in need, after two of the victim's own religious leaders had already failed him, Jesus asks, "Which of these three proved himself a neighbour to the man attacked by robbers?" The question is no longer who is to be included in the category of neighbour and so what are the limits of my obligation to love.  It is, rather, how can I show myself a neighbour to others by responding to them in love?

The second and more striking element in the gospels occurs in both Matthew and Luke in slightly different forms.  Here is Matthew's version:
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For He makes his sun to rise on the evil as well as the good, and his rain to fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike.  (Mt 5:43-45)

Luke reports that it was in this context that Jesus said,
If anyone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.... Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  (Lk 6:29-31, 35-6)

If for Luke such exaggerated and disinterested generosity is the imitation of God's mercy, for Matthew it is the very definition of God's perfection: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48).  Our perfection lies in loving our enemies just as God's perfection is shown in His loving us with a self-emptying love.  God revealed that love in Jesus even while we were still sinners, preferring alienation from God to the peace with God that was our original human state.

This infinitely expanded definition of the neighbour and brother to include even enemies and attackers has not been easy for Christians to assimilate.  We quickly fall back into a generic religious mindset where God loves only the righteous and we, who of course are the righteous, are entitled to hate those who are not.  Just how radical is the demand placed upon us by Jesus' teaching can be seen if we could imagine the ubiquitous "God Bless Our Troops" bumper-stickers in the US replaced by ones that read "God Bless Osama." Or could we imagine banners in Occupied Palestine that wished life and blessing on Israel and the United States rather than annihilation? Transformations like these do not happen easily, yet one witnesses them again and again on a small scale.  These are the seeds of the Kingdom taking root and sprouting here and there, but too often they are trampled underfoot by "realism" or the desire for retribution.  Perhaps our dialogue could focus on the words of Q 60:7, "Perhaps God will create friendship between you and those you consider your enemies.  God is powerful, infinitely forgiving, most merciful." Where love replaces enmity, it is surely God at work, not just us.

A Common Word does not hide some rather problematic points, though perhaps their implications could be missed.  The major example of this is where Christians are assured in Part III that Muslims "are not against them and that Islam is not against them." Then come the conditions (stipulated in Q 60:8): "so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes." Though the original context is Mecca which oppressed its first Muslim citizens, the verse is given broad contemporary application.  Many extremists will use precisely this verse to justify enmity towards Israel and anyone who supports it.  George Bush's catastrophic military adventure in Iraq, and his so-called "War on Terrorism" are easily interpreted as attacks on Islam.  Given the religious rhetoric he employs for political advantage, and the outspokenness of many of his evangelical supporters, his wars can easily be portrayed as Christian wars and thus put in jeopardy all Christians.  Even Western cultural hegemony is sometimes read as aggression and so taken as legitimizing a violent response against any members of that culture.  The letter's reassurance that Islam and Muslims are not against Christians entails a fairly major conditional clause.  This is surely an important focus for our continuing dialogue with the group of 138 and other Muslims.

Although I suggested at the beginning that we might read this letter against the background of Nostra Aetate with its appeal to common elements of faith and practice, that should not be taken to imply that our dialogue will best proceed by a series of letters, however authoritative.  These documents are important touchstones but we know from the history of Vatican II that they only grow out of reflection on experience.  Many of the signatories of A Common Word have long experience of an interfaith dialogue that goes beyond mere ceremony and requires commitment and openness.  Documents like these not only grow out of personal encounter, ideally they also open the way to further interaction.

Both Nostra Aetate and A Common Word focus on positive common elements, and this is certainly a useful beginning.  We do need to understand and appreciate each other at the level of ideals and norms, especially those we have in common.  However, we also have in common our personal and communal failure to live up to those ideals. Speaking of our obligation to love God and neighbour is relatively easy.  Even to speak about loving one's enemies is not that difficult.  Talk, as they say, is cheap.  It takes much more courage to acknowledge to each other our failures in loving, but that is where the real breakthrough will come-when the proud façades crumble and reveal a contrite heart.

Of course we are both quite sure that the other has plenty of which to repent compared to our high ideals and minor failings.  Perhaps we both need to listen again to Jesus' advice about taking the plank out of our own eye before offering to remove the speck from another's eye (Mt 7:3-5).  The dialogue of mutual repentance is the most difficult, yet most necessary of all, if we wish to move ahead.

Though the discourse of A Common Word is framed in terms of conflict between Muslims and Christians, an honest examination of conscience will not permit us to forget that our future is not threatened only by conflict between us.  Over the centuries of undeniable conflict and contestation between members of our two traditions, each group has had its own internal conflicts that have claimed and continue to claim many more lives than interconfessional strife.  More Muslims are killed daily by other Muslims than by Christians or anyone else.  The huge numbers who went to their deaths in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's were virtually all Muslims.  Scarcely any of the tens of millions of Christians who have died in European wars over the centuries were killed by Muslims.  The greatest shame of the last century was the killing of millions of Jews by Christians conditioned by their own long tradition of anti-Semitism and seduced by a virulently nationalist and racist new ideology.  The last 15 years in Africa have seen millions of Christians slaughtered in horrendous civil wars by their fellow believers.  A Catholic missionary is dozens of times more likely to be killed in largely Catholic Latin America than anywhere in the Muslim world.  So let us not be misled into thinking either that Muslim-Christian conflict is the world's greatest conflict, or even that war is the most serious threat to the human future.  What of the millions of African children who die every year for want of some clean water or a few cents worth of vaccines? What of the world's poor who live under crushing burdens of foreign debt and corrupt domestic tyranny? What of the devastating effects on the earth of our poor stewardship of its resources? The new stage in Muslim-Christian dialogue represented by A Common Word should not become the occasion for a further narrowing of our attention and a greater obsession with ourselves.  If we wish to talk of love, we will not be able to ignore the cry of the poor.

Dan Madigan is an Australian Jesuit, founder of the Institute for the Study of Religions at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, and member of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims. This year he is International Visiting Fellow in the Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University, Washington DC, where he is working on a book on Christianity for a mostly Muslim readership.

 Read the full text of the A Common Word letter (PDF)

 Visit the A Common Word web site

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Pope's Response to Muslim Scholars' Letter
"We Can and Therefore Should Look to What Unites Us"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 29, 2007.- Here is Benedict XVI's response to the open letter that 138 Muslims scholars addressed to the Holy Father and Christian leaders on Oct. 13. The response was released by the Vatican press office today, and signed Nov. 19 on the Pontiff's behalf by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope's secretary of state.

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His Royal Highness
Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal
The Royal Palace
Amman
Jordan

From the Vatican, November 19, 2007

Your Royal Highness,

On 13 October 2007 an open letter addressed to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and to other Christian leaders was signed by one hundred and thirty-eight Muslim religious leaders, including Your Royal Highness. You, in turn, were kind enough to present it to Bishop Salim Sayegh, Vicar of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in Jordan, with the request that it be forwarded to His Holiness.

The Pope has asked me to convey his gratitude to Your Royal Highness and to all who signed the letter. He also wishes to express his deep appreciation for this gesture, for the positive spirit which inspired the text and for the call for a common commitment to promoting peace in the world.

Without ignoring or downplaying our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can and therefore should look to what unites us, namely, belief in the one God, the provident Creator and universal Judge who at the end of time will deal with each person according to his or her actions. We are all called to commit ourselves totally to him and to obey his sacred will.

Mindful of the content of his Encyclical Letter "Deus Caritas Est" (God is Love), His Holiness was particularly impressed by the attention given in the letter to the twofold commandment to love God and one’s neighbour.

As you may know, at the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI stated: "I am profoundly convinced that we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace. The life of every human being is sacred, both for Christians and for Muslims. There is plenty of scope for us to act together in the service of fundamental moral values" (Address to Representatives of Some Muslim Communities, Cologne, 20 August 2005). Such common ground allows us to base dialogue on effective respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation. The Pope is confident that, once this is achieved, it will be possible to cooperate in a productive way in the areas of culture and society, and for the promotion of justice and peace in society and throughout the world.

With a view to encouraging your praiseworthy initiative, I am pleased to communicate that His Holiness would be most willing to receive Your Royal Highness and a restricted group of signatories of the open letter, chosen by you. At the same time, a working meeting could be organized between your delegation and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, with the cooperation of some specialized Pontifical Institutes (such as the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies and the Pontifical Gregorian University). The precise details of these meetings could be decided later, should this proposal prove acceptable to you in principle.

I avail myself of the occasion to renew to Your Royal Highness the assurance of my highest consideration.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State

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Aide: Pope Favours Dialogue With Islam
Comments on Response to Muslim Letter

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 9, 2007.- As demonstrated in his response to the letter sent by 138 Muslim scholars, Benedict XVI believes in "sincere and frank dialogue" with Islam, according to a Vatican spokesman.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the press office of the Holy See, said this in the most recent edition of the Vatican Television weekly program "Octava Dies," commenting on the Pope's mid-November response to the October letter sent by Muslim scholars calling for dialogue between Christianity and Islam.

He continued: "It was an important letter that highlighted the central place of love of God and neighbor in the Quran and the Hebrew and Christian Bible, and which had the clear intention of promoting the common commitment to peace in the entire world on the basis of a profound reciprocal understanding.

"The positive spirit of the letter was clear in its title: 'A Common Word Between Us and You,' a citation of a famous verse of the Quran addressed to the 'people of the book,' -- Jews and Christians.

"The Pope's response reminds us that we should not underrate the differences, but it also highlights above all that which unites; he encourages respect and knowledge of each other, and effective recognition of the dignity of every human person; he shows sincere confidence in a way of growing acceptance which is promising for the promotion of justice and peace."

"But the Pope does not stop at words," Father Lombardi added. "He invites the Muslim prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan to come to Rome with a delegation of promoters of the joint letter, and he proposes a meeting for reflection and study with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and some specialist Catholic academic institutions.

"In sum, the Pope believes in dialogue -- a sincere and frank dialogue."

"Even among Muslims there are many sharp and authoritative interlocutors," said the priest, "conscious of the great challenges humanity faces today, and it is something positive that among them a capacity is growing for common expression and a desire to explicitly declare themselves in favor of peace. The direction is the right one. We must help each other to continue this journey."

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Indonesia: Philosophy as a means to combat Islamic fundamentalism

Posted by ACN News on 18/10/2007, 9:03 am

Indonesia: Philosophy as a means to combat Islamic fundamentalism
(With photo of Professor Franz Magnis-Suseno SJ)

In conversation with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Professor Franz Magnis-Suseno SJ, who lectures in philosophy at the Catholic University of Jakarta, has expressed his belief that philosophy can be "a means of combating Islamic fundamentalism". The German Jesuit, who has been living in Indonesia for over 40 years, believes it is vital to include Muslims in the philosophical debate, since they then "see Islam in a different light". We need people who can think critically and all-embracingly, in short "We need philosophers!" he emphasised. It is a matter, he says, of "the courage to learn how to think".

It was observable, he said, that many Muslims who study philosophy and the humanities tend to have a broader horizon, whereas those who incline towards fundamentalism tend rather to have studied the natural sciences. Such people, he feels, tend to develop an inferiority complex, since they perceive "a total superiority of the Western world". This was especially the case with Muslims who studied abroad. Father Magnis-Suseno deplored the fact that in Western universities there is a strong tendency towards financial cuts in the humanities. One should reflect, he warned, that this could contribute to a strengthening of Islamic fundamentalism.

Father Magnis-Suseno explained that among many Indonesian Muslims there is a prevailing fear that Christians are stronger. They are afraid of being "taken for a ride", because Christian schools for example are generally better. Traditionally, Christians in Indonesia have tended to be better educated, he said. However, Muslims have meanwhile "caught up intellectually" -- something he greatly welcomes, since this makes dialogue with them easier. In Indonesia the Islamic universities teach a relatively open Islam, whereas the fundamentalists tend rather to come from the state universities. Meanwhile, the Islamic universities have included such subjects as hermeneutics and theology on the syllabus, subjects much characterised by Western thinking. New ways are being sought of correctly interpreting the Koran. However, many fundamentalists see this as a "trick by the Christians" to take over Islam, Father Magnis-Suseno warned.

Generally speaking, he told ACN, relations between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia have improved considerably. "If we work together, we can tackle all the problems of the country", he added. Such collaboration should not be restricted to purely religious issues moreover, but also be of benefit to society -- for example in fighting corruption, achieving the rule of law and the establishment of a just economic order. Poverty is still very high, he told ACN, with some 130 million of the country's close on 226 million inhabitants living on less than two dollars a day. Likewise important is a combined commitment to human rights, he believes, for the military can still do whatever they want, he claims. Christians and Muslims must work together to ensure that "violence is no longer tolerated" in society and so that values such as tolerance and pluralism can be established, he added.

It is true that there are still occasional outrages and attacks against Christian churches, he acknowledged. However, it was essential to ceaselessly seek dialogue. Likewise important in this regard were contacts at a personal level. Priests should strive to make contact with leading Muslims, for example, or "simply call in on their Muslim neighbours, introduce themselves and wish them every blessing". Such an approach was "never mistaken" and in 75% of cases led to better relations, he said. Many Muslims had never met a priest and such a mutual rapprochement was a "learning process" for both sides, said Father Magnis-Suseno. "If both sides see themselves as victims, then we will never achieve peace" he added. Instead, one should "expect good things" in our dealings with one another. A Muslim had once told him that "the secret weapon of Christians is love". This was what the Church had to show the people.

Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world and with almost 200 million Muslims, who make up 87% of the total population, it is the largest Muslim democracy in the world. Christians are a minority of 9%, of which Catholics make up two thirds. The remaining 4% are Hindus, Buddhists or members of tribal religions.

Vatican Message to Muslims for Ramadan
"A Culture of Peace and Solidarity Can Be Built"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 28, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a text published today by the Vatican of a message sent to Muslims by the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The message was sent on the occasion of the end of Ramadan.

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MESSAGE OF PRESIDENT OF PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE TO MUSLIMS FOR THE END OF RAMADAN

Christians and Muslims:
called to promote a culture of peace

Dear Muslim Friends,

1. It gives me special pleasure to send you for the first time friendly and warmest greetings from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue on the occasion of your joyful feast of ‘Id al-Fitr, with which the month-long fasting and prayer of Ramadan ends. This month is always an important time for the Muslim community and gives to each individual member a new strength for their personal, family and social existence. It matters that all of us witness to our religious beliefs with a life increasingly integrated and in conformity with the Creator’s plan, a life concerned with serving our brothers and sisters in ever increasing solidarity and fraternity with members of other religions and all men of good will, in the desire to work together for the common good.

2. In the troubled times we are passing through, religious believers have, as servants of the Almighty, a duty above all to work in favour of peace, by showing respect for the convictions of individuals and communities everywhere through freedom of religious practice. Religious freedom, which must not be reduced to mere freedom of worship, is one of the essential aspects of freedom of conscience, which is the right of every individual and a cornerstone of human rights. It takes into account the requirement that a culture of peace and solidarity between men can be built in which everybody can be firmly engaged in the construction of an increasingly fraternal society, doing everything one can to reject, denounce and refuse every recourse to violence which can never be motivated by religion, since it wounds the very image of God in man. We know that violence, especially terrorism which strikes blindly and claims countless innocent victims, is incapable of resolving conflicts and leads only to a deadly chain of destructive hatred, to the detriment of mankind and of societies.

3. As religious believers, it’s up to us all to be educators of peace, of human rights, of a freedom which respects each person, but also to ensure increasingly strong social bonds, because man must take care of his human brothers and sisters without discrimination. No individual in the national community should be excluded on the grounds of his or her race, religion, or any other personal characteristic. Together, as members of different religious traditions, we are called to spread a teaching which honours all human creatures, a message of love between individuals and peoples. We are particularly responsible for ensuring that our young people, who will be in charge of tomorrow’s world, are formed in this spirit. It is above all the responsibility of families and then of those involved in the educational world, and of civic and religious authorities, all of whom have a duty to pay attention to the spread of a just teaching. They must provide everyone an education appropriate to his or her particular circumstances, especially a civic education which invites each young person to respect those around him or her, and to consider them as brothers and sisters with whom he or she is daily called to live, not in indifference, but in fraternal care. It is thus more urgent than ever to teach to the younger generations, those fundamental human, moral and civic values which are necessary to both personal and community life. All instances of incivility must be made use of to remind the young of what is waiting for them in social life. It is the common good of every society and of the entire world which is at stake.

4. In this spirit, the pursuit and intensification of dialogue between Christians and Muslims must be considered important, in both educational and cultural dimensions. Thus all forces can be mobilised in the service of mankind and humanity so that the younger generations do not become cultural or religious blocs opposed to one another, but genuine brothers and sisters in humanity. Dialogue is the tool which can help us to escape from the endless spiral of conflict and multiple tensions which mark our societies, so that all peoples can live in serenity and peace and with mutual respect and harmony among their component groups.

To achieve this, I appeal to you with all my heart to heed my words, so that, by means of encounters and exchanges, Christians and Muslims will work together in mutual respect for peace and for a better future for all people; it will provide an example for the young people of today to follow and imitate. They will then have a renewed confidence in society and will see the advantage in belonging and taking part in its transformation. Education and example will also be a source of hope in the future for them.

5. This is the ardent hope I share with you: that Christians and Muslims continue to develop increasingly friendly and constructive relationships in order to share their specific riches, and that they will pay particular attention to the quality of the witness of their believers.

Dear Muslim Friends, once again I give you my warmest greetings on the occasion of your festival and I ask the God of Peace and Mercy to give you all, good health, serenity and prosperity.

Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran
President

Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata
Secretary

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Islam and Paganism: Franz Rosenzweig

by Dr. Jeff Mirus, September 28, 2007

A few weeks ago I removed from our library a misplaced document which purported to prove that Islam was really a polytheistic faith based on an ancient pagan god of the half-moon. The article ignored Mohammed’s obvious purpose, inspired by Judaism and Christianity, of using the cult associated with a particular god to wipe away the old local pantheon, insisting that there is only one God in heaven and earth.

The Pagan Difference

In some ways, the effort was not unlike that of St. Paul in addressing the Greeks. Paul seized upon the altar to an unknown god and used it as a springboard for monotheism. The difference is that Paul based his approach on the pure Revelation of the one God while Mohammed used a highly selective mixture of Judaism, Christianity and his own imagination. In other words, it is no good denying Islam’s devotion to the One, which Mohammed derived indirectly from Revelation; clearly, he was a passionately committed monotheist. But it is critical to realize that Islam is not based on any sort of special revelation given by the One to his people, except insofar as it borrows imperfectly from Judaism and Christianity.

It is possible to identify the remarkable differences which separate Islam from the Judeo-Christian tradition without resorting to the specious claim that Muslims do not seek to worship the one and only God of all. In the 1920’s, a remarkable Jewish theologian named Franz Rosenzweig developed a deeper theory of paganism which sheds light on this divide. Rosenzweig argued persuasively that the key component of paganism is not polytheism but the inescapable fact that paganism never originates with God revealing Himself to His people out of love. This idea has a number of fascinating repercussions, both for our conception of God and for our relationship with Him.

Who God Is

We begin with the certainty that pagans cannot know God personally, initially because God had not revealed Himself to them and later because they have ignored or rejected His self-revelation. For this reason, all pagan religions tend to be preoccupied with the essential arbitrariness of God’s power. In contrast, where God has revealed Himself, he shows Himself to be a God who loves and desires relationships of love. But love is never arbitrary. It always seeks the good of the beloved. As such, it is also at the deepest level both understandable and predictable. Though philosophers would rightly explain this as a perfection rather than a limitation, we may bow to convenience here and describe God as self-limiting. He acts only in love.

For the Muslim, this is not the case. Allah is perceived as having an absolutely arbitrary will, completely unfathomable and impenetrable to the human mind, a will which in all cases and in every way directly determines and even continually creates everything that is, everything that happens to us, and everything we “decide” to do. Because Allah’s will is perceived as ultimately unfathomable and arbitrary, Islam shares a certain despotic fatalism with all other and more obvious paganisms. This, at least, is what Rosenzweig argued in his 1921 book The Star of Redemption (which I encountered for the first time in the current issue of First Things), an argument which, whether or not we choose to use the loaded term pagan in this context, is not only persuasive but helpful in understanding how Islamic monotheism is so different from that of Judaism or Christianity.

Who We Are

Revelation requires two parties, God and the people to whom He opens Himself. In a relationship of love, not only do we understand more fully Who God is, but we understand more fully who we are. For those who love must necessarily be both persons and free agents. Yes, they are mysteriously sustained in existence by God, but out of love, in a way that liberates from fatalism. We are real separate beings with our own freedom and our own purposes, not beings who are continually recreated as pawns in some theistic game of dice. It is precisely this stability and independence, in persons created in the image and likeness of God, which makes it possible for us to enter into relationships with each other and with God Himself.

Again, for the Muslim, the idea of a personal relationship with Allah which can be nurtured to grow in a consistent way is extremely foreign. Whatever will be will be, as Allah wills it. Rosenzweig argues that this has enormous implications not only for personal spirituality (which, theoretically, should be reduced to desperate obedience) but for society and culture. He suggests that the pagan’s personality cannot be formed by personal growth with God and is therefore left to be merely an extension of race and state, locked in a struggle for racial or national survival, a struggle which in the end must always be doomed. Hence while the distinctive mark of Christian or Jewish culture is its concern for the weak and vulnerable, the distinctive mark of pagan culture is war, the extension of submission. Hence too the common emphasis on personal suicide in the service of the larger cause. What we saw in Japanese warfare in World War II, we now see in Islam, in spades.

The Role of Reason

Given the severe constraints Islam places on God and anthropology—that is, the arbitrariness and the fatalism—the attempt to introduce consistent rational discourse or philosophy into an Islamic culture faces severe obstacles. The operation of reason depends precisely on certain consistencies in reality which Islam tends to deny. And yet there have been great flashes of rational discourse and philosophy during certain periods of Islamic history. We must never forget that Judaism and Christianity were profound influences on Mohammed, and that no culture or people is ever perfectly explained by an analytical theory, even a theory as suggestive and illuminating as Rosenzweig’s.

For this reason, the great challenge of Pope Benedict XVI can be better understood but never dismissed. In his now infamous Regensberg address, quoting a Christian emperor's dialogue with Islam half a millennium ago, Benedict noted that “God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature.” In his own voice, Benedict continued: “For Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.” On this basis, the Pope issued his own counter-assertion:

    God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf.

And so Benedict keeps asking his fundamental question: Can Islam find within itself a basis on which to use human reason for discussion and collaboration with other peoples in other cultures? If so, the Islamic conception of an utterly arbitrary God must inevitably slowly change, colored by aspects of Judeo-Christian Revelation which have heretofore gone undeveloped. Rosenzweig would ask the same question in terms of whether Islam is, or can become, more than merely a monotheistic paganism. Franz Rosenzweig’s remarkable analysis, now nearly 90 years old, sheds enormous light on one of the central issues of our times.

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 Why They Hate Us: It's because of our freedom.
By Joseph Loconte
Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2007

ARTICLE  Weekly Standard  Publication Date: September 11, 2007

Last week we learned of another "massive" terrorist plot against American targets, this time thwarted by German authorities, Osama bin Laden has just released another cryptic video threat against the United States, and, six years since the events of 9/11, still we ask: why do they hate us?

Critics of U.S. foreign policy can cite many reasons for Islamist rage. But they overlook a more fundamental problem: To al Qaeda and its sympathizers, nothing is more deserving of contempt than the idea of faith as a free and rational choice--a concept more integral to American identity than any other Western democracy.

When Osama bin Laden excoriates the United States as "the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind," he has more than America's foreign policy in mind. To violent theocrats, it is not merely the content of contested doctrines that is offensive--it is their very existence. The United States, historically a nation of religious dissenters, is especially odious for this very reason.

Indeed, to the theocrats America's religious diversity is not just staggering but maddening: a Tower of Babel that has turned its spiritual infidelity into an art form. Even Mohammad Khatami, the former Iranian president hailed as a moderate, complains bitterly that Americans "try to disguise their crimes" with seductive rhetoric--the language of freedom, human rights, and pluralism.

Thus, Islamic extremists decry the spiritual corruption of the American "Crusaders" and vow a holy war reminiscent of Saladin's siege of Jerusalem, circa 1187. It does not occur to them that no Western nation has more emphatically rejected Medieval Christendom, with its faith-based repression and hypocrisy, than the United States. By keeping government out of the sanctuary--and priestcraft out of government--the U.S. Constitution has helped protect the integrity of all faith traditions.

America's Founders warned repeatedly of the "superstition, bigotry and persecution" generated by state-sanctioned religion. But they were not secularists, nor were they cynical about religious belief. Rather, they viewed "soul liberty" as a natural right--and a spiritual obligation. "It is unalienable also," argued James Madison, "because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator." Their great accomplishment was convincing establishment elites that religious pluralism could nurture political and economic prosperity, just as intolerance guaranteed decline.

Compare these religious ideals to those held by numerous Muslim states--including Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan--with deep wells of anti-Americanism. All sustain a political culture that regards non-Muslims with dark suspicion. All have enshrined some version of Shari'a law, which criminalizes or severely restricts speech, worship, and free association of religious minorities. All have spawned terrorist activity against the United States and her allies. And all struggle with massive economic disparities and civic unrest.

Some Islamic leaders are slowly awakening to the problem. A few years ago a group of Muslim intellectuals and scholars, in a remarkable series of U.N.-sponsored reports, explored the causes of economic backwardness and political turmoil in the Arab world. They identified "an acute deficit of freedom" as the core problem. They even argued that Islamic governments should "protect the right of people and groups not only to worship as they wish, in private; but also to promote their values publicly in civil society."

But even these voices of moderation failed to endorse a robust doctrine of religious freedom. They have yet to grasp the quiet genius of the American experiment: the transformative and creative power of faith freely chosen. If authentic belief engages the mind as well as the heart, then the best human faculties--empathy, humility, reason, and conscience--must be summoned in its pursuit.

We must not forget, however, that the road to religious liberty in the West was long and arduous. When, in the 1680s, John Locke published his bracing defense of religious freedom, A Letter Concerning Toleration, the political and religious establishment went ballistic. For Locke, neither church nor state could compel belief because faith demanded the "inward and full persuasion of the mind." But Anglican ministers, like their Catholic counterparts, viewed freedom of conscience as a subversive heresy, a license for libertinism. They hounded Locke--and thousands of dissenters like him--as a "locust from the pit of hell."

Why do they hate us? For some of the same reasons an earlier generation of Pharisees despised Locke. Their religion has become a cloak for their lust to dominate. "No man can be a Christian without charity," Locke insisted, "and without that faith which works, not by force, but by love." James Madison, a great student of Locke, warned that state-run religion "shackles and debilitates the mind" and "unfits it for every noble enterprise."

It seems that the freedom deficit in the Islamic world not only has inflamed the Muslim mind. It has rendered many minds devoid of charity, and made them unfit for the faith to recognize what is noble, decent and humane--the only kind of faith worth having.

-- Joseph Loconte is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a monthly commentator on religion for National Public Radio. He is the editor of The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm.

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9/11, Jihadism and Reason     September 11, 2008   Father Thomas Berg

Although President Bush's coinage of 'the war on terror' was not altogether precise, the expression was a wake up call to all denizens of civilized cultures to understand our predicament: we find ourselves in a world-wide conflict with militant Islam, and we've been immersed in that conflict since well before September 11, 2001.
 
The anniversary of this tragedy always invites-even requires-our thoughtful reflection. George WeigelhasChristianity and the Crisis of Cultures cogently outlined some truths that we "cannot not know" six years after the event.  Writes Weigel: 

We can't not know the name of the enemy: the name is jihadism, that form of Islamic extremism which teaches that it is the duty of every Muslim to use any means available to advance the prospects of a world that acknowledges the sovereignty of Allah and lives under shari'a law. That jihadists are a small minority of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims is both true and irrelevant. What counts is cultural morale, and the morale of jihadists may be higher today than it was six years ago.

We can't not know that jihadists read history through the prism of their theological convictions. The West, tutored by a progressive view of history, read the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan as a victory for freedom. Jihadists read it as a victory for jihadism, a Phase One triumph in an ongoing war against the infidels. Phase Two, which jihadists imagined might be easier than Phase One, had the United States as its target. Attacks on American embassies in East Africa in the mid-1990s were intended to trigger a struggle in which the United States would be defeated as the Soviet Union was defeated in Phase One. When that didn't work, jihadists blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Cole as it was refueling in the harbor at Aden. When that didn't elicit the expected response, Osama bin Laden concluded that an outrage impossible for the Americans to ignore was required. Thus 9/11. 

Whether life-long radicals like bin Laden, or late-comers to the cause like Mohamed Atta-who it would appear found a quick way out of an excruciating nihilistic emptiness in a jihadist fire-ball-jihadists are today a formidable enemy to be contended with for the foreseeable future. How we are to understand this, and how we are to deal with it-as I wrote a year ago-continue to be core questions at the heart of a dark and complex human conflict.

Thankfully, Pope Benedict has been affording us over the last year some breathtaking insights into our situation. From his speech at Regensburgone year ago tomorrow, to his recent visit to Austria, the Pontiff has not lost an opportunity to get at the very core of the conflict, namely, our conflicting conceptions about the limits, possibilities and purpose of human reason.
 
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures. We should be quick to recall, however, the Holy Father's insistence that the potential for disaster here originates not only from within jihadism, but also from within western secularism.

Western secularists have been quick to point to "religion" as the danger-lumping all persons of any kind of religious conviction in the same ruinous category with the jihadists.  But follow Benedict's line of reasoning, and you'll realize who's really making odd and dangerous bedfellows with whom. Addressingthe members of Austrian government and diplomatic corps during his recent visit there last weekend, the Pope had this to say:

 Yet another part of the European heritage is a tradition of thought which considers as essential a substantial correspondence between faith, truth and reason. Here the issue is whether or not reason stands at the beginning and foundation of all things. The issue is whether reality originates by chance and necessity, and thus whether reason is merely a chance by-product of the irrational and, in an ocean of irrationality, it too, in the end, is meaningless, or whether instead the underlying conviction of Christian faith remains true: In principio erat Verbum-in the beginning was the Word; at the origin of everything is the creative reason of God who decided to make himself known to us human beings.

Once again, the Holy Father is insisting that one of the greatest single challenges facing humanity today is our need to come to terms with what we think and believe about human reason.

If we share the Holy Father's understanding, then reason-logos, ratio-which is to say ultimate meaning, the solid ground upon which we can understand our situation in the universe, is not only a possibility to be attained, but something in which we as human beings share by our very God-given nature.

For others, for secularists of many stripes, our situation could not be more to the contrary:  we find ourselves afloat in a chaotic, meaning-less, maelstrom in which our ability to think and reason is simply a momentary blip on the evolutionary screen, an aberration in an otherwise infinitely disordered void.

 The disturbing characteristic of modernity which has had the Pope's attention for decades now is the West's growing irrationality. In a word, the Holy Father holds that faith without reason (religious fanaticism) and reason without faith (secularism) are dangerous paths for humanity. On either path, mankind can fall prey to what the Pope has termed a "dictatorship of relativism."  Consequently, western secularists' disenchantment with logos, reason, notions of ultimate purpose, and the 'truth' about things, places them within a hair's breadth of the same close-minded rejection of reason exhibited by jihadism.  And it disposes them to their own brand of fanaticism.

As to the current conflict with jihadism, I agree with George Weigel that it is a battle to be fought on multiple fronts, many of them non-military. The latter includes prayer for the conversion of our enemy; it also includes-in the U.S. in particular-"cleaning up our own cultural act," as Weigel puts it:  "a country whose principal exports include pornography is not in a particularly strong moral position in a struggle against a religiously-shaped alternative vision of human goods."

As to the secularists-prayer here too would be a good thing, especially beseeching that they might realize the inanity of denying the meaning-fullness of those 'big questions' whose validity they implicitly affirm in the very act of rejecting them.  Here a thought from the philosopher Eric Voeglin is apropos:

Since these questions cannot be answered by propositions referring to events in the external world, an epistemologist of the positivist persuasion will dismiss them as pseudo-questions... devoid of meaning. Through several thousand years of history to this day most people do not consider them meaningless at all, even if they find the adequate articulation of their meaning sometimes a baffling task. The denial of meaning runs counter to the empirical fact that they rise again and again as meaningful from the experience of reality. Hence the act of denial, especially when it appears in the context of a philosophical school or movement, must be characterized as the sectarian idiosyncrasy of men who have lost contact with reality and whose intellectual and spiritual growth has been so badly stunted that the meaning escapes them.[1]

Benedict articulated his perspective on human reason and the state of western culture in Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, a work he authored shortly before his election as Pope.  It is the bedrock of his considerations about reason, Europe, the crisis of western secularism, and more.  (If you are interested in learning more about Benedict's reflections, you can read my series of commentaries about the book here.)

 "Our greatest need in the present historical moment," wrote Benedict, "is people who... keep their eyes fixed on God, learning from him what true humanity means."  Indeed, the enduring value of all those genuinely humanizing elements that western civilization has to offer may well be our last best hope in the face of both reason-less jihadism and reason-less secularism.

[1]In "The Ecumenic Age," Vol. 4 of Order and History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1974), 316-317.

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Islam a threat to Europe's identity: Pope's secretary

Pope Benedict's personal secretary, Msgr Georg Gaenswein, says that attempts to spread Islam in the West are undeniable and that the Catholic Church sees the "threat to Europe's identity" and is not afraid to say to say so.

The Economic Times reports that Msgr Gaenswein warned against the spread of Islam in the West in an interview with a German newspaper published on Friday.

"We cannot deny the attempts to spread Islam in the West. And we should not be too understanding and let this blind us to the threat to Europe's identity," he told the weekly magazine of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

"The danger for the identity of Europe that is connected with it should not be ignored out of a wrongly understood respectfulness," the magazine quoted him as saying.

Gaenswein described as "prophetic" the highly controversial speech the pope made at the University of Regensburg when he visited Germany last September in which he seemed to link Islam to violence.

"The speech was precisely meant to counter a kind of naivete. It is clear that there is not only one Islam and the pope does not know anybody who speaks with binding authority to all Muslims," he said.

"The concept groups many different schools ... some of whom use the Koran to justify reaching for a gun," he said.

In the speech at the University of Regensburg in his native Germany, Pope Benedict quoted a medieval Christian emperor who criticised some teachings of the Prophet Mohammed as "evil and inhuman".

The lecture sparked days of sometimes violent protests in Muslim countries, prompting the pontiff to say that he was "deeply sorry" for any offence and to attribute Muslim anger to an "unfortunate misunderstanding".

But he stopped short of apologising for the remarks.

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Uproar over The Satanic Verses  Shamim Hunt | Friday, 6 July 2007

Sir Salman doesn't deserve the vituperation heaped upon him by the Muslim world.

ReutersWhen Queen Elizabeth knighted the author of the 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, last month, there was rage throughout the Islamic world. Although Sir Salman, as he is now to be called, was not honoured specifically for this controversial novel, many Muslims interpreted the award as a poke in the eye for Islam. "The latest act of the British government was shameless and imprudent and can not be interpreted to anything but blind hostility and absolute brainlessness," declared the speaker of the Iranian parliament speaker, Gholamali Haddadadel.

The Satanic Verses is not my favourite novel, but it has a place in my life's journey. When the book first came out in 1988, I was a devout Muslim. By 1996 I had left the religion, and I bought it to see what the fuss was all about. When my then-husband saw the book on the coffee table, he left me with three small children. He had never read it. This lack of effort to understand, appreciate and build bridges is not uncommon amongst Muslims.

Back in 1989 Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa condemning Rushdie to death. I wonder if he had read it. Then an Iranian businessman offered a US$3 million bounty for his death. I wonder if he had read it. In 1991 the Japanese translator was stabbed to death. I wonder if his murderer had read it. In fact, most Muslims who aver that they are willing to kill Rushdie have probably never read The Satanic Verses. According to Islam, one cannot say or think anything against the prophet Mohammed. Even if a Muslim were to read the book out of curiosity, he/she would be blaspheming the prophet, even if he/she respected the prophet in his/her heart.

When I first read the book in 1996, I was not a skilled reader of literature. But even then, I thought that it was just a novel, and although the character Mahound was obviously an allusion to the Prophet, Rushdie was not writing history and not suggesting that Mohammed was actually possessed by demons.

Eleven years later, after further study at university, and after having become a Christian, I re-read The Satanic Verses. Although I enjoyed it, I now realise that post-modern style makes it a very difficult text for many readers, not just Muslims. As an example of the genre of "magical realism", Rushdie parodies certain events and persons from the Qur'an and the life of the Prophet. But the plot is so bizarre and far-fetched and the characters so distant from reality that it is difficult to discern the author's true intentions.

I would venture to say that it is impossible to understand The Satanic Verses without an appreciation of post-modern irony. Because of the multi-vocal nature of irony, naïve readers who can only grasp univocal utterances will be baffled. For more sophisticated readers, the genre of magical realism offers great compensations. Irony -- sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, sometimes wry or perplexing -- enriches the literary dish. It keeps us on our toes, inviting us to dig through layers of possible meaning and competing significations.

No doubt Rushie anticipated that not everyone would comprehend his ironic treatment of a holy text and of the figure of the Prophet. What he failed to foresee was that Muslim incomprehension would lead to a fatwa, book-burnings and violent demonstrations.

In my experience, Christians are much more tolerant and appreciative of literary texts. For instance, in modern literature the use of Christ figures has almost become a cliché -- Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, Neo in the Matrix trilogy, and even Superman in Superman Returns. The works of the devout Catholic Flannery O'Connor contain many characters which suggest Christ. Many of these are somewhat less than Christ-like, which may be felt as disrespectful by many people, but neither the Pope nor Billy Graham ever issued fatwas.

Let me say a few words in Rushdie's defence against intolerant Muslims (and also against too-literal Westerners). Apart from its ironic comedy, one reason that the book has been so hard for fatwa-waving ayatollahs to understand is that it is a critique of post-Christian Western society. It speaks to a sceptical generation that has cast off its traditional ties to religion and is longing to get back home to be with its "Father." In my reading, it is a New Testament story of redemption and "rebirth". In this case, the prodigal son returns home to India, to the jahilia, the town of ignorance. Jahilia is an offensive term for Muslims because it implies that Arabia is a jahilia. In fact, Rushdie is suggesting that our so-called progressive, irreligious world is restless and schizophrenic. Surely there is something in this diagnosis. More people, especially children are being diagnosed with depression than in any time in history.

It is impossible for Muslims to see all this in the book. They are not familiar with Christian themes of rebirth, redemption, baptism, Lucifer and so on. Rushdie has written a novel which mixes Christian and Muslim motifs in a most unsettling way. Essentially it is not a novel about Mohammed, still less about Islam. Sadly the outrage over an obscure novel by an "apostate" Muslim is one more confirmation of the West's difficulty in communicating with conservative Islam.

Shamim Hunt is currently a PhD student in the Institute of Philosophic Studies program at the University of Dallas in Texas.

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Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's Address to Muslim Council
"What the World Needs Now ... Is Faith"

CARDIFF, Wales, JUNE 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's talk to the Muslim Council of Wales on June 9 at the University of Cardiff.

* * *

"Christian and Muslim Perspectives on Interreligious Dialogue"

Vice-Chancellor,
Secretary General,
Archbishop Smith,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is very good to be here with you today. It is a pleasure to come to Wales, a land whose history, language and landscape have inspired powerful music and striking poetry, from the tales of Taliesin and Owain Glyndwr long ago to the eloquent frustration of the Anglican priest-poet R.S. Thomas, who is typical of generations born here who felt alienated from their language and culture. The situation is quite different today; the Welsh language has a much higher profile and the Welsh Assembly looks after much of the country's political business. I feel privileged to have been asked to come and address you on a theme that is close to my heart, that of dialogue between Christians and Muslims. I hope it will become clear that I am thoroughly committed to enhancing and maintaining this dialogue not only in Wales and the rest of Britain, but also throughout Europe and in the wider world.

Tiger Bay

The Muslim community in Cardiff is important for several reasons. When men from Yemen and Somalia came to work on the coal ships, many of them settled in the Tiger Bay area and married local women, so from the start it was an integrated group. The mosque they built in the 19th century was probably the first in the United Kingdom, and the replacement that was opened in 1947 was made to look like a Yemeni "mud mosque". The fact that the mayor of Cardiff was at the opening ceremony shows that Muslims were already a well-established and respected religious community here, and what is more significant is that in those days religious groups seem to have lived happily alongside each other. The city of Cardiff looks quite different now, and the 1947 mosque was replaced in the Butetown redevelopment, but I hope the religions in Cardiff will always be aware of the humble but proud beginnings of the Muslim community here, and that everyone will work hard to maintain the tradition of peace and respect for each other that is a precious element in Cardiff's civic heritage. That is also, of course, a model for any civilized community. Cardiff could easily be the beacon for the rest of Britain in terms of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue.

"What the world needs now …"

Religion is very much back on the agenda in international organizations like UNESCO and the United Nations, and in national governments throughout the world, while it was previously regarded, to be quite frank, either as a nuisance factor or as an enemy of enlightenment. What is on their agenda is not so much the content of religion, what we believe, but the effects religion is perceived to have on society. In the run up to the year 2000, police departments around the world were asking religious groups to help them identify sects that might be planning dangerous events to mark the beginning of the new millennium. This concerned Christian and Jewish groups first and foremost, and the atmosphere in and around Jerusalem was particularly tense for the security forces and police at that time. Since 2001 the spotlight has been locked on to Islam. This has obviously created an atmosphere where ordinary Muslims feel very uncomfortable and unfairly singled out by people who often seem not to understand them at all.

The positive side of current preoccupations with the social role of religion is that our various religions are all much more visible. We are often challenged to contribute in various ways to social cohesion, and thinkers and policy-makers have had to question earlier notions that religion might naturally fade away in our enlightened society. For reasons we may not like, they have to take us much more seriously than was the case ten years ago.

One person who realized a long time ago what was going on is Pope Benedict. Let me tell you why I say that. Early in the year 2004, the man still known to the world as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is a distinguished theologian in his own right, agreed to meet the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas for a public discussion in Munich. They met as representatives of two sides of a discussion that has been going on in Europe for some 200 years. Religion, represented here by a theologian, and reason, represented by a philosopher, are often seen as competing elements in western culture. Advocates of western secular rationality are very keen to point out the pathological elements of religion; while the cardinal recognized that religion does have this negative side, he also asked the philosopher to admit that reason has a similar weakness, particularly if it gives religion no room and tries to make it a totally private affair. According to the cardinal, if either side in the debate in Europe ignores the need to be open to learn from the other, the results can be catastrophic.

I think it is significant that Cardinal Ratzinger went on to say that we should not allow ourselves to focus exclusively on Europe. Seeing other cultures as inferior or insignificant would be an example of "western hybris, for which we would -- and to some extent already do -- have to pay dearly." He also made the point on that occasion that every major culture has the same tensions as Europe; he referred explicitly to Islam, with its "broad rainbow" of adherents. He addressed the same theme in his talk in Regensburg on Sept. 12, 2006. His main point, of course, as we know, is that there can be no real identification between authentic religion and violence.

I agree with Pope Benedict XVI and want to take the point a little further. Many of you will remember a song that was popular when I was a lot younger. Burt Bacharach wrote the music and Hal David wrote these lyrics: "What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It's the only thing that there's much too little of." Those words are true, but only up to a point. For me, love is not "the only thing that there's much too little of"; I think the world needs belief or faith, too. If I did not believe my faith made a difference in this world, I could not stand here and speak to you. If the members of the Muslim Council of Wales were not convinced their religion can do enormous good in the world, they would not have organized this evening. We all believe not only that there is a God, but also that our religion commits us to working for good in the world, in a thousand different ways. There are still tendencies in some quarters to make sure religion has no public voice, but this takes no account of the fact that many of our contemporaries are searching for meaning and purpose; our culture is in search of its spiritual identity, some would even say its soul.

The space for dialogue between our religions and our culture has to be a public one. In other words, religious communities need to be able to operate with a certain degree of autonomy. If politicians at national or local level -- or even academics, for that matter -- think they know what is best for religions, they will not act in our best interests, and could well be tempted to try to manipulate the ways we contribute to society. Generally, I think they treat us with great respect, but this is a difficult time for many people involved in governing and policing our society, and nobody should be blind to the risk of basing decisions about religious groups on sociological or security-driven criteria. Times of perceived crisis are not the best times for making or changing laws.

Of course we should not presume that people anywhere will respect us. We have to earn their respect, and when we have it we need to work to keep it. The Christian Gospels tell us that, while the people welcomed Jesus with songs of celebration when he entered Jerusalem for the last time, he made that journey on a donkey, which I take as an eloquent sign of the humility with which we can best play our part in the life of our country.

Being similar and being different -- telling the truth about each other

I first heard about Islam when I was studying to become a priest in Rome. It may surprise you that every Catholic priest is expected to study not only theology but also philosophy, in order to grasp the concepts with which the Church expresses herself in different situations. The leading light in Catholic thought has traditionally been St. Thomas Aquinas, and we learned very early on in our studies that he was deeply indebted to the works of several scholars from the Arabic-speaking world, many of whom were Muslims like Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd, although we referred to them by the Latin versions of their names -- Avicenna and Averroes. I mention that because it is proof that, in some periods of history, Christian and Muslim scholars did not hesitate to acknowledge their debt to each other, which is consoling in an age when people presume we eye each other with suspicion. This is simply not so.

As I have said, I am convinced religious communities have a role to play in British society, but that role can be played well only if the various religions are able to be open and honest about each other. One particular principle comes into play here, which is that I should never allow myself to be put into a position where I am telling other people what Muslims believe. I should automatically contact a Muslim friend and ask him or her to do that. Likewise, it is not good for Muslims to tell other people -- or each other, for that matter -- what Christians believe. It is always better to ask one of us. This is important if we are to avoid offering the world caricatures of each other, and it is necessary to avoid being tricked by prejudice into thinking we understand more than we do. Perhaps this is something that should happen as a matter of course in our schools, but here comes one of the major differences between us. In the case of the Church, it is obvious whom you should approach. Islam is organized in a quite different way, and it is never easy for even the most friendly outsider to know who is the best person to ask when an explanation of Muslim beliefs and traditions is needed. This obviously means we need to know each other personally, in order to build up the trust that is necessary for such delicate tasks to be done well.

The basic thing that unites us is not always obvious to people, but it is something Pope John Paul II stressed when he addressed a very large gathering of young Moroccans in a stadium in Casablanca in 1985: "Christians and Muslims, we have many things in common, as believers and as human beings. We live in the same world, marked by many signs of hope, but also by multiple signs of anguish. … We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection." He spoke movingly to these young Muslims about his faith: "It is of God himself that, above all, I wish to speak with you; of him, because it is in him that we believe, you Muslims and we Catholics …" and he reassured them of the reason for his visit: "It is as a believer that I come to you today. It is quite simply that I would like to give here today the witness of that which I believe, of that which I wish for the well-being of the people, my brothers, and of that which, from experience, I consider to be useful for all."

I really like the fact that the address to young Muslims in Casablanca stressed what unites Christians and Muslims above all else, and that is that they believe in the one God and see God as their creator. But one has also to be open to differences, for example in the ways Christians and Muslims understand what is meant by believing in one God. For centuries Muslims have been puzzled by Christians who claim to believe in one God like them, but then start speaking about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Anyone involved in theological dialogue between Muslims and Christians has to accept that the Trinity can be a stumbling block.

What is vitally important in any dialogue between us is our respect for the truth, especially in the sense of being faithful to our identity. Dialogue becomes fruitful only when everyone involved feels able to say what he or she believes, or what identifies him or her as a Muslim or as a Christian. This obviously requires a capacity to listen without correcting the other person's standpoint, a willingness to accept diversity together with a desire to learn from the other without ever feeling one's own beliefs are being belittled or criticized. If I look back to my schooldays, I remember there was a strong tradition of debating, where a cardinal rule was to have total respect for the other speaker, while feeling free to put his ideas to the test. Perhaps that was good training for true dialogue, where respect is of paramount importance, and there can be open and honest discussion of what everyone says. A very important text for Christians on this point comes from the First Letter of St. Peter, which gives this advice: "Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence."

Tomorrow's World?

What we do today will shape the world in which the children of tomorrow will live. What can we do together to ensure that tomorrow's world will allow them to grow and develop fully as human beings and as believers? I have three simple suggestions to make.

1. My first suggestion is not really mine, but it is one I have taken to heart, and I think I know how we can develop it together. You may know that, from time to time, there are meetings for representatives of bishops from all over the world. These meetings are called synods. Pope John Paul II convoked special synods for each continent, as well. There were two European synods, and after the second one he issued a document called The Church in Europe, or Ecclesia in Europa. It contains an assessment of the current situation and some goals and objectives for the Church. "There is one need to which Europe must respond positively if it is to have a truly new face: 'Europe cannot close in on itself. … On the contrary, it must remain fully aware of the fact that other countries, other continents, await its bold initiatives, in order to offer to poorer peoples the means for their growth and social organization, and to build a more just and fraternal world.' To carry out this mission adequately will demand 'rethinking international cooperation in terms of a new culture of solidarity. … Europe must moreover become an active partner in promoting and implementing a globalization 'in' solidarity. This must be accompanied … by a kind of globalization 'of' solidarity and of the related values of equity, justice and freedom."

I think the idea of a globalization of solidarity is wonderful, and I am glad to say that CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, has set in train a project called Live Simply, designed to help people live in solidarity with the poor. It has often struck me that Islam asks of its followers a similar commitment to solidarity with the poor. This seems clear in the idea of having a banking system that works in accordance with the basic principles of Islam. My thought is not that I should open an Islamic bank account, but rather that it may be time for Christian and Muslim economists to put their heads together to see what we can learn from each other in the sphere of genuine commitment to solidarity with the poor. Looking at the newspapers or the television news sometimes makes me shudder at the fate of so many people in the world who live in such a shocking state. But I feel uncomfortable and guilty if I cannot react. I do what I can; I imagine we all do, but I have a feeling that, together, we could do so much more.

2. A second thing we could undertake together to improve the state of tomorrow's world for our children is to work for genuine freedom of religion. I have already mentioned that many British Muslims feel misrepresented or at least misunderstood in our media and in public opinion. You are not the only ones, but unfortunately in the present moment much more is being said about Islam than about Christianity or other religions. More than this, there are times when we may all feel that we are not exactly muzzled or silenced, but we are most certainly not free to express our deeply held convictions, sometimes simply for reasons linked to so-called political correctness. I think there are ways we can work with those who form public opinion to solve many of these problems, and I am certain that we should do this together. At the Catholic Church's most recent major council, the second Vatican Council, which took place in the 1960s, many observers were very surprised that the Council's declaration on religious freedom was not a plea for religious freedom for Catholics, but for everybody. Religious freedom is seen as a natural right of every human being, to be respected by every government.

People often seem surprised to hear that this is Catholic teaching, and they delve into history to prove that the Catholic Church has not always given the best example of respect for people's rights in the religious sphere. It would be foolish and churlish to claim there have not been shocking failures in this regard in the past, but here we are looking to the future and the world in which tomorrow's children will grow up. It would be equally inaccurate to ignore the fact that there are places where Christians are not allowed to practice their religion openly, or at all. On June 21, 1995, John Paul II sent a greeting to those present at the opening of the beautiful mosque that now overlooks the city of Rome. This is what he said:

"A grand mosque is being inaugurated today. This event is an eloquent sign of the religious freedom recognized here for every believer. And it is significant that in Rome, the center of Christianity and the See of Peter's successor, Muslims should have their own place to worship with full respect for their freedom of conscience. On a significant occasion like this, it is unfortunately necessary to point out that in some Islamic countries similar signs of the recognition of religious freedom are lacking. And yet the world, on the threshold of the third millennium, is waiting for these signs! Religious freedom has now become part of many international documents and is one of the pillars of contemporary society. While I am pleased that Muslims can gather in prayer in the new Roman mosque, I earnestly hope that the rights of Christians and of all believers freely to express their own faith will be recognized in every corner of the earth."

We prove that we believe in religious freedom when we are prepared to speak up for other people's right to exercise it, and not just our own. If we can learn to act together in favor of religious freedom for all, we shall certainly influence tomorrow's world for the better.

3. If you have ever visited a Benedictine monastery you will have been greeted silently. In prominent places in every Benedictine house you see a short Latin word, Pax, or peace. The atmosphere of silence that marks the monks' day is meant to create a peace you can almost touch, but that is only a sign of a much deeper, inner peace. Among Muslims, the first thing a visitor would say is as-salaamu aleykum, Arabic for peace be upon you. Both Muslims and Christians traditionally, instinctively want to be at peace and to bring peace wherever they go. I thank the God who made us all that, in recent years, the leaders of all Britain's major religious communities have stood together in front of politicians, in front of the media, in front of our fellow-citizens, pleading for those who have influence to do all in their power to achieve peace, rather than the catastrophic and obscene waste of life that so many news bulletins bring into our living-rooms. That is not what God wants and it is not what we want. There is always a better way and, as various Popes have said, war is never a good solution and always an admission of defeat. We all know the children of tomorrow's world deserve better, and we know the human race can do better. As long as we continue to say this together, we shall be building healthy foundations on which future generations can build.

I want to conclude my talk this evening with something John Paul II said in January 2001, when the new ambassador of the Republic of Iran to the Holy See presented his letters of credence to the Holy Father. I think it sums up much of what I have been saying:

"In the dialogue between cultures, men and women of good will realize that there are values that are common to all cultures because they are rooted in the very nature of the human person -- values which express humanity's most authentic and distinctive features: the value of solidarity and peace; the value of education; the value of forgiveness and reconciliation; the value of life itself."

I believe those are values that bring us very close indeed. Thank you!

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A Muslim Friend's Letter to Slain Father Ragheed

ROME, JUNE 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a letter written posthumously to Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni by a Muslim friend of his who is a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Father Ragheed and three deacons were shot and killed in Mosul, Iraq, on Sunday after Mass.

* * *

In the name of the compassionate and merciful God,

Ragheed, my brother,

I ask your forgiveness for not being with you when those criminals opened fire against you and your brothers. The bullets that have gone through your pure and innocent body have also gone through my heart and soul.

You were one of the first people I met when I arrived to Rome. We met in the halls of the Angelicum and we would drink our cappuccino in the university's cafeteria. You impressed me with your innocence, joy, your pure and tender smile that never left you.

I always picture you smiling, joyful and full of zest for life. Ragheed is to me innocence personified; a wise innocence that carries in its heart the sorrows of his unhappy people. I remember the time, in the university's dining room, when Iraq was under embargo and you told me that the price of a single cappuccino would have satisfied the needs of an Iraqi family for a whole day.

You told me this as if you were feeling guilty for being far away from your persecuted people and unable to share in their sufferings …

In fact, you returned to Iraq, not only to share the suffering and destiny of your people but also to join your blood to the blood of thousands of Iraqis killed each day. I will never forget the day of your ordination [Oct. 13, 2001] in the [Pontifical] Urbanian University … with tears in your eyes, you told me: "Today, I have died to self" … a hard thing to say.

I didn't understand it right away, or maybe I didn't take it as seriously as I should have. … But today, through your martyrdom, I have understood that phrase. … You have died in your soul and body to be raised up in your beloved, in your teacher, and so that Christ would be raised up in you, despite the sufferings, sorrows, despite the chaos and madness.

In the name of what god of death have they killed you? In the name of which paganism have they crucified you? Did they truly know what they were doing?

O God, we don't ask you for revenge or retaliation. We ask you for victory, a victory of justice over falsehood, life over death, innocence over treachery, blood over the sword. … Your blood will not have been shed in vain, dear Ragheed, because with it you have blessed the soil of your country. And from heaven, your tender smile will continue to light the darkness of our nights and announce to us a better tomorrow.

I ask your forgiveness, brother, for when the living get together they think they have all the time in the world to talk, visit, and share feelings and thoughts. You had invited me to Iraq … I dreamed of that visit, of visiting your house, your parents, your office. … It never occurred to me that it would be your tomb that one day I would visit or that it would be verses from my Quran that I would recite for the repose of your soul …

One day, before your first trip to Iraq after a prolonged absence, I went with you to buy souvenirs and presents for your family. You spoke with me of your future work: "I would like to preside over the people on the base of charity before justice" -- you said.

It was difficult for me to imagine you a "canonical judge" … And today your blood and your martyrdom have spoken for you, a verdict of fidelity and patience, of hope against all suffering, of survival, in spite of death, in spite of everything.

Brother, your blood hasn't been shed in vain, and your church's altar wasn't a masquerade. … You assumed your role with deep seriousness until the end, with a smile that would never be extinguished … ever.

Your loving brother,

Adnam Mokrani
Rome, June 4, 2007
Professor of Islamic Studies in the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture,
Pontifical Gregorian University

[Original text: Arabic.]

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On Wars Thought Holy
Interview With Marco Meschini

MILAN, Italy, JUNE 5, 2007 (Zenit.org).- There is little similarity between the extremist concept of jihad as a holy war and the Christian Crusades, says a historian of the Middle Ages.

Marco Meschini, a professor at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, explains in his new book "Il Jihad e La Crociata" (The Jihad and the Crusade) published by Edizioni Ares, says that jihad and the Crusades are asymmetric. In this interview with ZENIT, he explains why.

Q: In what sense are jihad and the Crusades "holy wars"?

Meschini: A "holy war" is understood to have two characteristic elements: First of all, for those who are believers, it is a war willed by God and promoted by his legitimate representatives; secondly, participating in this war opens the gates to paradise.

In the case of jihad it is important to recall an important passage from the Quran: "Fight those who do not believe in Allah and who do not take as illicit what Allah and his messengers have declared to be illicit." It is Allah who wills jihad. Allah is holy and therefore jihad is holy, a holy war.

In regard to the second aspect, a "hadith" of Muhammad -- a saying of Muhammad with normative value -- must be recalled: "Know that paradise is in the shade of the sword."

Furthermore, the "mujahid," or warrior of jihad, is considered a martyr if he dies. The word for martyr, "shahid," means "witness," just like the literal sense of the Greek word martyr.

The mujahid is so holy that […] he can transmit part of his holiness to his relatives.

Q: You, however, distinguish jihad and the Crusades as "asymmetric." What distinguishes them?

Meschini: The Crusades too, for medieval Christians, were willed by God, in the sense that the Popes wanted them and preached them, connecting them with the forgiveness of sins committed by the participants. The battle cry of the Crusaders was "God wills it!"

A first asymmetry, however, is this: Jihad is understood to open the gates of paradise directly, but the Crusades were not, because they were understood as part of the process that could lead sinful man to paradise.

There are, however, other more significant asymmetries.

First of all, jihad, whether defensive or offensive -- that is, as the instrument of the spreading of the Islamic religion -- means "submission" to Allah.

The crusades, instead, were born only after a millennium of Christianity and with a limited purpose: to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Land, which were unjustly occupied by the Muslims.

It should be added that in the course of centuries there were also crusades of expansion but the original idea was not completely lost in these.

Q: You also maintain that, while jihad is essential for Islam, crusading is not essential for Christianity.

Meschini: This is the most radical difference. As was said, holy war is a prescription of the Quran -- and the Quran is the word of Allah, eternal and immutable -- practiced by Muhammad and furnished with a whole series of accompanying rules that define forms and conditions.

Still today, for all Muslims, jihad is the sixth pillar of Islam, that is, one of the precepts that constitute the identity of their religion.

On the contrary, there is no sacred Christian text that speaks of war in a similar way, and to say the least, the model of Christianity, Christ, does not foresee it!

For this reason, crusading, which certainly arose in a Christian context, need not be present in other Christian contexts; nor, above all, does it have anything to do with the kerygma, the core of Christian revelation.

Q: Would a kind of Christian crusade have any sense today?

Meschini: I do not believe so. Yet, steadfast resistance, which does not need to, but may have recourse to force -- would make sense, to countervail those who threaten, "manu armata," international peace.

Q: Does speaking of jihad today run the risk of making dialogue between Christianity and Islam more difficult?

Meschini: What is the purpose of dialogue? I think: knowing each other better, reaching a higher level of truth. Thus, truth, or intellectual honesty, is at least a premise. Indeed, it is an essential condition of dialogue.

For this reason I wanted to unmask some commentators who, behind verbal contortions, disguise the historical, juridical and theological truth embedded in the theme of jihad.

Q: What did the Pope intend to say in Regensburg when he spoke of the discourse of Manuel II Palaeologus on these themes?

Meschini: Benedict XVI was very clear: Faith and truth can be proposed and diffused from the intellect to the intellect and from heart to heart, in a reciprocal exchange of reason, I believe.

Thus, to expand one's religion "by the sword" is a monstrosity antithetical to the Logos, to Reason, that is, to God.

And the violent response to his words was -- dramatically -- an involuntary but "perfect" confirmation of his speech.

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Freedom of Conscience and Islam
Christian Converts Put to the Test

By Father John Flynn

ROME, JUNE 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- If you live in a predominantly Muslim country and want to convert to Christianity, chances are your faith will be put to the test. The latest example of troubles Christian converts face comes from Malaysia, where last week the country's highest civil court rejected a woman's appeal to be recognized as a Christian, the Associated Press reported May 30.

Lina Joy, born Azlina Jailani, had applied to change both her name and religion on the government identity card all citizens carry. The name change was not a problem, but authorities refused to delete the Muslim identification from the card. According to the Associated Press, about 60% of Malaysia's 26 million people are Muslims.

A May 26 report by the Associated Press recounted that Joy began going to church in 1990 and was baptized eight years later. She went to the Federal Court in May 2000 in order to oblige government authorities to change the religious designation on her identity card, but the tribunal ordered her to take the matter to Shariah courts. Joy's next step was to take the matter to the Court of Appeal, but she also lost her case in that tribunal.

Joy appealed the case before the Federal Court in 2005. The arguments ended in July 2006, with the decision denying her appeal handed down last week.

In the meantime, the Associated Press reported that Joy has been disowned by her family and forced to quit her computer sales job after clients threatened to withdraw their business.

The three judges of the Federal Court ruled 2-1 against her. Only the Islamic Shariah Court has the power to allow her to remove the word "Islam" from the religion category on her government identity card, the decision stated.

The wording of the decision showed the difficulties involved in obtaining freedom for religious converts. "You can't at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another," said Federal Court Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim in his judgment, Reuters reported May 30.

"The issue of apostasy is related to Islamic law, so it's under the Shariah court," he stated.

According to Reuters, the country's Shariah courts generally do not allow Muslims to formally renounce Islam, preferring to send what they consider to be apostates for counseling. They even fine or jail them.

Fundamental right denied

Shortly after the court's decision, Joy announced that she may leave Malaysia for not being able to freely practice her religion, the Associated Press reported May 31. "I am disappointed that the Federal Court is not able to vindicate a simple but important fundamental right that exists in all persons: namely, the right to believe in the religion of one's choice," Joy declared in a statement released through her lawyer, Benjamin Dawson.

Joy is not alone in her problems. Last year BBC radio broadcast a report on the problems faced by Christian converts in Malaysia. According to a report on the program published by the BBC last Nov. 15, many converts are obliged to lead a secret, double life.

"If people know that I've converted to Christianity, they might take the law into their own hands. If they are not broadminded, they might take a stone and throw it at me," said Maria, one of the converts interviewed by the BBC.

Maria's case was so sensitive that the priest who baptized her refused to give her a baptismal certificate. Maria has concealed her conversion from her family for fear of the negative reaction it would provoke.

Further problems were reported last Dec. 6 by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper in Australia. A Malaysian hospital refused to hand over a dead man's body to his widow because she planned to give her husband, a Muslim who converted to Christianity, a burial in accordance with his new religion.

The widow, 69-year-old Lourdes Mary Maria Soosay, complained to the police of harassment by Islamic religious authorities regarding the matter of the burial of her 71-year-old husband, Rayappan Anthony.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, this was the second time in about a year that a non-Muslim has fought for funeral rights over a family member. In the first, Islamic officials gave a former soldier a Muslim burial against the wishes of his Hindu widow.

A similar case was the subject of a report April 19 by the South China Morning Post newspaper. Kaliammal Sinnasamy, a Hindu woman, saw her husband's body taken from her by Islamic authorities and buried as a Muslim in December 2005.

Her husband, Moorthy Maniam, was a Hindu, his widow declared. Her attempts before Malaysia's courts to impede the Islamic burial of her husband came to nothing, when the tribunal ruled that it had no jurisdiction to hear any matter involving Islam, even if one party is a non-Muslim. Sinnasamy has appealed the decision.

Problems abound

Malaysia is far from the only country where Christians face considerable difficulties. Last year the case of Abdul Rahman, a convert in Afghanistan who risked a death sentence for converting to Christianity, received widespread coverage.

Rahman had lived in Germany for some years, but after returning home was arrested in February 2006, explained a report on the case published the following March 23 by the Washington Post. Rahman was freed and escaped prosecution after authorities declared him to be mentally unfit for trial, reported the BBC on March 29. He was, however, forced to flee Afghanistan, and was given refuge in Italy.

Meanwhile, Somalia prohibits all conversions, reported the Catholic Information Service for Africa last Sept. 21. After the fall of the government in 1991, Somalia fell into chaos. A transitional government was established in October 2004. This government later adopted a Transitional Federal Charter, which established Islam as the national religion.

Another African government, Morocco, recently jailed a tourist for six months for the crime of attempting to convert Muslims, reported Reuters last Nov. 29.

A German of Egyptian origin, Sadek Noshi Yassa, was arrested as he was distributing books and CDs about the Christian faith to young Muslim Moroccans in the street, officials said. A court in Agadir found the 64-year-old man guilty of trying to "shake the faith of a Muslim."

Religious violence

Apart from problems related to conversion, life for Christians in many Islamic countries is difficult, to say the least. On May 3 the Guardian newspaper in Britain reported on the situation in the northern Nigerian city of Kano.

Militants from a group founded by radical Islamic students recently went on a killing rampage, which left 10 dead. According to the Guardian, the episode sent a new wave of fear through Kano's minority Christian community. The region has suffered religious violence that has caused tens of thousands of deaths in recent years.

Another problematic country is Pakistan, where Christians were recently warned to convert, or face violence, reported the Associated Press on May 16. About 500 Pakistani Christians in Charsadda, a town in the North-West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, received letters in early May telling them to close their churches and convert.

Easter is also another touchy issue. In fact, Easter is illegal in Saudi Arabia, explained a report by the Associated Press on April 9. The kingdom allows only the Muslim feasts of al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and al-Adha, which concludes the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

As well, the article reported that the crown prince, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, has stressed that the kingdom would never allow churches to be built. More than ever, Christians living in Islamic countries are in need of prayers.

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Islam: past, present and future          Hans Küng
Oneworld, £29.99
Tablet bookshop price £27

 Book Review, 17 May 2007
Reviewed by Christian W. Troll
       
With the present volume, Hans Küng completes his wide-ranging analysis of "the spiritual forces of the millennia-old history of the three religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam". Throughout the trilogy his aim has been "to give a systematic historical diagnosis and from it to offer perspectives on the different options for the future and with them practical and ecumenical approaches towards a resolution of problems". He is interested in the past only insofar as it throws light on the present, and the leading question he wants to answer in this monograph is: "How Islam has become what it is today - with a view to what it could be".

The work constitutes neither a neutral description of the history of Islam nor a systematic-theological analysis of Islam's teaching, but rather "a synthesis of both its historical and systematic dimensions". Küng wants to foster a multidimensional vision of Islam in order to stimulate Muslims, Christians and Jews to understand one another and to engage in dialogue "in this decisive transitional phase towards a new relationship between the civilisations, religions and nations so that ... they may be able to assess the world situation better and react to it better".

The author's creative organisational skills, as well as the energy displayed in pressing the immense mass of data chosen from judiciously selected secondary literature into a clear structure, is admirable. Küng, as we know from his earlier works, thinks in paradigms. Thus he not only depicts the dominant structures of Islamic history but also tries to explain how the various overall constellations of Islam came into being, matured and fossilised, and how paradigms which have ossified into tradition live on in the present. He believes a new paradigm is emerging and he points out its features with a prophet-like assurance, untroubled by doubts or hesitation.

This volume, which regrettably lacks any glossary and index, constitutes a kind of "shorter" encyclopaedia of Islam and of Christian-Muslim relations in the past, present and future. The author is, however, a Christian theologian, not an Islamologist. He has come to the study of Islam relatively late. He is not familiar with the language of the Qur'an, nor has he entered deeper into the rich heritage of Islamic religious literature.

For example, in the more than 30 pages on Muhammad, the contrast between the Meccan and Medinan period finds due mention. Küng describes Muhammad's position thus: "The former outsider now saw himself suddenly in charge, leader of the community, and the minority which had been hardly tolerated in Mecca now became the controlling majority." But this way of depicting the Hijrah suggests that Muhammad was lifted by the hand of a God-sent angel, completely unawares and possibly against his will, away from Mecca to Medina, and almost "pressed" into his new function as political-military leader. This new task is almost made to look ultimately alien to his real, religious vocation.

Küng remains silent about the fact that the emigration from Mecca to Medina, with the opportunities that it offered Muhammad and his community to establish the dominance of Allah and his messenger and thus of Islam, had been planned and prepared by Muhammad in Mecca for some time. For Muslims the history of Islam begins with the Hijrah and the moment when Islam and its Prophet were empowered to perform the political, military and religious deeds, which Muslims have subsequently not ceased to admire and to take as their model and motivation. These "great deeds" according to the Muslim faith were the result of special divine favour and thus constitute the main proof for the authenticity of Muhammad's divine vocation.

Although well aware of questionable, or at least all too human, aspects of Muhammad's life, Küng demands categorically that Christian theology and the Christian Churches should recognise "without reservation" that: "Through the Qur'an the Prophet gave countless people in his century and in the centuries that followed infinite inspiration, courage and power to make a new religious beginning: a move towards greater truth and deeper knowledge and a breakthrough towards enlivening and renewing traditional religion. Islam was the great help in life."

But the Christian believer and theologian cannot but judge this statement about the person of Muhammad and of the Qur'an as unqualified and undifferentiated, not least in the light of the absolutely central Christian theological question at issue here: in the light of the life and teaching of the great biblical prophets Hosea, Jeremiah and Isaiah and especially and finally of Jesus of Nazareth and his Gospel, what are the adequate and God-pleasing "means" and ways of acting, which the true messenger of God is to employ to further the cause of God? Does not the way Muhammad opted for, namely, political and military means in furthering the cause of Islam, need to be viewed as objectively irreconcilable with the life, example and teaching of the non-violent, suffering "servant of Yahweh"?

Concerning dialogue among Christians, Jews and Muslims, Küng argues that only a reduction of the Christological pronouncements of the great councils to a Christology that would be decidedly "Jewish-Christian in character" would make this possible. Küng presupposes here that, for instance, the doctrinal pronouncements of the councils of Nicaea (AD 325) and Chalcedon (AD 451) have "altered the message of the New Testament". In Küng's view the "high Christology of the Hellenistic councils" as well as the Latin theologies of the Holy Trinity, for example, should be kept out of dialogue with Jews and Muslims: the "New Testament message of Christ" alone should be the issue.

It goes without saying that Christians in dialogue with Muslims always point to the essence and centre of the Christian message in such a way as to keep misunderstandings to a minimum. A Christian would first have to explain the New Testament message of God becoming man in Jesus Christ who through his obedient suffering redeemed the world from sin and now through the power of the Holy Spirit is alive as the Risen Lord. He would then have to explain how this message through the centuries - in response to constant misunderstandings and errors - had to be articulated afresh, authentically and bindingly, for all Christians in each epoch and culture. The God of the Incarnation and Crucifixion, whether in the language of Paul of Tarsus or in that of the Council of Chalcedon, is the "scandalous and foolish" God, to whom countless people, including those coming from Islam, have converted.

This comprehensively researched, clearly structured and thought-provoking work is in many ways truly remarkable. And yet, it would seem that the Küngian versions of Islam and Christianity, shaped to fit into the vision of a peacefully dialoguing and collaborating world of religions and cultures, misses in some essential points the true and distinctive character of both religions. Christians and Muslims adhere to eternally different and in some ways mutually contradicting world-views. They will retain their separate identities and these have to be respected. At the same time, they are called, today more urgently than ever, to engage in authentic and honest dialogue, dealing with one another in fairness, for the good of all humankind.

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Muslim Scholar Studies St. Francis in Rome
Says World Needs His Example of Humility

FAMAGUSTA, Cyprus, MAY 9, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The faith of St. Francis has drawn a Muslim historian to Italy, furthering her studies of the medieval Franciscan Order.

Neslihan Senocak, an assistant professor of history, at the Eastern Mediterranean University in north Cyprus, received a scholarship from the Vatican's Nostra Aetate Foundation to pursue her studies at the Pontifical Antonianum University.

Senocak was awarded her doctorate in history from Bilkent University, Turkey, in 2002, with her dissertation focusing on the relationship of medieval Franciscans to the intellectual world.

Speaking with ZENIT, Senocak explained why St. Francis says something to her as a Muslim historian: "My interest in St. Francis is within the context of my interest in the history of the medieval Franciscan Order, whose many members could not stay away from learning and scholarship despite Francis' initial emphasis on simplicity and humility.

"I was attracted to the history of the Franciscan Order because it is the story of individual devotion, determination and piety transformed in a gigantic international movement with thousands of followers."

Senocak continued: "St. Francis is an extremely important figure in the medieval history and literature, but he is also a 'classic,' in the sense that his story has and will always have an appeal to people of whatever period and region.

"I personally admire St. Francis, and his principles, and believe that anyone of whichever religion can find a wealth of insight about how to attain virtue in Francis' life and sayings.

"His emphasis on humility as the primary virtue, one that unlocks all other doors of virtue, deserves serious attention in a world where we are constantly taught self-confidence and pride."

She added: "Francis was right. So many actions what the seculars would consider immoral, and the religious would consider sin, are rooted in having an inflated opinion of one's self."

Christian-Muslim dialogue

Senocak was awarded a scholarship that sponsors non-Christians studying Christian subjects. She said that "such scholarships are central to the foundation of a dialogue, since it is impossible for any two communities to establish a bond if they do not know each other and, even worse, if they have negative prejudices about each other."

Senocak explained: "If there is to be a dialogue between a Christian and a Muslim, I do not see why it should differ from any other kind of dialogue or friendship with establish in our lives.

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Christianity on Trial in Turkey
Killings and Persecution Continue

By Father John Flynn

ROME, APRIL 30, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The blood of martyrs continues to be shed in Turkey. The April 18 killing of two Turks and a German at a Christian publishing house in Malatya, in eastern Turkey, renewed concerns over the fate of Christians in the country. The three victims were found with their hands and legs bound and their throats slit.

The three men worked at the Zirve publishing house, which had previously been the object of protests for allegedly distributing Bibles and proselytizing, reported the London-based Times newspaper April 19.

The same day the BBC reported that 10 people were arrested in connection with the murders. The BBC added that many commentators noted the similarity of the latest killings to the murder of a Catholic priest by a teenage gunman last year and the shooting of the Armenian journalist, also a Christian, in January. In each case the killers were young, apparently Islamist ultra-nationalists.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said the killings were "an attack against Turkey's stability, peace and tradition of tolerance," according to the BBC.

In February, the Pope's vicar for the Diocese of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, visited Turkey to commemorate the anniversary of the murder of Father Andrea Santoro. The Italian missionary was shot dead Feb. 5, 2006, in St. Mary's Catholic Church in Trabzon, northeast Turkey.

Cardinal Ruini said during his homily Feb. 5 in the church where the priest had been murdered: "We have come to help promote peace among peoples and religions, respect for the beliefs of each person and love for the brother or sister present in every human person created in the image and likeness of God," reported the Fides news agency the same day.

"We have come to promote religious freedom everywhere in the world, and to ask God to illuminate all minds and hearts to understand that only in freedom and love of neighbor can God be truly adored," the cardinal added.

Islamic extremists

Malatya, like Trabzon, is an Islamic stronghold, observed Mechthild Brockamp in an April 19 commentary published by the German agency Deutsche Welle. He noted that journalist Hrant Dink was also killed in Malatya earlier this year, and underlined the Islamic element in the shooting of Father Santoro, which took place during fevered protests against the caricatures of Mohammed.

Each time one of these attacks occurs authorities call it an exceptional case, said Brockamp. But the number of such cases means that it is more a pattern than an exception, he observed. Brockamp called upon the government to resolve the underlying issue of religious freedom and to ensure that the Christian minority is able to practice its faith without putting their lives at risk.

These are sentiments shared by the German magazine Der Spiegel, in an article published online April 23. The latest murders reveal a deep-seated problem, the magazine argued. The article quoted Ertugrul Ozkok, editor-in-chief of the leading secular Turkish daily Hurriyet, who noted that in Germany, Turks residing there have opened up more than 3,000 mosques. He asked in an editorial: "If in our country we cannot abide even by a few churches, or a handful of missionaries, where is our civilization?"

An article published April 25 by the Christian Science Monitor cited Christian missionaries in Turkey as saying that they now have more freedom to carry out their work due to reforms enacted as part of the country's attempt to enter into the European Union. At the same time violent attacks against Christian targets are becoming more frequent.

Last year, the article noted, several evangelical churches were firebombed, and a Protestant church leader in the city of Adana was severely beaten by a group of assailants.

The report also opined that while there is a religious dimension to the recent murders of Christians, some experts also attribute them to the influence of extreme nationalism and anti-Western xenophobia that are on the rise in Turkey.

Nevertheless, other news reports testify to the considerable difficulties Christians face when they try to practice their faith. Both Christians and intellectuals are frequent targets of legal action taken under article 301 of the penal code. The article allows people to be charged for denigrating "Turkish identity," explained a report by Compass Direct News last Nov. 27.

Compass Direct is a Christian news service based in California, reporting on religious persecution. The report presented the case of Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal, who appeared Nov. 23 before the Silivri Criminal Court, located in northwestern Turkey.

As Muslims converted to Christianity, they were accused not only of denigrating Turkish identity, but also of reviling Islam. "We don't use force to tell anyone about Christianity," Tastan said to the media outside the courtroom according to Compass Direct. "But we are Christians, and if the Lord permits, we will continue to proclaim this," he added.

Christians likened to terrorists

Compass Direct also reported that attorney Kemal Kerincsiz, who intervened for the prosecution, is notorious for his actions against intellectuals using article 301. "Christian missionaries working almost like terrorist groups are able to enter into high schools and among primary school students," Kerincsiz told reporters. The court case against the two Christians is still underway.

Further difficulties were reported in an article published by the Boston Globe last Dec. 9. The newspaper referred to the difficulties faced by Metropolitan Apostolos, a Greek Orthodox bishop.

In 1971, the government shut down the Halki theological seminary on Heybeliada, an island in the Sea of Marmara. The school had trained generations of Orthodox leaders, but authorities closed it, along with other private religious schools. In the meantime the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey has dwindled to 3,000, from 180,000 in 1923.

In general, noted the Boston Globe, Turkey's religious minorities including about 68,000 Armenian Orthodox, 20,000 Catholics, 23,000 Jews, and 3,000 Greek Orthodox face numerous legal restrictions.

Catholics, for example, encounter considerable difficulties when it comes to obtaining legal rights over property and work permits for clergy and nuns, explained Otmar Oehring, in an article written for the Forum 18 news service Jan. 18. The Norwegian-based Forum 18 reports on issues related to religious freedom.

Places of worship of minority communities which are allowed to maintain legally-recognized community foundations -- such as the Greek Orthodox, the Armenians, the Syrian Orthodox and the Jews -- are owned by these foundations, commented Oehring.

But Catholics and Protestants are not allowed to set up such foundations. Consequently, title deeds indicate that the congregations or church communities themselves own the buildings. Yet the state often refuses to recognize this. Additional legal obstacles include problems in setting up bank accounts and in publishing religious books and magazine.

At the time of Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey at the end of last year, Vatican representatives and government officials discussed the possibility of establishing a mixed working group to resolve the Catholic Church's problems in Turkey, according to Oehring. There has been little or no progress on the matter, however.

During his visit, the Pope held a meeting with the president of the government's religious affairs directorate. In his address, given Nov. 28, the Pontiff called for an "authentic dialogue between Christians and Muslims, based on truth and inspired by a sincere wish to know one another better, respecting differences and recognizing what we have in common."

The Pope also called for freedom of religion, "institutionally guaranteed and effectively respected in practice." A call that takes on greater urgency after the recent attacks.

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Shariah ruling "affront to human dignity": Malaysian bishops

Malaysia's Catholic bishops have slammed a ruling by the country's Court of Appeal that a non-Muslim woman had to seek recourse through Shariah courts as a "form of religious oppression and an affront to human dignity".

The bishops made their statement in response to the case of a 28-year-old woman, R Subashini Saravan, whose husband of five years became a Muslim convert without her knowledge and who also converted their three-year-old son. The couple have another two-year-old child.

While Ms Subashini wished to end the couple's marriage in a civil court, her husband, businessman Muhammad Shafi Abdullah, formerly T Saravanan, 31, applied to the Shariah court to end their civil marriage.

According to news reports, Ms Subashini fears that as a non-Muslim mother fighting to keep her children, the odds may be against her in a Shariah Court. She says her son became a Muslim without her knowledge.

As a non-Muslim, she says she should not be forced to seek redress in a Shariah Court, contrary to the Malaysian constitution.

In a statement read out at all churches on Sunday, Malaysia's bishops say that they "are deeply disappointed and feel aggrieved by the recent majority decision of the Court of Appeal that the non-Muslim wife had to seek recourse through the Syariah Courts.

"This is a form of religious oppression and an affront to human dignity," the bishops say in the statement signed by Kuala Lumpur Archbishop Murphy Pakiam.

"As the Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the country, a person of one religion should not be made subject to laws of and governance by another religion. We urge all to voice their grievances against the injustice through proper channels.

"Let us do all that is possible and also pray that justice and freedom of religion be restored," the bishops said.

Some commentators have warned of a possible "constitutional crisis" over the ruling.



www.keralachurch.com

Catholic church in Kerala

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Jesus not really crucified, Libya's Gaddafi says
   
Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has told a mass prayer meeting for Muslims in Niger that Jesus was not really nailed to the cross but that another man who resembled him was crucified in his place.

"It is not correct to say that," Colonel Gaddafi said of Jesus' crucifixion, according to a Sunday Herald-Sun report. "Another man resembling Jesus was crucified in his place."

Colonel Gaddafi also told listeners that it was a mistake to believe that Christianity was a universal faith alongside Islam.

"There are serious mistakes - among them the one saying that Jesus came as a messenger for other people other than the sons of Israel," Reuters quoted him as saying.

"Christianity is not a faith for people in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas," he said.

Colonel Gaddafi, who is seeking to expand his influence in Africa, said his arguments came from the Koran.

"It is a mistake that another religion exists alongside Islam. There is only one religion which is Islam after Mohammed," he said in the sermon.

"All those believers who do not follow Islam are losers," he added.

"We are here to correct the mistakes in the light of the teachings of the Koran."

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Islam and Western Democracies  (Legatus Summit, Naples, Florida U.S.A)

By + Cardinal George Pell   Archbishop of Sydney  4/2/2006

September 11 was a wake-up call for me personally. I recognised that I had to know more about Islam.

In the aftermath of the attack one thing was perplexing. Many commentators and apparently the governments of the “Coalition of the Willing” were claiming that Islam was essentially peaceful, and that the terrorist attacks were an aberration. On the other hand one or two people I met, who had lived in Pakistan and suffered there, claimed to me that the Koran legitimised the killings of non-Muslims.

Although I had possessed a copy of the Koran for 30 years, I decided then to read this book for myself as a first step to adjudicating conflicting claims. And I recommend that you too read this sacred text of the Muslims, because the challenge of Islam will be with us for the remainder of our lives – at least.

Can Islam and the Western democracies live together peacefully? What of Islamic minorities in Western countries? Views on this question range from näive optimism to bleakest pessimism. Those tending to the optimistic side of the scale seize upon the assurance of specialists that jihad is primarily a matter of spiritual striving, and that the extension of this concept to terrorism is a distortion of koranic teaching[1]. They emphasise Islam’s self-understanding as a “religion of peace”. They point to the roots Islam has in common with Judaism and Christianity and the worship the three great monotheistic religions offer to the one true God. There is also the common commitment that Muslims and Christians have to the family and to the defence of life, and the record of co-operation in recent decades between Muslim countries, the Holy See, and countries such as the United States in defending life and the family at the international level, particularly at the United Nations.

Many commentators draw attention to the diversity of Muslim life—sunni, shi’ite, sufi, and their myriad variations—and the different forms that Muslim devotion can take in places such as Indonesia and the Balkans on the one hand, and Iran and Nigeria on the other. Stress is laid, quite rightly, on the widely divergent interpretations of the Koran and the shari’a, and the capacity Islam has shown throughout its history for developing new interpretations. Given the contemporary situation, the wahhabist interpretation at the heart of Saudi Islamism offers probably the most important example of this, but Muslim history also offers more hopeful examples, such as the re-interpretation of the shari’a after the fall of the Ottoman empire, and particularly after the end of the Second World War, which permitted Muslims to emigrate to non-Muslim countries[2].

Optimists also take heart from the cultural achievements of Islam in the Middle Ages, and the accounts of toleration extended to Jewish and Christian subjects of Muslim rule as “people of the Book”. Some deny or minimise the importance of Islam as a source of terrorism, or of the problems that more generally afflict Muslim countries, blaming factors such as tribalism and inter-ethnic enmity; the long-term legacy of colonialism and Western domination; the way that oil revenues distort economic development in the rich Muslim states and sustain oligarchic rule; the poverty and political oppression in Muslim countries in Africa; the situation of the Palestinians, and the alleged “problem” of the state of Israel; and the way that globalisation has undermined or destroyed traditional life and imposed alien values on Muslims and others.

Indonesia and Turkey are pointed to as examples of successful democratisation in Muslim societies, and the success of countries such as Australia and the United States as “melting pots”, creating stable and successful societies while absorbing people from very different cultures and religions, is often invoked as a reason for trust and confidence in the growing Muslim populations in the West. The phenomenal capacity of modernity to weaken gradually the attachment of individuals to family, religion and traditional ways of life, and to commodify and assimilate developments that originate in hostility to it (think of the way the anti-capitalist counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s was absorbed into the economic and political mainstream—and into consumerism), is also relied upon to “normalise” Muslims in Western countries, or at least to normalise them in the minds of the non-Muslim majority.

Reasons for optimism are also sometimes drawn from the totalitarian nature of Islamist ideology, and the brutality and rigidity of Islamist rule, exemplified in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Just as the secular totalitarian-isms of the twentieth century (Nazism and Communism) ultimately proved unsustainable because of the enormous toll they exacted on human life and creativity, so too will the religious totalitarianism of radical Islam. This assessment draws on a more general underlying cause for optimism, or at least hope, for all of us, namely our common humanity, and the fruitfulness of dialogue when it is entered with good will on all sides. Most ordinary people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, share the desire for peace, stability and prosperity for themselves and their families.

On the pessimistic side of the equation, concern begins with the Koran itself. In my own reading of the Koran, I began to note down invocations to violence. There are so many of them, however, that I abandoned this exercise after 50 or 60 or 70 pages. I will return to the problems of Koranic interpretation later in this paper, but in coming to an appreciation of the true meaning of jihad, for example, it is important to bear in mind what the scholars tell us about the difference between the suras (or chapters) of the Koran written during Muhammad’s thirteen years in Mecca, and those that were written after he had based himself at Medina. Irenic interpretations of the Koran typically draw heavily on the suras written in Mecca, when Muhammad was without military power and still hoped to win people, including Christians and Jews, to his revelation through preaching and religious activity. After emigrating to Medina, Muhammad formed an alliance with two Yemeni tribes and the spread of Islam through conquest and coercion began[3]. One calculation is that Muhammad engaged in 78 battles, only one of which, the Battle of the Ditch, was defensive[4]. The suras from the Medina period reflect this decisive change and are often held to abrogate suras from the Meccan period[5].

The predominant grammatical form in which jihad is used in the Koran carries the sense of fighting or waging war. A different form of the verb in Arabic means “striving” or “struggling”, and English translations sometimes use this form as a way of euphemistically rendering the Koran’s incitements to war against unbelievers[6]. But in any case, the so-called “verses of the sword” (sura 9:5 and 9:36)[7], coming as they do in what scholars generally believe to be one of the last suras revealed to Muhammad[8], are taken to abrogate a large number of earlier verses on the subject (over 140, according to one radical website[9]). The suggestion that jihad is primarily a matter of spiritual striving is also contemptuously rejected by some Islamic writers on the subject. One writer warns that “the temptation to reinterpret both text and history to suit ‘politically correct’ requirements is the first trap to be avoided”, before going on to complain that “there are some Muslims today, for instance, who will convert jihad into a holy bath rather than a holy war, as if it is nothing more than an injunction to cleanse yourself from within”[10].

The abrogation of many of the Meccan suras by the later Medina suras affects Islam’s relations with those of other faiths, particularly Christians and Jews. The Christian and Jewish sources underlying much of the Koran[11] are an important basis for dialogue and mutual understanding, although there are difficulties. Perhaps foremost among them is the understanding of God. It is true that Christianity, Judaism and Islam claim Abraham as their Father and the God of Abraham as their God. I accept with reservations the claim that Jews, Christians and Muslims worship one god (Allah is simply the Arabic word for god) and there is only one true God available to be worshipped! That they worship the same god has been disputed[12], not only by Catholics stressing the triune nature of God, but also by some evangelical Christians and by some Muslims[13]. It is difficult to recognise the God of the New Testament in the God of the Koran, and two very different concepts of the human person have emerged from the Christian and Muslim understandings of God. Think, for example, of the Christian understanding of the person as a unity of reason, freedom and love, and the way these attributes characterise a Christian’s relationship with God. This has had significant consequences for the different cultures that Christianity and Islam have given rise to, and for the scope of what is possible within them. But these difficulties could be an impetus to dialogue, not a reason for giving up on it.

The history of relations between Muslims on the one hand and Christians and Jews on the other does not always offer reasons for optimism in the way that some people easily assume. The claims of Muslim tolerance of Christian and Jewish minorities are largely mythical, as the history of Islamic conquest and domination in the Middle East, the Iberian peninsula and the Balkans makes abundantly clear. In the territory of modern-day Spain and Portugal, which was ruled by Muslims from 716 and not finally cleared of Muslim rule until the surrender of Granada in 1491 (although over half the peninsula had been reclaimed by 1150, and all of the peninsula except the region surrounding Granada by 1300), Christians and Jews were tolerated only as dhimmis[14], subject to punitive taxation, legal discrimination, and a range of minor and major humiliations. If a dhimmi harmed a Muslim, his entire community would forfeit protection and be freely subject to pillage, enslavement and murder. Harsh reprisals, including mutilations, deportations and crucifixions, were imposed on Christians who appealed for help to the Christian kings or who were suspected of having converted to Islam opportunistically. Raiding parties were sent out several times every year against the Spanish kingdoms in the north, and also against France and Italy, for loot and slaves. The caliph in Andalusia maintained an army of tens of thousand of Christian slaves from all over Europe, and also kept a harem of captured Christian women. The Jewish community in the Iberian peninsula suffered similar sorts of discriminations and penalties, including restrictions on how they could dress. A pogrom in Granada in 1066 annihilated the Jewish population there and killed over 5000 people. Over the course of its history Muslim rule in the peninsula was characterised by outbreaks of violence and fanaticism as different factions assumed power, and as the Spanish gradually reclaimed territory[15].

Arab rule in Spain and Portugal was a disaster for Christians and Jews, as was Turkish rule in the Balkans. The Ottoman conquest of the Balkans commenced in the mid-fifteenth century, and was completed over the following two hundred years. Churches were destroyed or converted into mosques, and the Jewish and Christians populations became subject to forcible relocation and slavery. The extension or withdrawal of protection depended entirely on the disposition of the Ottoman ruler of the time. Christians who refused to apostatize were taxed and subject to conscript labour. Where the practice of the faith was not strictly prohibited, it was frustrated—for example, by making the only legal market day Sunday. But violent persecution was also a constant shadow. One scholar estimates that up to the Greek War of Independence in 1828, the Ottomans executed eleven Patriarchs of Constantinople, nearly one hundred bishops and several thousand priests, deacons and monks. Lay people were prohibited from practising certain professions and trades, even sometimes from riding a horse with a saddle, and right up until the early eighteenth century their adolescent sons lived under the threat of the military enslavement and forced conversion which provided possibly one million janissary soldiers to the Ottomans during their rule. Under Byzantine rule the peninsula enjoyed a high level of economic productivity and cultural development. This was swept away by the Ottoman conquest and replaced with a general and protracted decline in productivity[16].

The history of Islam’s detrimental impact on economic and cultural development at certain times and in certain places returns us to the nature of Islam itself. For those of a pessimistic outlook this is probably the most intractable problem in considering Islam and democracy. What is the capacity for theological development within Islam?

In the Muslim understanding, the Koran comes directly from God, unmediated. Muhammad simply wrote down God’s eternal and immutable words as they were dictated to him by the Archangel Gabriel. It cannot be changed, and to make the Koran the subject of critical analysis and reflection is either to assert human authority over divine revelation (a blasphemy), or question its divine character. The Bible, in contrast, is a product of human co-operation with divine inspiration. It arises from the encounter between God and man, an encounter characterised by reciprocity, which in Christianity is underscored by a Trinitarian understanding of God (an understanding Islam interprets as polytheism). This gives Christianity a logic or dynamic which not only favours the development of doctrine within strict limits, but also requires both critical analysis and the application of its principles to changed circumstances. It also requires a teaching authority.

Of course, none of this has prevented the Koran from being subjected to the sort of textual analysis that the Bible and the sacred texts of other religions have undergone for over a century, although by comparison the discipline is in its infancy. Errors of fact, inconsistencies, anachronisms and other defects in the Koran are not unknown to scholars, but it is difficult for Muslims to discuss these matters openly.

In 2004 a scholar who writes under the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg published a book in German setting out detailed evidence that the original language of the Koran was a dialect of Aramaic known as Syriac. Syriac or Syro-Aramaic was the written language of the Near East during Muhammad’s time, and Arabic did not assume written form until 150 years after his death. Luxenberg argues that the Koran that has come down to us in Arabic is partially a mistranscription of the original Syriac. A bizarre example he offers which received some attention at the time his book was published is the Koran’s promise that those who enter heaven will be “espoused” to “maidens with eyes like gazelles”; eyes, that is, which are intensely white and black (suras 44:54 and 52:20). Luxenberg’s meticulous analysis suggests that the Arabic word for maidens is in fact a mistranscription of the Syriac word for grapes. This does strain common sense. Valiant strivings to be consoled by beautiful women is one thing, but to be heroic for a packet of raisins seems a bit much!

Even more explosively, Luxenberg suggests that the Koran has its basis in the texts of the Syriac Christian liturgy, and in particular in the Syriac lectionary, which provides the origin for the Arabic word “koran”. As one scholarly review observes, if Luxenberg is correct the writers who transcribed the Koran into Arabic from Syriac a century and a half after Muhammad’s death transformed it from a text that was “more or less harmonious with the New Testament and Syriac Christian liturgy and literature to one that [was] distinct, of independent origin”[17]. This too is a large claim.

It is not surprising that much textual analysis is carried out pseudonymously. Death threats and violence are frequently directed against Islamic scholars who question the divine origin of the Koran. The call for critical consideration of the Koran, even simply of its seventh-century legislative injunctions, is rejected out of hand by hard-line Muslim leaders. Rejecting calls for the revision of school textbooks while preaching recently to those making the hajj pilgrimage to Mount Arafat, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia told pilgrims that “there is a war against our creed, against our culture under the pretext of fighting terrorism. We should stand firm and united in protecting our religion. Islam’s enemies want to empty our religion [of] its content and meaning. But the soldiers of God will be victorious”[18].

All these factors I have outlined are problems, for non-Muslims certainly, but first and foremost for Muslims themselves. In grappling with these problems we have to resist the temptation to reduce a complex and fluid situation to black and white photos. Much of the future remains radically unknown to us. It is hard work to keep the complexity of a particular phenomenon steadily in view and to refuse to accept easy answers, whether of an optimistic or pessimistic kind. Above all else we have to remember that like Christianity, Islam is a living religion, not just a set of theological or legislative propositions. It animates the lives of an estimated one billion people in very different political, social and cultural settings, in a wide range of devotional styles and doctrinal approaches. Human beings have an invincible genius for variation and innovation.

Considered strictly on its own terms, Islam is not a tolerant religion and its capacity for far-reaching renovation is severely limited. To stop at this proposition, however, is to neglect the way these facts are mitigated or exacerbated by the human factor. History has more than its share of surprises. Australia lives next door to Indonesia, the country with one of the largest Muslim populations in the world[19]. Indonesia has been a successful democracy, with limitations, since independence after World War II. Islam in Indonesia has been tempered significantly both by indigenous animism and by earlier Hinduism and Buddhism, and also by the influence of sufism. As a consequence, in most of the country (except in particular Aceh) Islam is syncretistic, moderate and with a strong mystical leaning. The moderate Islam of Indonesia is sustained and fostered in particular by organisations like Nahdatul Ulama, once led by former president Abdurrahman Wahid, which runs schools across the country, and which with 30-40 million members is one of the largest Muslim organisations in the world.

The situation in Indonesia is quite different from that in Pakistan, the country with one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. 75 per cent of Pakistani Muslims are Sunni, and most of these adhere to the relatively more-liberal Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence (for example, Hanafi jurisprudence does not consider blasphemy should be punishable by the state). But religious belief in Pakistan is being radicalised because organisations, very different from Indonesia’s Nahdatul Ulama, have stepped in to fill the void in education created by years of neglect by military rulers. Pakistan spends only 1.8 per cent of GDP on education. 71 per cent of government schools are without electricity, 40 per cent are without water, and 15 per cent are without a proper building. 42 per cent of the population is literate, and this proportion is falling. This sort of neglect makes it easy for radical Islamic groups with funding from foreign countries to gain ground. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of religious schools (or madrasas) opening in Pakistan, and it is estimated that they are now educating perhaps 800,000 students, still a small proportion of the total, but with a disproportionate impact[20].

These two examples show that there is a whole range of factors, some of them susceptible to influence or a change in direction, affecting the prospects for a successful Islamic engagement with democracy. Peace with respect for human rights are the most desirable end point, but the development of democracy will not necessarily achieve this or sustain it. This is an important question for the West as well as for the Muslim world. Adherence to what George Weigel has called “a thin, indeed anorexic, idea of procedural democracy”[21] can be fatal here. It is not enough to assume that giving people the vote will automatically favour moderation, in the short term at least[22]. Moderation and democracy have been regular partners in Western history, but have not entered permanent and exclusive matrimony and there is little reason for this to be better in the Muslim world, as the election results in Iran last June and the elections in Palestine in January reminded us. There are many ways in which President Bush’s ambition to export democracy to the Middle East is a risky business. In its influence on both religion and politics, the culture is crucial.

There are some who resist this conclusion vehemently. In 2002, the Nobel Prize Economist Amartya Sen took issue with the importance of culture in understanding the radical Islamic challenge, arguing that religion is no more important than any other part or aspect of human endeavour or interest. He also challenged the idea that within culture religious faith typically plays a decisive part in the development of individual self-understanding. Against this, Sen argued for a characteristically secular understanding of the human person, constituted above all else by sovereign choice. Each of us has many interests, convictions, connections and affiliations, “but none of them has a unique and pre-ordained role in defining [the] person”. Rather, “we must insist upon the liberty to see ourselves as we would choose to see ourselves, deciding on the relative importance that we would like to attach to our membership in the different groups to which we belong. The central issue, in sum, is freedom”.[23]

This does work for some, perhaps many, people in the rich, developed and highly urbanised Western world, particularly those without strong attachments to religion. Doubtless it has ideological appeal to many more among the elites. But as a basis for engagement with people of profound religious conviction, most of whom are not fanatics or fundamentalists, it is radically deficient. Sen’s words demonstrate that the high secularism of our elites is handicapped in comprehending the challenge that Islam poses.

I suspect one example of the secular incomprehension of religion is the blithe encouragement of large scale Islamic migration into Western nations, particularly in Europe. Of course they were invited to meet the need for labour and in some cases to assuage guilt for a colonial past.

If religion rarely influences personal behaviour in a significant way then the religious identity of migrants is irrelevant. I suspect that some anti-Christians, for example, the Spanish Socialists, might have seen Muslims as a useful counterweight to Catholicism, another factor to bring religion into public disrepute. Probably too they had been very confident that Western advertising forces would be too strong for such a primitive religious viewpoint, which would melt down like much of European Christianity. This could prove to be a spectacular misjudgement.

So the current situation is very different from what the West confronted in the twentieth century Cold War, when secularists, especially those who were repentant communists, were well equipped to generate and sustain resistance to an anti-religious and totalitarian enemy. In the present challenge it is religious people who are better equipped, at least initially, to understand the situation with Islam. Radicalism, whether of religious or non-religious inspiration, has always had a way of filling emptiness. But if we are going to help the moderate forces within Islam defeat the extreme variants it has thrown up, we need to take seriously the personal consequences of religious faith. We also need to understand the secular sources of emptiness and despair and how to meet them, so that people will choose life over death. This is another place where religious people have an edge. Western secularists regularly have trouble understanding religious faith in their own societies, and are often at sea when it comes to addressing the meaninglessness that secularism spawns. An anorexic vision of democracy and the human person is no match for Islam.

It is easy for us to tell Muslims that they must look to themselves and find ways of reinterpreting their beliefs and remaking their societies. Exactly the same thing can and needs to be said to us. If democracy is a belief in procedures alone then the West is in deep trouble. The most telling sign that Western democracy suffers a crisis of confidence lies in the disastrous fall in fertility rates, a fact remarked on by more and more commentators. In 2000, Europe from Iceland to Russia west of the Ural Mountains recorded a fertility rate of only 1.37. This means that fertility is only at 65 per cent of the level needed to keep the population stable. In 17 European nations that year deaths outnumbered births. Some regions in Germany, Italy and Spain already have fertility rates below 1.0.

Faith ensures a future. As an illustration of the literal truth of this, consider Russia and Yemen. Look also at the different birth rates in the red and blue states in the last presidential election in the U.S.A. In 1950 Russia, which suffered one of the most extreme forms of forced secularisation under the Communists, had about 103 million people. Despite the devastation of wars and revolution the population was still young and growing. Yemen, a Muslim country, had only 4.3 million people. By 2000 fertility was in radical decline in Russia, but because of past momentum the population stood at 145 million. Yemen had maintained a fertility rate of 7.6 over the previous 50 years and now had 18.3 million people. Median level United Nations forecasts suggest that even with fertility rates increasing by 50 per cent in Russia over the next fifty years, its population will be about 104 million in 2050—a loss of 40 million people. It will also be an elderly population. The same forecasts suggest that even if Yemen’s fertility rate falls 50 per cent to 3.35, by 2050 it will be about the same size as Russia — 102 million — and overwhelmingly young[24].

The situation of the United States and Australia is not as dire as this, although there is no cause for complacency. It is not just a question of having more children, but of rediscovering reasons to trust in the future. Some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. Belief in a benign God who is master of the universe has a steadying psychological effect, although it is no guarantee of Utopia, no guarantee that the continuing climate and geographic changes will be benign. In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Most of this is a preliminary clearing of the ground for dialogue and interaction with our Muslim brothers and sisters based on the conviction that it is always useful to know accurately where you are before you start to decide what you should be doing.

The war against terrorism is only one aspect of the challenge. Perhaps more important is the struggle in the Islamic world between moderate forces and extremists, especially when we set this against the enormous demographic shifts likely to occur across the world, the relative changes in population-size of the West, the Islamic and Asian worlds and the growth of Islam in a childless Europe.

Every great nation and religion has shadows and indeed crimes in their histories. This is certainly true of Catholicism and all Christian denominations. We should not airbrush these out of history, but confront them and then explain our present attitude to them.

These are also legitimate requests for our Islamic partners in dialogue. Do they believe that the peaceful suras of the Koran are abrogated by the verses of the sword? Is the programme of military expansion (100 years after Muhammad’s death Muslim armies reached Spain and India) to be resumed when possible?

Do they believe that democratic majorities of Muslims in Europe would impose Sharia law? Can we discuss Islamic history and even the hermeneutical problems around the origins of the Koran without threats of violence?

Obviously some of these questions about the future cannot be answered, but the issues should be discussed. Useful dialogue means that participants grapple with the truth and in this issue of Islam and the West the stakes are too high for fundamental misunderstandings.

Both Muslims and Christians are helped by accurately identifying what are core and enduring doctrines, by identifying what issues can be discussed together usefully, by identifying those who are genuine friends, seekers after truth and cooperation and separating them from those who only appear to be friends.

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[1]. For some examples of this, see Daniel Pipes, “Jihad and the Professors”, Commentary, November 2002.

[2]. For an account of how some Muslim jurists dealt with large-scale emigration to non-Muslim countries, see Paul Stenhouse MSC, “Democracy, Dar al-Harb, and Dar al-Islam”, unpublished manuscript, nd.

[3]. Paul Stenhouse MSC, “Muhammad, Qur’anic Texts, the Shari’a and Incitement to Violence”. Unpublished manuscript, 31 August 2002.

[4]. Daniel Pipes “Jihad and the Professors” 19. Another source estimates that Muhammad engaged in 27 (out of 38) battles personally, fighting in 9 of them. See A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq (Oxford University Press, Karachi: 1955), 659.

[5]. Stenhouse “Muhammad, Qur’anic Texts, the Shari’a and Incitement to Violence”.

[6]. Ibid.

[7]. Sura 9:5: “Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way; for God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.”

Sura 9:36: “And fight the unbelievers totally even as they fight you totally; and know that God is with the godfearing.” (Arberry translation).

[8]. Richard Bonney, Jihad: From Qur’an to bin Laden (Palgrave, Hampshire: 2004), 22-26.

[9].“The Will of Abdullaah Yusuf Azzam”, http://www.islamicawakening.com/viewarticle.php?articleID=532& (dated 20 April 1986).

[10]. M. J. Akbar, The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity (Routledge, London & New York: 2002), xv.

[11]. Abraham I. Katsch, Judaism and the Koran (Barnes & Co., New York: 1962), passim.

[12]. See for example Alain Besançon, “What Kind of Religion is Islam?” Commentary, May 2004.

[13]. Daniel Pipes, “Is Allah God?” New York Sun, 28 June 2005.

[14]. On the concept of “dhimmitude”, see Bat Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, trans. Miriam Kochman and David Littman (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison NJ: 1996).

[15]. Andrew Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non Muslims (Prometheus Books, Amherst NY: 2005), 56-75.

[16]. Ibid.

[17]. Robert R. Phenix Jr & Cornelia B. Horn, “Book Review of Christoph Luxenberg (ps.) Die syro-aramaeische Lesart des Koran: Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Qur’ansprache”, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, 6:1 (January 2003). See also the article on Luxenberg’s book published in Newsweek, 28 July 2004.

[18]. “Hajj Pilgrims Told of War on Islam”, www.foxnews.com, 9 January 2006.

[19]. The World Christian Database (http://worldchristiandatabase.org) gives a considerably lower estimate of the Muslim proportion of the population (54 per cent, or 121.6 million), attributing 22 per cent of the population to adherents of Asian “New Religions”. On the WCD’s estimates, Pakistan has the world’s largest Muslim population, with 154.5 million (or approximately 96 per cent of a total population of 161 million). The CIA’s World Fact Book (http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook) estimates 88 per cent of Indonesia’s population of 242 million is Muslim, giving it a Muslim population of 213 million.

The Muslim proportion of the population in Indonesia may be as low as 37-40 per cent, owing to the way followers of traditional Javanese mysticism are classified as Muslim by government authorities. See Paul Stenhouse MSC, “Indonesia, Islam, Christians, and the Numbers Game”, Annals Australia, October 1998.

[20]. William Dalrymple, “Inside the Madrasas”, New York Review of Books, 1 December 2005.

[21]. George Weigel, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America and Politics without God (Basic Books, New York: 2005), 136.

[22]. For a sophisticated presentation of the argument of the case for the moderating effect of electoral democracy in the Islamic world, see the Pew Forum’s interview with Professor Vali Nasr (Professor of National Security Studies at the US Naval Postgraduate School),“Islam and Democracy: Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan”, 4 November 2005, http://pewforum.org/events/index.php?EventID=91.

[23]. Amartya Sen, “Civilizational Imprisonments”, The New Republic, 10 June 2002.

[24]. Allan Carlson, “Sweden and the Failure of European Family Policy”, Society, September-October 2005.

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The World of Red Ken      The mayor of London debates Daniel Pipes.
By Joseph Loconte  Posted: Thursday, February 1, 2007

ARTICLE
The Weekly Standard, Vol. 12, Issue 20    Publication Date: January 27, 2007

The chill wind and cheerless skies didn't discourage thousands of Londoners from trudging to the Queen Elizabeth II conference center on Saturday, January 20, to hear a debate about "the clash of civilizations"--the challenge of militant Islam to the West. The overflow event, sponsored by the city of London, pitted American Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes against the leftist mayor, Ken Livingstone. At another level, it laid bare a massive divide between America and Europe: between those who view Islamic radicalism as an existential threat and those who see a protest movement that can be integrated into democratic societies.

Elected mayor in 2000, "Red Ken" Livingstone has become notorious for his role as London's chief America-basher, Iraq war critic, friend of shadowy Islamists, and apostle of multiculturalism. He played his role flawlessly.

The great problem, he argued, was not Islamic jihad, but its American counterpart. "I think there's a real danger," he warned, "that we could repeat the days at the end of the Second World War." What days does he have in mind? The beginning of American hegemony--Washington's secret plot to dominate the world, which everyone knows set off the Cold War.

Livingstone received rabid applause for the notion that the West, particularly the United States, has invited Muslim rage because of decades of miscreant foreign policy. Worse still, he huffed, America projects a pugnacious, Manichean view of culture and politics. Its militarism toward Islam threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Livingstone's immodest conclusion: "There is no honorable basis for the foreign policy of either the United States or Great Britain."

The mayor's lodestar is multiculturalism, the active accommodation of Islamist values by Western states. He personally flaunts this doctrine, choosing as his debating partner, for example, the Islamist activist Salma Yaqoob. The pairing symbolized the macabre alliance of the political left with militant Islam: Yaqoob, who campaigns on behalf of captured terrorists, belongs to the RESPECT party--founded by George Galloway, the MP expelled from the Labour party after he "incited foreign forces" to attack British troops in Iraq.

Livingstone defended multiculturalism as outreach to moderate Islam. London, he said, is proof that his vision is working: The city boasts more language groups than any in the world, yet remains an exemplar of social integration and civic peace. "I think," he announced, "that we're at the beginning of a global civilization emerging."

Daniel Pipes, whose irenic style could not hide the magnitude of his burden, took Livingstone to task. There is indeed, he said, a fundamental clash--between those who are civilized and those who could be called "ideological barbarians." These modern-day barbarians, Pipes said, are the Muslim radicals who follow in the footsteps of European fascists and Communists. Like them, they seek to dominate through terror; to usher in a utopian vision; and to silence or destroy any murmur of dissent. Multiculturalism is not the remedy for this disease, but rather an enabler. "[Livingstone] wants everyone to get along. I want to defeat a terrible enemy."

Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, was joined by London-based commentator Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It. Both argued that, contrary to the portrait of London as an oasis of calm, it has become a nesting place for international terrorism. The 7/7/05 train bombings, the first suicide attacks committed by native Britons against their fellow citizens, only hint at the problem. Britain's toleration of militant preachers--who use mosques and Internet cafés to incite violence--has inspired a vast network of Islamic radicalism.

Government reports suggest that about 3,000 British-born or British-based individuals have passed through al Qaeda training camps, and that at least 16,000 British Muslims are now associated with possible terrorist activity--many based in London. Pipes reminded hecklers that terrorists have carried out, or attempted to carry out, deadly attacks in at least 15 countries. The real danger now, he warned, is that London is exporting its terrorism abroad. "London is posing a threat to the rest of the world," Pipes said. "[Al Qaeda] seeks a cosmic confrontation with the West."

That doesn't seem far off the mark. Last month, the city's Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, said the terrorist threat level was "of an unparalleled nature"--and growing. Blair cited the desire, and capacity, of terrorists to commit mass atrocities against ordinary citizens. "In terms of civilians, you would have to go back to probably either the Second World War or Cold War for that."

Multicultural policies, Pipes argued, make the problem worse by deepening a sense of alienation. Polls show, for example, that about one in four British Muslims express sympathy for the "feelings and motives" of the 7/7 bombers. A handful of politicians, such as the Labour party's Trevor Phillips, chairman of Britain's Commission for Racial Equity, have, however, pushed back: Phillips made front-page headlines in 2004 when he declared that the U.K.'s entire multicultural project had failed--thanks to its rejection of British values--and should be scrapped. "Shall we kill it off?" he asked. "Yes, let's do that."

Plenty of Londoners agree with him. Judging by their applause and howls of approval, the audience at last week's debate--probably as diverse as any in the city--named Pipes and Murray the victors. Nevertheless, it's doubtful that their arguments are gaining ground among British politicians or voters. Despite Livingstone's rationalizations for Islamist violence and his cozy relations with terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, he was reelected mayor in 2004--and many think he'll win again if he seeks another term.

In addition, last month the Foreign Office instructed cabinet ministers to drop the phrase "war on terror" because it might offend British Muslims. A Foreign Office spokesman defended the action this way: "We tend to emphasize upholding shared values as a means to counter terrorists." And just last week, the director of public prosecutions denied that Britain was in a "war on terror" and called for "legislative restraint" to address terrorist acts.

Just what the "ideological barbarians" were hoping for.

Joseph Loconte is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the host of the weekly television/Internet program "Britain and America" on 18DoughtyStreet.com.

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Why do Western women embrace Islam?       By Shamim Hunt  
Monday, 15 January 2007

It's partly through ignorance of Christianity and partly through ignorance of Islam.

The recent election of a woman convert as head of the Islamic Society of North America has again raised the question of why some Western women have adopted this alien faith. Dr Ingrid Mattson is a Canadian who teaches Islamic studies at a Christian seminary in Connecticut. For many people, why she turned her back on her Catholic past is not just puzzling, but disconcerting.

Another Muslim convert, Karin Van Nieuwkerk, has explored this issue in her recent book Women Embracing Islam. She says that female converts are particularly attracted to Islamic conceptions of manhood and womanhood and to its clear moral boundaries and rules. Why take the plunge? Van Nieuwkerk's answer is -- and this is what Islam teaches -- that no one really "converts" to Islam. The real state of affairs is that people are reverting to the natural religion for which they are hard-wired, so to speak. And this is Islam.

Interestingly, Van Nieuwkerk contends that many Americans are attracted not by mainstream Islam, but by a mystical sect called Sufism which does not conform to either Qur'an or Hadith. "Sufism," she says, "is the main agent for conversion to Islam in the West." In fact Sufism was started in the Iraqi city of Basra several centuries after Mohammed by women mystics such Rabia Basri who were influenced by Christianity, as Van Nieuwkerk also points. This is the only Islamic sect that is spiritual, unlike the Qur'anic Islam whose focus is on external matters only. But Van Nieuwkerk never grapples with the real question which this fact raises: are these new converts truly Muslims if they are not following the true Islam as portrayed in the Qur'an and in the life of Mohammed?

In her book Van Nieuwkerk interviews a number of women in Western Europe who have become Muslims. They had become disillusioned with Christianity for various situational reasons. What they seem to have in common, I observed, is that they really don't know much about either Christ or Mohammed. One woman turned to Islam, for instance, because she wanted to divorce her adulterous husband, not because she saw something great in Islam or found faults in Christianity. Basically, she decided to make up her own version of religion and call it Islam.

Sometimes they show a woeful ignorance of what Christianity actually teaches. Unlike Islam, Christ taught the sanctity of marriage, ie, marriage is between one man and one woman for life. In contrast, in Islam a man can divorce a woman by pronouncing the formula of divorce three times. No particular reason is needed. Moreover, a man can marry up to four women at a time. Mohammed himself had 11 wives, 4 known concubines, and 23 known women prisoners of war whom he kept to have sex with. All this appears to contradict Mohammed’s own prohibition of adultery.

Sometimes women converts confuse Christianity and the mores of modern society. "Women regain the possibility of living according to their 'feminine nature'," Van Nieuwkerk writes. "Contrary to Western socialisation, Islam highly values motherhood and the nurturing qualities of women. Motherhood is not merely valued in Islam, but acknowledged as an important performance equal to labour and is also supported by men."

One woman converted because "in Dutch society women are obliged to earn an income and Islam permits women to stay at home and raise children". Obviously this woman had a problem with Dutch society and not with Christianity. Christ did not require women to work outside the home if they do not wish to do so. And authentic Christianity certainly values the nurturing qualities of women. In fact, if one examines Muslim esteem for motherhood more deeply, one can see the real Islam. This commandment to stay home and not to leave the home without a male relative was issued because women could not be trusted morally. That is why women are forbidden to go out alone anywhere in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia. This esteem is, in fact, a form of oppression.

Modesty is another attraction of Islam for some of Van Nieuwkerk's subjects. But to some extent this is an extension of the same mistrust. One woman became a Muslim because she thought that "hijab is liberating because it forces people to judge a woman according to her intellect instead of appearance." But in Christianity, spirituality, holiness, and purity of the heart are far more highly esteemed than outward beauty. Christ never said that women should be judged by their attractiveness. In fact, Islam tends to look only at external behaviour. Often the standard of being a good Muslim is whether one refuses to eat pork. But Christ said that it is not what you eat that makes one a bad person but how one thinks and behaves.

The hijab was invented because Muslim women are not trusted; it reassures a man that other men cannot see his wife’s or sister’s beauty. Muslim women do not hide their beauty from their husband. Sometimes devout Muslims contend that a hijab makes it easier for men to appreciate a woman's intellectual virtues, and not merely her physical charm. But, really, I ask, would a loving husband ignore his wife's intellect simply because she was beautiful?

The interest of people in the West in Islam is greater than in any other time in history in the aftermath of 9/11. But despite the publicity given to Muslim conversions, more and more Muslims are turning to Christ than ever before. A number of Protestant evangelists quote an Al Jazeera interview in 2000 with Sheikh Ahmad Al Katani, the president of The Companions Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law in Libya, an institution specialising in graduating imams and Islamic preachers. Much to the astonishment of the journalist interviewing him, Al Katani complained about the number of Muslims converting to Christianity in Africa.

    Islam used to represent, as you previously mentioned, Africa’s main religion and there were 30 African languages that used to be written in Arabic script. The number of Muslims in Africa has diminished to 316 million, half of whom are Arabs in North Africa. So in the section of Africa that we are talking about, the non-Arab section, the number of Muslims does not exceed 150 million people. When we realise that the entire population of Africa is one billion people, we see that the number of Muslims has diminished greatly from what it was in the beginning of the last century. On the other hand, the number of Catholics has increased from one million in 1902 to 329,882,000. Let us round off that number to 330 million in the year 2000.

    As to how that happened: well there are now 1.5 million churches whose congregations account for 46 million people. In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity. These numbers are very large indeed...

Even in theocratic Iran, conversion to Christianity has become an issue for the regime. IPS, a reliable "third world" news service, reported in 2004 that a cleric working for the education ministry exhorted a gathering of high school students to remain faithful to Islam by warning them of apostates. "Unfortunately, on average, every day 50 Iranian girls and boys convert secretly to Christian denominations in our country," he told them. (The same IPS article also reported that Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, a prominent Shi'ite teacher, denounced the deceptions of Sufism, as well -- not good news for American converts.)

This is happening despite the capital punishment sanctioned in the Qur'an for those who leave Islam. It's good to remember that there is no capital punishment for Christians if they become Muslims; Christians believe that Christ sends rain on both Christians and non-Christians alike. Christ gives them a chance to change instead of ordering their murder. Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. In my opinion, it is this love for humanity commanded by Jesus that is bringing more to Christ than the hatred expressed in Qur'an for one's enemies, especially Jews and Christians.

Statistics for conversion to Islam are very scarce. Van Nieuwkerk resorts to naming a few elite men and women who have converted, most of them through marriage. She reports that "in 2002, the Muath Welfare Trust in Birmingham reported that seventeen women converted to Islam, eight of them through marriage, while the rest, nine, came to Islam as a result of personal search."

Compared to six million Muslims converting to Christ, very few Christians convert to Islam. As noted above, many of these converts are either ignorant of the real teachings of Islam or have been scandalised by the misbehaviour of nominal Christians who hardly live up to the high standards of the teaching of Christ. For most women converts to Islam, the old saying still holds true: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried."

Shamim Hunt holds an MA in History of Ideas, a BA in philosophy, and a second BA in Humanities. She resides in the US and is currently a student at Westminster Theological Seminary in the M.Div program. Her email address is huntshamim@yahoo.com

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The Demands of Dialogue With Muslims
Interview With Catholic Theologian Ilaria Morali

ROME, NOV. 29, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI has helped to open a new kind of dialogue with Islam, says theologian Ilaria Morali.

Morali, a professor of dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, takes part annually in meetings of interreligious dialogue in Turkey.

In this interview with ZENIT, Morali comments on the points of exchange on the faith and interreligious dialogue with Muslim intellectuals.

Q: You have just returned from Turkey. In the intellectual world in which you moved, what was the atmosphere in regard to the Pope's visit?

Morali: The news these days certainly shows that there are objective difficulties, especially among ordinary people and the most alienated movements.

Without a doubt, this climate contributed to the wave of media propaganda following the Regensburg address. The latter in turn triggered an emotional outburst, before the meaning of the Holy Father's words was clarified and before there was time to reread the content.

And this emotional outburst has also touched intellectual environments, which perhaps are not totally used to the new style of the papacy inaugurated by Benedict XVI.

In my talks, however, I have been able to verify that, beyond an apparent mistrust, there is great interest in this Pope. He has sparked a positive leap of quality in the Muslim-Christian dialogue, showing that confrontation, if it is to be true, must not fear to also touch upon controversial or uncomfortable points for both sides.

Q: Has Benedict XVI instituted a new way of dialoguing with Islam?

Morali: From what I have been able to gather in Istanbul, talking with some Muslim colleagues, I realize that they never imagined that there could be another way of dialoguing other than that of John Paul II.

They thought it was the only possible way for communication, while [instead] it was necessary to take a step for a further maturing of the exchange.

And this step, as is the case of every novelty, has entailed a re-establishment of the balances and the creation of new premises to move the dialogue from gestures to intellectual confrontation, lively and difficult, addressing the problems and involving the world of moderate intellectuals more directly, giving them an extraordinary opportunity to come out and participate with greater courage in the exchange.

During our meeting, a Muslim colleague said that "dialogue" has become an expression that has suffered an inflation, as it is used without coming to the point.

In fact, there has been a total loss of meaning of what the Catholic Church wished to say and do when Paul VI spoke about it for the first time in "Ecclesiam Suam."

And I think my colleague's affirmation is true. Many Catholics have lost the exact meaning that the magisterium attributes to dialogue and have reduced its value, thinking -- and also making Muslims think -- that dialogue should be expressed essentially with gestures of friendship and solidarity, avoiding a serene but difficult confrontation including on painful points.

Q: But dialogue cannot be reduced to theological topics and "painful" points, as you say.

Morali: Dialogue cannot be improvised; moreover, it is a mistake to conceive it in the abstract, as is often thought, as "dialogue between religions."

Therefore, I am convinced that, and I have said it to some Muslim friends of Istanbul, thanks to this papal visit not only will they know a new face of the papacy, but Benedict XVI's unheard-of focus will lead them to be far more involved in the exchange and reflection than previously.

Q: What is your perception of the situation of Christians in Turkey?

Morali: I certainly perceived great suffering, in part as a legacy of discriminations and persecutions suffered in the not-too-distant past, and in part due to the situation of dispersion and fragmentation of the Christian communities themselves.

The murder of Father Andrea Santoro [last Feb. 5] is certainly the sign that objective dangers exist to which the most committed people are exposed.

Turkish Islam, as some explained to me, is not only that of the big cities like Istanbul, which looks increasingly like a Western metropolis, but also that of isolated fields, small villages and extremist formations.

Too often we make simplifications thinking that Islam is a unitary event, but as my Turkish friends explain, in that country Islam is made up of many realities.

On the other hand, in fact, dialogue such as those in Istanbul that are held under the sponsorship of the Marmara University of Istanbul, reflect[s] a change of climate.

I will give examples to confirm what I am saying: Last year I went to visit the Islamic Studies Center in Istanbul, especially the library. Well, my Turkish friends showed me with justified pride the sector they have dedicated to Christian books. They have established it by design to give Muslim students the possibility to go directly to the Christian sources to learn about our tradition of faith and our history.

I have examined the shelves and have seen how much care they took in finding these books. They told me, however, how difficult it was to find truly reliable books in Catholic publishing houses that give an objective view of the doctrine and of Christian history.

I told them they were right, seeing the lack of quality of some publications produced by Catholic publishing houses, at times more inclined to publish books of relativist theology than of healthy Catholic theology.

I know that a Muslim colleague has translated into Turkish the encyclical "Fides et Ratio" and will see to its publication. This initiative will not only benefit students of comparative theology but also Christians themselves who certainly do not have the means and strength to undertake such initiatives.

Q: How do you live the rapprochement with Turkish Muslims?

Morali: As dogmatic theologian I have to say to Christians, who might wish to venture in interreligious dialogue, that an imperative for an exchange is to avoid any improvisation.

I am not a professor specialized in Islam and my interlocutors know it, so that in my expositions I present Catholic dogma simply, leaving to Father Maurice Bormanns the implications for Islam.

My communications are appreciated because I speak with extreme frankness of my faith without expecting my interlocutors to be in agreement with me.

The meetings in Istanbul demand from each person a long preparation. For my part, I work dialoguing much with Father Bormanns to be able to elaborate my interventions from a perspective that might turn out to be of greater interest to my interlocutors. Often my conferences are the basis for a dialogue that Father Bormanns, with his great competence, carries out establishing comparisons and parallelisms or, for example, quoting authors.

In this way, the Catholic dogmatic and the Catholic expert in Islam become actors in a very profound dialogue.

So I have been able to verify, among other things, the superficiality of some focuses seen in the Catholic world, when there is talk of dialogue between religions, as if one religion was the same as another, or when "initiatives of dialogue" are organized without adequate preparation, either on the subject of the Catholic faith or of the tradition of our interlocutor.

Q: Why are you so critical of some forms of interreligious dialogue?

Morali: I recall that last year, at the moment of exchange with the assembly, a person in the audience asked me if I could at least accept that Mohammed was the last and greatest of the prophets.

Addressing an audience made up of Muslims, and before answering, I asked him in turn: "If I posed a similar question on Jesus Christ, for example, asking a Muslim professor to admit at least that Jesus Christ is as great as Mohammed, would you think he is a good Muslim if, to please me, he said I was right? You would prefer, I believe, that he be consistent with his faith even at the cost of displeasing me with his answer. I think that you want an answer from me as a Catholic woman and would not appreciate an answer of compromise to please you. You would not consider me a good Catholic Christian. That is why I answer you as any Catholic should answer: with sincerity and serenity."

I remember that his reasoning touched deep chords in my Muslim colleagues who expressed great appreciation for the sincerity and transparency I showed, and also for my courage in giving them an answer which was certainly not totally acceptable for a Muslim.

A professor said to me: "Dr. Morali, we want to dialogue with true Catholics, not with mediocre Catholics, though this is certainly rather more difficult. Continue like this, please."

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On Benedict XVI's Dialogue With Islam
Interview With Islamic Scholar Father Justo Lacunza

ROME, NOV. 19, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Turkey is a lay republic where Islam plays an important role in people's identity, says a scholar who sees no reason why the country should enter the European Union.

Father Justo Lacunza Balda, of the Missionaries of Africa, is a professor of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies of Rome (PISAI), of which he was rector from 2000 to 2006.

He holds a licentiate in Arabic language and Islamic studies from PISAI and a doctorate in African languages and cultures from the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London.

Father Lacunza spoke with ZENIT about the paths that he thinks Benedict XVI is pursuing in dialogue with Islam.

Q: The Pope is going to Turkey in a few days on a trip that has aroused high expectations. Why is it a difficult trip?

Father Lacunza: Turkey is a lay, democratic and secular republic. The state has no official religion, but we must not forget that the majority of the population in Turkey is Muslim.

Therefore, the relations of the Catholic Church come into play with a country of Muslim majority, and this is difficult from the point of view of Christian minorities, religious liberty and pastoral activities.

It is a difficult trip because at stake in this crucial moment is Turkey's entrance into the European Community.

Personally, I don't see why Turkey should be part of the European Union. Suffice it to see its geographic situation to realize this. Have we forgotten that Turkey has borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria?

The core of the problem is that the difficulties must be analyzed one by one and not state straight away: "Yes, Turkey is part of Europe."

The fact that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not receive the Pope is a significant event which does not help to strengthen relations between the Holy See and Turkey.

Q: Turkey states that it respects human rights. Is this really so?

Father Lacunza: Everything lies in what one understands by "human rights." If one must defend being Turkish at all costs -- and this prevents people from freely changing their religion -- then there is a real problem of human rights and freedom.

If the term "Turkish" is identified with Muslim, there is a long way to go. One must see if the Christian minorities feel free. The idea of the Islamic state in Turkey has never been discarded by Islamist currents.

Q: As an Islamic scholar, do you think Benedict XVI is taking significant steps in the dialogue with Islam?

Father Lacunza: I believe the Pope is convinced of the need for dialogue between Christians and Muslims at the cultural and religious level.

He affirmed this in his address in Cologne in August 2005, on his visit to Germany for World Youth Day, when he spoke with Muslim representatives. Benedict XVI has affirmed this on several occasions.

In my opinion, the Pontiff is following three paths, with only one objective: to make himself bearer of the mission of the Church in the world. In a certain sense, it is the continuation of the apostolic mission of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

The first step is to apply the binomial "faith and reason" to interreligious and intercultural dialogue, especially in relations with Muslims, which seems to be the most difficult and conflictive.

This challenge is addressed to all Catholics, to all bishops and to all ecclesiastical institutions. Dialogue is not invented without interest, knowledge and learning. But Benedict XVI's action is also directed to state institutions which have the tendency of laying aside religion, of suffocating believers' faith and of spreading the idea that belief is something of the past. Cynicism in the religious field is a dangerous cancer of our time.

The second step is to build with wisdom Catholics' religious identity and to defend it intelligently.

It is important that Catholics know what it means to be Christian believers. This calls for education, catechesis and progress of the faith. It is the only way for Catholics to prepare for interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

The latter is arduous and difficult when Catholics' religious identity is uncertain and hesitant. If faith is reduced to a brilliant varnish, all dialogue will entail fear, prejudice and confrontation.

The third step is to put one's finger in the wound and affirm categorically that defenders of the faith cannot make use of violence to justify their own actions. In this connection, freedom of expression must occupy a central place in all forms of intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

The Regensburg address, which was not an address on Islam, has raised a storm of criticisms, protests and controversies, within and outside the Church. This means that there is a long way to go and that voices are not always harmonized.

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Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies
Interview With Father M.A. Ayuso, New Rector

ROME, NOV. 16, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Interest in Islam is growing, but at times the focus is more on information rather than formation, says the new rector of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies.

Father Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, a Comboni missionary, is the new rector of the PISAI. In this interview with ZENIT, he presents the nature of this Church institution at the service of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

Born in Seville, Spain, Father Ayuso has a doctorate in dogmatic theology and has been a missionary in Egypt and Sudan.

Q: There are many people who do not know that the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies exists in Rome. Since when has it been operating and what does Benedict XVI think about this institution?

Father Ayuso: Yes, the ignorance is somewhat surprising in certain sectors, except in the academic, of the existence in Rome of a pontifical institute which is dedicated specifically to the objective study of Islam, in view of establishing an interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Muslims and Christians.

Surprising too is the fact that in the Muslim environment we are well known and appreciated for our seriousness and determination to know Islam objectively, from the study of its sciences, through intensive study of the Arab language, as an absolutely necessary instrument to that end.

The Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies was created in 1926 in Tunis by the Society of Missionaries of Africa [the White Fathers]. Its aim was the specific formation of missionaries to live in an Arab-Muslim environment.

In 1949, the center of studies was moved to Manouba, near Tunis, where the Arab language and Islamic sciences were taught, while the Tunis center was becoming what up to today is called Institute of Arab Literature.

In 1960, the center was established as a pontifical institute and, in 1964, because of the policy of nationalizations, it was transferred from Tunis to Rome, where it received the support of Pope Paul VI, as an ideal instrument for interreligious dialogue, in keeping with the new spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

Since then […] PISAI has been and is an institution of the Church of international prestige at the service of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

In recent years, its academic authorities have tried to solve some difficulties to be able to ensure PISAI's continuity and permanence in Rome.

In fact, Benedict XVI's intervention for this excellent institute allows us to continue to offer this service to the Church, and for this we are enormously grateful to him. The institute will continue its mission of being a bridge between cultures and religions.

Q: On what will you focus your term as rector?

Father Ayuso: Simply on giving continuity to all the work that has been done up to today, that is, to work seriously in three essential fields: education, scientific publications and research.

To do this, we have a team of 25 professors for our students' formation; three scientific publications -- one on Arabic studies and the other two on the Islamic-Christian dialogue from the scientific perspective and the pastoral program of meetings; and, finally, for the purpose of research we have a specialized library with more than 31,000 volumes and more than 450 journal titles; and a consultation room frequented by our students, by students from other universities, and by a good number of researchers from all parts of the world.

Moreover, it is my great hope as rector to promote, among our more effective and motivated former students, the need for serious and continuing specialized study in this very important field of the Church's mission, to try to create a new team of professors who will be able to replace the elite team that PISAI has had since the beginning.

I also see an urgent need to continue the process of collaboration between the institute and religious congregations and diocesan and academic institutions in view of enriching this Church institution.

This collaboration would be obtained through the offer of teaching staff and possible collaborators, as well as with academic exchanges in the field of study of religions and cultures.

I think that at the Church level, we must "globalize" ourselves, that is, be truly catholic, to give consistency to a priority task of the Church. Hence, we need collaborators.

Finally, I wish to say that collaboration is translated also in financial terms. We need to create an "Association of Friends of PISAI," to collect funds which will allow us to promote extra-academic activities of an interreligious and intercultural character, which will enable us to enrich the institute's activities. Hence, we need donations.

Q: Some of the professors -- many of them White Fathers -- are considered world authorities on Islam. Do you think they are sufficiently known in the Catholic realm?

Father Ayuso: Yes, as I was saying, we have a series of professors who have marked a milestone in the history of this institution. The merit lies, I believe, in the seriousness and scientific rigor that they have been able to cultivate and promote during their academic service.

This effort carried out over long years has opened for them, with authority and respect, the doors of "interreligiosity" and "interculturality" toward our Muslim men and women friends.

Many of them are White Fathers. To mention one: Father Michel Lagarde, UNESCO 2005 prize of Arab Culture. I believe they are well known in Catholic realms, but probably knowledge of them is more widespread in the Arab-Muslim environment.

Q: Have you noticed an increase in students since Islam has been at the center of world attention?

Father Ayuso: Not in the quantity but yes in their countries of origin. Today we continue to have a group of some 50 students for the licentiate and doctorate degrees. It must be kept in mind that PISAI is a center of excellence, namely, of very specialized studies.

The endeavor of the Church in the field of dialogue has meant that some students are sent to study at PISAI, from all parts of the world, as prior pastoral preparation to exercise a function in the field of dialogue in their native dioceses or their own communities.

As we travel through the world it is a pleasure to meet with former students of PISAI who are responsible for centers of dialogue, be it at the local, diocesan, regional or national level, etc.

Since the beginning, PISAI has had some 1,300 students, who have been prepared for interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

Obviously, the present importance of Islam, as a center of social attention, should entail an increase of students, but at times one has the impression that interest is concentrated more on information than on formation. Today formation is absolutely necessary.

Q: How can PISAI contribute to the interreligious and intercultural dialogue?

Father Ayuso: PISAI continues to be a point of reference in the ambit of dialogue between cultures and religions, offering a renewed impulse to Arabic and Islamic studies, for the purpose of contributing to greater mutual knowledge and understanding, ever more necessary in the world in which we live.

As a Church institution and recalling Benedict XVI's words -- our future depends on dialogue with Islam -- PISAI's contribution will continue to bear fruits, as it has always done from its humble but significant creation.

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 Muhammad: prophet for our time   Karen Armstrong
HarperPress, £12.99  Tablet bookshop price £11.70   (Book review)

Exactly 50 years ago, W. Montgomery Watt in his book Muhammad at Medina described Muhammad as "one of the greatest of the ‘sons of Adam'" and "a moral and social reformer". "Towards convincing Christian Europe that Muhammad is a moral exemplar ... little, indeed nothing, has so far been accomplished," he noted. Watt went on to ask if Muslims could discover the moral principles needed for a creative contribution to the present world situation by sifting the universal in the life of Muhammad from the particular.

In her elegantly composed and absorbingly narrated story of Muhammad's life and achievements, Karen Armstrong aims at doing just this and even more. She sees Muhammad not only as "a moral exemplar" but also as no less than "Prophet [and not only a prophet] for our time". Her account is based partly on a straightforward and uncritical reading of the work of Muhammad's earliest biographers, taking the Qur'an as her main source of information.

Following Toshihiko Izutzu's groundbreaking study Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur'an, she gives an admirable introduction to the key values inspiring Muhammad's life and preaching. She adroitly challenges Muslim extremist readings of the Qur'an and Sira, noting that they correspond strangely to the "Islamophobia in Western culture that dates back to the time of the Crusades" and is kept alive by some sectors of the Western media to this day.

Her view of Muhammad is linked to her belief that on 9/11 the world embarked on a new historical era, requiring a changed outlook. It is with this objective firmly in mind that Armstrong arrives at what seems a contrived interpretation of Muhammad's life: "Muhammad literally sweated with the effort to bring peace to war-torn Arabia, and we need people who are prepared to do this today. His life is a tireless campaign against greed, injustice, and arrogance ... he wore himself out in the effort to evolve an entirely new solution."

On this reading, Muhammad becomes not the harbinger of a new religion trying "to impose religious orthodoxy" but rather someone out "to change people's hearts and minds". Muhammad's distinctive contribution, "the full significance of his prophetic career", is to have pursued the struggle against violence and retaliation of pre-Islamic Arab life and replaced it with the "ideal of non-violence and reconciliation".

For Armstrong, the violent phase in the career of Muhammad must not be taken as its climax: Muhammad "eventually abjured warfare and adopted a non-violent policy". This statement is bizarre and corresponds to no Muslim account. It is highly questionable also in the light of all the bloodshed during the early history of Islam, starting with the Medinan period of Muhammad's career. Is it really historically convincing to claim that the battles of Muhammad and his immediate successors "had no religious significance"? Or that the first four caliphs, the "rightly guided ones", "in expanding the Arab Islamic empire by diplomatic and military means", were "responding to a political opportunity ... rather than a Qur'anic imperative"? The Qur'an clearly indicates that Muhammad's first great victory, at Badr, was to be understood as an act of divine intervention, vindicating Muhammad in his struggle against the enemies.

Armstrong's biography succeeds in highlighting the extraordinary qualities and achievements of Muhammad as a patriarch, leader of men, political and moral reformer and religious genius, but she fails to do justice to the Qur'an-based religious claims made by Muhammad. He did not only consider himself as the harbinger of an utterly divine summons, he was also convinced that he was the "seal of the prophets", that is, the prophet in whom the revelation of God to humanity reached its perfection and its fulfilment, and that this had been announced to him by Jesus himself.

Armstrong also surely does not take sufficient notice of the considerable differences between Islam and Judaism and Christianity, the two religions based on the Bible. Muhammad tells us very clearly that he is not only a prophet (nabi) but also a messenger (rasul), i.e. the herald of a law revealed to him in order to correct and complete the Bible.

Where Jesus is concerned, Muhammad accepts that he is the Messiah, born of a virgin, and bestows remarkable titles on him. However, these titles do not signify in the Qur'an what they mean in the New Testament. Muhammad was shocked by the central affirmations of Christianity, on matters such as the Trinity, the Divine Sonship of Jesus and the Crucifixion. In conformity with Qur'anic teaching, Muhammad "corrects" or denies all of them.

Christians can perhaps follow the Catholicos Timotheos I who told the Caliph al-Mahdi in the year 781, "Muhammad has followed the path of the prophets". But a statement along these lines can never satisfy Muslims, for whom he is "the Prophet" par excellence.

But, theologically, Christian believers cannot and should not see Muhammad as a prophet in the biblical sense and even less as a "prophet for our time". Christians may, however, gladly affirm that God has allowed something of the power and truth to be inserted into history through the way Muhammad responded to his vocation, which in our globalised, contemporary world is most adequately exemplified and most powerfully realised by the non-violent ebed Yahwe, Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen Messiah and Lord.

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Benedict XVI and the redemption of jihad
Posted on Oct 30, 2006 06:36am CST.

By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.  (followed by comments by others)
Chicago

Can jihad be redeemed? That is, can the religious sense of purpose that fuels Islamic extremism be leavened with a commitment to reason and peace, without thereby losing its sense of self? That’s the $64,000 question facing Islam, and it is for the most part one that only Muslims themselves can answer.

One could make the case, however, that if anyone in the West can help, it’s Pope Benedict XVI, despite Regensburg and all the heartache that followed – because Benedict is the lone figure of global standing in the West who speaks from within the same thought world that Muslims sympathetic to the strong religious identity of the jihadists themselves inhabit.

A detour into the recent history of Islamic thought helps make the point.

Egyptian poet and essayist Sayyid Qutb, hanged by Nasser in 1966, is known as the father of modern Islamic radicalism. Ironically, Qutb’s vision of jihad as an unrelenting conflict with the enemies of Islam was forged in part in the improbable locales of Washington, D.C., Greeley, Colorado, and Palo Alto, California, where he studied from 1948 to 1950 as part of an exchange program sponsored by the Egyptian Ministry of Education.

Qutb attended Wilson Teachers’ College, the Colorado State College of Education (today the University of Northern Colorado), and Stanford. Based on that experience, Qutb penned his famous tract The America I Have Seen, which has gone through innumerable printings and today can be found in cheap paperback editions in virtually every corner of the Islamic world. It still exercises a profound impact in shaping Muslim perceptions of American culture.

The work amounted to a ferocious attack upon what Qutb called “the American man,” depicted as obsessed with technology but virtually a barbarian in the realm of spirituality and human values. American society, for Qutb, was “rotten and ill” to its very core.

He wrote:

This great America: What is it worth in the scale of human values? And what does it add to the moral account of humanity? And, by the journey’s end, what will its contribution be? I fear that a balance may not exist between America’s material greatness and the quality of its people. And I fear that the wheel of life will have turned and the book of life will have closed and America will have added nothing, or next to nothing, to the account of morals that distinguishes man from object, and indeed, mankind from animals.

Qutb was not blind to the superficial attractions of America, which draw immigrants from every corner of the globe:

Imagination and dreams glimmer in this world of illusion and wonder. The hearts of men fall upon it from every valley, men from every race and color, every walk of life, and every sect and creed … America is the land of inexhaustible material resources, strength, and manpower. It is the land of huge factories, unequalled in all of civilization. … American genius in management and organization evokes wonder and admiration. America’s bounty and prosperity evoke the dreams of the Promised Land.

Yet Qutb saw that promise as false, because America’s technical virtuosity is not matched by a similar greatness of spirit:

It is the case of a people who have reached the peak of growth and elevation in the world of science and productivity, while remaining abysmally primitive in the world of the senses, feeling and behavior. A people that has not exceeded the most primordial levels of existence, and indeed, remains far below them in certain areas of feeling and behavior.

The American man’s obsession with technical power, Qutb wrote, has “narrowed his horizons, shrank his soul, limited his feelings, and decreased his place at the global feast, which is so full of patterns and colors.”

A particular zone of disgust for Qutb was what he saw as the sexual licentiousness of American culture (and this, bear in mind, was the early 1950s). He wrote that a society in which “immoral teachings and poisonous intentions are rampant” and sex is considered “outside the sphere of morality” is one in which “the humanity of man can hardly find a place to develop.” Qutb said that “providing full opportunities for the development and perfection of human characteristics requires strong safeguards for the peace and stability of the family.”

As Lebanese journalist Fawaz Gerges has noted, Qutb is no De Tocqueville. He barely scratches the surface of American culture, completely missing its underlying religiosity and failing to understand how core spiritual values such as liberty and equality form part of the bedrock of American psychology.

Yet for anyone familiar with the cultural criticism penned over the years by Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, there is nevertheless something strikingly familiar in Qutb’s critique – albeit not so much of America, as the West in general. What both men share is a conviction that the West’s scientific and technological achievements are not always matched by its spiritual and moral wisdom.

As early as his 1965 work The Sacramental Foundation of Christian Existence, Ratzinger warned against:

“… the reduction of man to homo faber, who does not interact with things in themselves, but only regards them as functions of his labor. With this … man’s ability to have a view for the eternal is destroyed. He is incarcerated in his world of labor, and his only hope is that future generations will be able to have more convenient conditions of labor than him, if he has sufficiently struggled to have such conditions created. A truly paltry consolation for an existence that has become miserably tight!”

In his 1990 book In the Beginning, on the doctrine of creation, Ratzinger wrote of contemporary Western society:

“The good and the moral no longer count, it seems, but only what one can do. The measure of a human being is what he can do, and not what he is, not what is good or bad. What he can do, he may do. … He does not free himself, but places himself in opposition to the truth. And that means that he is destroying himself and the world. … [The question] “What can we do?” will be false and pernicious while we refrain from asking, ‘Who are we?’ The question of being and the question of our hopes are inseparable.”

Ratzinger has even linked this critique to the question of birth control, arguing that it amounts to a mechanical solution to an ethical and cultural problem. In the 1996 book Salt of the Earth, he said: “One of our great perils [is] that we want to master the human condition with technology, that we have forgotten that there are primordial human problems that are not susceptible of technological solutions, but that demand a certain life-style and certain life decisions.”

I adduce these quotes, of course, not to suggest that Benedict is a Christian version of Qutb. Benedict is infinitely more balanced and subtle; among other things, Benedict is far more favorable in his analysis of American culture. As Cardinal Avery Dulles recently pointed out, at times Benedict sounds almost like De Tocqueville in his positive assessment of church/state relations in this country.

Yet Benedict XVI would nevertheless find in Qutb a version –in extreme and distorted form – of the same critique of the West that the pope in many ways shares.

In the end, this is the most compelling reason why Benedict’s repeated insistence that he wants a “frank and sincere” dialogue with Islam is more than lip service. Fundamentally, the clash of cultures that Benedict sees in the world today is not between Islam and the West, but between belief and unbelief – between a culture that grounds itself in God and religious belief, and a culture that lives etsi Deus non daretur, “as if God does not exist.”

In that struggle, Benedict has long said, Muslims are natural allies.

Yet Benedict is also well aware that at present, Islamic radicalism is having almost the opposite effect – discrediting religious commitment in any form by associating it with violence and fanaticism. Hence when Benedict presses Muslims to reject terrorism and to embrace religious liberty, he does so not as a xenophobe or a crusader, not as a “theo-con,” but as someone who perceives himself as a friend of Islam, pressing it to realize the best version of itself.

That, no doubt, is part of the argument he will try to make during his upcoming trip to Turkey.

If they could set aside their prejudices, at least some of the spiritual sons and daughters of Sayyid Qutb might well recognize a potential ally in Joseph Ratzinger – and therein lays perhaps the last, best hope for Muslim/Catholic dialogue under Benedict XVI.

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From a non-American perspective, I find the following comment interesting:

"He barely scratches the surface of American culture, completely missing its underlying religiosity and failing to understand how core spiritual values such as liberty and equality form part of the bedrock of American psychology".

Most Western countries can claim an underlying religiosity. The question is whether it is being maintained and fostered. From what we are seeing today in the United States, I would say not. And unfortunately, I would tend to disagree that liberty and equality are "core spiritual values" in the way they are currently being used and applied in the West. Should "liberty", for example, extend to the acceptance of multiple sexual preferences or freedom to kill an unborn child? Should "equality" extend to women's lack of respect for their husbands, refusing to have children in preference for furthering their career goals? These are just a couple of examples and, in general, it all sounds rather un-spiritual to me, personally.

I think the poet has hit on the main grudge Islam has against the USA and the west generally. Such a powerful country, full of promise, but taking a path to spiritual poverty and ruin under a rather dubious pretext of upholding "liberty" and "equality". Boundaries are needed where "liberty" flourishes in errant directions. Stability in families is needed where "equality" takes an errant direction. What religiously zealous nation can stand back and watch. In my eyes, one could compare the situation to Jesus seeing the money-changers doing business outside His Father's temple.

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(Fr.)David-Maria A. Jaeger, ofm:

Of course, very many Muslim scholars - and all of my own Muslim friends - call for a thoroughly nonviolent [re-]reading of the call for "jihad" (as a spiritual battle, rather than any sort of bloody war), much as Christians in times not long ago took to using "crusade" as shorthad for widespread public mobilisation in a good cause (The "Crusade for Children" work of charity, instead of the mediaeval "Children's Crusade"...). HOWEVER, I should be very, very wary of favouring any impression that there are commonalities, actual or desirable, between the Catholic Church and theocratic ("fundamentalist") régimes, or such systems of belief and practice (such commonalities were, in effect, hypothesised by some commentators, on the basis of some coinciding voting patterns at the Cairo Population Conference, some years ago, and indeed on some occasions since, etc.). Apparent, localised, accidental analogies and convergences here and there (e.g. - being appalled at the lack of respect for the sacred, or certain - but certainly not all - teachings with regard to sex and the family, etc.) must not be allowed to give the merest impression of some actual or even possible "Holy Alliance" intent on subduing the democratic gains of the last two centuries (and before) in the West (which have happily spread beyond it too, although not yet sufficiently so). That would not only be false, but also destructive of all the Church's hopes for the "dialogue of salvation" (Paul VI)with all who have tragically come to see her as precisely this ogre, inimical to their liberty. We re-conquer (peacefully, peacefully) the hearts and minds of our contemporaries - and their "culture" - and carry forward the new evangelisation, above all by demonsrating that it is the Faith that ultimately gave rise to their liberty, and that the Catholic doctrine on the rightful autonomy of the temporal order, together with our own beliefs concerning human rights (and the civil rights derived therefrom), indeed our very philosophical and theological anthropolgy, are in themselves, not only the fount, but also the guarantee of the liberty they prize. Is not this, in a sense, the overarching enterprise of the more recent Supreme Pontiffs (think, eg. from "Pacem in Terris", "Mater et Magistra" all the way to "Centesimus annus"...) and Vatican II (esp. "Gaudium et spes", "Dignitatis Humanae")? All our (nonviolent, nonviolent) "battles" as Catholics within (not "with": "within") "post-Enlightenment [Western] society" (as called elsewhere)are themselves methodologically and substantively PREMISED on a "healthfully secular" ("sanamente laica", said the Church and Christian Democrats in Italy) democracy. Concentrating attention on this or that presumably agreeable detail of theocratic Islamism (or theocratic anything, really), rather than comparing whole with whole, and joining forces with it(or just allowing the perception of doing so) against the "post-Enlightenment West," as it were, would be (if anyone ever thought of doing so) as tragic an error as that committed by some Catholics in the age of Fascism in Italy, on the basis of analogously faulty un-reasoning.

As a fervent admirer of the Holy Father, an attentive student of His teachings (first, of course, for many years, those of Prof., then Card. Joseph Ratzinger), whose most treasured memories are of a couple of personal theological conversations with the then Cardinal (in the late '80s, and then in the mid-90's, this latter being especially occasioned by His concern to avoid any danger of another Kulturkamf, "culture battle", as a result of something I was asking his opinion about...), I am more certain than certain that He would never contemplate, or countenance, such a project - whatever the precise shape of His plans for the urgently necessary renewal and upgrading of the dialogue with Muslims.

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I think that Jihad, properly understood, is eminently compatible with Catholicism.

Jihad teaches the personal struggle for holiness, the struggle against one's own sinful tendencies.

Jihad also teaches the obligation to work for social justice and peace.

Some come unstuck by trying to justify violence and war by Jihad, but there are unfortunately plenty of "Just War" Catholics who fall into this same trap too.

Islam is actually our natural ally and secular materialism, greed and war our common foe.

Submitted by Crazy Diamond on October 30, 2006 - 4:10pm.

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I wish this were true, but I don't think it is. The most common mistake of thinking about any other religion, including Islam, is to look at it as if it were like us but with a couple of slightly variant beliefs.

Islam is not ambivalent about violence - violent war is to be waged wherever it works, and violent warfare has been an integral part of Islam from its beginning. When Islam can't prevail by warfare in a particular situation, lying (taqqiya) and fake ceasefires (hudnas) are valid tools to bring about later conquest.

If there are muslims can disconnect violent jihad from the rest of Islam, I wish them well. I just don't see many trying, and I see a great many celebrating and defending it.

I would have to disagree with the analysis that the great clash today is between belief and unbelief in any case. I think it is between freedom and totalitarianism, and in that fight Islam is no more our ally than Russian or Chinese Communism ever was.

Submitted by pepo1 on October 31, 2006 - 4:34pm.

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I think if there are peace-loving Islamic people celebrating and defending violent action, it is more a celebration of having made a statement against more subtle evils prevalent in the West, rather than a celebration of war and violence in and of itself. The way these more subtle evils are being framed (e.g. under the guise of liberty and equality) makes them more insidious than the bluntness of violence. I still think the vast majority of Muslims would not condone the kind of violence used by extremists or, in olden days, their leaders seeking glory through conquest. The 1930's German population may have basked in the anticipation of world domination through the actions of Adolph Hitler and even cheered when victories were gained, but neverthless would not have made a choice for violent world domination in a vaccuum. At least the Muslim celebrations have a spiritual and moral motivation.

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 Conversing with Islam    By Martyn Drakard     Thursday, 19 October 2006

There are potholes of misunderstanding on both sides of the road to dialogue with Muslims, as this conversation with a Kenyan student makes clear.

NAIROBI -- Since September 11, 2001, Western newspapers are full of articles warning about the dangers of Islamic terrorism, with occasional breaks to terrify readers with the nuclear ambitions of Kim Jong-il. But few have ever spoken with a well-educated, non-Western observant Muslim. In Kenya, however, Mecca is only around the corner and Muslims constitute 10 per cent of the population. To get a better idea of how ordinary Muslims here view the West, I spoke with Issah Wabuyabo Kweyu.

Issah is a fitness instructor at Kenyatta University and is also doing a Master's degree on the link between sport and his other love, Islam. He is also a leader in establishing dialogue between Catholics and Muslims at his university. Most Muslims in Kenya have respect, and even admiration, for the Catholic Church.

Islam and sport? It's not a link that comes naturally to a Westerner. Issah explained that there is theological support for sport and exercise in the Qur'an, both directly and through induction. In the hadith (the oral and written tradition of Islam outside the Qur'an, which provides another source of revelation for Muslims) there is evidence that the Prophet Mohammed took part in sport himself, and recommended that his followers do the same. He pointed out the surviving tradition of archery and horse racing in northern Nigeria and the Horn of Africa. Mens sana in corpore sano is not only a Roman adage; a healthy mind and a strong body is also at the base of Muslim belief.

Religious confusions

As a participant in the upper echelons of a Western university system, Issah was clearly well-informed, so it could be a bit disconcerting for an American or European to discover how uncomfortable he felt with Western religion and social values.

Like most Muslims, he finds it difficult to see how Christians can be monotheists if they worship three Gods. I had to explain that God is Three Persons in one divine Nature and that Christians unequivocally accept the notion of one, indivisible God. The Muslim concept of a prophet is also different: beginning with Adam, and working through Abraham and Moses, God’s message to mankind culminates in Mohammed, the prophet par excellence. There is no mediator between God and man; man is in complete and direct submission to God.

To Issah, nearly all Christians seem lukewarm about their beliefs. Islam, he says graphically, is a steering wheel, not a spare wheel; everything a Muslim does is centred on Ibadaa (worship). Christians seem to be just part-timers who visit their church once a week. And they don't seem to object when their practices and beliefs are mocked by secularists .

What about the cartoon controversy? "It wasn't just a cartoon" he said. "It hit at the root of something we hold sacred." The Mozart opera in Berlin that was intended to mock and denigrate major world religions was another case. Furthermore, how can Christians be so divided on basic moral issues? He gave as example the ordination of a homosexual Episcopalian bishop in the US. He knew that Anglicans are deeply divided on this issue -- and he found it incomprehensible.

Issah feels that arrogance is the hallmark of Westerners. They are not willing to make any compromises in their beliefs. He sees the West as an either/or society. You win and I am smashed or I win and you are smashed.

Westerners believe they know quite as much as they need about other faiths and cultures, he complains, but most of what they know is mere prejudice. He cited the schoolgirls’ scarves issue in France. This is the birthplace of liberté, yet, he asks, what religious freedom is there, when everyone is regimented and must dress the same way, despite dearly held religious observances? The media does not help. He mentioned CNN's coverage of the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, which all pious Muslims try to make at least once in a lifetime. It featured only a lethal stampede. However, he pointed out, the fact that CNN had even mentioned Mecca was a positive step.

Society and culture

ImageIn social and political life there clearly exist many areas where the two faiths can come together. Like Christianity, Islam is opposed to usury, hoarding, and raw capitalism. In Islam inherited wealth is to be shared equitably, not enjoyed selfishly; and out-and-out business competition leads to monopoly, which, he says, Islam detests.

Issah's democracy has an Islamic flavour. Decisions are supposed to be reached by consensus, not a majority vote. Even a minority view has to be taken into account. Islam admires much of modern technology and benefits from it, but not when it counters the original good of human existence. Abortion, cloning and contraception are obviously forbidden.

While the two religions obviously cannot worship together, Issah called for inter-faith dialogue. Partnerships such as the Red Cross and the Red Crescent and working together to preserve the environment as mentioned in the Bible and the Qur'an, are good starting points.

What can Islam contribute to modern culture? To Issah, this seems obvious. Knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is the aim of every Muslim. Muslims are rightly proud of their centuries-old discoveries in science and natural philosophy, and many of these are still relevant and applicable today. In Islam, he says, civilisation is the purpose of human existence. In fact, Qur'an opens with the stirring words: "Read! In the name of your lord who has created you!" Islam is a religion based first on knowledge, then on faith; a believer must first know what he is to believe. To Muslim eyes, Christianity works the other way around -- faith precedes knowledge.

A more powerful idea than democracy amongst Muslims is equality. Islam is a very egalitarian religion, which is one reason why it has spread in Africa, where people are not used to a society based on class. Before God all men are equal; a prime minister and a peasant will be indistinguishable in their white kanzus when making the hajj, and worshiping together. The zakat (the payment of alms) is seen as a commitment to economic resource management and social unity. During Ramadan the amount one saves from not eating is given to the poor, but it is thereby anticipated that the beneficiary will himself donate generously during the following month of fasting. The zakat paid annually is a source of revenue for the Islamic state to run its affairs, and, even in a state with a large Muslim majority, is paid only by Muslims.

And like Christianity, Islam teaches that professional work is worship. God-given skills and talents are to be used for the betterment of society. Doctors in Pakistan, for example, give free medical camps during their annual leave. This extends to the earning and use of financial resources. Large sums of money kept idle in banks are seen as hoarding and denying justice to the poor. Financial interest is not considered profit, and is tainted since it is not worked for. Money must be the fruit of one’s labour; investment is praised since it involves risk, provided it is used for the benefit of the needy and not amassed for selfish ends.

Sharia law

What about sharia? If there is one thing which makes Westerners shudder, it is the perceived harshness of punishments under the Islamic code of law. Issah does not see it this way. Sharia is a complete code of divine law interpreted and administered by experts or kadhis, who have a Master’s degree in Islamic studies and a perfect mastery of Arabic. Its purpose is to defend Islamic values and customs and the common good, and to avoid erosion of the social fabric.

Furthermore, it is carefully regulated to ensure that justice is done, Issah points out. Punishable crimes must have witnesses. They must be people of sane mind, to avoid conspiracies. Four witnesses are required in the case of adultery, two for other cases. If there is a culprit but no complainant in court, the kadhi must challenge the culprit to swear in his presence four times, holding a copy of the Qur'an: "If I am not telling the truth, may God liquidate me!" Alternatively, if one appeals against the ruling owing to a faulty witness, the kadhi still has the option to commit the defendant to swearing four times. Before a major crime such as theft or adultery is committed, many minor rules will have been broken beforehand. In the case of adultery, for example, there would have been carelessness in social relationships.

In Islamic law, as in societies imbued with Christian legislation, the punishment must fit the crime. Adultery threatens the institution of marriage and the family, which are the solid rock on which society is built. Theft destabilises the smooth commercial management of society and gives rise to injustice, whose principal victims will be the poor. Theft committed to survive, such as stealing a loaf of bread, should not be punished. The source of the sharia is divine and its first concern is the good of society as a whole: hence the harsh punishment is seen as a deterrent.

Toward the future

Are there opportunities for greater understanding after 9/11? Issah and many like him think that the positive side of the events of 9/11 is that the West and Islam have been forced to dialogue with each other -- on many levels. Academically, there should be research into comparative religious studies. Westerners should read Arabic and Muslim classics, which are now available on the internet in good translations. The media ought to take Islam seriously and portray Muslim activities without distortion. As a sportsman Issah naturally supports common sports events. However, he feels the present global sports scene goes against Muslim customs, for example in women’s sports attire. Islamic countries have to hold their own events and these are given little or no coverage in the media.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, we both thought, that Catholicism and Islam have roughly the same number of followers. Now could be the moment to undertake a path of dialogue together. In many parts of Africa it has already begun.

Martyn Drakard is a Kenyan of British origin, a teacher for many years and now Director of the Community Outreach Programme in Strathmore University, Nairobi. He is a regular columnist on social issues for local publications.

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Vatican Message to Muslims at Ramadan's End
"Love for God Is Inseparable From Love for Others"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 20, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the message published today by Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, on the occasion of the end of Ramadan.

The message is entitled: "Christians and Muslims: In Confident Dialogue Aimed at Solving Together the Challenges of Our World."

* * *

Dear Muslim friends,

1. I am happy to address this message to you for the first time as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and to extend the council's warmest greetings as you celebrate the conclusion of the fast of Ramadan.

I wish you peace, tranquility and joy in your hearts, your homes and your countries. These good wishes echo those which His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI expressed personally at the beginning of Ramadan to the diplomats accredited to the Holy See from countries with Muslim majorities, to those from other countries that are members and observers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and to representatives of Muslim communities in Italy.

2. It is good to be able to share this significant moment with you in the context of our ongoing dialogue. The particular circumstances that we have recently experienced together demonstrate clearly that, however arduous the path of authentic dialogue may be at times, it is more necessary than ever.

3. The month of Ramadan which you have just completed has also undoubtedly been a time of prayer and reflection on the difficult situations of today's world. While contemplating and thanking God for all that is good, it is impossible not to take note of the serious problems which affect our times: injustice, poverty, tensions and conflicts between countries as well as within them.

Violence and terrorism are particularly painful scourges. So many human lives destroyed, so many women widowed, so many children who have lost a parent, so many children orphaned … So many wounded, physically and spiritually … So much, which has taken years of sacrifice and toil to build, destroyed in a few minutes!

4. As Christian and Muslim believers, are we not the first to be called to offer our specific contribution to resolve this serious situation and these complex problems? Without doubt, the credibility of religions and also the credibility of our religious leaders and all believers is at stake. If we do not play our part as believers, many will question the usefulness of religion and the integrity of all men and women who bow down before God.

Our two religions give great importance to love, compassion and solidarity. In this context, I wish to share with you the message of the first encyclical letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, "Deus Caritas Est" (God is Love), which echoes the most characteristic "definition" of God in Christian sacred Scriptures, "God is love" (1 John 4:8).

Genuine love for God is inseparable from love for others: "Anyone who says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother he can see cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). In recalling this point, the encyclical underlines the importance of fraternal charity in the Church's mission: Love, to be credible, must be effective.

It must come to the aid of everyone, beginning with the most needy. True love must be of service to all the needs of daily life; it must also seek just and peaceful solutions to the serious problems which afflict our world.

5. Believers who are engaged in helping people in need or seeking solutions to these problems, do so above all through their love for God, "for the face of God." Psalm 27 says: "I seek your face, O Lord, hide not your face from me" (8b-9a).

The month of fasting which you have just completed has not only brought you to give more attention to prayer, it has also rendered you more sensitive to the needs of others, above all to the hungry, fostering an even greater generosity toward those in distress.

6. Everyday worries together with the more serious problems faced by the world call for our attention and our action. Let us ask God in prayer to help us confront them with courage and determination. In those places where we can work together, let us not labor separately.

The world has need, and so do we, of Christians and Muslims who respect and value each other and bear witness to their mutual love and cooperation to the glory of God and the good of all humanity.

7. With sentiments of sincere friendship I greet you and entrust to you my thoughts for your consideration. I beseech Almighty God that they will contribute to the promotion everywhere of the relations of greater understanding and cooperation that have arisen between Christians and Muslims, and thus offer a significant contribution to the reestablishment and strengthening of peace both within nations and between peoples, in accordance with the profound desires of all believers and all men and women of good will.

Paul Cardinal Poupard
President

Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata
Secretary

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Challenges of Christian Converts From Islam
Interview With Giorgio Paolucci, Editor in Chief of Avvenire

ROME, OCT. 16, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Converts from Islam to Christianity pose a challenge for governments to ensure freedom of religion -- and their witness is also a challenge to the Church itself.

So says Giorgio Paolucci, editor in chief of the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire. He has written a book with Lebanese journalist Camille Eid, Avvenire's Mideast correspondent, entitled "I Cristiani Venuti dall'Islam" (Christian Converts from Islam), which gathers the testimonies of Muslims residing in Italy who have converted to Christianity.

"The book seeks to bring to light an iceberg," says Paolucci. "Whereas Westerners who convert to Islam are very well known -- they go on television, are invited by the most popular programs, are presidents of the most famous Muslim associations and have no problems of visibility -- we have sought out people who, by the very nature of their experience, have problems in making known what they have experienced, though they are very happy with what has occurred."

Here is an excerpt of an interview Paolucci gave to ZENIT.

Q: Was this delicate and dangerous research?

Paolucci: The first problem was to find Muslims converted to Christianity. Everyone has heard talk of Abdul Rahman, the 41-year-old Afghan threatened with the death penalty in March of this year, accused of apostasy, who now lives in Italy, rescued thanks to an incredible international mobilization.

When his case occurred, for 15 days all the newspapers of Italy and Europe and the world talked about the problem of apostasy and the death penalty that Islam provides for those who convert to another religion.

Our task was to get to know the histories and faces of these people, to make it understood that the problem not only affects remote countries, such as Afghanistan, but also Europe and Italy.

Q: Why does it affect us?

Paolucci: One of the results of immigration is that Islam is among us. Being in our midst, it is present in all its complexity, including the issue of religious freedom, an issue that Muslim countries and the relative communities spread around the world have yet to clarify.

We wanted to write a book that would reflect further on the theological and juridical implications of apostasy and the relative punishments, and that would do so through human itineraries, attempting to understand how it is possible that there are people who so love Jesus as to risk suffering persecutions and the death penalty.

In 1955, Jean-Pierre Gaudeul's book "Vengono dall'Islam, Chiamati da Cristo" [They Come from Islam, Called by Christ], published by Emi, also came out in Italy. Its objective was to analyze the histories from the theological point of view.

We, instead, were interested in the whole of the histories. We spent two years finding them because it is very difficult to convince people to talk; organize the accounts in a way that the essence will remain, changing the connotations for security reasons.

In the end, we found 30 histories, some recounted personally, others gathered on the telephone or the Internet; others taken from rare articles of the Italian press.

Q: In the book's introduction, Egyptian Jesuit Samir Khalil Samir, professor of history of Arab culture and Islamology at the St. Joseph University of Beirut, addresses the problem of apostasy. Could you tell us the results of his analysis?

Paolucci: According to Khalil Samir, from the study of the Koran one does not glean that there is a death penalty for apostates.

There are 14 suras that speak about punishments for the apostate, but only in one of them is reference made to the type of punishment and it says that "the apostate will be punished with a punishment in this world and in the next."

The passage that says "in this world" does not specify how, whereas the Koran in general is very specific about punishments: If one robs, one's hand must be amputated; if one is an adulterer, one is punished with 100 lashes, etc.

Samir underlines therefore that the fact that apostates are condemned to death according to the penal code of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania and Afghanistan, does not derive from a Koranic prescription.

If this is true, Muslim fundamentalists who say that apostates must be killed, do not speak in the name of the Koran. This fact is important not only for Muslims who convert to Christianity but because, in the last 30 years, apostasy has become the main instrument to eliminate political adversaries.

Very often Muslim Brothers and other groups accuse their adversaries of apostasy; hence, it is no longer a religious problem but a technique to eliminate the opposition. Samir's analysis on the argument is revolutionary and it is hoped it will spark an internal debate in Islam.

Q: How many are the Muslim converts to Christianity in Italy?

Paolucci: There is no precise data. Insofar as our research is concerned, we can attest to several hundred converts, coming from countries of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Some have been baptized in Italy, others baptized in their country who later came to live in Italy, others baptized in a third country who later came [to Italy].

From the histories we have gathered it is evident that there are many questions that are in the heart of every person: the meaning of life, happiness, love, friendship, what happens after death.

Some of the people we met did not find a satisfactory answer in the Koran and the Muslim education they received; at the same time, they found attractive testimonies of Christians -- their friends, work colleagues, neighbors, professors -- who were the beginning to an answer other than the Muslim Koranic.

The different experiences sparked the idea that perhaps it was Christianity, Jesus, and not the Koran, that they were seeking to undertake their human journey.

Q: Tell us about some of the stories included in your book.

Paolucci: An Algerian girl, of a Catholic father and Algerian Muslim mother, born in Varese, Italy, was educated in Islam.

One day she went to the institute and had beside her a girl from the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation, who became her best friend. She began to study with her.

At 15 years of age, she wondered why this friend of hers was always joyful and happy and she asked her: "May I also go on the outings and attend the meetings you organize?" Only after living with groups of young people united by the Christian faith, did she understand that the origin of this joy was Jesus and his love. So she said: "I also want that."

At first she had problems with her mother who did not agree that she should go to the parish youth center, to Mass. Then she made up her own mind.

Often, within a Muslim family, the father, mother or community are radically opposed to conversion to Christianity. There are extreme cases, of people who are killed if they abandon Muslim customs. From the different stories, I have drawn an even clearer conviction that at the base of conversion is the human attraction represented by Christian witness.

A Turkish youth who did not find convincing answers within the Islamic tradition, would go to the imam and the latter would reply that he should read the Koran. The Turkish youth read the Koran but did not find the answers. So one day he visited a Franciscan, he asked him certain questions and received precise and satisfactory answers, and this lead him to conversion.

Q: Is it true that some have converted by reading the Gospel?

Paolucci: Indeed. There is a Bosnian who fought in the Balkans in the Muslim militias against the Serbs and Croats.

During the night he would listen in the trench to a Sarajevo radio station which transmitted at the same time the speeches of Mustafa Ceric -- head of the Muslim community of Bosnia-Herzegovina -- and those of Cardinal Vinko Puljic on the war.

Ceric would say: We must undertake the holy war and fight so that this land will become Muslim, and it is the duty of every Muslim to undertake the jihad. For his part, Puljic would say that there would be no peace in this land until we have the courage to forgive one another; reconciliation, he would add, is the only way that will lead to friendship.

And the Bosnian was impressed by the fact that whereas his leader would incite to the use of arms, his enemy urged reconciliation.

For several reasons he came to Italy where he unjustly ended up in prison for a fire in which he was not at all involved and, in fact, was later acquitted.

During the time spent in prison, he met a Croatian nun who visited prisoners and she asked him if he would like to read the Koran, but the Bosnian officer replied that he already knew the Koran and wanted to read the Gospel, because he remembered a phrase of Cardinal Puljic who said that in the Gospel Jesus teaches us forgiveness.

The nun was impressed and she gave him a Gospel in Croatian. He read it and a friendship began which in the end led him to baptism.

These are miraculous stories, as every conversion is miraculous. …

Q: Is there a pastoral program for converts from Islam?

Paolucci: The Italian episcopal conference has prepared a document, "Catechumens Converted from Islam," written by Walther Ruspi.

There is in fact much caution because many of the converted Muslims risk their lives. It is a problem of freedom which does not only touch Muslim countries.

Unfortunately, the problem of freedom is also evident in a country like Italy, because Islam establishes only one religion from which one cannot get out. From this point of view, it is very important to ask Muslim communities to recognize their brothers' religious freedom so that they can convert and live freely.

Q: What are the conclusions you have drawn from this research?

Paolucci: The book throws out three challenges: It challenges Islam to recognize religious freedom; it challenges the civil authorities to guarantee that freedom; and it challenges us, "lukewarm" Christians, to rekindle love of Jesus.

As is written in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved in 1948, the right to religious freedom is the foundation of every civil society. It is legitimate that the Muslim communities present in our country request protection of their religious rights but, precisely because of this, they must recognize the same right to those who freely wish to convert to another religion.

From this point of view, the Italian civil authorities must guarantee the right and practice of religious freedom. It is not right that a convert from Islam must live clandestinely, go to a church that is 30 kilometers from his home because he is afraid that the Muslim community will punish him.

The third to be challenged is the Church, because those converts are part of the new springtime of Christianity, in a country in which Catholicism has often become an embellishment. During the research, [co-author] Camille Eid and I were impressed by the freshness and courage of these converts from Islam, who said to us: "You do not realize the great treasure you have -- Jesus Christ has revolutionized our life."

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John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Islam
Friday, October 6, 2006   

Throughout the recent controversy over Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on faith and reason at Regensburg University, attempts have been made to drive a wedge between Benedict and his papal predecessor.

The Arabic satellite TV network, Al-Jazeera, for example, ran a series of cartoons featuring a John Paul-figure releasing peaceful doves; the doves are then shot down by Benedict from the roof of the Bernini colonnades surrounding St. Peter's. The last images in the series have John Paul weeping, head in hands, while Benedict, holding a smoking shotgun, smirks.

All of which is silly and vulgar, of course. But it isn't that far from the views expressed by some Catholics, lamenting what they allege to be the drastic difference between Wojtyla's and Ratzinger's views of Islam.
John Paul II was a master of the public gesture; but to read from his public gestures of respect for Islamic piety an agreement with Islam's understanding of God, man and moral obligation is to make a grave mistake.

The 1994 international bestseller, "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," was John Paul II's most personal statement, a summary of his convictions about faith, prayer, the papal mission, other world religions, and the human future. As such, it has a special claim on our attention as an expression of Karol Wojtyla's views, which were honed by an acute intelligence and a long experience of the world.

One section of "Threshold" is devoted to Islam; in it, John Paul expressed his respect for "the religiosity of Muslims" and his admiration for their "fidelity to prayer." As the late pope put it, "The image of believers in Allah who, without caring about time or place, fall to their knees and immerse themselves in prayer remains a model for all those who invoke the true God, in particular for those Christians who, having deserted their magnificent cathedrals, pray only a little or not at all."

But do these expressions of respect suggest, as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli did, that, unlike Benedict XVI, John Paul II put Islam "on the same plane" as Catholicism? Hardly. Here, again, is the authentic voice of John Paul II, from "Crossing the Threshold of Hope":

"Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran, clearly sees the process by which it completely reduces Divine Revelation. It is impossible not to note the movement away from what God said about himself, first in the Old Testament through the Prophets, and then finally in the New Testament through His Son. In Islam, all the richness of God's self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside.

"Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God with us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet who prepares for the last prophet, Muhammad. There is also mention of Mary, His Virgin Mother, but the tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity."

In other words, there isn't a millimeter of difference between John Paul II's substantive evaluation of Islam and Benedict XVI's. John Paul II was a master of the public gesture; but to read from his public gestures of respect for Islamic piety an agreement with Islam's understanding of God, man and moral obligation is to make a grave mistake. John Paul II would have completely agreed with Benedict XVI's critique, at Regensburg, of a theology that reduces God to pure will, a remote dictator who can command the irrational (like the murder of innocents) if he chooses.

And, like Benedict XVI, John Paul II knew that such misconceptions can have lethal public consequences, because all the great questions of the human condition, including political questions, are ultimately theological.

Benedict XVI bears the burden of the papacy at a historical moment in which religiously-warranted irrationality is a lethal threat to the future of civilization. He and his predecessor have the same view of the sources of that irrationality.

George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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"Religion Cannot Be the Foundation of a Conflict"
Bishop Wenski on the Search for Dialogue With Islam

ORLANDO, Florida, OCT. 6, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a commentary by Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando on the relationship between Muslims and Catholics that appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on Sept. 26.

* * *

The violent reactions by some in the Muslim world, following the Pope's academic lecture at the university where he once taught, were ignited not so much by his words but by those who seek to manipulate religious passions in the service of an ideology of hatred. Those who in this way misuse religious faith malign much more grievously the teachings of Islam than the perceived (and unintended) slight of the Bishop of Rome could ever do.

What he actually said, if taken in its proper context, could never justify the violence associated with the orchestrated protests that began some three days after the discourse was delivered. An attentive reading of his talk finds a well-reasoned argument against violence in the name of religion and a heartfelt call to a "genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today." That he quoted from historical sources only illustrates the long history and the depth of feeling behind the divisions between Christians and Muslims -- and how urgently such dialogue is needed.

Last year, the Pope met Muslim leaders in Cologne, and there, too, he described dialogue with Islam "a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends." That vital necessity long recognized by the Church was restated by Catholic leaders during the Second Vatican Council 40 years ago.

The bishops, whom the young Father Ratzinger served as a theological adviser, then wrote in "Nostra Aetate": "The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even his inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet.

"They also honor Mary, his virgin mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting."

In the course of centuries, not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims. Admittedly, relations between Christians and Muslims have always been fragile. So it is still not clear whether this present storm of indignation will threaten any possible future engagement between Muslims and Christians, or whether cooler heads will prevail and thus the frank honesty of the Pope's entire discourse will open new opportunities for a more candid and substantive dialogue between members of our two world religions.

Often, in the past, the voices of moderate Muslims, whether because of fear or a false sense of group solidarity, have not been heard. But, thankfully, already both here and elsewhere, there are encouraging signs that this is changing -- and if so, some good will have come out of this episode.

And while the Islamic world and Muslims are very sensitive to those who speak of Islam, especially when they do not belong to the Muslim faith, when Benedict XVI condemns religious motivation to justify violence, he undoubtedly expresses the sentiment and the desire of millions of Muslims throughout the world who would agree that religion cannot be the foundation of a conflict, a war or any other kind of violence.

There can be -- and is -- much common ground among the three great religions of the Book, as Judaism, Christianity and Islam are sometimes described. Adherents of each of these religions claim Abraham as their father in faith. But that common ground can only be found, as Benedict XVI insists, through an attitude of mutual respect and honest dialogue

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John Allen’s interview with Cardinal Avery Dulles, October 2, 2006

On Oct. 2, I sat down with Dulles, still going strong at 88, in his office at Fordham University in the Bronx.

Back in 1971, Dulles published a unique survey titled A History of Apologetics (revised in 2005). It reviews medieval Christian writing on Islam, which often doesn't make for very edifying reading. Most apologists were fairly crude in their critique, deriding the way Islam had "spread by the sword" and even lampooning Mohammed's multiple wives or his earthy description of the afterlife. The title of one essay by Torquemada says it all: "Against the Principal Errors of the Miscreant Mohammed."

Yet in the same breath, this apologetic tradition can also exude a surprising sophistication.

Nicholas of Cusa, for example, produced "Sifting the Koran" in the 15th century, which argues that the Koran may profitably be used as an introduction to the gospel, and praises the human and religious virtues of Muslims. Peter the Venerable wrote in the 12th century that in addressing Muslims, Christians should proceed "not as our people often do, by arms, but by words; not by force, but by reason; not in hatred, but in love."

Dulles expressed the central error of the apologetic effort this way: "Western theologians were viewing the Muslim faith through Western eyes, and failing to meet it as a living religion."

The following are excerpts from my interview with Dulles.

* * *

What can we learn from the medieval apologists?

For one thing, they made a serious effort to understand the literature of Islam, usually in the original language. They were pretty frank in their criticism, but at the same time they tried to be fair as they understood it, and to base what they wrote on actual Islamic texts. … There was some very interesting work done, from John of Damascene through Peter the Venerable and later, which hasn't really been repeated. Much of this was hostile, due to the situation in ancient Turkey and later in Spain. Yet it's also worth recalling that for centuries, Christians lived quite freely under Muslim rule, practiced their faith, held high office, and were close to the sovereigns. They had a civil, if not warm, relationship with Muslims in the Near East.

One big question is whether problems with pluralism in Islamic nations are due to historical, cultural and political factors, or something intrinsic to Islam. You seem to be saying that a rough sort of religious freedom was once the norm -- can that be done again?

I think it would be possible to do it again. I certainly hope so, because it's important that it be done again. We have to do everything we can to encourage that. We also have to remember our own history.

What do you mean?

Christianity was pretty violent itself in the early Middle Ages, into the late Middle Ages. It really wasn't until the experience of the Wars of Religion that we began to appreciate that it's not wise to try to use the sword to spread one's own religion, in part because others will also use their swords to advance their religion. This history is part of what brought religion into disrepute in the Enlightenment. In some ways, we're still paying a price for this history of hostility -- between the Orthodox and Western Christians, Protestants and Catholics, and between Christians and both Jews and Muslims. John Paul II did everything he could to atone for that history, and to separate himself from it.

In your book, you said one failure of the medieval apologists was that they didn't approach Islam as a living religion. What did you mean?

Their writing was largely based on books they had read, rather than actual contact with Muslims. This was especially true in the later period, when you had people in France and England who were writing about Islam but who really didn't have any contact at all with Muslim communities. So for them Islam was largely an abstraction, without much complexity.

Some would say that this tendency to approach Islam almost exclusively from its texts, not as a living religion, is true of Benedict XVI as well. Is that fair?

Probably, yes. Of course, it's often not very easy to have dialogue with some Muslims. They generally consider dialogue a sign of weakness, to admit that they might have something to learn. They will confront you with the teaching of Islam, but they won't engage in what we would consider dialogue. Often they won't even show up at meetings.

Isn't there a related problem, in that some of the Muslims who do show up at dialogue meetings aren't representative of mainstream Islam?

Yes, that can be a problem. I remember back in 1968, there was a Christian/Muslim meeting at Woodstock that I attended. [Note: From 1966 to 1973, Dulles served as a consultor to the Papal Secretariat for Dialogue with Non-Believers]. One of the Muslims had obviously read a lot of Kant, and the whole thing struck me as a little phony. He had studied in the West, and clearly didn't represent the Muslim tradition in a normative way. That happens fairly often in these sessions. It's going to take time for real dialogue to develop -- there's an internal process that has to happen.

To return to Pope Benedict, would it be helpful if he put himself in contact more thoroughly with Islam as a living religion, meeting with representative Muslim leaders?

Certainly, it would be helpful, and it's definitely worth trying. I'm sure he would love to do that. I believe the thinking around the Vatican these days is that the dialogue with Islam should start with things like ecology, poverty, these sorts of common human problems, before we get to more sensitive theological questions. This is part of Benedict's emphasis on reason. His approach seems to be, let's go as far as reason can take us before we get to these other issues.

Aside from the controversy over the remarks on Islam, what did you make of the Regensburg lecture?

I thought it was a very impressive address. The pope went amazingly far in laying out the principles of tolerance. It seems to me that he's read a lot of de Tocqueville, that he likes the American system on these matters and is trying to apply it to Europe. The idea is that there's a generic Christianity which is part of the culture. It's not enforced by the government, but it has social influence because it's the dominant popular religion, while still allowing for diversity. One finds this sort of generic Biblical religion in the founding documents of the United States. All this made the old European struggles to have either a Protestant or a Catholic government unnecessary, because it doesn't make so much difference who the ruler is. There is no automatic "transfer" from the state to the society of an official creed, but the basic Jewish and Christian values of Biblical religion form the bedrock of the culture. I think the Holy Father likes this model, which was expressed in the decree on religious freedom at the Second Vatican Council.

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On God, Violence and the Bible
Interview With Father Rinaldo Fabris

ROME, OCT. 5, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Though the Bible carries examples of the volatile mix of violence and religion, God's rehabilitation of the upright ultimately takes place with the peaceful resurrection of Jesus, says a scholar.

Father Rinaldo Fabris, president of the Italian Biblical Association, offered that view in this interview.

ZENIT approached him on the occasion of the 39th National Biblical Week, promoted by the Italian Biblical Association and held at the Pontifical Biblical Institute. The theme of the Sept. 11-15 event was "Violence in the Bible."

Q: During a lesson in Regensburg, Benedict XVI condemned the jihad because it is contrary to reason and to God. What is your opinion?

Father Fabris: If the jihad, mentioned several times in the Koran, coincides with the "holy war," that is, an armed struggle against adversaries -- infidels or apostates -- justified and carried out in the name of God, it is obvious that the jihad is contrary to religious faith, which presupposes free adherence to God.

It is contrary to the Christian image of God, revealed by Jesus Christ, who took human violence upon himself and deactivated it with his death on the cross, confronted with the highest act of filial fidelity to God and extreme solidarity with the human condition.

However, in the Islamic interpretation of the Koran, the jihad is not only a holy war but above all commitment and effort against evil in all its manifestations.

Q: Muslim extremists invoke God when they carry out horrendous terrorist acts. Is it possible to kill in the name of God?

Father Fabris: In the case of so-called martyrdom […] it is a manifest and blasphemous manipulation of religious faith depending on a detestable gesture according to an ethical, personal and social approach. Acts of terrorism, as extreme and irrational violence, have always been justified in the name of nationalist, racist and, in societies with religious culture, also in the name of God.

Q: The Italian Biblical Association, which you head, has just concluded a congress on the topic of violence in the Bible. What were the reflections and conclusions?

Father Fabris: Attempting to summarize the contribution of the week's 13 lectures, followed with great interest by the 160 participants -- professors of sacred Scripture in theological faculties and institutes of religious sciences -- it can be said that violence in all its senses -- physical, social and moral -- is present in the biblical history recorded in the books of the Old and New Testament.

It is a question of violence between men, beginning with Cain's crime, condemned as sin, but also of violence done in the name of God and of a violent image of God.

The Bible speaks of the God of the armies and of the anger of God, who punishes the wicked inexorably with a judgment of condemnation. On the other hand, as the Second Vatican Council constitution "Dei Verbum," No. 12, states, in sacred Scripture God speaks to men in a human way.

Given that violence is part of humanity's historical experience, it is not surprising that it is found in the Bible, which is a mirror. In the debate of the Biblical Week, an attempt was made to understand the roots of violence according to the Bible, and if it is possible to deactivate it.

In this connection, the problem was addressed of the role of the law and of criminal law, which often do not succeed in containing violence, but become factors of new violence.

Against this background, the paradoxical event of Jesus' death on a cross is situated, through which God enters into the human history of violence and takes charge of it.

This image of God is already present in some prophetic and sapiential texts of the Old Testament. Only with Jesus' resurrection does God rehabilitate the just man without causing further violence.

Q: Was the topic of "just war" also addressed during the congress? What can you tell us in this respect?

Father Fabris: In IBA's week of study and debate, the topic of war was not addressed directly, which has already been amply treated in biblical publications, where there is talk of the "sacred" or "holy" war.

The latter is present in the Bible and in the whole of the ancient Middle East. It implies the "herem" -- the sacrifice -- of enemies, namely, the elimination of enemies in the name of God.

The just-war category, starting with some reflections of St. Augustine, was elaborated at the time of Charles V's wars, in the 16th century, by some Spanish jurists who indicated the conditions for a war to be just and legitimate.

In the wake of the experiences of the two World Wars and in the present situation of globalized terrorist violence, the theory of the just war not only is exceeded but it is dangerous.

It is preferable to speak of the right-duty of the legitimate defense of persons and human societies, by taking recourse to means and methods that do not cause other forms and situations of violence.

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German Bishops Urge Muslims to Respect Religious Liberty
Describe Criticisms of Papal Address as Unjust

BERLIN, OCT. 3, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The German bishops described as unjust the interpretation that many Muslims made of a fragment of Benedict XVI's address at the University of Regensburg on Sept. 12.

In a message published last Thursday at the end of their plenary assembly, the prelates rejected outright the attitude of those who continue to fuel the controversy, "persevering in the presentation of accusations, demands and even threats."

"The Catholic Church and all people who, in Germany and throughout the world, respect and defend freedom of speech, will never allow themselves to be intimidated," they asserted.

The prelates manifested unanimously their hope that Muslim authorities worldwide will refrain from contributing in any way to "exacerbate the situation again," because "any ambiguity leads only to discord and must be avoided."

In this context, the prelates have noted with concern the harassment and attacks that Christian minorities have suffered in some Muslim countries and above all the murder of a woman religious in Somalia.

At the same time, the bishops said they considered it a given that representatives of Islam are opposed, in unequivocal terms, to any legitimization of violence and any manipulation of religions for political ends.

The Catholic bishops acknowledged that in the course of history Christian churches have known the temptation to use violence -- and many times fallen for it.

Because of this experience, a dialogue is more necessary than ever between Christianity and Islam "which might serve both sides to purify the memory and give credit to the common testimony of religions for peace and against violence," they continued.

Reciprocity

In addition, the bishops reminded that, thanks to the German Constitution, Muslims living in the country enjoy religious freedom.

They manifested the desire that in Muslim countries religious freedom likewise be respected.

"We implore the Muslim organizations in Germany to commit themselves effectively for this respect of freedom of religion in the native countries of Muslims living among us," wrote the prelates.

After stating that "to insult or profane religious faith is an abuse of freedom," the German prelates explained that there is a very fragile balance between the right to freedom of speech and the right to have one's religious convictions respected.

The bishops concluded by referring to another address of Benedict XVI, dated Aug. 20, 2005, to Muslims on the occasion of World Youth Day in Cologne: "Interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims … is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends."

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God as Logos, Allah as Will
Father James Schall on Benedict XVI's Regensburg Address

WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 3, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The "unreasoned" reaction to Benedict XVI's recent speech at the University of Regensburg has proved that his point needed much attention, says a U.S. scholar.

Jesuit Father James Schall, professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University, is author of "The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking" (ISI Books).

He shared with ZENIT why he thinks the Regensburg lecture was liberating and imperative, and how the reaction to it highlighted the modern disconnect between faith and reason.

Q: At Regensburg, Benedict XVI highlighted the Christian understanding of God as Logos. How does the idea of God as Logos differ from an Islamic conception of God?

Father Schall: The Holy Father posed the fundamental question that lies behind all the discussion about war and terror. If God is Logos, it means that a norm of reason follows from what God is. Things are, because they have natures and are intended to be the way they are because God is what he is: He has his own inner order.

If God is not Logos but "Will," as most Muslim thinkers hold Allah to be, it means that, for them, Logos places a "limit" on Allah. He cannot do everything because he cannot do both evil and good. He cannot do contradictories.

Thus, if we want to "worship" Allah, it means we must be able to make what is evil good or what is good evil. That is, we can do whatever is said to be the "will" of Allah, even if it means doing violence as if it were "reasonable."

Otherwise, we would "limit" the "power" of Allah. This is what the Pope meant about making violence "reasonable." This different conception of the Godhead constitutes the essential difference between Christianity and Islam, both in their concept of worship and of science.

Q: Your newest book is entitled, "The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking." In what way is the life of the mind a participation in the Logos of God?

Father Schall: Aquinas says that truth is the "conformity of the mind with reality." This means that a reality exists that we do not ourselves make. It is a reality that cannot be "otherwise" by our own will. It also means that God established what is, not we ourselves.

Thus, if we are to know the "truth," which is what makes us "free," it means that we know what God created, is what it is. We rejoice to know the truth that we did not make. The wonder of what is, elates us.

If Allah is pure will, then anything that is, can be the opposite of what it is, so that nothing really is what it is. It can always be otherwise.

Q: Is Benedict XVI's discussion of "faith and reason" different from John Paul II's encyclical "Fides et Ratio"?

Father Schall: I am not aware of much difference. "Fides et Ratio," as I tried to show in my book, "Roman Catholic Political Philosophy," is itself a defense of philosophy. But it recognizes that faith is also a guide to philosophy. Not all philosophies reach the reality that is.

Both Pontiffs are concerned that faith directs itself to reason and that reason is a reality that is not invented by the human mind. We did not fabricate the mind we have that thinks. We are to use it. We invent neither it nor reality.

Both Popes hold philosophy to be possible and available to every person. But they also recognize that some philosophies cannot defend either faith or reality. This is the problem with the "voluntarism" of classical Islamist philosophy. This same philosophy exists in the West, as Benedict indicated.

Indeed, the Regensburg lecture was directed as much at the West as at Islam on this score. Those who justify abortion follow the exact same philosophical position that the Pope saw in the medieval Muslim thinker from Cordova.

Q: Benedict XVI argued that the synthesis of Hellenistic and Hebrew thought is present as early as the Old Testament wisdom books, but reaches its fullest _expression in the Gospel of John. Why is this position important for the Church in what Benedict XVI calls the "dialogue of cultures"?

Father Schall: The fact that Benedict referred to a "dialogue of cultures" shows that he had more than the West and Islam in mind; China and India are also in his scope. The Pope is clear that the command to Paul to go to Macedonia was itself providential.

Indeed, like John Paul II's trip to Poland, Benedict's visit to Regensburg is providential. Both aimed at the crucial problem of our time. We forget that the papacy is not just another human power, though it is also human. It is uncanny how the contemporary world, to its own surprise, continually finds itself watching the papacy.

The Pope says that reason is now also an element of faith. He does not mean that it ceases to be reason. That is why he, as a Pope, gave a "lecture," whose only public claim was its own intrinsic reasonableness. Of its very nature, a lecture demands not passion but reason to grasp what it says.

When within days after the lecture, storms swelled all through the Islamic world, with lots of objections in the West -- including in Catholic circles -- it was clear that Benedict's address was not read for what it said.

It was not translated immediately into Arabic in leading Muslim papers. Most read only snippets in the West. The spirit of an academic lecture, to present the truth of what is, was violated.

The Muslim world, I suspect, is beginning to have second thoughts about its unrestricted reaction to this address. Its actual reaction did not prove the Pope was "insensitive" or "insulting." Rather it proved that his point needed much attention, just as he intended.

Q: Benedict XVI's speech was also a criticism of the Western world; it should have found many receptive ears among Muslims. Yet, the speech has been widely criticized and denounced, proving the point the Pope was trying to make about reason for the dialogue of cultures. Does this spell doom for Benedict XVI's project?

Father Schall: My own opinion is that Benedict was not surprised by these reactions. Indeed, I suspect it is precisely this unreasoned reaction that has made his point so clearly that no sane mind can deny it. It was a point that had to be made.

It could not have been made by the politicians, who in fact did not make it even when they needed it. Politicians talked about "terrorists," as if a more fundamental theological problem was not at issue. Until this deeper issue was spelled out, which is what the Regensburg lecture was about, we were doomed.

This address is probably one of the most liberating addresses ever given by a Pope or anyone else. As its import sinks in, those who were unwilling to consider what it was about will find themselves either embarrassed -- if they are honest -- or more violent, if they refuse the challenge of reason.

Make no mistake about it: This address illuminated, more than anything that we know, the problems with a modernity based on an explicit or implicit voluntarism that postulated that we could change the world, our nature, our God according to our own wills.

Q: The Western media have often taken Benedict XVI's words out of context and stoked the flames of Islamic aggression. How does the cultural dominance and hostility to the Church by the mass media affect its ability to participate in the dialogue of cultures?

Father Schall: There can be no "dialogue" about anything until the basic principles of reason are granted both in theory and practice. Chesterton remarked on the fact that those who begin to attack the Church for this or that reason, mostly end up attacking it for any reason.

What is behind the attack on reason or the refusal to admit that God is Logos is already a suspicion that the Church is right about intellect and its conditions. We have no guarantee that reason will freely be accepted.

Von Balthasar said that we are warned that we are sent among wolves. We are naive to think that Christ was wrong when he warned us that the world would hate us for upholding Logos and the order of things it implies.

But Benedict is right. He has put the citizens of world on notice that they are also accountable for how they use or do not use their reason. No one else could have done this. The fact is, the world has wildly underestimated Benedict XVI precisely because it would not see the ability he displays in getting to the heart of intellectual things.

In the end, all of this is about "the life of the mind." Both reason and faith tell us so.


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Sudan: the fanatic who bested the British Empire    By Martyn Drakard.
30 September 2006

NAIROBI -- The death of Sister Leonella, the brave Italian nun who gave her life recently in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, is a reminder for Westerners that in this area of the Horn and north-east Africa, religion is still an explosive issue.

Not too far across the map to the northwest, about 125 years ago another drama was being acted out. Sudan was under Turko-Egyptian rule, and the local people were restless for both political and religious reasons. And then, a prophet appeared: Muhammad Ahmad ibn as Sayyid Abd Allah, the Mahdi. Alan Moorehead in his book The White Nile describes it in somewhat poetic terms: "Like a sandstorm he appears, suddenly and inexplicably out of nowhere, and by some strange process of attraction generates an ever-increasing force as he goes along".

At times of crisis in the Islamic world, political or religious, the appearance of a mahdi claiming divine authority to overthrow the old order and set up a new theocracy that is more purified and goes back to fundamentals is not uncommon. Two medieval mahdis had established regimes that lasted for some time: ‘Ubaydallah, the founder of the Fatimid dynasty in north Africa and Egypt in the tenth century, and Mohamed ibn Tumart, whose followers, the Almohads, conquered and ruled northwestern Africa and Moorish Spain in the twelfth century.

In fact, the coming of a mahdi was expected in Sudan at this time. After a first apparently miraculous victory against soldiers dispatched to clean him out by Ra’uf, the governor-general in Khartoum, in which clubs and spears defeated firearms, there was no stopping him.

Descriptions of the man make enjoyable reading, at this safe distance in time. His origins are not clear. According to Moorehead, he may have come from a family of boat-builders; others claim he was the son of a religious teacher, or the descendant of a long line of sheikhs. He was born in northern Sudan in 1844. Early in his life he had gained a reputation among the local people for great holiness and rigorous asceticism, and he had an exceptional gift of oratory. His followers obeyed him with fanatical reverence.

Most of all he had personal magnetism -- rather like Hitler's, according to some biographers. In Europe, and by extension, and because of communication, the whole world, Hitler’s name has been a term of the greatest abuse for the last 70 years; in Britain, the name of the Mahdi conjured up similar fear and loathing for a century and more. Yet the men who wrote about him -– and to be able to describe the Mahdi from first-hand experience was one of the great achievements of the time -- portrayed him with a mixture of awe and immense respect. He was larger than life.

Lytton Strachey wrote: "There was a strange splendour in his presence, an overwhelming passion in the torrent of his speech". In Fire and Sword in the Sudan 1879-1895 (Edward Arnold, 1986), Rudolf Slatin, the governor of Darfur, said that he was powerfully built, with broad shoulders, a large head and three tribal gashes on his cheek. He was always smiling even when he prescribed tortures to some unfortunate wretch. Major F.R. Wingate in Mahdiism and the Egyptian Sudan (Macmillan, 1891) complimented him on having the strongest head and clearest mental vision in the two million square miles of which he made himself the master, until he was ruined in the last months of his life by unbridled sensuality.

His confidence knew no bounds: the Prophet had said that one of his descendants would one day appear and reanimate the faith, and Mohamed Ahmed declared without a shadow of a doubt that he was that man. Perhaps one of the most poignant descriptions is that of Father Joseph Ohrwalder in his Ten Years Captivity in the Mahdi’s Camp (Sampson Low, 1892). "He was very dark, strong, always had a smile; he had a V-shaped space between the two upper middle teeth. His manner of conversation was sweet and pleasant." After another spectacular victory, El Obeid in 1892, "the Mahdi was venerated almost as the prophet himself. The water he washed in was distributed to his followers who hoped that by drinking it they would be cured; and the dreams and visions he spoke of were regarded as a revelation from God".

One historian makes an interesting point: that the tyranny of the Mahdi in the desert followed a similar pattern to the dictatorship in Europe 50 years later. It was more crude and violent, and the atrocities were carried out not in the name of patriotism, but for God and Islam.

The Mahdi had his inner ring of disciples: the three khalifas -– his principal lieutenants -- the emirs, the mukuddums, the leaders of the tribes, and the wild horde of tribesmen, camp followers and domestic animals. They had their uniform -– a jibbeh with patches sewn on as a mark of poverty, emblems inscribed with texts from the Koran and the green flag of the Mahdi.

His followers never questioned his authority. They considered him semi-divine and were ready to die for him, from the highest to the lowest. He was able to demand from this motley group a sense of duty and discipline that was quite lacking in the Egyptian troops. Holt and Daly in A History of the Sudan (Longman, 1988) nuance his supporters more finely. They classified them into three groups. The first included the genuinely pious men, his religious disciples. When the Mahdi was speaking of misgovernment and purification they were thinking more in terms of theology than politics. Their hope was that he would replace the repression and corruption with an Islamic theocracy. Next, the boatmen, traders and soldiers of fortune who were opening up the southern regions of the Sudan. Their livelihood had been affected by the British attempts to abolish the slave trade. Islam has fewer qualms about owning slaves, and they were hoping to see the previous status quo restored. Lastly came the nomads, for whom control by any settled government is hateful, and stronger control more hateful still. The Mahdi made a simple appeal: Kill the Turks and cease to pay taxes!

The Madhi took upon himself wide-ranging powers. In theory the law of the mahdist community was the Holy Law of Islam. In practice the Mahdi exercised wide powers of legislation, through proclamations and by decisions on points of law submitted to him. For example, from Government House in El Obeid he published a proclamation that included many of the prescriptions of the Koran: on prayer and penance, against intemperance, immodesty of dress and behaviour and over-indulgence of all kinds, lying, theft and non-restitution of goods to others; against disobeying one’s parents. These were enforced in the harshest manner, to the point of mutilation and execution of the offenders. Together with his khalifas and other chief officers, the Mahdi heard and determined all legal cases. He held supreme power from God directly, and it was exercised by other officials only as delegated by him.

What was the true purpose of the Mahdi’s revolt against Egyptian rule in the Sudan? To many modern Sudanese he is Abu’l-Istiqlal, the Father of Independence, a nationalist leader who united tribes by means of an Islamic theology, drove out alien rulers and laid the foundations of a nation-state. Although this is a common view, these seem to be more the consequences of the revolt than the motives, and was probably not in the mind of the Mahdi at the time.

Another view is that he was a mujaddid, a renewer of Muslim faith, who had come to purge Islam of its faults and accretions. The Mahdi himself often said that he was sent to establish the Faith and Custom of the Prophet. This would make him comparable to the Muslim reformers of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Mohamed ibn Abd al-Wahab, the founder of the Wahhabi movement in Arabia.

But Muhammad Ahmad went further. He claimed for himself a unique status, as seen in the three titles he associated with his name. The first was Imam, by which he asserted the headship of the community of true Muslims. The second was Successor of the Apostle of God, meaning he saw himself in the role of the Prophet, restoring the community that Mohamed had established. And the third was the Expected Mahdi, the eschatological figure whose advent foreshadowed the end of the age.

After conquering the Sudan, he would take Egypt, then advance on Jerusalem where Jesus Christ would descend from heaven to meet him and Islam would then conquer the world, although, as Moorehead points out, the notion the Mahdi had of the world, accustomed as he was only to the wide expanses of desert, was very sketchy.

Things turned out quite differently. After the fall of Khartoum, in which General Charles George Gordon perished, to the dismay of the British, the Mahdi retired to Omdurman, across the river Nile, and yielded to a life of sensual pleasure, according to the Europeans who were his prisoners at the time. He stayed mainly in his harem, grew fat and appeared for prayers with the faithful, moving only rarely to the Governor’s Palace in Khartoum. Like his origins, circumstances surrounding his death are not clear. Some say he was poisoned, others that he died from typhus or smallpox.

Now, when the West -- along with moderate Muslims -- faces a new threat from a different group of extremists, perhaps it should study Britain's encounter with the mysterious Mahdi, an encounter which involved years of blood and national humiliation and ended not with British victory, but with Muhammad Ahmad ibn as Sayyid Abd Allah as supreme lord of the Sudan.

Martyn Drakard is a Kenyan of British origin, a teacher for many years and now Director of the Community Outreach Programme in Strathmore University, Nairobi. He is a regular columnist on social issues for local publications.

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Pope's Visit to Turkey: A Unique Opportunity?
Interview With Bishop L. Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia

ROME, SEPT. 26, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The apostolic vicar of Anatolia believes that Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey in November might be a unique occasion to give a clear address on relations between Islam and Christianity.

In this interview with ZENIT last Friday, Bishop Luigi Padovese, 59, an assiduous scholar of the Church in Turkey, sketched a picture of the state of that country, destination of the Pope's fifth apostolic trip abroad.

As apostolic vicar of Anatolia, he has been threatened and, four months ago, a motorcyclist tried to run over him. He now has a police escort when he goes out, which the Italian ambassador requested from the governor of Antioch.

The bishop's region of Anatolia is where an Italian missionary, Father Andrea Santoro, was slain last February.

Q: What is the situation in Turkey?

Bishop Padovese: Turkey presents a composite picture, where the presence of nationalist groups and the growing phenomenon of Islamization, triggered by an economic situation that has been degenerating, has fueled a closed attitude both in regard to Christianity as well as to Europe.

We might think that in Turkey everyone is in favor of [the country's] entry into Europe, but instead, I am beginning to see that it isn't like that.

There are Muslim groups that believe that Turkey's rapprochement to Europe might make it lose its Muslim identity. In Turkey today, to be a good Turk means to be a good Muslim. For such people, Turkey's entry into Europe might mean to be a good Turk but no longer a good Muslim.

Q: Do you think Muslims fear modernity?

Bishop Padovese: They use the instruments of modernity, but fear losing their national identity, fruit of the work of conquest of [Kemal] Ataturk [the first president of Turkey].

In my opinion, Turkish democracy, deep down, does not accept other voices: It is democratic but in unison. This is explains why, all told, minorities are hard-pressed to be accepted and recognized.

Q: And what is the situation with the Orthodox?

Bishop Padovese: The relationship with the Orthodox is quite good because we are experiencing the same problems.

There is a certain accord linked to common problems, though I must say that in regard to the Pope's visit, the Ecumenical and Armenian patriarchates have taken a stance that seems almost like a distancing -- an action justified for reasons of prudence, because in Turkey there is no inclination to subtleties and no distinction is made between Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants. Seen from outside, it looks like a desire to wash one's hands; seen from within, it is a way of shielding the community from dangers and threats.

Q: What can be said about the Catholic community in Turkey?

Bishop Padovese: The Catholic presence is very limited and concentrated in great centers: Istanbul, Smyrna, Mersin and Ankara, especially among diplomats. There are parishes here and there, but frequented by a few hundred faithful.

There is a Latin, Armenian-Catholic, Chaldean-Catholic and Syro-Catholic Christianity. They belong to the Tradition and the expressions of the different rights are kept, though in numerical terms they are few.

Q: How do you assess the Holy Father's forthcoming visit?

Bishop Padovese: The Holy Father's visit is delicate -- not problematic due to questions of an ecumenical character, because from this point of view an accord has already been reached. Moreover, there will be a joint declaration by the Bishop of Rome and the patriarch of Istanbul.

The more complex questions regard the relationship between Christianity and Islam, and what the Pontiff thinks of Turkey's eventual entry into Europe. Turkish media criticized the then Cardinal Ratzinger because, according to them he is not in favor of Turkey's entry into Europe.

Q: What do you think of the reactions to the lesson Benedict XVI gave at the University of Regensburg?

Bishop Padovese: I fear that some in Turkey might wish to organize a protest in view of the Pope's arrival. For the fundamentalists it is a very tempting occasion.

I read a statement of the person in charge of Turkish religious affairs, who specified that Turkey will receive the Pontiff but as a head of state, which means that the figure of the religious leader fades into the background.

There are those who would prefer that the Pontiff not go to Turkey; however, it is no longer an issue of opening a window to the Muslim world but a balcony, to deliver a clear address on relations between Islam and Christianity.

I am convinced that what was a problem might become an unrepeatable occasion, a unique opportunity, because all the media of the Arab countries will focus on what the Pope says. Some won't be happy, but at least they will refer to what the Holy Father affirms.

Q: In what way can the Western Christian community help the small Turkish flock?

Bishop Padovese: We are a reality without a voice. The problem, which the Pontiff also expressed on the occasion of Father Santoro's death, is that we are in Turkey without means of social communication.

Protestants have a TV channel and two or three radio stations. We have nothing. This means that we cannot take a position and are even unable to rectify anything falsely written or said against us. To make rectifications I have had to contract a lawyer full time. I have requested rectifications from two newspapers and they have done so, and another, to avoid prosecution, will meet with me to present excuses.

Q: How is dialogue with Islam progressing?

Bishop Padovese: The situation is complicated because Islam has an idea of reality that is all-encompassing and absorbing. And the absolutism that Muslims advocate does not allow for any form of dialogue or compromise.

There is a relationship with some people of the Muslim world. The greatest problem is linked to the difficulty of different levels of cultural and theological preparation. There are Islamic schools of theology, but I have the impression that they are not at the level of our own; we do not meet on the same plane.

The fact is that Islam does not allow exegesis of the Koran, while Christianity allows exegesis of sacred Scripture.

So it happens that there is no true dialogue, only mutual knowledge. A gathering of information from one side and the other, what we do and what they do, but this isn't genuine dialogue.

There is dialogue and cooperation in charitable and social works, but when it comes to theological questions, then we are very far behind.

We have organized congresses on the images of Jesus and Mary in Islam, but there were few Muslim participants -- only people of a certain cultural formation. Those imams with little theological preparation did not participate. This is one of the big problems.

There is very little theological activity in Islam, which differs according to the different schools. The difference is that we Christians have a guiding magisterium; [Muslims], instead, don't have it and it is individual theologians who decide.

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Papal Address to Muslim Leaders and Diplomats
"Lessons of the Past Must Help Us to Seek Paths of Reconciliation"



CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today in the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, to leaders of Muslim communities in Italy and ambassadors of Muslim countries accredited to the Holy See.

* * *

Dear Cardinal Poupard,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Muslim Friends,

I am pleased to welcome you to this gathering that I wanted to arrange in order to strengthen the bonds of friendship and solidarity between the Holy See and Muslim communities throughout the world. I thank Cardinal Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, for the words that he has just addressed to me, and I thank all of you for responding to my invitation.

The circumstances which have given rise to our gathering are well known. I have already had occasion to dwell upon them in the course of the past week. In this particular context, I should like to reiterate today all the esteem and the profound respect that I have for Muslim believers, calling to mind the words of the Second Vatican Council which for the Catholic Church are the Magna Carta of Muslim-Christian dialogue: "The Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity and to whose decrees, even the hidden ones, they seek to submit themselves wholeheartedly, just as Abraham, to whom the Islamic faith readily relates itself, submitted to God" (declaration "Nostra Aetate," No. 3).

Placing myself firmly within this perspective, I have had occasion, since the very beginning of my pontificate, to express my wish to continue establishing bridges of friendship with the adherents of all religions, showing particular appreciation for the growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians (cf. Address to the Delegates of Other Churches and Ecclesial Communities and of Other Religious Traditions, April 25, 2005).

As I underlined at Cologne last year, "Interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends" (Meeting with Representatives of Some Muslim Communities, Cologne, Aug. 20, 2005). In a world marked by relativism and too often excluding the transcendence and universality of reason, we are in great need of an authentic dialogue between religions and between cultures, capable of assisting us, in a spirit of fruitful cooperation, to overcome all the tensions together.

Continuing, then, the work undertaken by my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, I sincerely pray that the relations of trust which have developed between Christians and Muslims over several years, will not only continue, but will develop further in a spirit of sincere and respectful dialogue, based on ever more authentic reciprocal knowledge which, with joy, recognizes the religious values that we have in common and, with loyalty, respects the differences.

Interreligious and intercultural dialogue is a necessity for building together this world of peace and fraternity ardently desired by all people of good will. In this area, our contemporaries expect from us an eloquent witness to show all people the value of the religious dimension of life. Likewise, faithful to the teachings of their own religious traditions, Christians and Muslims must learn to work together, as indeed they already do in many common undertakings, in order to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence; as for us, religious authorities and political leaders, we must guide and encourage them in this direction.

Indeed, "although considerable dissensions and enmities between Christians and Muslims may have arisen in the course of the centuries, the Council urges all parties that, forgetting past things, they train themselves toward sincere mutual understanding and together maintain and promote social justice and moral values as well as peace and freedom for all people" (declaration "Nostra Aetate," No. 3).

The lessons of the past must therefore help us to seek paths of reconciliation, in order to live with respect for the identity and freedom of each individual, with a view to fruitful cooperation in the service of all humanity. As Pope John Paul II said in his memorable speech to young people at Casablanca in Morocco, "Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres, especially in that which concerns basic freedoms, more particularly religious freedom. They favor peace and agreement between peoples" (No. 5).

Dear friends, I am profoundly convinced that in the current world situation it is imperative that Christians and Muslims engage with one another in order to address the numerous challenges that present themselves to humanity, especially those concerning the defense and promotion of the dignity of the human person and of the rights ensuing from that dignity. When threats mount up against people and against peace, by recognizing the central character of the human person and by working with perseverance to see that human life is always respected, Christians and Muslims manifest their obedience to the Creator, who wishes all people to live in the dignity that he has bestowed upon them.

Dear friends, I pray with my whole heart that the merciful God will guide our steps along the paths of an ever more authentic mutual understanding. At this time when for Muslims the spiritual journey of the month of Ramadan is beginning, I address to all of them my cordial good wishes, praying that the Almighty may grant them serene and peaceful lives. May the God of peace fill you with the abundance of his blessings, together with the communities that you represent!

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Cardinal's Address to Pope at Meeting With Muslims
"To Work Toward a New Symbiosis of Faith and Reason"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Cardinal Paul Poupard delivered to Benedict XVI at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo today, when receiving leaders of Muslim communities in Italy and ambassadors of Muslim countries accredited to the Holy See.

* * *

Address of gratitude to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

By Cardinal Paul Poupard,
President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
and the Pontifical Council for Culture

Monday, Sept. 25

Most Holy Father,

In the name of all the participants in this meeting, I have the honor and the privilege to express to you our deep gratitude for these precious moments which you have given us to share with Your Holiness at this particularly significant time.

The highly qualified representatives of the nations who surround me, with the members of the Islamic Consulta in Italy, and the representatives of the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, witness, by their presence, to the continued relevance of the message which -- at the beginning of your pontificate -- you addressed to the representatives of Muslim communities in Cologne "at these particularly difficult times in our history": "There is plenty of scope for us to act together and feel united in the service of fundamental moral values" in mutual respect and reciprocal understanding.

And, speaking with conviction, you added: "Christians and Muslims, we must face together the many challenges of our time. There is no room for apathy and disengagement, and even less for partiality and sectarianism. … Interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends."

The Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligous Dialogue, over which you have asked me to preside, for their part make their contribution, by joining their efforts with all the people of good will, of whom you have before you a significant representation this morning.

"Res nostra agitur" [Our issue is being dealt with], used to say the ancient Romans. And the Romans of today have reaffirmed these words in the last few days at the Capitol, the common home of this age-old city of meetings. Together we have a past to make our own, and a future to prepare, by sharing, according to our respective references to Abraham, our faith in the One God and our respect toward the human person, created in his image and likeness.

Gathering together the fertile heritage of your predecessor Pope John Paul II of venerated memory, messenger of God and pilgrim of peace across the nations, you call us all, at the dawn of this new millennium, to work toward a new symbiosis of faith and reason in a trusting and peaceful dialogue between religions and cultures which have within them, at the very heart of their differences, the testimony of the human person's specific openness to the highest mystery, the mystery of God.

Most Holy Father, through this meeting we are happy to testify that your message of love and peace has been heard and we pray to God who is merciful and full of compassion to help us, in the respect for our differences, to put that message into practice.

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Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason and Islam
Explaining the Real Message

ROME, SEPT. 23, 2006 (Zenit.org).- As the furor over Benedict XVI and Islam died down, people started to realize that the Pope was a victim of phrases taken out of context and reactions deliberately inflamed. In fact, this was what many Church officials and prelates were saying from the start.

Rather than being an attack on Islam, "What emerges clearly from the Holy Father's discourses is a warning, addressed to Western culture, to avoid 'the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom,'" noted Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi on Sept. 14. The Jesuit explained that the Pope was criticizing modern culture for trying to exclude religion.

"A reason which is deaf to the divine," concluded the Pontiff in his Sept. 12 address at the University of Regensburg, "and which relegates religion to the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures."

Given this, the followers of an irreligious modern mentality had far more reason to be irritated with the Pope than anyone else, a fact that probably explains the extreme hostility of a New York Times editorial against the Holy Father published Sept. 16.

In a statement issued that same day, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone pointed out that Benedict XVI in his Regensburg address was speaking to a group of academics and was simply using a text by Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, which the Pope made clear was not his own opinion. The quotation was a way to introduce a series of reflections. This approach was not understood by many in a media culture that relies on 5-second sound bites to convey messages.

For that reason, Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, recommended that people "read well" the Pope's text. Interviewed by the Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Sept. 15, the cardinal explained that if Muslims were to read and meditate on the text they would understand that, far from being an attack, it is rather "an outstretched hand." This is so because the Holy Father defended the value of religion for humanity, and Islam is one of the world's great religions.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar of Rome, also insisted on the value of the Pope's discourse. His words came in the opening address Monday to a meeting of the Permanent Council of the Italian bishops' conference. A central point made by Pope during his trip to Bavaria, explained Cardinal Ruini, was that through faith in that God, man's reason and freedom find their higher and authentic fulfillment. In this context the Pope in his speech at Regensburg proposed a dialogue between cultures and religions -- a dialogue that is increasingly urgent.

Support for this dialogue also came from Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. bishops' conference. "Given the circumstances of the last week," he said in a statement published Wednesday, "it is clear that dialogue is essential between Christians and Muslims, a dialogue in which we respect, in the words of the Holy Father, 'what is sacred for others.'"

Targeting the West

In an interview Sept. 17 with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Cardinal Poupard commented that the Pontiff's main concern was not with Islam, but with Western culture. This was clear in Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's warning against relativism just prior to the start of the conclave where he was elected Pope.

Backing up his point, Cardinal Poupard cited a part of a homily given by Benedict XVI in Munich on Sept. 10. The Pope had said: "People in Africa and Asia admire, indeed, the scientific and technical prowess of the West, but they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God from man's vision, as if this were the highest form of reason, and one to be taught to their cultures too.

"They do not see the real threat to their identity in the Christian faith, but in the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom and that holds up utility as the supreme criterion for the future of scientific research."

This aspect of the Pope's discourse was also highlighted last Monday by Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela. Madrid's archbishop entered into the debate in a radio interview reported by the Internet service Análisis Digital the next day. The cardinal explained that the purpose of the Holy Father's speech was to examine the relationship between believing and knowing.

We need both faith and reason, Cardinal Rouco commented, and it is a mistake to conceive of a God who acts against reason. Far from being a sort of provocation directed at Muslims, the papal speech was a call for respectful dialogue between faith and reason, the cardinal said.

Manipulation

Concerning relations between Islam and the Catholic Church, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone said he was confident that the explanations offered after the Pope's Regensburg speech would be accepted. Interviewed Monday by the Corriere della Sera, the secretary of state also complained about the heavy-handed manipulation of Benedict XVI's words.

Yet, he noted that the reaction to the papal speech from some Islamic leaders was favorable. For example, Mohand Alili, rector of the Mosque in Marseilles, France, had recommended against being offended by what the Pontiff said, as the speech was an invitation to meditate on the words of the prophet Mohammed. The problem, however, was that these and other positive reactions were not given media attention, Cardinal Bertone lamented.

From Australia, Cardinal George Pell on Monday also criticized the way the Pope's words had been manipulated by some. In a press statement the cardinal expressed his gratitude for the words of moderate Muslims.

Days earlier, on Sept. 13, the archbishop of Sydney spoke about the theme of dialogue between the West and Islam, in the aftermath of the Pope's address in Regensburg. Addressing the Union Club in Sydney, he noted that the great religions differ significantly in doctrine and in the societies they produce. And while religions can be sources of beauty and goodness, they can also fall into corruption and be sources of poison and destruction, the cardinal cautioned.

But for those who see religion as a source of violence, Cardinal Pell pointed out that "The worst evils of the 20th century were provoked by anti-religious men: Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot."

In an interview published Monday by Spiegel Online, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, noted that conflicts with Islam are a part of Europe's history, which was what the Pope was referring to in his address.

But there is an alternative to conflict -- dialogue -- which is what the Pope favors. This dialogue is not easy, the cardinal acknowledged, as it is difficult under the current circumstances "to find representative counterparts to talk with."

We should not approach this dialogue naively, continued Cardinal Kasper, since there are major differences between Christian and Islamic cultures. In fact, the policy of multiculturalism favored by European countries has not worked in relations with Muslim communities.

"The fundamental issue, when it comes to Europe's future, will be whether and how we manage to transfer the ideals that once made Europe great -- especially its Christian roots -- into today's changed world," concluded the cardinal. Not an easy task, judging by Regensburg.

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A Jihad on Secularism       By Michael Cook      21 September 2006

Despite the torrent of words, the riots, the burnt churches, and the slaughter of an aged nun and her bodyguard which followed Pope Benedict XVI's address at the University of Regensburg, hardly anyone seems to have read it. Or rather, the mobs and the media have read one paragraph in which he quotes, without endorsing, words of a 14th century Byzantine emperor: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

In fact, the real targets of his understated but aggressive attack appear to have snored right through it: the professors in the audience. They are the ones who should have howling in the streets. Muslims should rejoice at finding an ally in spurning the corrosive values of modernity. Had they read the address attentively they might have linked arms with Benedict to wage jihad – an intellectual jihad -- on the secularism which is oppressing Christians and Muslims alike.

The Pope’s speech was a masterful diagnosis of the malaise of Western culture which, in his words, is leading to "disturbing pathologies of religion and reason". If anyone should feel threatened, it is the apparatchiks in Brussels who tried to redraft the EU's constitution to exclude Christianity. Like John Paul II, Benedict insists that European culture is unintelligible without its founding faith. The convergence of the Jewish Bible and Greek philosophical inquiry, together with Roman law, he insists, "created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe".

Both Benedict, as head of a Church which claims the loyalty of a fifth of the planet, and pious Muslims, which claims another fifth, are distressed at seeing God banished from public life by secularism. But instead of sending out his Swiss guards as suicide bombers, Benedict, quite sensiibly, is trying to dialogue with it. In fact, the central theme of his address was to warn secularists that denying the claim of religion to take its place in the public square will ultimately be self-destructive.

These ideas are hardly original. Much of what Benedict said in Regensburg echoes John Paul II’s magisterial encyclical Fides et Ratio. But since the substance of his speech has been largely ignored in media coverage, perhaps because it contained the names of too many Dead White Males, they deserve, and repay, careful attention.

The Enlightenment project

The boast of the Enlightenment, the dominant ideology of the last two centuries, is that the claims of science are rational because they are verifiable by observation and experiment. Whatever cannot be measured and calibrated must be dismissed as superstition or mere personal taste. A clear recent instance of this has been thrown up in the debate over the use of embryonic stem cells. The nub of this is whether a human embryo is a human being. But this is a non-issue, according to stem cell researchers. You can’t see human-ness, so it is beyond the scope of rational debate.

This sort of agnosticism is not merely absurd, Benedict contends; it is literally unreasonable: "The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby." His address criticises this "reduction of the radius of science and reason" on two grounds. The first is a warning: he points out that a rationality which cannot satisfy legitimate aspirations for transcendence is in deep trouble. And not just over embryos.
In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.
In other words, the philosophy of the Enlightenment is utterly incapable of confronting the crisis of Islamic terrorism. There is a dialogue in the recent film Syriana which vividly illustrates the Islamic perspective on this. In an unnamed Gulf state a madrassa cleric is instructing young men (two of whom become suicide bombers):
They will try... to make Muslims who speak about religion appear to be fanatics or backward people. They will tell us the dispute is over economic resources or military domination and if we believe that we play right into their hands, with only ourselves to blame.

No. The divide between human nature and modern life cannot be bridged by free trade. No. It cannot be cured with deregulation, privatisation, openness or lower taxes. No.

The pain of living in the modern world will never be solved by a liberal society. Liberal societies have failed. Christian theology has failed. The West has failed.

The divine and the worldly are but a single concept and that concept is Koran. No separation of religion and state -- Koran. Instead of Kings legislating and slaves obeying -- Koran.
This is only half true, of course. The Enlightenment’s liberal society has failed, but not Christian theology. In the philosophical synthesis which prevailed in Europe until Luther, reason was deemed capable of examining and appreciating spiritual realities. And as rationalistic philosophy becomes more decrepit, it is once again gaining ground, thanks in part to the efforts of John Paul II and his German successor.

Can science explain itself?

Part two of Benedict’s critique is a question. What justifies scientists’ confidence that nature follows rational laws? The assumptions underpinning science are ultimately inexplicable without resorting to philosophy, he argues. The world of the Enlightenment is incoherent, because it cannot explain why nature operates "reasonably".

Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology.
In his speech Benedict fondly recalled the "profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason" that he felt when he was a lecturer at the University of Bonn. Those days are long gone. In fact, even back in 1959 the university crisis was evident. The British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow had identified the malaise in his influential book The Two Cultures, in which he observed that the physical sciences and the humanities could no longer talk to each other. Already it was becoming impossible to assert that there were objective moral truths. Nowadays the truth of this is almost beyond dispute. Moral standards are deemed to be socially conditioned and changeable by any democratically elected legislature.

In no place is the failure of the Enlightenment project more obvious than in the place where it began – in Western universities, which is no doubt why Benedict chose to launch his manifesto there. The acid of post-modernism has eroded students’ respect for the Enlightenment values of truth and free inquiry. Scepticism is the reigning ideology nowadays amongst academics, especially in the humanities. Such is the suspicion of rational thought that the glory of Enlightenment science, the Principia Mathematica, has been derided, in a notorious book, as "Newton’s rape manual".

A message for Muslims

Where does Islam fit into this critique? What cryptic message was Benedict sending when he bookended his speech with allusions to an obscure and tendentious dialogue between a Byzantine emperor and a Persian sage?

The pundits say that he was rebuking Islam for attempting to win converts with swords and suicide bombers. Obviously, but he had a more ambitious goal as well: to persuade thoughtful Muslims that the ravages of modernity and terrorist violence ultimately spring from the same root -– a stunted understanding of the scope of human reason. The terrorists, Benedict suggests, believe in "a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God." Similarly, followers of the Enlightenment assert that one can say nothing meaningful about God and nothing certain about morality.

What is the solution? "The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur": an inspiring goal indeed. Whether Benedict has come in time to rescue reason from its tormenters is another thing. I hope so.

Michael Cook is Editor of MercatorNet.

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The State of Religious Freedom
U.S. Publishes Annual Survey

WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 23, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Largely overlooked amid the controversy surrounding the Pope's recent remarks about Islam at the University of Regensburg was the United States' "2006 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom." The report covers the situation in 197 countries and territories in the year ending June 30. The U.S. State Department submits the annual report to Congress as required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

"In today's world, our goal of fostering religious freedom and tolerance beyond our borders is an essential component even of national security," explained Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she presented the report Sept. 15.

In the report's introduction John Hanford III, ambassador at large for international religious freedom, expanded on the rationale behind the document: "This report is a natural outgrowth of our country's history."

"Our own record as a nation on this and other freedoms is not perfect," Hanford admitted. Nevertheless, he insisted that religious liberty is a precious concept in American history and that the report aims at making the right to this freedom a reality for all humankind.

A number of governments, however, actively work against the right to religious freedom, the introduction said. And in some countries extremists seek to exploit religion "in the service of an ideology of intolerance and hate," attacking those who seek to worship differently.

The report met opposition by some of the countries singled out for criticism. A spokesman for China's foreign ministry said the report was "groundless" interference in his country's internal affairs, Reuters reported Monday.

Saudi situation

The report also produced a conflict with an agency within the American government, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). In a press release issued the same day as the report, the chair of USCIRF, Felice Gaer, declared: "The commission is simply shocked that the department removed long-standing and widely quoted language from its report that freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia."

"The commission continues to conclude that freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia," stated the press release. The USCIRF objected that the improvements in religious freedom mentioned recently by the U.S. government have still to be implemented.

Nevertheless, the State Department report had strong words of criticism for Saudi Arabia. "The government does not provide legal recognition or protection for freedom of religion, and it is severely restricted in practice," it noted.

There is not even a legal right to religious practice in private. The report did state, however, that the Saudi government has made some appeals for religious tolerance. There was some evidence, as well, of a decrease in arrests and deportations of non-Muslims on religious grounds.

Even so, the report observed that in general the Saudi government enforces a strictly conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam. And Muslims who do not adhere to it can face significant societal discrimination and serious repercussions at the hands of the religious police.

Categories of abuse

Overall, the report identified diverse types of abuses regarding religious liberty:

-- That type carried out by totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, which seeks to control religious thought and _expression. In these countries some or all religious groups as seen as enemies of the state because of their religious beliefs or their independence from central authority.

-- State hostility toward minority or non-approved religions. Governments guilty of this type implement policies such as: demanding that adherents recant their faith; forcing adherents of religious groups to flee the country; and intimidating certain religious groups.

-- Failure by a state to address discrimination or abuse against religious groups. "Protecting religious freedom is not just a matter of having good laws in writing," the U.S. report noted; rather, it also requires active work by governments at all levels. Governments should also foster an environment of respect and tolerance for all people, the report urged.

-- Discriminatory legislation or policies that favor majority religions and disadvantage minority religions. This often results from historical dominance by the majority religion and a bias against new or minority religions, added the report.

-- Discriminating against certain religions by identifying them as dangerous cults or sects. This is a common type of abuse, even in countries where religious freedom is otherwise respected, the report observed.

The U.S. report highlighted countries with particular problems of religious freedom. One group is designated by the label, "Countries of Particular Concern." The latest list of these countries, announced last November, comprises Burma, China, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

The report noted serious restrictions by the government in Burma (or Myanmar). Authorities continue to infiltrate and monitor activities of virtually all organizations. Efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom are also restricted. The government also promotes Theravada Buddhism, and adherence to Buddhism is generally a prerequisite for promotion to senior government and military ranks.

China also came in for strong criticism. The government's respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience remained poor, according to the U.S. State Department, with little evidence that regulations introduced in 2005 have improved the situation. The situation is particularly difficult in Xinjiang and Tibet.

In addition, repression of unregistered Protestant church networks and "house" churches continued to be widely reported. Catholic "underground" bishops also faced repression, the report added, and there were clashes last April between Beijing and the Vatican over the ordination of bishops.

Negative campaigns

In Iran, "[t]here was a further deterioration of the extremely poor status of respect for religious freedom during the reporting period," stated the U.S. report. The media intensified negative campaigns against religious minorities. And there were reports of imprisonment, intimidation and discrimination based on religious beliefs. Last Nov. 22, unidentified assailants killed a man who had converted to Christianity more than 10 years earlier. His death was reportedly followed by threats to other Christians.

In North Korea, "[t]here was no change in the extremely poor level of respect for religious freedom during the reporting period," concluded the report. All religious activity is supervised tightly and reports by defectors from the country speak of arrests and execution of members of underground Christian churches by the regime in prior years.

The report made note of steps in India to improve religious freedom in some areas. Some extremists, however, have continued to carry out attacks on religious minorities, and their activities have not been hampered due to a lack of action by authorities at the state and local levels. The matter of religious conversion also remained a highly contentious issue and terrorists continued with violent attacks against religious targets.

Neighboring Pakistan also took action to improve the treatment of religious minorities. But the continued existence of discriminatory legislation and the government's failure to take action against groups that promote intolerance and acts of violence meant that "serious problems remained."

There were some improvements in Vietnam, but the U.S. report also noted that the government continued to restrict activities of religious groups deemed to be at variance with state laws and policies. Moreover, some positive legal reforms adopted in recent years still remain in the early stages of implementation. For many, religious freedom remains out of reach.

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Islam's Eclipse of Reason.        By Robert Reilly.    22 September 2006

A number of columnists observed that the violent Muslim reaction to Benedict XVI's statements about Islam in his recent Regensburg speech illustrated the very point he was making. Despite the Pope's three expressions of regret, the protests continue, with crowds leaving the mosques from Friday prayer in Kashmir, chanting "hang the Pope," and others calling for his replacement. Soon, no doubt, there will be demands to include imams in the College of Cardinals.
 
The protests focus on the Pope's quotation of a 14th century Byzantine emperor who labeled Mohammed's "command to spread by the sword the faith he preached" as "evil and inhuman." The sensationalism of this remark and the reaction to it almost overwhelmed the deeper meaning of the point Benedict XVI was making. He said that not only is violence in spreading faith unreasonable and therefore against God, but that a conception of God without reason, or above reason, leads to that very violence.
 
A God without reason? Who could that be? Is this Allah? The Pope's allusion to the teachings of 11th century Islamic philosopher Ibn Hazn - "God is not bound even by his own word" - suggests that possibility. However, the Pope was also addressing the attempts in the history of the Church to strip God of reason. The interesting term the Pope uses to describe this process is dehellenizing - extirpating the great gift of Greek philosophy from Christianity.
 
As Benedict XVI pointed out, there were strong tendencies within the Church to move in this direction in the teachings of 13th century theologian Duns Scotus and others. The anti-rational view was violently manifested in the millenarian movements of the Middle Ages, and within the movement that was known as fideism - faith alone, sola scriptura. In its most radical form, this school held that the scriptures are enough. Forget reason, Greek philosophy, and Thomas Aquinas. However, the anti-rationalist view in its more extreme forms has never predominated in Christianity, because it was protected by the magisterial pronouncement in the Gospel of St. John that Christ is Logos. If Christ is Logos, if God introduces himself as ratio, then God is not only all-powerful, he is reason. On the basis of this revelation and Greek philosophy, particularly that of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas achieved the defining synthesis of reason and revelation in Christianity.
 
That makes it all the more ironic that an irate Pakistani political leader chose to denounce Benedict XVI in these terms: "He has a dark mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages." It is curious the Pakistani should have described this period as one of "darkness" for it was during it that Islam, not Christianity, took a decisive step away from rationality and chose to dehellenize itself.
 
This took place over an argument, already begun in the seventh and eighth centuries, about the status of reason in relationship to God's omnipotence. The outcome of this struggle decisively affected the character of the Islamic world. This struggle had its roots in a profound disagreement over who God is. There was a side in this debate that would seem very familiar to Westerners because it was as deeply influenced by Greek philosophy as was Christianity. The Mu'tazilite school, composed of the Muslim rationalist philosophers, fought for the primacy of reason in Islam. The Mu'tazilites held that God is not only power, he is reason. Man's reason is a gift from God, who expects man to use it to come to know him. God, being reason, would not expect man to accept anything contrary to it. Through reason, man is also able to understand God as manifested in his creation. God's laws are the laws of nature, which are also manifested in the Sharia (the divine path). Therefore, the Mu'tazilites held that the statements in the Qur'an must be in accord with reason. Unfortunately, the Mu'tazilites were suppressed during the reign of Caliph Ja'afar al-Mutawakkil (847-861), who made holding the Mu'tazilite doctrine a crime punishable by death, and the long process of dehellenization and its resulting ossification began.
 
It was in the "darkness" of the Middle Ages that the coup de grace was delivered by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111), perhaps the single most influential Muslim thinker after Mohammed. Al Ghazali vehemently rejected Greek thought: "The source of their infidelity was their hearing terrible names such as Socrates and Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle."  In The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Al-Ghazali insisted that God is not bound by any order and that there is, therefore, no "natural" sequence of cause and effect, as in fire burning cotton or, more colourfully, as in "the purging of the bowels and the using of a purgative." Things do not act according to their own natures but only according to God's will at the moment. There are only juxtapositions of discrete events that make it appear that the fire is burning the cotton, but God could just as well do otherwise. In other words, there is no rational order invested in the universe upon which one can rely, no continuous narrative of cause and effect tying these moments together in a comprehensible way.
 
Although all monotheistic religions hold that, in order to be one, God must be omnipotent, this argument reduced God to his omnipotence by concentrating exclusively on his unlimited power, as against his reason. God's "reasons" are unknowable by man. God is not shackled by reason. He rules as he pleases. He is pure will. In his attack on philosophy, entitled Kuzari, Judah ha-Levi, a Jewish follower of al-Ghazali, reached the logical conclusion as to how man ought to approach the revelations of such a deity: "I consider him to have attained the highest degree of perfection who is convinced of religious truths without having scrutinized them and reasoned over them." (How, one wonders, does one become "convinced" of something without having thought about it?) There could hardly be a more radical rejection of what Benedict XVI calls "the reasonableness of faith."
 
Equally as damaging to the status of reason, al-Ghazali wrote that reason is so infected by man's self-interest that it cannot know moral principles; they can only be known through revelation. Since reason is not a source of moral truth, concludes al-Ghazali, "No obligations flow from reason but from the Sharia (the divinely ordained path)." With this, he despatches Aristotle's The Ethics and all other moral philosophy.
 
Today's radical Muslims embrace the "unreasonableness" of faith in an unreasoning God and translate it into a politics of unlimited power. As God's instruments, they are channels for his omnipotence. Once the primacy of force is posited, terrorism becomes the next logical step to power, as it did in the 20th-century secular ideologies of power, Nazism and Marxism-Leninism. This is what led Osama bin Laden to embrace the astonishing statement of his spiritual godfather, Abdullah Azzam, which Osama quoted in the November 2001 video, released after 9/11: "Terrorism is an obligation in Allah's religion." This can only be true - that violence in spreading faith is an obligation - if, as Benedict XVI said in Regensburg, God is without reason.
 
How, then, do we reason together? Can neo-Mu'tazilites in the Muslim world, of which there are more than a few, elaborate a theology that allows for the restoration of reason, a rehellenization of Islam with Allah as ratio? It is idle to pretend that it would take less than a sea change for this to happen. If it does not, it is hard to envisage upon what basis meaningful interfaith dialogue with Islam could take place. That is the unfortunate meaning of the violent reaction to the Pope's Regensburg speech.
 
Robert R. Reilly writes from Washington DC. He is a contributing editor to Crisis Magazine.


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On the path to mutual respect: Faith, Reason and Islam
(
23 September 2006)

Mona Siddiqui
   
Muslims must learn that differing views are at the core of a civil society, according to a leading Islamic scholar, and violent calls for revenge over perceived slights only fuel criticism of their religion

Once again we are seeing images of Muslims rioting, burning effigies and shouting for more deaths. Even the more respectable press is speculating on the precise nature of the link between Islam - more specifically the Qur'an - and violence. And once again "moderate" Islam is being asked to explain the actions of a menacing few. Except that the increasing worry is that it might not be a few and that the images of violence are actually a reflection of the hostility that most Muslims feel towards any criticism of their faith, culture or history.

As a Muslim I remain perplexed. Why are Muslims magnifying every incident to the level of a global conflict? Adulation and veneration of the Prophet may be laudable qualities but is this really what this furore is about? I don't think so. The ease with which marches are mobilised and threats directed are symptoms of a community not only feeling under siege but slightly revelling in their victim status. From Cairo to London, we have seen calls for apologies for a comment that could have been consigned to the annals of papal intellectualism; instead the comment became yet another mark of mutual distrust and suspicion between some Muslims and the Western world. This has damaged no one but it has made Islam appear like a complete idiosyncrasy in the West. Islam is a major world religion which doesn't need this kind of weak defence.

I'm sure that Pope Benedict did not deliberately intend to offend the Prophet in particular. But as someone who was previously the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, he is not naive and must have known that his speech could be contentious and open to all sorts of interpretations. Whether he was ill advised or advised at all, the fact remains that he now symbolises far more than his academic credentials.

This incident is not about defending freedom of speech - that red herring brought out as the ultimate achievement of Western civilisation - it is about recognising that pitting one faith against another to show the superiority of one and the deficiencies of the other is a dangerous and arrogant exercise. By all means, explore genuine theological differences, but not on the assumption that one faith perspective has all the right answers. Both Christianity and Islam have blood on their hands. Both are missionary religions often struggling to accept the essential truth of any other faith. Both come together mostly when they want to condemn certain sexual or fertility practices as an affront to human dignity.

Intellectuals and academics must have the right to posit any arguments they want if they can support them with rigorous evidence. But in this speech one of the connections being made by the Pope was that Islamic views of divine transcendence have left very little room for reason or logos in Islam. This is unlike in Christianity, where reason and revelation have complemented each other for a very long time and provided the fundamental basis for Western society, a society where religious violence and coercion have no place. Eradicating religious violence must be a desirable objective for all of us.

The problem here is that if we continue to judge Islam only by the current images of violence then there will be very little desire to tolerate this faith, never mind see it as a legitimate expression of the Divine. Why some Muslims are so quick to resort to violent acts may be more about political self-interest than any genuine search for justice. There are no easy answers as to why acts of intense violence have become such a defining aspect of the Muslim faith.

Unfortunately, very little seems to have changed since the Rushdie affair. But let's remember that there have always been different intellectual conversations and ideologies within Islam and, even today, it would be completely wrong to think that such debates are no more than peripheral or academic to mainstream Islam. One has only to look at the discussions around sharia law and pluralism to understand that there are many people from all levels of society who are actively engaged in working for a more inclusive and just world.

The real reason why Pope Benedict's lecture touches on so many sensitivities is because the theological analysis carries within it serious political ambitions. For Pope Benedict, Christianity cannot just be Europe's past; it must also be Europe's future. It is the Pope's aspirations to make Christianity once again a living force in the West that underlies so much of his current thinking both in relation to other faiths and in his attempts to unify the Christian Church. As a Pope, he has every right to work towards this goal but Europe is not just the Catholic Church, nor is the Catholic Church just the pontificate.

The Pope cannot ignore the growing diversity within his own faith nor in the other faiths that are also a major part of Europe. True, he is concerned about the challenge of secularism, which sees itself as the repository of reason, but if religion and reason are to come together to face contemporary challenges, can it be any religion or can it only be Christianity?

Muslims must learn that differing viewpoints and multiple voices are the very essence of civil society. Even when the viewpoint touches on something as sacred as the Prophet and his legacy, responses must be dignified and respectful. This would reflect the true essence of Islam; calling for revenge and retribution is doing little more than proving all the critics right.

Professor Mona Siddiqui is Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam at Glasgow University.

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Can Christians and Muslims have true dialogue?  
By Ignacio Arechaga.    20 September 2006


Professor José Morales, a theologian at the University of Navarra in Spain, is an expert on contemporary Islam in Europe. His recent books include Caminos del Islam (The Paths of Islam, 2006) and El Islam (Islam, 2001). He was interviewed by Ignacio Aréchaga.

Aréchaga: In his speech at Ratisbonne, Pope Benedict XVI distinguished between two ways of looking at God: the Christian God, who acts in accordance with reason and whom we can reflect upon with our reason, and the Islamic God, who is absolutely transcendent and alien to human ways of thinking. How do these differences affect the development of how we think about God?

Morales: The Christian God is certainly an eminently rational God who has never said, for instance, that good and evil are the same. But Divine rationality, according to Christian theology, does not exclude, but rather includes, the ineffable mystery of God, who is unknowable by human beings, including believers.

The Islamic understanding of God is more rigid and less nuanced. This happens because of its excessive emphasis on the divine transcendence and on the unattainable distance between God and the world and man. If Christianity springs from the closeness of a God who takes on human flesh, Islam springs from divine distance. The God of Islam has a purely extrinsic relationship with man. Before God, man can only submit himself.

In Islam, what matters most is the inexorable divine will, which is expressed in his law, as revealed in the Qur'an. That Law makes insignificant both human beings and the very history of humanity. It is an immovable factor which does not develop either in the mind of man or in the course of history. The focus of Islam's concern is not theological reflection on the Koranic Law, but the interpretation of its precepts to know what a Muslim can or cannot do in order to be a good believer. Certainly there is a certain grandeur in this, but it is quite different to how Christians see the divine will and the divine law. These take man and history seriously as a being who was created free and as the succession of events which occur in time. Here we have a vision of man as a created being in history.

Aréchaga: In Islam, there are different ways of understanding jihad, or "holy war", depending upon whether one is a moderate or a fundamentalist. Even in Muslim countries there might be more or less tolerance of non-Muslims, but not authentic religious freedom in which each person can adopt and practice the faith according to his or her conscience. Are things evolving towards greater religious freedom or are more intolerant currents prevailing?

Morales: Islam distinguishes between greater jihad and lesser jihad. Most contemporary Muslim authors focus on the meaning of the greater jihad, as the effort which a believing Muslim must make within himself to be able to fulfil the Koranic Law. The lesser jihad is warlike activity which may be necessary on certain occasions to defend Islam.

The modern world has helped some groups of Muslims to connect and strengthen this lesser jihad with terrorist ideas and practices. But this way of acting and feeling does not reflect, in my opinion, the consensus of Muslim authorities. I am sure that countless believers in Islam do not approve of acts of Islamic terrorism perpetrated against the West in recent years. But the truth is that their voices are not sufficiently heard in the Muslim world. This matter has been discussed in recent times in numerous books and essays such as Olivier Roy's Globalized Islam, Gilles Kepel's The War for Muslim Minds, and Faisal Devij's Landscape of the Jihad.

Aréchaga: In times of crisis, there are always calls for the need for mutual respect and for dialogue between Christianity and Islam, but one has the impression that apart from a few gestures, nothing much happens. What specific difficulties are there in dialoguing with Islam?

Morales: Dialogue between Christianity and Islam began with the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church (1962-65). I believe that it is more a Christian initiative than a Muslim one. You can sense in the Muslim world a certain suspicion towards these attempts at communication and mutual understanding. Apart from this attitude, I think that the difficulties derive mainly from the different cultural mentality of the Christian or Muslim participants in the conversation. There doesn't seem to be a common language. When Catholics or Protestants speak to one another about their own religious outlook, they do so with a common ground in their religious, intellectual and cultural assumptions. They understand each other. This does not happen in dialogues between Muslims and Christians.

On the other hand, Christian participants in dialogues with Muslims report a tendency of their counterparts to put up barriers, so to speak, and to set down conditions which make it difficult, even impossible, to have true communication. Nonetheless, this climate of relative dialogue has allowed greater mutual understanding, and has created growing respect. We mustn't forget that the Islamic world in itself is not as unruffled as a millpond, and that there are tensions, crises and schemes within it which have a negative effect upon effective dialogue with Christians.

Aréchaga: Muslim countries tend to attribute all their maladies to exterior enemies -- the new crusades, the aggressive West, Zionism, etc. But with a religion like Islam, which tries to regulate all of social life, has the failure of Muslim societies to modernise raised questions about their own model of Islamic civilisation?

Morales: In the Muslim world different and apparently contradictory processes are happening simultaneously. The experience of failure, stagnation and disfunctionality in the Muslim world has increased the prestige of religion as a way to solve problems. This does not seem to be diminishing at the moment.

But nearly all the militant Islamic movements have entered a more constructive and sensible phase. They have decided to become more moderate and to reform and democratise. I believe, however, that at the moment, no one openly questions the model of Islamic civilisation in which religion has a dominant role.

Ignacio Aréchaga is editor of the Spanish magazine Aceprensa.

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 Once Muslim, now mired in Malaysia's courts
By Jane Perlez The New York Times

Published: August 24, 2006
KUALA LUMPUR From the scant personal details that can be pieced together about Lina Joy, she converted from Islam to Christianity eight years ago and since then has endured extraordinary hurdles in her desire to marry the man in her life.
 
Her name is a household word in this majority Muslim country. But she is now in hiding after death threats from Islamic extremists, who accuse her of being an apostate.
 
Five years ago she started proceedings in the civil courts to seek the right to marry her Christian fiancé and have children. Because she had renounced her Muslim faith, Joy, 42, argued that Malaysia's Islamic Shariah courts, which control matters like marriage, property and divorce, did not have jurisdiction over her.
 
In a series of decisions, the civil courts ruled against her. Then, last month, her lawyer, Benjamin Dawson, appeared before Malaysia's highest court, the Court of Appeals, to argue that Joy's conversion be considered a right protected under the Constitution, not a religious matter for the Shariah courts.
 
"She's trying to live her life with someone she loves," Dawson said in an interview.
 
Threats against Joy had become so insistent, and the passions over her conversion so inflamed, he had concluded there was no room for her and her fiancé in Malaysia. The most likely solution, he said, was for her to emigrate.
 
For Malaysia, which considers itself a moderate and modern Muslim country with a tolerance for its multiple religions and ethnic groups of Malays, Indians and Chinese, the case has kicked up a firestorm that goes to the very heart of who is a Malay, and what is Malaysia.
 
Joy's case has heightened a searing battle that has included street protests and death threats between groups advocating a secular interpretation of the Constitution, and Islamic groups that contend the Shariah courts should have supremacy in many matters.
 
Some see the rulings against Joy as a sign of increasing Islamization, and of the pressures felt by the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as it tries to respond to the opposition Islamic party, Parti Islam se-Malaysia.
 
About 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people are Muslims, 20 percent are Buddhists, nearly 10 percent are Christians and 6 percent are Hindus.
 
Malaysia has powerful Islamic affairs departments in its 13 states and in the capital district around Kuala Lumpur. The departments, a kind of parallel bureaucracy to the state apparatus that was strengthened during the 22-year rule of former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, run the Shariah courts.
 
"Malaysia is at a crossroads," Dawson said. "Do we go down the Islamic road, or do we maintain the secular character of the federal Constitution that has been eroding in the last 10 years?"
 
In rulings in her case, civil courts said Malays could not renounce Islam because the Constitution defined Malays to be Muslims.
 
They also ruled that a request to change her identity card from Muslim to Christian had to be decided by the Shariah courts. There she would be considered an apostate, and if she did not repent she surely would be sentenced to several years in an Islamic center for rehabilitation.
 
Dawson said Joy was baptized in 1998 at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Kuala Lumpur. Because she considered herself a Christian, Joy did not believe that the Shariah courts applied to her.
 
Because of the death threats, including some calls to hunt her down, Dawson said, he could not make her available for an interview.
 
Similarly, her fiancé, a Christian of ethnic Indian background whom Joy met in 1990, had received death threats and was not prepared to be interviewed.
 
Last month, Badawi appeared to side with the Islamists when he ordered that forums organized around the country to discuss religious freedom must stop. The forums, run by a group called Article 11, named after the section of the Constitution that says Malaysians are free to choose their religion, were disrupted on several occasions by Islamic protesters.
 
The chief organizer of the Article 11 forums, a well-known human rights lawyer, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a Muslim, received a death threat this month that was widely circulated by e-mail.
 
With the heading "Wanted Dead," the message featured a photograph of Malik and said: "This is the face of the traitorous lawyer to Islam who supports the Lina Joy apostasy case. Distribute to our friends so they can recognize this traitor. If you find him dead by the side of the road, do not help."
 
Malik, 36, who presented a brief in support of Joy to the Appeals Court, said he was seeking police protection. "We must not confuse the crucial distinction between a country in which the majority are Muslims, and is thus an Islamic country, and a country in which the supreme law is the Shariah, an Islamic state," Malik said.
 
Conversions of Muslims to Christianity are not common in Malaysia, though most converts do not seek official approval for marriage and therefore do not run into the obstacles that Joy confronted.
 
One 38-year-old convert, who said in an interview at a Roman Catholic parish that he would provide only his Christian names, Paul Michael, and not his surname, for fear of retribution, described how he led a double life.
 
"Church members know us as who we are, and the outside world knows us as we were," he said. He was fearful, he said, that if his conversion became public the religious authorities would come after him, and he could be sentenced to a religious rehabilitation camp.
 
One such place, hidden in the forest at Ulu Yam Baru, 32 kilometers, or 20 miles, outside the capital, is ringed like a prison by barbed wire, with dormitories protected by a second ring of barbed wire. Outside a sign says, "House of Faith," and inside the inmates spend much of their time studying Islam.
 
Paul Michael said he and other former Muslims moved from church to church for services to avoid detection.
 
 
KUALA LUMPUR From the scant personal details that can be pieced together about Lina Joy, she converted from Islam to Christianity eight years ago and since then has endured extraordinary hurdles in her desire to marry the man in her life.
 
Her name is a household word in this majority Muslim country. But she is now in hiding after death threats from Islamic extremists, who accuse her of being an apostate.
 
Five years ago she started proceedings in the civil courts to seek the right to marry her Christian fiancé and have children. Because she had renounced her Muslim faith, Joy, 42, argued that Malaysia's Islamic Shariah courts, which control matters like marriage, property and divorce, did not have jurisdiction over her.
 
In a series of decisions, the civil courts ruled against her. Then, last month, her lawyer, Benjamin Dawson, appeared before Malaysia's highest court, the Court of Appeals, to argue that Joy's conversion be considered a right protected under the Constitution, not a religious matter for the Shariah courts.
 
"She's trying to live her life with someone she loves," Dawson said in an interview.
 
Threats against Joy had become so insistent, and the passions over her conversion so inflamed, he had concluded there was no room for her and her fiancé in Malaysia. The most likely solution, he said, was for her to emigrate.
 
For Malaysia, which considers itself a moderate and modern Muslim country with a tolerance for its multiple religions and ethnic groups of Malays, Indians and Chinese, the case has kicked up a firestorm that goes to the very heart of who is a Malay, and what is Malaysia.
 
Joy's case has heightened a searing battle that has included street protests and death threats between groups advocating a secular interpretation of the Constitution, and Islamic groups that contend the Shariah courts should have supremacy in many matters.
 
Some see the rulings against Joy as a sign of increasing Islamization, and of the pressures felt by the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as it tries to respond to the opposition Islamic party, Parti Islam se-Malaysia.
 
About 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people are Muslims, 20 percent are Buddhists, nearly 10 percent are Christians and 6 percent are Hindus.
 
Malaysia has powerful Islamic affairs departments in its 13 states and in the capital district around Kuala Lumpur. The departments, a kind of parallel bureaucracy to the state apparatus that was strengthened during the 22-year rule of former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, run the Shariah courts.
 
"Malaysia is at a crossroads," Dawson said. "Do we go down the Islamic road, or do we maintain the secular character of the federal Constitution that has been eroding in the last 10 years?"
 
In rulings in her case, civil courts said Malays could not renounce Islam because the Constitution defined Malays to be Muslims.
 
They also ruled that a request to change her identity card from Muslim to Christian had to be decided by the Shariah courts. There she would be considered an apostate, and if she did not repent she surely would be sentenced to several years in an Islamic center for rehabilitation.
 
Dawson said Joy was baptized in 1998 at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Kuala Lumpur. Because she considered herself a Christian, Joy did not believe that the Shariah courts applied to her.
 
Because of the death threats, including some calls to hunt her down, Dawson said, he could not make her available for an interview.
 
Similarly, her fiancé, a Christian of ethnic Indian background whom Joy met in 1990, had received death threats and was not prepared to be interviewed.
 
Last month, Badawi appeared to side with the Islamists when he ordered that forums organized around the country to discuss religious freedom must stop. The forums, run by a group called Article 11, named after the section of the Constitution that says Malaysians are free to choose their religion, were disrupted on several occasions by Islamic protesters.
 
The chief organizer of the Article 11 forums, a well-known human rights lawyer, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a Muslim, received a death threat this month that was widely circulated by e-mail.
 
With the heading "Wanted Dead," the message featured a photograph of Malik and said: "This is the face of the traitorous lawyer to Islam who supports the Lina Joy apostasy case. Distribute to our friends so they can recognize this traitor. If you find him dead by the side of the road, do not help."
 
Malik, 36, who presented a brief in support of Joy to the Appeals Court, said he was seeking police protection. "We must not confuse the crucial distinction between a country in which the majority are Muslims, and is thus an Islamic country, and a country in which the supreme law is the Shariah, an Islamic state," Malik said.
 
Conversions of Muslims to Christianity are not common in Malaysia, though most converts do not seek official approval for marriage and therefore do not run into the obstacles that Joy confronted.
 
One 38-year-old convert, who said in an interview at a Roman Catholic parish that he would provide only his Christian names, Paul Michael, and not his surname, for fear of retribution, described how he led a double life.
 
"Church members know us as who we are, and the outside world knows us as we were," he said. He was fearful, he said, that if his conversion became public the religious authorities would come after him, and he could be sentenced to a religious rehabilitation camp.
 
One such place, hidden in the forest at Ulu Yam Baru, 32 kilometers, or 20 miles, outside the capital, is ringed like a prison by barbed wire, with dormitories protected by a second ring of barbed wire. Outside a sign says, "House of Faith," and inside the inmates spend much of their time studying Islam.
 
Paul Michael said he and other former Muslims moved from church to church for services to avoid detection.

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The true face of martyrdom, by Brian Wicker 
9 August 2006

Dying for one's faith, previously associated with acts of courage, is now tainted in the public mind by the claims of suicide bombers to be martyrs for Islam. How did such perverted thinking emerge, and can martyrdom be reclaimed as an honourable act?

The arrest of terrorist suspects in Britain last week raised the prospect once more that British-born Muslims were prepared to die, as they saw it, in the name of Islam. Security services and the police said they had unearthed alleged plots for suicide bombers to blow up planes as they crossed the Atlantic. These conspiracies were being put together just a year after a group of Muslim men killed themselves and nearly 50 other people in London through bombs planted in underground trains and on a bus.

To the majority of people, these acts will be seen as barbarous, taking the lives of innocent people. To some, though, they will be seen as acts of martyrdom. Martyrdom has a long tradition in both Islam and Christianity, for the shedding of one's blood for the sake of one's beliefs has an emotive pull as well as a religious one. Within the early Christian Church, martyrs were perceived as heroic witnesses to the truth in which they believed, with shrines and churches built in their honour.

But surely no sane person wants to be a martyr, any more than he or she wants to be crucified. Of course, the best of us want to witness to the truth (which is what being a martyr really means) and a few are prepared to do this even at the cost of being killed. And the world being what it is, it is quite likely that anyone who is truly prepared to be such a witness will in fact be killed. But being a witness and being killed are different things.

Part of the problem is the greed for glory. While none of us wants to be killed for our beliefs, quite a lot of us in anticipation would relish the posthumous veneration which those who have died for the faith commonly attract. Perhaps we imagine that we will enjoy becoming part of the "cult" of martyrdom. I suppose it is even possible that some twisted individuals would invite death for the sake of being venerated for it afterwards. Nevertheless surely nobody can actually want to be killed in order to get this "glory"? Yet wanting it seems to be at the root of the "martyrdom operations", such as suicide bombing, which has scarred New York, Israel and Britain, among others, in recent years.

It is at this point, I think, that Islamic "martyrdom operations" differ most radically from Christian examples. Indeed, the term "operations" gives the game away, for it suggests that being killed for the faith that is being martyred) is something you choose to do, not something that happens to you, whereas Christian martyrdom is a gift from God - the gift of being able to witness come what may. Modern Islamic martyrdoms, on the contrary, seem to be based on actions that people choose to carry out, presumably to prove - to themselves and to their communities, perhaps to God - that they are prepared to die for what they believe in. At this point, the witness stops being a martyr and becomes a criminal.

It was not always so. Indeed the two traditions' earliest theologies of martyrdom, or witnessing to the faith, are very similar. In both, even against persecution, "witnessing" was essentially a non-violent response.

In Arabic, the word commonly translated as "martyr" (shahid), in the sense of someone willing to be killed for the faith, does not occur in the Qur'an at all; it is used there only for a witness in the legal, or eyewitness sense. It was only in the post-Qur'anic period, following fierce persecution by the pagans of Medina, that the word became specialised to indicate someone who had been killed in fighting for the faith. The Qur'an itself is a much more complex work than it is commonly thought to be, especially by those who wish to justify modern "martyrdom operations".

The development of the Islamic meaning of shahid is paralleled by the development of "martyrdom" in Christianity. In fact some scholars suspect that there was a Christian influence on the Islamic development of the term, through contacts between the Muslims and the Christians of the Levant. But a key difference in Islam is that pagan persecution of the small tightly knit faith community in Arabia became very violent within the Prophet's own lifetime - almost as soon as he had moved his sphere of activity from Mecca to Medina. A result was that the pressure for the Muslims to defend themselves by force rapidly became overwhelming. Hence the association of witnessing to the faith and fighting in defence of it was established quickly, and soon became almost the norm, despite the early Qur'anic verses that discouraged it.

This process was later helped by the use of the concept of "abrogation" (naskh) in the scholarly interpretation of the Qur'an itself. In this, verses held to have been revealed to the Prophet in later life were said to have "abrogated" the earlier (predominantly non-violent) messages of the Meccan period. Modern scholars have challenged the misuse of naskh, which lends itself to the justification of a "military" concept of the role of the faithful Muslim, or "martyr", against that of the Muslim who is a non-violent witness. But they have an uphill struggle against the now widespread, albeit mistaken, notion that Islam was rooted in violence from the start.

For Christians the story was different. Very early on they were scattered in many parts of the Roman Empire, as preaching the Gospel quickly spread from Jerusalem. Furthermore, the Christians were virtually debarred from serving in the Roman army because of its dedication to polytheism (whereas the Roman army had virtually no relevance to the seventh-century Muslims of Arabia). Hence there were very few Christian soldiers before the beginning of the third century AD. This explains why the association of martyrdom with military operations, even in "self-defence" of the faith, failed to develop as it has in Islam. This helped establish a strong tradition that maintains that martyrdom, or witnessing to the faith, is incompatible with service in the military, even in a "just war". True, Pope John VIII (872-882) seems to have thought that a person dying in a just war could be regarded as a martyr, but his view failed to take hold.

Aquinas, in his treatment of martyrdom, takes it for granted that martyrdom is incompatible with participation in warfare, with only one exception: members of the chivalric military orders in the Crusades could become martyrs, because they were fighting in God's service, rather than that of a mere king. This concession could have become a loophole through which much damaging ideology might have been driven. Perhaps the demise of crusading prevented such a disaster.

The early teachings of both traditions on suicide are very close: suicide is clearly forbidden. But on both sides, theological difficulties soon arose, and very often the answers given seem weak. Thus, the Christian virgin St Pelagia of Antioch (died c. 311) clearly killed herself to avoid being raped, and is yet accounted a virgin martyr. Both Augustine and Aquinas can only offer the lame excuse that the Church "by manifestations worthy of credence" decided to honour her. They have even more trouble in justifying the suicide of Samson, and can only say that his self-killing was sanctioned by the Holy Spirit.

Parallel problems arise for some Islamic theorists, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, in justifying suicidal operations today. Provided these are done for the greater good, he has argued, the Qur'anic prohibitions can be set aside. Or it is sometimes maintained that suicides are not really suicidal because they are such heroic deeds. They are not done out of hopelessness or despair but out of a desire to "cast terror and fear into the hearts of the oppressors" (Al-Qaradawi). Both sets of answers seem to be notably weak, even irrational. They tend to muddle the actions which the "martyrs" do with their motives for doing them. Either way, the prohibition on suicide is weakened. Thus the suicidal operations of today are provided with a sort of theological justification.

More interesting, perhaps, is the thought that in the future we may need to acknowledge a new kind of martyr: one that both traditions could accept. I am thinking of martyrs "for justice and peace". I borrow this phrase from Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's public praise of Margaret Hassan, who was murdered for helping the ordinary citizens of Iraq during a lifetime spent as a Western Catholic married to a Muslim, and who held Iraqi nationality and consistently opposed the Western invasion of her country. She is perhaps only the latest candidate following examples like those of Edith Stein, Franz Jägerstätter, Maximilian Kolbe, Dorothy Stang. For all of these died as witnesses not to Christianity as such but to justice and peace within the global community.

One way in which the West could help to rebalance the distorted notions of martyrdom that have become prevalent today would be to acknowledge publicly that these witnesses (and doubtless many others, of both faiths) are martyrs for everybody: that is witnesses who can be venerated by Muslims as well as Christians because what they died for was something recognisably good for all.

* Brian Wicker, as chairman of the Council on Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament (CCADD), is the editor of  Witnesses to Faith? martyrdom in Christianity and Islam, recently published by Ashgate. CCADD may be contacted on  CCADD@lineone.net.

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On the Term "Islamo-Fascism"
| Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | August 15, 2006


I.   The war in which we are currently engaged confuses us, in part because many will not admit it is a war. We do not know what to call it. Nor do we know what to call the self-declared enemy who has been attacking us in one form or another for some twenty-five years, ever more visibly and dangerously since 9/11, 2001, with subsequent events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Spain, London, Bombay, Bali, Paris, Lebanon, and Israel.

There are those who insist that it is not a "war" at all but perhaps, at best, a police issue -- no big problem. Others contend that it is a result of American or Western expansionism so that its cure is simply for us to return to our frontiers and be content with what we have. If we do this withdrawal, every threat will immediately cease at this point. In another view it is due to poverty and oppression, even though most of the perpetrators of the war are quite rich. Yet another interpretation is that this turmoil stems from a very small minority with no relation to national or religious origins, a kind of floating international brigade of bandits, like the Mafia, out for their own profit and glory. The variants on these themes are almost infinite.

What names should we use that will accurately define and designate the cause? Calling things by their right names is the first requirement of reality; refusing to do so, the first cause of confusion, if not defeat. At first, we were told that the war is against something called "terrorism." Its perpetrators were logically called "terrorists." It was considered "hate-language" to call them anything else. However, we find listed on no map a place called "Terroritoria," where said "terrorists" otherwise dwell in peace plotting our demise. It has no capital, no military uniform for its mostly invisible troops, no rules of combat. In this designation, some difficult ensues when we try to identify or designate a group that just wants to "terrorize" others, as if that is an explanation. Some may like to travel or to fish for pleasure; they like "terror" for terror's sake, just a question of taste.

Of course, this membership in a supposed organization called "Terror International" is not what the known "terrorists" claim for themselves. They look on this designation with contempt since it misses the whole nature of what they think that they are doing. But the term "terrorism" seems temporarily useful because it avoids the politics of naming more carefully just who these actual men (and women) are who carry out these, to us, seemingly senseless bombings. Are they so "senseless" after all? That is, do they have their own rationale and are we intellectually willing to face what it is?

All along, as a chief tactic of the "terrorists," we have had "suicide bombers." "Suicide bombing" is, thus far, the main delivery system of the "terrorists." It is remarkably effective in creating immediate chaos. We have almost forgotten how used we have become to this utterly corrupt practice that undermines, and seeks to undermine, the very basis of any possible civilization opposed to it. Those who practice "suicide bombing" (it is a once in a lifetime occupation, to be sure) call themselves "martyrs." They are, when successful, treated as heroes by other "terrorists" and their admirers. Thus, the same action is called in one political zone "terrorism," while, in another, it is called "martyrdom." What do words mean?

To perform this switch of meaning, of course, the "terrorists" had also to call the "victims" of "suicide bombers," not innocent objects of terrorism, as we call them, but guilty opponents of the cause for which "terrorism" really stands, its religious mission in the world. Even when people of one's own religion are killed, they are said, theologically, like the "suicide bombers" themselves, to have been done a favor in reaching heaven more quickly.

So what language do we use to speak of this horrendous situation? We also hear used the word "Islamicist," or "Islamism." We hear "Jihadists," or holy warriors. We are struck with the fierceness with which the "terrorists" themselves reject being called "fascists" or, what they also are, "terrorists." They sense that the term, "Islamo-fascism," or any of its variants, undermines or disparages what, in their own minds, is the legitimacy or morality of their "cause." We have here an issue that forces us to consider the very roots of the "terrorists'" understanding of their own motivations.

The fact that almost all the "terrorists," no matter their country of birth, have Muslim origins, moreover, brings us up against our own ecumenical or liberal theories, which do not allow us to "profile" or stigmatize or even accuse of bad motives those who do carry out the killings. The argument sometimes goes: All religions are "peaceful." Islam is a religion. Therefore, Islam is peaceful. This is not an historical syllogism that explains the actual record of the expansion of Islam from its beginning in Arabia till its reaching Tours in the eighth century and Vienna in the sixteenth. Nor does it explain the violence and law used within Muslim states to prevent any expression of faith or philosophy that does not conform to their own understanding of the Koran. This earlier expansion was almost exclusively by military conquest, often extremely brutal, against Christian, Persian, Hindu, or other lands.


II.  More recently, the term "Islamo-fascism" has been coined in an effort to describe the source and nature of "terrorism." I want to examine the appropriateness of this term, as I think it serves to get at the core of the problem. Is "Islamo-fascism" really accurate for what the reality is? Initially, the term obviously is not a product of Islamic thinkers thinking of themselves, though some more recent Muslim thinkers have studied the Marxists and the fascists. No Imam in Iran or Egypt, however, suddenly wakes up in the middle of the night and shouts, "That's it! I am an Islamo-fascist; why did I not think of that before?" No pious youth in Mecca reads the Collected Works of Benito Mussolini and muses to himself, "Yes, this is what Mohammed was about in the Koran."

Rather the term comes from Western politicians and writers. They are desperately seeking a word or expression that they can use, one that avoids suggesting that the war in fact has religious roots, as the people who are doing the attacking claim it does. To say that war has "religious" roots violates a code, a constitutional principle. Wars are political not religious. Therefore, their explanation must be political, must arise from modern political science. Hobbes, "where are you when we need you?" Religion cannot be a serious motivation, especially over the centuries. We must look elsewhere. Only social "science" can explain this phenomenon.

"Fascism," in this context, thus becomes a handy term. We thought that we were rid of that menace after World War II, of course. Compared to Marxism and Nazism, it was, in fact, the mildest of the ideologies of our recent time. Many of its features, originally designed for other situations, can appear to apply to what is going on in our "terrorist"-infected world. This happy analytic result, it is said, justifies us in joining "Islam" and "fascism" together in a way that apparently absolves most of Islam of anything to do with the problem or any responsibility for Muslims doing anything about it. At the same time, it demonstrates the usefulness of western political science in understanding modern movements. If science cannot understand something, it cannot be understood, goes the accepted wisdom.


If for no other reason than the sake of clarity, let us think our way further through this murky issue of what to call what we are dealing with. We have to call it something because it is something. It will not "go away" peacefully any time soon. Aristotle indicated that the first issue in political things is to describe accurately the nature of a regime under scrutiny. What exactly is it? This seemingly simple explanatory effort can itself be quite dangerous, quite personally dangerous, as Muslims who question their own roots soon find out. Many powerful, even many weak, governments do not like to be called what they scientifically are. Moreover, a distinction can be found between what some political thing is and what we are allowed to call it because of our own philosophical or political positions. The political control of language, as George Orwell suggested, is itself an instrument of tyranny. Moreover, such a thing as political philosophy exists even apart from any actual regime and what it allows us to call it.

We should by now be used to totalitarian regimes insisting on calling themselves "republics" or "democracies" and punishing anyone who refuses to accept a government's own definition of itself. Today, the accurate use of language, apparently something guaranteed in our amendments, is a minefield. We have something like "hate crimes" whose effect is in fact to prevent us from naming exactly what we are dealing with. Philosophy in these circumstances is driven underground. The phenomenon of philosophy being driven underground was, as Leo Strauss once remarked, a major issue within medieval Islamic philosophy.


III.   The Washington Times recently (August 12, 2006) published a useful and insightful editorial, "It's Fascism," that I will use to comment on this nomenclature. First, the editorial points out the gradual change in President Bush's designation of the enemy. He, with Mr. Blair, began using the word "terrorist," but more recently he has used the designation "fascist." "Is this a legitimate use?" the editorial asks. Fascism, it continues, is a "political philosophy" that exalts a group or nation over the individual. It could also imply a religion. Fascism promoted central rule, subordinated individuals to "political leadership." The term thus can legitimately be used to designate those responsible for the recent "terrorist" understandings of themselves.

The editorial identifies groups like "al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas" and other organizations as "fascist," that is, they operate in effect on these principles. "Non-Muslims" are regarded as "a lesser breed of expendable or contemptible dhimmis and infidels." Social and economic restrictions are placed on every group that does not conform to the ruling power. The editorial says, "this is not mainstream Islam.... It is a corruption of the faith."

Evidently, The Washington Times was among the first to use the designation "Islamofascism." It was related to a German-born Muslim scholar, Kalid Duran, in an interview about his book, An Introduction to Islam for Jews, in The Washington Times. In spite of Muslim organization protests, the editorial maintained that its use of the term was simply an accurate description of what, with proper distinctions, these people did. "Islamofascism speaks for itself. It is a real phenomenon." It is not illegal, immoral, or even impolite to call it what, judging from its actions, it is.

The question I ask, in the light of this case for the use of the term "Islamofascism," is this: does this term clarify or obscure the issue? Let me propose a thought process. Recently, a friend told me of reading a report from London about how one of the "terrorists" designated to blow up a transatlantic flight was to be accompanied by his wife and child. The explosive was to be in the baby's bottle. The man was willing to blow up himself, his wife, and his young child in the cause for which these ten or so planes were to be destroyed by similar methods.

Now this proposal, in itself, strikes us as simply horrendous, insane, mad. Moreover, let us suppose that the plot was not detected and was successful. Within the course of several hours, analogous to the relative success of 9/11, ten planes with a total of, say, two or three thousand passengers flying from London to New York had been destroyed. What would the reaction of this news been in Tehran or Cairo or other Muslim capitals? I would like to be wrong on this, but judging from previous instances, I greatly fear that, in too many cases, there would have been cheering, not horror. This heinous act would have been interpreted -- not by all but by many -- as a stunning success and a blow at the great Satan. We would probably have heard from the President of Iran or Osama ben Laden himself or someone of that level that more was in store, that the final day of reckoning is nearer.

What do these speculations have to do with the term "Islamofascism?" When 9/11 first happened, I recall commenting on this very issue, this time in the case of the young men who plotted, planned, and carried out the destruction of the World Trade Center. What, in their own minds, did they think they were doing? Did they think they were executing an "Islamofascist" plot? Hardly. Did they think they were in it for money? Surely not. They were in it for the glory that comes from what they saw to be the "brave" act of destroying the symbol of the great emery, his communication center. This act would go down in sacred history as the first step. Other successes would surely follow.

What was in it for them? Exactly what their religion said was in it. They were doing the work of Allah. The world could not know peace until it was subjugated to his rule as laid down in the holy book. The advance had been stymied for hundreds of years, set back, but now a new, glorious opportunity arose. Young men, willing to die, flocked to the cause. There is a sense of purpose, the reestablishment of the Caliphate, the subjugation and elimination of the enemies, the Christians, the Jews, the Hindus, the Chinese. Not all would be eliminated, of course. It is a religion of peace. All would be "converted," except perhaps for a few insignificant ones. This is why Islam is in the world.

But, one might protest, are there no rules about means? And Islam is said to want to achieve these world goals "peacefully." My only point in following this question of the use of the word "Islamofascism" is that it does not describe what these men think they are doing. Nor does it help that some thus far ineffective Muslim apologists do not think that the term describes what the religion means. It is what these men think and evidently practice. What has to take place, in response, is some more adequate confrontation with the incoherence of this claim to world-subjection to Allah as an inner-worldly political mission powered by a quasi-mystical devotion to its cause. In this sense, in the minds of the ones carrying out the attacks, it is religious, not ideological, in origin.

A somewhat bewildered American President and British Prime Minister have understood, whereas many politicians have not, that there is a real war and a real enemy. They have been prudent in their use of language, catering to differing usages both in western democracies and in the Muslim world. Their general approach has been to seek to isolate the "terrorists" from the rest of the Muslim world. This world itself has been caught up for centuries in a stagnant and almost totally controlled system usually under the power of a military that has served to sit on top of those religious radicals who would tear up the world. What the President thus has sought to do is finally to allow and encourage what he considers to be the great majority of Muslim citizens to be able to participate in a culture that is not dominated by such motives that burst forth frequently from within Islam to employ terror.

Just as The Washington Times proposes "Islamofascism" to describe what these missionary groups do to further their cause, so the President proposes "democracy" as the alternative way of life that would both mitigate the fanaticism and allow the majority to escape into their own self-ruling states. One drawback of this solution is often the internal moral condition of the democracies themselves. The "terrorists" never tire of pointing to this inner corruption that often manifests itself within our own souls. So there is a kind of war on two fronts that comes forth from thinking about "Islamofascism" -- that envisioned by the "terrorists" themselves and that of the alternative they see in us which justifies, in their own minds, their violent ways.

Words, I am sure, have to be themselves used "wisely." It is not always easy to describe or hear what we actually are. The root causes of "suicide bombers" and the attacks of the "terrorists" are not primarily in western political philosophy. The "suicide bombers," while they sometimes learn to use sophisticated weapons, have shown the folly of much discussion about nuclear weapons -- the weapons are not the problem, but who has them. Moreover, as 9/11 showed, modern civilization is so complex than even the simplest acts like flying a plane into a building are as lethal as anything we can conceive. No one doubts, however, that these "terrorists" would use more sophisticated means if they could manage it.

In the meantime, one or two potential terrorists have made everyone of us take our shoes off or empty our bottles before we fly anywhere in the world. The cost of their even trying unsuccessfully to blow us up is itself astronomical. The first question remains, not "How do we protect themselves from their threats?" We must ask that, of course. But the first question has to be, "Why in the first place do they still want to threaten and, yes, conquer us?" I suspect we cannot answer this latter question primarily for reasons within our own political philosophy.



Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.

He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing, and A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning.

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29 July 2006   The rise of Shia
Anthony O'Mahony
   
The rise of Shia Military power in Lebanon, clerical power in Iraq and political influence in Syria: the resurgence of the side of Islam subjugated for centuries throughout the Middle East now appears unstoppable

Renewed fighting in Lebanon involving the 4,000 or so Shia militiamen of Hezbollah has once again brought into sharp relief the fault line running through Islam today. On one side are the Sunnis, hitherto dominant throughout North Africa and the Arab Middle East, and on the other are the Shia, until recent times dominant only in Iran and subjugated or actively persecuted elsewhere in the region.

Now, however, the Shia are experiencing a revival fired by the interventions of the West in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have unleashed historic religious forces to fuel an age-old antagonism between the two sides that had not been anticipated by Washington or London. It is an antagonism that will determine the politics of the region for sometime to come as, long marginalised from power, the Shia are now clamouring for greater rights and more political influence.

Against this backdrop comes the military action surrounding Hezbollah, supported by Iran and by Syria, whose minority ruling elite is also of Shia background. Such support perhaps helps illuminate why the Israeli strikes in Lebanon have so far provoked a only a muted response from some Sunni-dominated Arab states, despite the Shia militia group's close relations with Hamas, the Sunni Palestinian group ranged against Israel in Gaza. Such relations are formed not only from the old proverb of my enemy's enemy is my friend, but also from the cultivation of radical Sunni Islamist movements by Iran.

Elsewhere, especially in Iraq, the balance of power that has shifted from the Sunni to the Shia has enormous implications for the Middle East. Never in the history of the region has Baghdad as well as Tehran been under the sway of overwhelming Shia political and religious power and influence. Some see the making of a "Shia crescent" stretching from Beirut to Tehran, cutting a swathe through the Sunni-dominated region. Others, as was put to me recently in the Shia holy city of Qom in Iran, are happy that at last the suffering of the Shia was being recognised. My interlocutor, speaking with anger, said that it took the tragic events of 9/11 for the world to wake up to the deeds of the Taliban and its radical Sunni Islamist state, rather than the continuing persecution and "slaughter without mercy" of Afghanistan's Shia minority.

It had been hoped that removal of the Baathist regime in Baghdad would usher in a period of building democracy in Iraq, and in the wider Middle East. But that hope is based on the premise of politics as a relationship between individuals and the state, and it fails to recognise that politics in the region is also built upon a balance of power between communities. By liberating and empowering Iraq's Shia majority, the West has also helped launch a broad Shia revival that will upset the sectarian balance in Iraq and in the rest of the Middle East for years to come.

Until modern times, the Shia had escaped both the academic and relgious scrutiny of the West. They were historically distributed across a wide geographic region. They remained in remote areas to shelter from persecution, such as secluded mountains of Jabal Amil in southern Lebanon, the marshlands of southern Iraq, and the highlands of central Afghanistan, and were initially little affected by the winds of change in the modern era that would sweep the Middle East.

Such changes, despite their dislocating effects, raised the material level of life in the region's cities, with their predominantly Sunni populations. Seeing this, the Shia in turn began to leave their redoubts in pursuit of material betterment and flowed into urban centres in ever greater numbers. Poor Shia neighbourhoods grew up around such cities as Beirut, Kabul and Baghdad, where some two million Shia came to make up approximately two-fifths of the city's population.

In this urban environment, it became painfully obvious to the Shia that the religious stigma they had long borne had been transformed into the most glaring social and economic disadvantages. This unfavourable political climate and social distress must be borne in mind if we are to understand the politicisation of religious feeling detectable among the Shia since the 1950s. A sense of deprivation among these urban Shia provided much fertile ground for ideologies of political dissent, first of the Left and later of radical Islam. The roots of radical mobilisation of the Shia populations in movements such as Hezbollah lie here.

Shia beliefs are held by perhaps one in 10 Muslims today - some 140 million people. Only Iran is overwhelmingly Shia, where they form 90 per cent of the population. Across the Persian Gulf, the littoral states with significant proportions of Shia include Kuwait, with 30 per cent of its population, Bahrain with 75 per cent, Saudi Arabia with 10 per cent, Qatar with 16 per cent and the United Arab Emirates with just 6 per cent. Approximately half of all Shia live in the arc beginning in Lebanon, with 45 per cent of its population being Shia, and ranging through Iraq with 60 per cent, Azerbaijan with 75 per cent, Afghanistan with 20 per cent to Pakistan, also with some 20 per cent.

In Syria, the ruling elite is Alawite, a Shia- affiliated group with just 15 per cent of the country's people. Alawite domination has bred deep resentment among many of Syria's Sunni Muslims who constitute 70 per cent of the population. Uprisings by Sunni Islamists in the early 1980s were partly fuelled by this sectarian divide.

Across the border, recent political changes in Iraq have generated new cultural, economic and political ties among Shia communities across the Middle East. Since 2003 thousands of pilgrims from the countries of the region and the wider Shia diaspora in the West have visited Najaf, Karbala and other holy Shia cities in Iraq, creating transnational networks of seminaries, mosques and clerics that tie Iraq to every other Shia community, including most importantly that of Iran. According to some, these pilgrimages have reinforced the growing popularity of devotional piety in Iran and have embraced the revival of Shia identity and culture in Iraq. This has included the growing stature of Iraqi religious figures such as the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Recent events in Iraq set an example for the of Saudi Arabia during the 2005 Saudi municipal elections, when turn-out in Shia-dominated regions was twice as high as elsewhere. Shia were encouraged to vote by comparing their political empowerment in Iraq, following participation in elections there, to their situation in Saudi Arabia. The mantra "one man, one vote" that galvanised the Shia in Iraq thus resonates elsewhere. The Shia of Lebanon, through the political wings of such groups as Hezbollah, have also used the formula successfully, as well might their co-religionists in Bahrain in parliamentary elections later this year.

But this simple accounting belies the profound influence of Shi'ism upon contemporary Islam and perceptions of Islam. There are Shia intent upon altering the intellectual and political course not only of Shi'ism, but all Islam. Just as the Iraqi Shia's rise to power has brought hope to Shia throughout the Middle East, so has it bred anxiety among the region's Sunnis.

The process of "debaathification" of Iraqi society, which removed significant obstacles to the Shia's assumption of power, is seen as an important cause of the ongoing Sunni insurgency. Now the Sunni backlash has began to spread far beyond Iraq's borders - from Syria to Pakistan - raising the spectre of a broader struggle for power between the two groups that could threaten stability in the region. To avoid this will require satisfying Shia demands while placating Sunni anger and alleviating Sunni anxiety in Iraq and throughout the region.

Relations between Iran and the other Shia in the region will be key. Despite the history of Iraqi nationalism, Arab and Persian mutual suspicion and the legacy of the Iran-Iraq war, Iran is not displeased with the changes in the region and will not want to "rock the boat" irredeemably. Before recent changes, Iran considered itself surrounded by hostile Sunni states: Iraq and Saudi Arabia to the West and Afghanistan and Pakistan to the East. It would not want to see "anti-Iranian Arab nationalism" championed by Sunnis to emerge as a threat.

In many ways both Washington and Tehran have an interest in keeping stability in Iraq. However, the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, and the taming of Iranian regional ambitions and Shia resurgence, will be seen by many as a much needed counterbalance to the changes brought about by the American-led military intervention in the region. But what is certain is that the emergence of Shia-Sunni discord will not be easily reduced for the foreseeable future. Future politics in the region will be determined by the capacity of Sunni and Shia to live with religious pluralism in Islam. This will not be an easy task.

Anthony O'Mahony is Director of the Centre for Christianity and Interreligious Dialogue, Heythrop College, University of London. He is co-editor with Wulstan Peterburs OSB and Mohammad Ali Shomali of Catholic and Shia Engagement: Faith and Reason in Theory and Practice.
Mourning minority in a Sunni world

So who are the Shia? The usual way to describe Shi'ism's essence is to say that its adherents have always championed the claim of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, to be their prophet's true successor.

They believe that rule over the Muslim community must rest solely with Ali's descendants. Shia is indeed a contraction of Shi'at 'Ali - Ali's faction. After Muhammad's death, Muslims who favoured other candidates repeatedly blocked the accession of Ali to the caliphate. When he finally did come to rule, they withheld their allegiance. Later they crushed his family and followers on a desolate plain in modern Iraq in 680. This event, commemorated annually by Shia though the observance of a period of mourning, provided Shia Islam with a deeply emotive drama of martyrdom.

A line of Ali's descendants, the Imams, were persecuted and allegedly martyred for representing a living challenge to tyrannical rule. It is this sense of suffered injustice that came to pervade Shi'ism. The fate of martyrs was all the more poignant as they had been slain by fellow Muslims. To mourn them was also to grieve for the lost of unity of Islam. Even today, Muslim "ecumenism" remains an intellectual exercise, with almost no place in the intimate dialogue between Shia hierarchy and believers. What began as a dissident position on the matter of succession in the seventh century blossomed in time into a full religious tradition, distinguished from Sunni Islam by its own reading of theology and sacred history.

There is no pan-Shiism, or even unified leadership for the community, but Shia do share a coherent religious view.

In most times and most places, Shia are in the minority, at worst persecuted and at best merely tolerated by a Sunni Muslim ruling establishment. To resolve their dilemma as a minority, the Shia employed a wide range of strategies towards the Sunni world. On the one hand, it is difficult to regard the Sunnis as unbelievers of the same order as the Jews or the Christians; on the other hand, since the Sunnis do not believe in the Imams, they cannot be regarded as believers. This problem is resolved by dividing mankind into three religious spaces: believers, Muslims and unbelievers. It was not the Shia who devised this distinction; it is based on Qur'anic verses which imply a certain difference between believers (muminun) and Muslims (muslimun).

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Religious Liberty in Africa (and Islam)
Report Published by Aid to the Church in Need

ROME, JULY 19 2006 (ZENIT.org).- Aid to the Church in Need released a report on religious freedom around the world.

Religious Liberty in Africa

Although with the ending of a number of civil wars the more intense waves of violence characterizing Angola, the Ivory Coast and Sudan have ceased, the conflict in Uganda that also caused the death of the Caritas worker Okot Stalin and resulted in an atmosphere of persecution addressed at the Catholic Church, is not by any means over.

The efforts to promote dialogue and tolerance made by a number of states, such as Morocco and Tunisia, are opposed by Algeria's reversal through the approval in 2006 of a law punishing conversion from Islam.

In spite of a degree of openness shown by the government, the clash between Islamic extremists and Orthodox Copts, often the victims of threats, attempts at forced conversions and mass attacks, now seems to have become radicalized in Egypt.

The radical Islamic advance is also perceived in Kenya and above all in Nigeria, where the enforcement of Koranic Law tends to also be applied to non-Muslims and has caused continuous tension often resulting in attacks on the Christian communities causing dozens of victims on both sides.

Algeria

In Algeria, the constitution states that Islam is the state religion and forbids all discrimination in respecting various individual freedoms. Although the constitution does not specify this, the government generally respects freedom of worship, although establishing a number of restrictions, such as the need to obtain official acknowledgment from the authorities so as to implement activities.

The Catholic Church, the Protestant community and the Seventh Day Adventists are currently the only non-Islamic denominations acknowledged and allowed to operate in this country.

Those belonging to other religious denominations are obliged to pray without permission and therefore to worship only in private homes, with the exception of the Methodists who are included in the Protestant community.

As far as the activities of Islamic groups in this country are concerned, the authorities exert strict control over the curricula of students in religious universities and also over the imams in the mosques, whose sermons are checked before being held. Furthermore, all activities in mosques are carefully supervised for security reasons and also to prevent the creation of extremist cells.

The government has expressed great concern on the subject of evangelization which caused it to approve a draft bill against proselytism undertaken by Christian groups in the month of October 2005.

The new provisions allow the authorities to forbid the proselytizing activities of non-Islamic religions. In the course of the year, in fact there were increased proselytizing activities by so-called "born again Christians," an _expression of American neo-Pentecostal Churches. The phenomenon involving the growth of neo-protestant communities has started to worry the Islamic communities and the Imams in Algeria.

Algeria's small Catholic community has a few hundred believers spread all over its vast territory, about 130 priests and monks, 250 nuns ?

Cameroon

The constitution of Cameroon guarantees freedom of worship and the government respects this right, also helped by the mainly friendly relations existing between the various religions. Islamic centers and Churches coexist in the national territory and it is only in the north that there have been reports of tension between ethnic group also involving religious and tribal issues.

Religious groups must register with the ministry for territorial administration and it is considered illegal to operate without official acknowledgement, although the law does not establish specific sanctions. Registration requires a number of years due to bureaucratic slowness.

Chad

In Chad, too, the constitution acknowledges freedom of worship, although in certain situations the authorities restrict this right. The constitution states that this is a secular country, in spite of the fact that some activities linked to the Islamic religion receive special benefits. Religious groups must register with the ministry for religious affairs. Registration confers public status but does not offer any taxation privileges.

Foreign missionaries do not suffer any particular restrictions, but so as to travel and operate in this country they must receive authorization from the ministry of the interior, and on this subject no refusals by the authorities have been reported. The state celebrates both Christian and Muslim festivities. The teaching of religion in state schools is forbidden while priests and nuns from all faiths are allowed to work in private schools.

Comoros

Although in Comoros, the constitution guarantees freedom of worship, the government continues to discourage the practice of all faiths that are not Islam. The authorities forbid Christians from all forms of apostolate, although they are permitted to celebrate the liturgy in private, in particular in private homes.

There are only three Christian churches in this country, mainly attended by foreigners since continuous pressure and intimidation discourages citizens, who -- if they publicly profess a faith differing from Islam -- are imprisoned, while for the same behavior foreigners are deported.

The Grand Mufti, the highest Islamic religious authority, is appointed directly by the president of the republic and takes part in the policies of the country's government especially for all concerning the Islamic religion and the respect of Koranic Law as well as addressing issues concerning marriage and education.

Ivory Coast

As reported by ACN News on March 16th, Father Giuseppe Baldas, the director of a missionary center in the archdiocese of Gorizia, stated that "in spite of the civil war, Christian communities in the Ivory Coast are increasing rapidly." Furthermore, he also reminded everyone of how at the beginning of the civil war all foreigners fled the country with the exception of the missionaries, who instead remained with the people

In the month of April a new agreement was signed in Pretoria between the government -- controlling the south of the country, both Christian and Animist -- and the rebels of the Forces Nouvelles, who control the mainly Muslim north, and who for years have been fighting a civil war. During this meeting the disarming of the militiamen was decided as well as the formation of a reunified national army; furthermore, 600 former rebels will be included in the police force to work together with the U.N. troops in the areas in which these are deployed. This seems at last to be a really peaceful solution of the civil war that has been ongoing in the Ivory Coast since September 2002, when there was an attempted coup d'?tat against President Laurent Gbagbo.

Faith and Mission of May 6th specifies that during the clashes at Du?kou? over 7,000 people found refuge for days in the Catholic mission of Sainte Th?r?se; one of the mission's four Salesian priests, Father Juan Ruiz spoke about how unfortunately they were not unable to provide the refugees with a great deal of material support due to their significant numbers, but that their moral support was unconditional. The civilian refugees belonged to all ethnic groups, including the Dioula and the Guer?.

Egypt

Although the Egyptian constitution guarantees freedom of worship, acknowledging all credos and forms of cult, the authorities effectively impose restrictions and obstacles to freedom of worship for believers in faiths that are not Islam.

Islam is the official religion in the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Shari' a is the main source of legislation, in fact, any revision of the laws and various codes is approved by the law professors in the Al-Azhar district -- universities and mosques - in Cairo, linked to conservative and in some cases extremist Islam.

Even if belonging to Islam, every religious and civil practice conflicting with the Shari 'a is forbidden and is the subject to the imams' and the sheikhs' rigid and binding control. Within this framework, the government has decided to continue not to acknowledge the baha'I religion, forbidding both personal and collective worship.

Although the Orthodox Copts represent about 15% of the population, in the parliamentary assembly their presence is reduced to less than 1%. They are in practice excluded from even secondary level appointments within the state administration and public education. Income from taxation is used for building and restoring mosques, while other Christian places of worship do not receive public funding.

There is continuous discrimination against Christian Orthodox Copts, even affecting foreign diplomats; on December 26th a number of newspapers reported the bureaucratic obstacles imposed by Muslim employees in the American Embassy in Cairo, against citizens belonging to this religion who are waiting for a visa for the United States.

With a decree adopted by the council of ministers in February, encouraged by President Mubarak himself, the restoration of 14 Jewish places of worship in Egypt was unanimously approved, starting with the historical synagogue of Ben Ezra and the medieval Genizah in Cairo, both in the Mari Ghirghis district.

Ethiopia

In a message sent to "Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre" in the month of December, Father Melaku Tafesse Amente said that "Ethiopia's Christian heritage is threatened by Muslims who have massively extended their influence over the country's culture and economy."

He explained that Islamic movements in the Middle East send money to subsidize the religious expansion addressed at controlling social life's main structures such as hospitals, school and the large commercial distribution networks.

Also according to Monsignor Lorenzo Ceresoli, the Apostolic Vicar of Awasa, in Southern Ethiopia, the objective of "consolidating the Church in an environment with a significant Islamic presence, but in which traditional religions are also present, if of the utmost importance."

A new Catholic church was inaugurated at the end of June, the real mark of cooperation between the ecclesiastic institutions and the government, the first after 450 years.

Finally, on September 13, the Foreign and Education Ministers, the archbishop of Addis Abeba, Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, and the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Ramiro Moliner Inglés, signed an agreement for the creation of an international Catholic university in the capital.

Gambia

There is no state religion in Gambia and in March the new Ministry for Religious Affairs was created as a now separate institution from the Ministry of the Interior. Religious groups are not required to register.

Religious teaching of both the Christian and Islamic doctrines is allowed in both state schools and private ones with no interference or restrictions; these lessons are financed by the state in public schools but religion is not a compulsory subject.

Missionary groups are allowed to operate in this country. There is one institution, the Gambian Christian Council, constituted by representatives of the Catholic, Anglican and Baptists churches, which addresses issues concerning all Christians.

Djibouti

In Djibouti the constitution states that Islam is the state religion; it also establishes the freedom to worship for all religions, proselytism is however discouraged. Indicating the objectives of their activities, all religious groups must register with the Ministry of the Interior to receive a first permit that is valid for two years.

As far a family law is concerned, in February 2004 the Sharia -- the word used for the Islamic Courts -- was replaced by the Family Court that applies both Islamic Law and family law.

Foreign priests and missionaries are allowed to carry out charitable activities and also distribute religious publications.

Guinea Conakry

Although showing a degree of preference for Muslims who are a majority, in Guinea Conakry the constitution recognizes freedom of worship and the government respects this and good relations between the various religions contribute to the free practicing of all faiths, although in some areas of the country there is great pressure from the Islamic community to discourage public practice of other faiths. The government tends to support these local situations, especially with intervention from the Ministry for Islamic Affairs, while there is no analogous ministry for other religious confessions.

New religious groups must register with the Ministry for Territorial Administration, but non-registered groups are permitted to continue their activities although they can be forbidden by the government.

All schools, both state and private -- many belonging to religious groups -- must register with the ministry for civil and university education.

On Oct. 19, a number of Islamic believers attacked those participating in a Baptist function protesting that the service's music disturbed their praying in a nearby mosque.

Kenya

The drafting of the new constitution in Kenya caused tension between the various religious communities. On Aug. 22, the text for the new constitution was published after being approved by parliament and revised by the public prosecutor before the November referendum. Among the points that caused a lively debate, the most controversial was the greater importance given to the courts applying Koranic Law (Kandhi), competent for judging issues such as marriage, divorce and inheritance rights for citizens belonging to the Islamic faith.

Christians raised a number of objections believing that the state must be secular and there should not be separate courts for some of the citizens.

A few days before the referendum held on Nov. 21, the Catholic Church asked President Kibaki not to take part in the political campaign for the referendum and to allow citizens to make up their own minds on the proposed constitution.

On Nov. 21, Kenyans rejected the new draft constitution which, in addition to recognizing Islamic courts also envisaged increased power for the president and opened the way for possible legalization of abortion.

Liberia

In Liberia, too, the constitution recognizes freedom of worship and the national transitional government has tried to guarantee this right. Although no single religion is declared the state's religion, government ceremonies all begin with prayers and hymns, usually Christian ones and occasionally Islamic. Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving are national holidays while Islamic holy days are not.

All religious groups -- except for autochthon ones -- must be registered and provide a statement in which they clarify their organization's objectives. The government allows, but does not request, religious education in schools. Religious education, above all Christian, is provided also in state schools but is not compulsory.

Libya

The government in Libya implements a form of restriction of freedom of worship, but in spite of this the authorities are tolerant toward other religions with the exception of ultra-extremist Islamic groups that are repressed.

In the course of 2005, no significant changes were reported as far as freedom of worship is concerned. Believers in religions that are not Islam are usually allowed the freedom to profess their own faith and there is no jurisdiction forbidding conversion from Islam to other religions.

There are no places of worship for the faithful of the Hindu, Buddhist and Baha'I religions, although the followers of these cults can practice their own faith in private homes and display their religious symbols in markets and in windows. Only the Islamic religion is taught in schools.

Mali

In Mali, the constitution recognizes freedom of worship, and defines the country as secular also allowing religious practices that do not undermine social stability and peace. Respectful of this right, the government requests religious associations to register, although this does not involve any tax benefits or similar advantages. Non-respect of this provision is a punishable offence.

There are groups of missionaries operating in the national territory without suffering any interference from the government, although they are not openly involved in any conversion activities. Both Muslims and non-Muslims are free to proselytize.

Morocco

The constitution in Morocco guarantees the freedom of worship and the government generally respects this right, although it does apply a number of restrictions. Islam is the state religion although the non-Muslim communities are allowed to openly practice their own faith. All attempts to convert Muslims to another religion are forbidden.

According to article 220 of the penal code, all attempts to prevent one or more persons from practicing their faith is forbidden and can be punished with imprisonment for a period ranging between three and six months.

Those who covert to Christianity, or to other religions, are usually socially ostracized.

Muslim citizens are not permitted to study in Christian or Jewish schools. The authorities allow the presence of the Bible in French, English and Spanish, but confiscate editions written in Arabic and do not allow these to be imported to the country in spite of the fact that no law forbids these books.

According to the French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur, many thousands have converted, while nationalist Member of Parliament Abdelhamid Aouad has requested the authorities' intervention stating that by 2020 the percentage of Moroccans converted to Christianity could reach 10%. According to a report published in the "Gazette du Maroc," there are about 800 foreign missionaries working in the country.

Mauritania

In Mauritania, the constitution establishes that the country is an Islamic republic and acknowledges Islam as the religion of its citizens and of the state. The government restricts freedom of worship forbidding the distribution of informative material and all proselytism that is not addressed at the Islamic religion. In spite of this, non-Muslims -- foreigners who are resident in the country and a few autochthons -- are allowed to practice their religion publicly and freely.

The government considers Islam a fundamental element for national cohesion and does not guarantee the registration of religious groups, while NGOs -- both secular and religious -- must register with the Ministry of the Interior. The juridical system consists in a modern legislative system that must however respect the provisions of Islamic law.

According to Article 11 of the law on the press, the government can apply restrictive measures on imports, on the press and on the distribution of the Bible or other non-Islamic publications; consequently, it is not possible to sell the Bible publicly, but it is not illegal to own one privately.

The Catholic Church's representatives are not pleased with the government's forbidding of proselytism.

Local authorities are involved in the repression of Islamic extremism and in the month of March, 60 people were arrested and accused of being linked to Islamic terrorism. Among them there were also important religious leaders, sheikh Mohamed El Hacen Ould Dedew, and Moctar Ould Mohamed Moussa, who both remained in prison until the end of 2005.

In spite of an uncooperative attitude as far as religious proselytism is concerned, Mauritania is the only country in the Arab League that has diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, to the extent of receiving a visit last November 17 from a delegation from the Jewish State.

Niger

The constitution of Niger recognizes freedom of worship, but forbids the creation of political parties inspired by religion. The government has generally guaranteed the respect of this right, but no religious group is subsidized with public funds, although Islamic associations can produce programs broadcast by state TV; Christian programs are usually only broadcast on festivities such as Christmas and Easter.

All religious organizations must register with the Ministry of the Interior. Furthermore, the government must authorize the building of places of worship, although it has never been known to refuse the necessary permits. Foreign missionaries operate freely -- although their organizations must be registered as associations -- and there are groups of missionaries who also operate providing humanitarian aid. The Christian community in Galmi, in the province of Tahoua, manages a hospital and has been working there for over 40 years.

Religious instruction is not allowed in state schools. Christmas, Easter and Sundays are acknowledged as national holidays as are Muslim festivities.

In spite of the presence of extremist Islamic groups of Wahabit origin, there are no reports of clashes with Christian groups.

Nigeria

The constitution of Nigeria, the most populated state in Africa, clearly emphasizes that there is in this country freedom of worship, which also includes the freedom to express and promote one's own religion through teaching. The federal government maintains a respectful attitude toward this right, although there are some restrictions applied for issues concerning security or public order.

Although there is no official state religion in this country, Nigeria is still currently a member of the Islamic Conference Organization -- an international organization with a permanent delegation to the United Nations representing 57 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia and the Indian sub-continent -- with the objective of safeguarding the interests and the development of Muslim populations throughout the world.

The country's belonging to this organization has often been challenged by Christians, who consider that this violates the state's secular status.

Inter-confessional tension and clashes are very frequent, both in the Muslim majority northern states and in the mainly Christian south.

The main Islamic form is Sunni, while the Christian population includes Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and growing numbers of evangelicals, Pentecostals and Mormons.

Differences in religion are strictly linked to ethnic and regional diversity. The north, where the Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups live, is mainly Muslim; the central part of the country is inhabited equally by Muslims and Christians, and the East -- the homeland of the Igbo ethnic group -- has Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists making up the majority of the population, although many of them simultaneously practice also their traditional rituals as well as Christian ones. The southwest, inhabited by the Yoruba, has no dominant religion: Christianity, Islam, and the traditional religions are equally practiced by the population.

There are no reports of any particular restrictions to the activities of Christian missionaries, of which there are about one thousand in the whole of Nigeria, especially in the State of Plateau. Many missionaries have decades of experience in this country. There are far fewer foreign Muslim missionaries and they usually spend much less time in the country than the Christian ones.

The authorities in the 36 states that compose the confederation maintain great autonomy in making decisions. Both Christians and Muslims are required to register with the Corporate Affairs Commission to be able to build churches and mosques.

Especially ever since the Sharia was re-introduce in the states in the north, a worrying increase in tense relations between the various religious communities has been reported in this country. In recent years inter-confessional clashes have caused over 10,000 deaths. This trend continued throughout 2005 and during the first months of 2006, when there was no lack of violent episodes.

The second half of February 2006 was characterized by extremely violent interreligious attacks throughout Nigeria. According to reports from the Ansa news agency on February 19, the previous day 16 people were murdered by a crowd of thousands of Islamic extremists who had taken to the streets to condemn the publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons portraying the prophet Mohammed.

The authorities ordered a curfew in Maiduguri, the capital of the state of Borno, the epicenter of protests that became a massacre and where at least 15 Christians were killed in the streets and in the churches where they had gathered to pray. Shops and public offices were attacked and devastated, between 11 and 15 churches were set on fire, a number of faithful are said to have been killed while they were praying; others were lynched in the streets.

Senegal, Sierra Leone

The president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, has announced that in December 2006 the country will host a summit of the Islamic Conference Organization, and then also a meeting addressed at the dialogue between Muslims and Christians.

In an interview given on Feb. 24 to the "Yemen Observer," the president also stated that there is the need for a close dialogue between the leaders of the various religions present in the country, so as to discuss the problem of religious tolerance.

The constitution of Sierra Leone recognizes freedom of worship and it is generally respected by the government. Religious groups are not obliged to register. Since Jan. 1, 2005, the Department for Immigration has increased by 24% the annual tax paid by foreign missionaries.

Religious instruction is provided by state schools, giving a choice between Christian and Muslim classes.

Relations between the various confessions are generally good, although there have been serious episodes of intolerance between Muslims -- more numerous especially in the northern regions -- and the Christians who are more numerous especially in the south.

Somalia

For years, it has been a land of conflict between various contenders, and is still divided between the so-called "war lords." The transitional government in Somalia -- following the Arta agreements signed in 2000 and supported by the United Nations -- has not managed to gain control over the territory.

In October 2004 the federal transitional government was created, which traveled to the country during the following month of June, without, however, managing to get the situation under control. In March 2005, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, an influential member of the Association of Islamic Courts, summoned a jihad (a holy war) against anyone on a peace mission as well as the new government.

The country is basically divided into four parts. To the north are the self-proclaimed states of Somaliland and Puntland; to the south the state of south western Somalia and finally the rest of the country which includes the capital Mogadishu.

In this situation there is no constitution or laws on freedom of worship. The people are above all Sunni Muslims and other religions are disapproved and often discriminated and persecuted. The Sunni majority is often diffident with non-Sunni Muslims.

The situation is basically anarchic and without a central power, encouraging religious persecution and increased Islamic extremism. Somalia is considered one of Al Qaeda's main hideouts, considering that widespread chaos is the ideal environment for recruiting and training jihadists.

Churches have been destroyed for years and the few dozen remaining Catholics are obliged to celebrate the Eucharist secretly, in private homes with bars on the windows so as not to risk their lives.

On Oct. 7, Doctor Osman Sheik Ahmed was killed in Mogadishu, after converting in 2002 and becoming a minister of the evangelical church; witnesses and members of his family have testified that the killers were Muslims.

A few days later, on Oct. 31 again in Mogadishu, three Somalis who had converted to Christianity were attacked and the Reverend Hirsi was seriously wounded.

Sudan

2005 was a very important year for Sudan, with the signing on Jan. 9 of the peace agreement between the government and the leaders of the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (Spla/m) putting an end to the armed conflict that since 1983 resulted in 2.5 million victims and over 4 million refugees and evacuees on the North/South axis.

On July 7, Parliament unanimously approved the new constitution. The first article states that "Sudan is a welcoming nation, where races and cultures merge and religions are reconciled"; it also states that "Christianity and traditional religions have significant communities of believers." The new constitution clearly distinguishes the north with its Muslim majority, from the south mainly inhabited by Christians and the followers of traditional faiths. The constitution emphasizes that the Shariah is a source of legislation only in the north -- a change compared to the past when Koranic law was imposed throughout the country -- while in the south the source of legislation is the "will of the people, their values and customs, as well as religious traditions and beliefs."

While freedom of worship is basically guaranteed, Islam is however effectively still considered the state's religion, and consequently there is no lack of discriminations and abuse against non-Muslims. Religious organizations are subject to a number of restrictions.

The government controls imports of religious publications, and for those published in the country requires pre-approval of the contents by the national publishing council. At times the publication of newspapers is suspended, usually for political reasons, but at times also for religious reasons as happened last May when publication of the Khartoum daily paper "Al Wafaq" was suspended for several days and the editor, Mohamed Taha, was arrested after publishing an article considered blasphemous to the Prophet Mohammed.

The Koran's provisions recurrently pervade television programs on networks controlled by the government, although in the south there are three channels broadcasting programs of Christian inspiration.

The Catholic Church emphasizes that -- ever since President Omar El Bashir came to power in 1989 -- the production and consumption of alcohol has been forbidden in the country, which makes the use of wine illegal in all religious ceremonies.

Tanzania and Togo

There is still tension between moderate and extremist Muslims, emphasized also in the American State Department's Report on freedom of worship in the world. Still, in Tanzania, as far as relations between Christians and Muslims are concerned, one must bear in mind the appeal launched by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino. Cardinal Martino, during his visit in the month of July, exhorted Christians to always find new forms of dialogue and peaceful coexistence with the Muslim community.

Respect for the right to freedom of worship in Togo is strictly conditioned by ongoing political tensions. In an attempt to provide a contribution to the solution of the conflicts, on Feb. 11 the leaders of the Christian communities published an appeal in which they asked the authorities and political parties to commit to dialogue and confront the political crisis the country is experiencing.

Presidential elections were held on April 24 in a divided climate, following the death of President Gnassingbè Eyadéma on Feb. 5 after 38 uninterrupted years leading the country's government with the Rassemblement du peuple togolais.

As reported by Vatican Radio that same day, on April 29 the opposition's candidate Emmanuel Akitani Bob proclaimed himself president, also requesting the annulment of the elections that gave the victory to the government party candidate Faure Gnassingbè, the son of the deceased president.

On the same day, after the press lock down imposed by the army to deal with the tension, the largest Catholic radio in the country, Radio Maria, was closed down. Other independent media were also closed down, as was the internet, while there were numerous clashes between the police and protesters that resulted in dozens of deaths.

The same Christian leader who signed the February appeal, following the difficult post-electoral situation, sent another message -- as reported by Fides news service on May 18 -- in which they begged for hope and uninterrupted prayer for the nation's destiny.

Tunisia

The constitution of Tunisia guarantees freedom of worship and the government generally respect this right. Islam is the state religion but in spite of this, the authorities' policies are addressed at respect for other religions. Political parties based on religious principles are not permitted and proselytism is forbidden; there are also restrictions on using the Islamic veil.

The country promotes its image in the world presenting itself as a peaceful oasis of modernity and as a bastion in the battle against Islamic extremism in the region, although many violations of human rights are reported so as to guarantee this stability, in particular against activists belonging to Islamic movements.

Uganda

In Uganda, too, the constitution recognizes freedom of worship. Religious groups must register with the Ministry of the Interior, just like all other private associations and it is an offence punishable with a fine ranging between $6-$115 not to comply with this provision. Non-payment can result in up to a year in prison for the person responsible for the association.

Missionaries do not suffer any restrictions in their work, but religious orders and foreigners must register like all other groups. There are many private schools, both Christian and Muslim. Normal authorization is required for all religious buildings but there are no reports that the government withholds these authorizations. At times the authorities forbid night time meetings -- for example in the districts of Ntungamo and Kayunga -- fearing that gangs of criminals might use the pretext to meet before enacting their crimes.

The year 2004 ended in a sign of hope. For the very first time in December, delegations from the government and the rebels belonging to the Lord's Resistance Army met. Hope for peace was increased by the rebels' objective problems -- they are thought to be short of men and supplies -- and the more positive attitude assumed by the government which has previously accused all those proposing dialogue of being traitors.

A cease-fire had been agreed on for a buffer zone, often extended by President Yoweri Museveni and lasting until the month of February. The war started up again immediately after this date with the rebels killing at least 8 civilians and -- as reported by "irinnews.org" on Feb. 28 -- mutilating the lips of at least eight women.

The year 2005 therefore marked a full resumption of hostilities and 2006 began with the sad comments expressed by Bishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, about the world community's indifference to these "25 years of violence," with its endless daily reports of murder, violence and terror that no longer even attract media attention or the attention and intervention of the international community.

A draft bill imposing restrictions on polygamy resulted in protests from the Islamic community. According to this law, polygamy would only be allowed if the husband has the means to guarantee his new wife the same living conditions and if previous wives are in agreement. In March, over 3000 Muslims held a peaceful protest in the streets.

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The Vatican Confronts Islam   
By Daniel Pipes
FrontPageMagazine.com | July 5, 2006

“Enough now with this turning the other cheek! It’s our duty to protect ourselves.” Thus spoke Monsignor Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Vatican’s supreme court, referring to Muslims. Explaining his apparent rejection of Jesus’ admonition to his followers to “turn the other cheek,” De Paolis noted that “The West has had relations with the Arab countries for half a century…and has not been able to get the slightest concession on human rights.”

De Paolis is hardly alone in his thinking; indeed, the Catholic Church is undergoing a dramatic shift from a decades-old policy to protect Catholics living under Muslim rule. The old methods of quiet diplomacy and muted appeasement have clearly failed. The estimated 40 million Christians in Dar al-Islam, notes the Barnabas Fund’s Patrick Sookhdeo, increasingly find themselves an embattled minority facing economic decline, dwindling rights, and physical jeopardy. Most of them, he goes on, are despised and distrusted second-class citizens, facing discrimination in education, jobs, and the courts.

These harsh circumstances are causing Christians to flee their ancestral lands for the West’s more hospitable environment. Consequently, Christian populations of the Muslim world are in a free-fall. Two small but evocative instances of this pattern: for the first time in nearly two millennia, Nazareth and Bethlehem no longer have Christian majorities.

This reality of oppression and decline stands in dramatic contrast to the surging Muslim minority of the West. Although numbering fewer than 20 million and made up mostly of immigrants and their offspring, it is an increasingly established and vocal minority, granted extensive rights and protections even as it wins new legal, cultural, and political prerogatives.

This widening disparity has caught the attention of the Roman Catholic Church, which for the first time is pointing to radical Islam, rather than the actions of Israel, as the central problem facing Christians living with Muslims.

Rumblings of this could be heard already in John Paul II’s time. For example, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican equivalent of foreign minister, noted in late 2003 that “There are too many majority Muslim countries where non-Muslims are second-class citizens.” Tauran pushed for reciprocity: “Just as Muslims can build their houses of prayer anywhere in the world, the faithful of other religions should be able to do so as well.”

Catholic demands for reciprocity have grown, especially since the accession of Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005, for whom Islam is a central concern. In February, the pope emphasized the need to respect “the convictions and religious practices of others so that, in a reciprocal manner, the exercise of freely-chosen religion is truly assured to all.” In May, he again stressed the need for reciprocity: Christians must love immigrants and Muslims must treat well the Christians among them.

Lower-ranking clerics, as usual, are more outspoken. “Islam’s radicalization is the principal cause of the Christian exodus,” asserts Monsignor Philippe Brizard, director general of Oeuvre d’Orient, a French organization focused on Middle Eastern Christians. Bishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Lateran University in Rome, advises the Church to drop its “diplomatic silence” and instead “put pressure on international organizations to make the societies and states in majority Muslim countries face up to their responsibilities.”

The Danish cartoons crisis offered a typical example of Catholic disillusionment. Church leaders initially criticized the publication of the Muhammad cartoons. But when Muslims responded by murdering Catholic priests in Turkey and Nigeria, not to speak of scores of Christians killed during five days of riots in Nigeria, the Church responded with warnings to Muslims. “If we tell our people they have no right to offend, we have to tell the others they have no right to destroy us, ” said Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s Secretary of State. “We must always stress our demand for reciprocity in political contacts with authorities in Islamic countries and, even more, in cultural contacts,” added Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, its foreign minister.

Obtaining the same rights for Christians in Islamdom that Muslims enjoy in Christendom has become the key to the Vatican’s diplomacy toward Muslims. This balanced, serious approach marks a profound improvement in understanding that could have implications well beyond the Church, given how many lay politicians heed its leadership in interfaith matters. Should Western states also promote the principle of reciprocity, the results should indeed be interesting.

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Sarkozy calls for a deal with Muslims    
By Michael Shanks   Friday, 23 June 2006

A leading French presidential aspirant wants to reinterpret immutable secular dogmas to integrate Muslim citizens.

La République, les Religions et l'Espérance
by Nicolas Sarkozy
Editions du Cerf / Pocket | 2005 | 208 pages | ISBN 2266157086 | 6.20 Euros

It may come as a surprise to an English-speaking audience to learn that the man in charge of France's police is also in charge of its religions. A recent book in question and answer form with Dominique Verdin, a Dominican priest and Thibaud Collin, a young Catholic philosopher, shows that Nicolas Sarkozy, Minister of the Interior and presidential aspirant, is a man capable of grasping the nettle of religion in a French secular republic.

The title -- The Republic, Religions and Hope -- is misleading. The book’s concern is not with religions as such, but with the danger that Islam entails for French secularism. If Judaism and Christianity are now both soluble in the French Republic (some argue they contributed to shaping it), Islam, with its tendency to amalgamate the religious and the political, is widely seen as a civilisational shock-provoker. However, in dealing with Islam, Sarkozy has decided to break new ground and be provocative, first of all by expressing his own belief in God and secondly by suggesting amendments to French legislation that many considered as sacrosanct symbols of the secular Republic.

Estimates of the legal Muslim population in France vary from 4 to6 million believers. Events abroad -- the Twin Towers destruction and the Iraq War -- have sent a blast through that community which, if inadequately integrated, risked falling prey to the influence of foreign Islamic movements. For the last 20 years, some way of “fixing” the diverse French Muslim community, in the sense of stabilising and controlling it, has been on the agenda of governments, both left and right. Pierre Joxe, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, Dominique de Villepin all had a go, but even if there are similarities between say, Chevènement’s (left-wing) ideas and Sarkozy’s (right-wing) reforms, no Interior Minister has gone as far as Sarkozy.

Between May 2002 and March 2004, in a context of social insecurity, outbursts of racial aggression and anti-Semitism, increasing confusion between religion and fundamentalism, Islam and terrorism, the need for a “Mr. Fix-It” was urgent. Sarkozy set to work, meeting hundreds of Muslims: believers in mosques, French experts, Muslim theologians in foreign universities. The result was the creation of the CFCM, the French Council for the Muslim Cult. Just as Napoleon set up a Consistory for French Jews in 1808, Sarkozy, 200 years later, set up a representative body for French Muslims. The CFCM, which is, so far, more representative than any other body, is proof that Islam is not entirely refractory to democracy -- 75 per cent of its members are elected by the faithful themselves. Muslims in France and abroad have come to regard Sarkozy as their advocate. The Council has a moderate majority but it also includes fundamentalist groups which are better organised and eager to win credibility. Regional branches exist throughout French territory to avoid Parisian centralism and facilitate dialogue and control over particular Islamic communities.

Overcoming resistance

They want to be French AND MuslimIn his attempt to integrate Islam into France, two sorts of resistance had to be overcome. One was the French secularist ideology, “laïcité”, and the other was the Muslim religion itself. “Laïcité” arose from what seemed to anti-Catholics as early as the end of the 18th century the monopoly of Catholicism on French social life. The unspoken assumption in this brand of encyclopaedic rationalism is that unaided human reason can ultimately solve all of life’s problems; religion is viewed as an historical pathology that can be overcome by instilling a critical spirit from an early age. “Laïcité” is therefore a massive silencing of all religious concerns in society, a total separation of the social/political, which is public, from the religious, which is private. After a century of anti-clericalism beginning with the French Revolution, in 1905 the secularising process culminated in a law regulating the separation of the Church and the State. After it was passed, many religious orders were expelled from France.

Over the years, there have been adjustments. Religious schools in France are often privately financed, but if they comply with certain norms a contract of “association” is granted. In the hard-line secularist view, religion is to have no say in, or support from, the Republic. The historical, civilising role of Christianity, for example, if not always denied, is rarely publicly acknowledged. A respectful, sometimes embarrassed, silence descends whenever religious matters are broached, even though a majority of French citizens claim to be Christian.

On the other side, and more seriously, there are also the real resistances that Islam offers to a secular republic. Some Muslims in France have learnt how to use Western discourse on human rights and “respect for minorities” in order to gain ground in the secular state. Clearly, if all the demands formulated by Islamic groups were to be satisfied, the civil order would be seriously upset: Friday as a day of worship, no more men doctors for women patients, separate hours in public swimming pools for men and women, Muslim chaplains for prisons, the need to rewrite French colonial history, introducing new holidays into the civil calendar to accommodate the feast of Aïd-el-Kébir, the Muslim feast in celebration of Abraham, women wearing scarves, etc. Here Sarkozy's negotiating strategy has been to argue: “We both have to give and take”. If the republic must change, so must Islam.

As Sarkozy cannot simply discard the Republican ideology of “laïcisme”, he has to blunt its resistance by introducing a distinction between negative and positive secularism. Negative secularism is depicted as rabid, hypocritical, narrow, backward-looking and sectarian. Sarkozy’s positive secularism stands for a new relation between the Republic and its religions and a recognition of the benefits of religion for society. If the Republic’s concerns are public order and politics, the concern of religion is the after-life, the domain of hope. Religious education, he claims, is more important for the young than music, dancing, gymnastics or drawing; it obliges them to reach out and open their hearts to non-individual objectives. It helps to see life as a project desired by God and the world as a place with a common destiny in which all play a part. Sarkozy quotes the revered observer of democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, at hard-line republicans: “If despotism can do without Faith, a free regime cannot. Religion is much more necessary in the republic they desire than in the monarchy they attack; and more necessary still in democratic republics than in other sorts”.

If negative secularism blocks the integration of Islam in the Republic, Sarkozy, with his positive secularism, is prepared to revise the 1905 law. He even envisages public financing for major religions, such as funding training for priests, rabbis and imams. If the hand that gives is the hand that controls, Sarkozy prefers for Muslims to receive subsidies from the French state rather than from Saudi Arabia! He claims that Islamic leaders abroad now look on France in a new way -- as real protectors of minority rights. He believes that he has contributed to renewing France's image as a universal defender of human rights.

Breaking new ground

Sarkozy is certainly breaking new ground in expressing his personal convictions on the importance of religion in secular society, in admitting the importance of Islam and in the audacity of his policies to finance religions, particularly Islam. These are ideas that neither Mitterrand nor Chirac has voiced and that considerably enhance his stature as a presidential candidate. Is he being naïve, provocative or electoralist (most second generation Muslims vote left!) Probably all three. One thing is certain, he is not hiding behind his hat.

There are social and psychological challenges, too, that the Republic must face: exclusion, poverty, delinquency and ghettos. Along with support for religions, Sarkozy recommends continuing with various forms of positive discrimination and providing young French Muslims with role models. He insists, furthermore on the right of the Republic to control if it has to pay. But if we are to “normalise” Islam, where do we send future imams for training? To Egypt? To Switzerland? To Saudi Arabia? Possibly Sarkozy suspects that all attempts to consolidate and unify Islam by confronting it with the test of rationality may spell its undoing.

If his positive “laïcité” can make concessions on many matters, on some, however, Sarkozy is adamant. He is not prepared to accept the circumcision of young girls, forced marriages or polygamy. These issues, he argues, are either part of French identity or rest on universal principles. He modestly concludes that he has not so much sought to organise Islam in France, as to organise an Islam for France.

The historical breakthrough which this book represents is the public willingness of a French statesman to take religious phenomena seriously in an ideologically less clouded way. The book is not perfect. Sarkozy clearly shares many of the rational encyclopaedic tenets he seeks to combat. For example, his view of religion as something non-scientific and irrational shows a rudimentary lack of philosophical and theological awareness. Even his positive “laïcité” is not free of a certain methodological relativism which refuses to raise the question of the truth of the relation between God and man. For Christianity and Judaism, religion is not merely a matter of man seeking sense or inventing meaning; but of receiving, living and rationally testing at the same time. Islam may well prove insoluble not only in the French republic, but also in reason.

But he has, undoubtedly contributed to preparing another vision of the state as a subsidiary body with regard to spiritual institutions. This contribution is matched by his other achievements as Interior Minister; notably a considerable drop in delinquency and in road accidents. His energy and desire to get visible results go down well with many French people, to such an extent that his greatest adversary in the 2007 presidential election, socialist Ségolène Royal, has begun stealing parts of his programme. Whether the French realise it or not, they have in this candidate an open-minded, intelligent politician who has shown that sheer hard work and getting results is more than half the task of governing.

Michael Shanks writes from Marseille.

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Cardinal Schonborn on 2 Missionary Religions
Analyzes Relationship Between Islam and Christianity

VIENNA, Austria, JUNE 20, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The issue of mission is one of the key questions for dialogue between religions, says Cardinal Christoph Sch?nborn of Vienna.

He expresses this conviction in an article entitled "Ways of Mission" and published in Oasis, a multilingual review of the Oasis International Center of Studies and Research.

In his reflection, the archbishop of Vienna asks about the possibility of reconciling the missionary dynamic, which is essential to religions such as Christianity and Islam, with the principles that should animate interreligious dialogue, that is, tolerance of the other's conscience and respect for religious freedom.

"Dialogue is often seen as opposed to mission: either mission or dialogue," begins the cardinal. "However, both Christianity as well as Islam are clearly missionary religions. Their whole history demonstrates it, their present and, above all, the history of their origins.

"In the Christian Bible, at the end of Matthew's Gospel, is the universal missionary mandate that Jesus gave to the apostles before the Ascension and, therefore, to all Christians.

"Jesus said: 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them ?, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.'"

Cardinal Sch?nborn continued: "However, Islam is also understood as a missionary religion: In the revelation of the Koran -- Muslims maintain -- is indicated the way that God has destined for all men. All men must know it and therefore must be able to decide on the true way."

"Soft solution"

Hence, Islam has had a missionary character from the first instant and "if it wasn't, it would betray itself," the prelate points out. "How then can dialogue grow between our religions?

"Won't it always just be a strategic game in view of the world mission? Won't dialogue always be seen by zealous representatives of both religions only as a 'soft solution' and therefore underestimated?"

"Neither Christianity nor Islam are monoliths," explains the 61-year-old cardinal. "Christianity lives, as does Islam, in a multiplicity of directions, which perhaps have combated one another violently and always continue to combat one another."

"On both sides, the differences are about the methods, the ways of mission: Can the mission only follow the way of personal persuasion of the other, or can it also serve as instrument of political, military and economic pressure?

"On this point Christianity and Islam, in their history so full of conflicts, but also of contacts, have given very different answers."

However, the cardinal contends that "these few indications suffice to remember that the missionary question, both within our religious communities as well as between them, should be in a top place of our dialogue's agenda."

And this should be the case because the mission does reflect the "sign of the vitality of religions" but also hides "a great potential for conflict," he explains.

Cardinal Sch?nborn enumerates three tasks that belong "to the agenda of the forthcoming years, urgent and pressing," which will allow both religions to follow with fidelity their missionary mandate and at the same time "to show and promote their compatibility with the demands of a pluralist and democratic society":

-- First, "we will need, within Christianity and Islam [and other religious communities] an enlightened dialogue on the question regarding the meaning of our constitutive missionary task."

"What is mission according to Jesus, according to the Koran? How must there be, how can there be, mission? How is mission situated in respect of freedom of conscience and of religion? How is it situated in respect of the requirements of a plural world?" the cardinal asks.

-- Second, "within our respective religious communities, there is an urgent need for dialogue and clarification on the question of 'proselytism,'" a recurrent topic between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, and noted also in the Islamic world.

-- Third, "we need an interreligious dialogue on the question of mission, a dialogue that takes into account our history [our histories] of mission (?), which will put openly on the table our mutual concerns, which will mention openly the dangers of intolerance, of attacks on religious freedom and which makes them the object of common efforts of correction."

Holy task

The archbishop of Vienna adds: "As religions with a missionary mandate, we are, I am convinced, responsible before God and before the world to find the common points of our missionary mandates and to practice them together.

"Has the Almighty not given all of us perhaps through revelation and the voice of conscience the holy task to work everywhere for justice, to alleviate misery, combat poverty, promote education, reinforce the virtues of living together and thus contribute to a more human world?"

"One day we shall be called by God to account if we have fulfilled our mission together," the cardinal states. "And we shall be called to account if we have given, to many men who are unable to believe in God, a credible testimony of faith in God, or if through our conflicts we have increased atheism."

The Oasis review is concerned chiefly with Muslim countries and seeks to support Christian minorities in these states, keeping the dialogue with Islam open.

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When Civilizations Meet: How Joseph Ratzinger Sees Islam

The author of this essay is an Egyptian Jesuit who is very familiar with both the pope and the Muslim religion. It was written for and published by “Asia News.” Here it is in its entirety

by Samir Khalil Samir, S.J.

Benedict XVI is probably one of the few figures to have profoundly understood the ambiguity in which contemporary Islam is being debated and its struggle to find a place in modern society. At the same time, he is proposing a way for Islam to work toward coexistence globally and with religions, based not on religious dialogue, but on dialogue between cultures and civilizations based on rationality and on a vision of man and human nature which comes before any ideology or religion. This choice to wager on cultural dialogue explains his decision to absorb the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue into the larger Pontifical Council for Culture.

While the pope is asking Islam for dialogue based on culture, human rights, the refusal of violence, he is asking the West, at the same time, to go back to a vision of human nature and rationality in which the religious dimension is not excluded. In this way – and perhaps only in this way – a clash of civilizations can be avoided, transforming it instead into a dialogue between civilizations.

Islamic totalitarianism differs from Christianity

To understand Benedict XVI’s thinking on Islamic religion, we must go over its evolution. A truly essential document is found in his book written in 1996, when he was still cardinal, together with Peter Seewald, entitled “The Salt of the Earth”, in which he makes certain considerations and highlights various differences between Islam and Christian religion and the West.

First of all, he shows that there is no orthodoxy in Islam, because there is no one authority, no common doctrinal magisterium. This makes dialogue difficult: when we engage in dialogue, it is not “with Islam”, but with groups.

But the key point that he tackles is that of shari’a. He points out that:

“the Koran is a total religious law, which regulates the whole of political and social life and insists that the whole order of life be Islamic. Shari’a shapes society from beginning to end. In this sense, it can exploit such freedoms as our constitutions give, but it cannot be its final goal to say: Yes, now we too are a body with rights, now we are present [in society] just like the Catholics and the Protestants. In such a situation, [Islam] would not achieve a status consistent with its inner nature; it would be in alienation from itself”.

This alienation could be resolved only through the total Islamization of society. When for example an Islamic finds himself in a Western society, he can benefit from or exploit certain elements, but he can never identify himself with the non-Muslim citizen, because he does not find himself in a Muslim society.

Thus cardinal Ratzinger saw clearly an essential difficulty of socio-political relations with the Muslim world, which comes from the totalizing conception of Islamic religion, which is profoundly different from Christianity. For this reason, he insists in saying that we cannot try to project onto Islam the Christian vision of the relationship between politics and religion. This would be very difficult: Islam is a religion totally different from Christianity and Western society and this makes does not make coexistence easy.

In a closed-door seminar, held at Castelgandolfo, September 1-2, 2005, the pope insisted on and stressed this same idea: the profound diversity between Islam and Christianity. On this occasion, he started from a theological point of view, taking into account the Islamic conception of revelation: the Koran “descended” upon Mohammad, it is not “inspired” to Mohammad. For this reason, a Muslim does not think himself authorized to interpret the Koran, but is tied to this text which emerged in Arabia in the 7th century. This brings to the same conclusions as before: the absolute nature of the Koran makes dialogue all the more difficult, because there is very little room for interpretation, if at all.

As we can see, his thinking as cardinal extends into his vision as pontiff, which highlights the profound differences between Islam and Christianity.

On July 24, during his stay in the Italian Aosta Valley region, he was asked if Islam can be described as a religion of peace, to which he replied “I would not speak in generic terms, certainly Islam contains elements which are in favour of peace, as it contains other elements.” Even if not explicitly, Benedict XVI suggests that Islam suffers from ambiguity vis-à-vis violence, justifying it in various cases. And he added: “We must always strive to find the better elements.” Another person asked him then if terrorist attacks can be considered anti-Christian. His reply is clear-cut: “No, generally the intention seems to be much more general and not directed precisely at Christianity.”

Dialogue between cultures is more fruitful than inter-religious dialogue

On August 20 in Cologne, pope Benedict XVI has his first big encounter with representatives of Muslim communities. In a relatively long speech, he says:

“I am certain that I echo your own thoughts when I bring up one of our concerns as we notice the spread of terrorism.”

I like the way he involves Muslims here, telling them that we have the same concern. He then goes on to say: “I know that many of you have firmly rejected, also publicly, in particular any connection between your faith and terrorism and have condemned it.”

Further on, he says: “Terrorism of any kind is a perverse and cruel [a word that he repeats 3 times] choice which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundations of all civil coexistence.” Then, again, he involves the Islamic world:

“If together we can succeed in eliminating from hearts any trace of rancour, in resisting every form of intolerance and in opposing every manifestation of violence, we will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress towards world peace. The task is difficult but not impossible and the believer can accomplish this.”

I liked very much the way he stressed “eliminating from hearts any trace of rancour”: Benedict XVI has understood that one of the causes of terrorism is this sentiment of rancour. And further on:

“Dear friends, I am profoundly convinced that we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace.” And also:

“There is plenty of scope for us to act together in the service of fundamental moral values. The dignity of the person and the defence of the rights which that dignity confers must represent the goal of every social endeavour and of every effort to bring it to fruition.”

And here we find a crucial sentence:

“This message is conveyed to us unmistakably by the quiet but clear voice of conscience. Only through recognition of the centrality of the person can a common basis for understanding be found, one which enables us to move beyond cultural conflicts and which neutralizes the disruptive power of ideologies.”

Thus, even before religion, there is the voice of conscience and we must all fight for moral values, for the dignity of the person, the defence of rights.

Therefore, for Benedict XVI, dialogue must be based on the centrality of the person, which overrides both cultural and ideological contrasts. And I think that, getting under ideologies, religions can also be understood. This is one of the pillars of the pope’s vision: it also explains why he united the Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue and the Council for Culture, surprising everyone. This choice derives from a profound vision and is not, as the press would have it, to “get rid” of archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, who deserves much recognition. That may have been part of it, but it was not the purpose.

The essential idea is that dialogue with Islam and with other religions cannot be essentially a theological or religious dialogue, except in the broad terms of moral values; it must instead be a dialogue of cultures and civilizations.

It is worth recalling that already as far back as 1999, Cardinal Ratzinger took part in an encounter with Prince Hassan of Jordan, Metropolitan Damaskinos of Geneva, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, deceased in 2003, and the Grand Rabbi of France René Samuel Sirat. Muslims, Jews and Christians were invited by a foundation for inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue to create among them a pole for cultural dialogue.

This step towards cultural dialogue is of extreme importance. In any kind of dialogue that takes place with the Muslim world, as soon as talk begins on religious topics, discussion turns to the Palestinians, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, in other words all the questions of political and cultural conflict. An exquisitely theological discussion is never possible with Islam: one cannot speak of the Trinity, of Incarnation, etc. Once in Cordoba, in 1977, a conference was held on the notion of prophecy. After having dealt with the prophetic character of Christ as seen by Muslims, a Christian made a presentation on the prophetic character of Mohammad from the Christian point of view and dared to say that the Church cannot recognize him as prophet; at the most, it could define him as such but only in a generic sense, just as one says that Marx is “prophet” of modern times. The conclusion? This question became the topic of conversation for the following three days, pre-empting the original conference.

The discussions with the Muslim world that I have found most fruitful have been those in which interdisciplinary and intercultural questions were discussed. I have taken part various times, at the invitation of Muslims, in inter-religious meetings in various parts of the Muslim world: talk was always on the encounter of religions and civilizations, or cultures.

Two weeks ago, in Isfahan, Iran, the title was “Meeting of civilizations and religions.” Next September 19, at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, there will be a conference organized by the Iranian Ministry of Culture along with Italian authorities, and this too will be on the encounter between cultures, and will include the participation of former Iranian president Khatami.

The pope has understood this important aspect: discussions on theology can take place only among a few, but now is certainly not the time between Islam and Christianity. Instead, it is a question of tackling the question of coexistence in the concrete terms of politics, economy, history, culture, customs.

Rationality and faith

Another fact seems to me important. In an exchange that took place on October 25, 2004, between Italian historian, Ernesto Galli della Loggia, and the then cardinal Ratzinger, the latter, at a certain point, recalled the “seeds of the Word” and underscored the importance of rationality in Christian faith, seen by Church Fathers as the fulfilment of the search for truth found in philosophy. Galli della Loggia thus said: “Your hope which is identical to faith, brings with it a logos and this logos can become an apologia, a reply that can be communicated to others,” to everyone.

Cardinal Ratzinger replied:

“We do not want to create an empire of power, but we have something that can be communicated and towards which an expectation of our reason tends. It is communicable because it belongs to our shared human nature and there is a duty to communicate on the part of those who have found a treasure of truth and love. Rationality was therefore a postulate and condition of Christianity, which remains a European legacy for comparing ourselves peacefully and positively, with Islam and also the great Asian religions.”

Therefore, for the pope, dialogue is at this level, i.e. founded on reason. He then went on to add:

“This rationality becomes dangerous and destructive for the human creature if it becomes positivist [and here he critiques the West], which reduces the great values of our being to subjectivity [to relativism] and thus becomes an amputation of the human creature. We do not wish to impose on anyone a faith that can only be freely accepted, but as a vivifying force of the rationality of Europe, it belongs to our identity.”

Then comes the essential part:

“It has been said that we must not speak of God in the European constitution, because we must not offend Muslims and the faithful of other religions. The opposite is true: what offends Muslims and the faithful of other religions is not talking about God or our Christian roots, but rather the disdain for God and the sacred, that separates us from other cultures and does not create the opportunity for encounter, but expresses the arrogance of diminished, reduced reason, which provokes fundamentalist reactions.”

Benedict XVI admires in Islam the certainty based on faith, which contrasts with the West where everything is relativized; and he admires in Islam the sense of the sacred, which instead seems to have disappeared in the West. He has understood that a Muslim is not offended by the crucifix, by religious symbols: this is actually a laicist polemic that strives to eliminate the religious from society. Muslims are not offended by religious symbols, but by secularized culture, by the fact that God and the values that they associate with God are absent from this civilization.

This is also my experience, when I chat every once in a while with Muslims who live in Italy. They tell me: this country offers everything, we can live as we like, but unfortunately there are no “principles” (this is the word they use). This is felt very much by the pope, who says: let’s go back to human nature, based on rationality, on conscience, which gives an idea of human rights; on the other hand, let’s not reduce rationality to something which is impoverished, but let’s integrate the religious in rationality; the religious is part of rationality.

In this, I think that Benedict XVI has stated more exactly the vision of John Paul II. For the previous pope, dialogue with Islam needed to be open to collaboration on everything, even in prayer. Benedict is aiming at more essential points: theology is not what counts, at least not in this stage of history; what counts is the fact that Islam is the religion that is developing more and is becoming more and more a danger for the West and the world. The danger is not in Islam in general, but in a certain vision of Islam that does never openly renounces violence and generates terrorism, fanaticism.

On the other hand, he does not want to reduce Islam to a social-political phenomenon. The Pope has profoundly understood the ambiguity of Islam, which is both one and the other, which at times plays on one or the other front. And his proposal is that, if we want to find a common basis, we must get out of religious dialogue to give humanistic foundations to this dialogue, because only these are universal and shared by all human beings. Humanism is a universal factor; faiths can be factors of clash and division.

Yes to reciprocity, no to “do-goodism”

The pope’s position never falls into the justification of terrorism and violence. Sometimes, even when it comes to Church figures, people slip into a generic kind of relativism: after all, there’s violence in all religions, even among Christians; or, violence is justified as a reply to other violence… No, this Pope has never made allusions of this kind.

But, on the other hand, he has never fallen into the behaviour found in certain Christian circles in the West marked by “do-goodism” and by guilt complexes. Recently, some Muslims have asked that the Pope ask forgiveness for the Crusades, colonialism, missionaries, cartoons, etc. He is not falling in this trap, because he knows that his words could be used not for building dialogue, but for destroying it. This is the experience that we have of the Muslim world: all such gestures, which are very generous and profoundly spiritual, to ask for forgiveness for historical events of the past, are exploited and are presented by Muslims as a settling of accounts: here, they say, you recognize it even yourself: you’re guilty. Such gestures never spark any kind of reciprocity.

At this point, it is worth recalling the Pope’s address to the Moroccan Ambassador, February 20, 2006, when he alluded to “respect for the convictions and religious practices of others so that, in a reciprocal manner, the exercise of freely-chosen religion is truly assured to all in all societies.” These are two small but very important affirmations on the reciprocity of religious freedoms rights between Western and Islamic countries and on the freedom to change religion, something which is prohibited in Islam. The nice thing is that the pope dared to say them: in the political and Church world, people are often afraid to mention such things. It’s enough to take note of the silence that reigns when it comes to the religious freedom violations that exist in Saudi Arabia.

I really like this pope, his balance, his clearness. He makes no compromise: he continues to underline the need to announce the Gospel in the name of rationality and therefore he does not let himself be influenced by those who fear and speak out against would-be proselytism. The pope asks always for guarantees that Christian faith can be “proposed” and that it can be “freely chosen.”

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The author of the essay, Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian Jesuit, is a professor of Islamic studies and of the history of Arab culture at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut and at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome; he is the founder of the Centre de Recherche Arabes Chrétiennes and president of the International Association for Christian Arabic Studies. In September of 2005 he participated, at Castel Gandolfo, in a study meeting with Benedict XVI on the concept of God in Islam.

The first online publication of this essay was on April 26, 2006, on “Asia News,” the news agency that specializes in Asia – and is also translated into Chinese – founded and directed in Rome by Fr. Bernardo Cervellera of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions:

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Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo  (June 2006)

Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo's growing agreement with the vision of Benedict XVI is made evident by the sequence of his actions and addresses as the Holy See’s foreign minister, which display a progressive distancing from the “realist” politics treasured by secretary of state Angelo Sodano.

An address exemplary of this tendency is found in the one Lajolo delivered last May 17 at the session of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, dedicated to Islam.

In it, Lajolo gave center stage to religious liberty, demanding reciprocity in comprehensive respect for this freedom: in the Muslim-majority countries as well as those with a Christian majority.

And he emphasized that this liberty must be respected and defended in particular on behalf of those who, having been born Muslim and then moved to the West, convert to the Christian faith at the risk of “severe pressures, not excluding death threats, from their families or even from the secret services or officials of the embassies of their countries of origin.”

Here follow two of the chapters from Lajolo’s address, the sixth and the eighth. They describe precisely, for the first time, the Church’s new geopolitics in regard to Islam, based upon the humanistic principle of the centrality of the person, as Benedict XVI explained in Cologne on August 20, 2005, when he met with Muslim leaders there:


Religious Liberty and Islam: How to Improve the Situation

by Giovanni Lajolo


[...] The Holy See has on a number of occasions reiterated the necessity for each migrant, whether he has entered the country legally or illegally, to find the full recognition of his dignity and rights, both natural rights and those sanctioned by international law. Among other things, this means the recognition of the right to religious liberty, which can be expressed beyond the individual or private sphere, including collective, personal, or communal actions having public visibility.

On the personal level, religious practice includes the freedom to adhere to a faith and to its corresponding community, and to change religions without any sort of restriction in the civil sector; to perform individual and collective acts of worship in places of worship according to need; the freedom to engage in activities contrary to the previously held faith or to belong to groups that hold principles contrary to its religious convictions without any restriction in the civil sphere, whether on the personal or social level, and without undergoing discrimination in the civil arena; the right to benefit from religious assistance in foreign settings, or in care centers, military barracks, detention centers, refugee camps, etc.; the freedom of parents to raise their children according to their convictions, and the ability to send them to religious instruction.

Even when a state grants one religion special legal status, it is bound to respect concretely everyone’s right to freedom of conscience: this means both citizens and the foreigners present in its territory.

For the migrants’ part, their first step toward the society that welcomes them should be that of respect for the legislation and the values upon which it sets down its roots, including its religious values. Without this, integration will be nothing but an empty pretense, devoid of any foundation.

If in the past the religious factor was seen as marginal in studies on migrations, today interest is growing in regard to the issues connected to the religious membership of immigrants. Nevertheless, reliable data on this membership is lacking, and there are disagreements over the actual religious affiliation of entire groups of migrants.

As for the Muslim countries, we know that what we are facing is not a subject with a single identity, but an Islam with a variety of faces, something that must be kept in mind in all circumstances.

Nevertheless, one notices a recent general tendency of the Muslim-majority countries to promote, even outside their own borders, an increasingly radical form of conduct in conformity with Islamic precepts, and to assert a greater public presence of such conduct. This phenomenon, which sometimes results in a religious fanaticism that exerts strong social and institutional pressure upon minorities of other faiths, is due in part to the Salafi and Wahhabi groups that are spreading from Saudi Arabia. In the Shiite sphere, the revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini and the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran have had great influence.

Until a few decades ago, Asia, where most of the followers of Mohammed live, did not present any particular challenges, and coexistence between Muslims and the followers of other religions was more or less harmonious. In recent years we have witnessed the rise of extremist or even terrorist groups, with a growth of violence against minorities.

Then there are precise strategies that foster the strong expansion of Islam on the African continent, as also – though to a lesser extent – in Europe.

In some Muslim-majority countries, especially in Africa, the first victims of the persecutions for religious reasons are the practitioners of a form of Islam that is considered unorthodox. But the growing radicalization to which we have already referred is particularly worrying because of the cases of Christians unjustly brought before Islamic courts on account of their faith.

If there are calls from many quarters for at least reciprocal respect and concessions (freedom of worship, construction of places of worship), nevertheless this concept, which has now entered into the explicit regulation of relations (for example, in fiscal matters) among many countries in various continents, for now seems to exclude religious matters for many Muslim countries, which invoke for their citizens living abroad the full recognition of rights that they do not grant to the migrants of other faiths living in their territories.

The great variety of countries with a strong Islamic component are granting an increasingly important role to the great international Islamic organizations in the determination of policies and concerted strategies. I will cite only the most important of these:

– The Congress of the Muslim World, or World Islamic Congress, with headquarters in Karachi, Pakistan: this aims to increase the sense of solidarity in the Ummah – the Islamic world as a whole – and promotes political, economic, religious, educational, and cultural interests;

– The Worldwide Muslim League or League of the Islamic World, a non-governmental organization headquartered in Mecca; its aim is to defend and spread the knowledge of the teachings of the Islamic faith, to safeguard the interests of Muslims, and to resolve their problems. It pays particular attention to the African continent. It finances social programs in countries with a strong Muslim component, and it has a significant presence in international forums. One of its departments is dedicated to fighting against Christianization. The League sponsors bodies like the Supreme Council for Mosques, which works on the construction of mosques, in particular in areas where the inhabitants are converting. Its tasks include blocking the broadcast of Christian radio and television programs in Islamic countries;

– The Organization of the Islamic Conference, with headquarters in Jedda, Saudi Arabia: its goal is to strengthen cooperation among member states, to safeguard the independence and dignity of Muslims, and to foster relationships between Islamic communities and other nations. It is composed of 57 member countries, and represents 1 billion, 150 million Muslims worldwide. It sponsors many specialized bodies and offices. [...]

HOW CAN WE IMPROVE THE SITUATION? PROSPECTS

A. In the realm of principle, it must be said that in the face of Islam the Church is called to live out its own identity to the full without drawing back, and to take clear and courageous positions in asserting the Christian identity. We know well that radical Islam takes advantage of anything that it interprets as a sign of weakness.

B. Rather than exempting us, this drives us to pay attention to the initiatives for dialogue that are underway, including those at the international level of the United Nations or of individual organizations or countries, and also including the Mediterranean, a privileged place of encounter between the two shores (in this regard I cite the Barcelona Process, which includes various aspects of this dialogue.

It is evident that the initiatives for dialogue on religious topics do not belong to the states, but to religious leaders, although they can be facilitated by political officials.

C. From a strictly political point of view, we can say that an essential problem that emerges in negotiations with majority Muslim countries is the lack of separation between religion and the state, between the religious and political spheres.

This, as we know well, has many repercussions on the legal status and religious liberty of persons of other faiths – whether native or immigrant – in those countries. We must foster the growth of the idea that these two spheres must be distinguished, that their mutual autonomy must be promoted, although with the collaboration of the various spheres (which can coexist without contradiction), together with dialogue between the religious and political authorities, with respect for one another’s competency and reciprocal independence, promoting such an arrangement in the area of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. In this context, the Holy See can offer – and does offer – its contribution in the various international forums, developing doctrinal elaborations on the subject.

It is important for Western countries to create areas of exchange with majority Islamic countries, on all of the topics that involve the international common good. This could begin with the issues of security and cooperation, which involve great masses of migrants.

Incidentally, in reference to the inherent economic aspects of the labor market, I recall that the Holy See has supported the negotiations in progress at the World Trade Organization concerning the movement of skilled or semi-skilled workers (Mode 4), maintaining that the facilitation of temporary migration for purposes of work could offer developing countries the opportunity to capitalize on some of their advantages, including limited stipends, which are often linked to other factors.

D. One particularly delicate theme is respect for minorities and human rights, especially the right to religious liberty, which as I have already said includes the freedom to change religions and embrace another without restrictions. We know that significant attention, even in the Muslim world, has been paid to the pope’s statements and declarations in this area.

The international community should reexamine the policies and strategies that have repercussions on religious liberty and other human rights, assuring, moreover, that partnerships with non-governmental organizations, international humanitarian organizations, or migrant and refugee assistance groups are not exploited for purposes of religious proselytism (but questions should be asked about the prohibition of proselytism, a word whose meaning must be clarified, because it should not include the free and non-polemical expression of one’s own faith).

The Holy See will not cease to make its voice heard among international organizations and at international conferences, in order to promote respect for the human rights of migrants and the recognition of a legal situation worthy of the dignity of each person.

E. Furthermore, it will continue to express its firm opposition to every attempt to exploit religion in order to justify terrorism and violence, which even today forces a great number of persons to flee their own countries.

F. A delicate problem for the Church is the protection of Christians in countries with a Muslim majority that is inducing thousands of Christians to leave their own country, where they are no longer adequately protected in their fundamental rights.

The situation of the Christians in the Holy Land is particularly painful, but their presence has been significantly reduced in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, too. Many of the Christians there are foreigners staying temporarily. It is also sad to note today the exodus of Christians from Iraq, where the Christian presence is in the minority but deeply rooted. It is impossible to cite precise statistics, since census figures are not taken in these countries (including Israel); nevertheless, in comparing figures from the Church’s annual statistical reports with others from the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, and those provided by the apostolic nunciatures, it emerges that the Catholic population in Iran constituted 0.1 percent of the total in 1973, while in 2005 it was reduced to 0.01 percent; in Iraq, this presence has diminished by two thirds: from 2.6 percent of the population in 1973, it passed to 1 percent in 2005; again in 1973, in Syria Catholics constituted 2.8 percent of the population, and in 2005 it had fallen to 1.9 percent; in 1972, the Catholics were 1.9 percent of the population in Israel-Palestine, while in 2003 this presence had been cut in half, to 1 percent of the population.

Together with these reductions, there has been a growth in these countries of the number of mixed marriages, in which the Catholic spouse is particularly defenseless on account of the juridical regimes inspired by Islam.

Nevertheless, there must be continual and untiring efforts to ask, by intensifying local dialogue, that legislative measures be considered that would defend Christians (many of whom are weak and defenseless twice over, because they often belong to the poorest and most marginalized classes).

For its part, the Holy See strives through its pontifical representatives to foster dialogue with the authorities of the countries concerned in support of Christians, stipulating, wherever possible, agreements on specific and limited matters, and asking for respect for the international agencies for human rights, in which some majority Islamic countries participate.

In these countries, it would also be opportune to support the strengthening of society, civil law, cultural elevation – especially education in humanistic and historic studies – and the improvement of the condition of women.

It will be important to identify the qualified dialogue partners with whom it will be possible to affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace, the sacredness of life, and, in general, the service of fundamental moral values, the defense of the dignity of the person and of the rights that follow from it (cf. Benedict XVI’s address to the Muslim communities in Germany, Cologne, August 20, 2005).

G. As for the presence of Muslim migrants in majority Christian countries, as has already been said, it is important to emphasize the importance of integration.

In general preliminary terms, I would like to observe that the Church, in conformity with the catholic nature of its mission and its preferential option for the poor, is in favor of the affirmation of the right to emigrate and to migrants’ rights. This does not alter politicians’ serious responsibility to regulate the consistency and form of the influx of migrants, so that immigrants may feel themselves welcomed humanely and with dignity, and so that the population of the country that receives them may not be placed in conditions that objectively favor rejection, with unwelcome consequences for immigrants, but no less for the human culture of the host population and for relations among peoples.

Having said this, in any case the Christians and the pastors themselves face the challenge of new tasks of solidarity and sharing, which are connected to the necessity of creating deeper understanding of the culture of those who join their social community, but also the inseparable duty of witnessing to their own values, in view of the “respectful proclamation” of their faith. Many times, what strikes these immigrants is the feeling of finding themselves within a society that has lost, together with its religious roots, any ethical point of reference.

Then there are many of these immigrants who, in spite of coming from Islamic majority countries, do not practice any religion. They should all find persons conscious of the love of God and capable of communicating this to their brothers, without fear or reticence.

Those who wish to convert to the Catholic faith should be accompanied and assisted, since they may be the focus of severe pressures, not excluding death threats, from their families or even from the secret services or officials of the embassies of their countries of origin. They should be sufficiently strong in their faith, in part so they can face the impact that an eventual return to their country, or the rejection of such a return, could have upon their faith.

It thus seems opportune that in the episcopal conferences of the countries concerned in this immigration there should be at least some prelate charged with following with attention and active interest the presence of Islam and of its faithful. Analogously, it is useful to form groups of laypeople who specialize in this area, who could help the bishops and priests with opportune initiatives of dialogue and encounter, beyond those of contrast.

H. The Catholic Church’s means of social communication could make an important contribution to forming Christians in this field and to spreading knowledge of our faith among Muslims as well, through radio programs that can be received in neighboring countries, internet sites, and programs transmitted via satellite.

I. Finally, great importance will be found in collaboration with the dicasteries of the Roman curia, with the episcopal conferences, and with the local Churches most interested in this subject, not to mention the other Churches and Christian confessions, in order to examine the evolution of the situation, exchange viewpoints, and launch opportune initiatives.

The Holy Father, in his meeting with the Muslim communities in Cologne on August 20, 2005, affirmed that “interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends.”

So let us put our hands to this work with prudence and attention, but also with liberty of spirit and hope, certain that He who holds the reins of history also asks for our commitment and our love in order to reach the world of the Muslim believers and to enrich it with the ferment of the gospel. This is a duty for us, and – let’s not forget – it is equally their right.

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Friendly correspondence     
By Robert R. Reilly   Saturday, 27 May 2006

The president of Iran recently challenged his American counterpart to mend his erring ways. Here's a draft response.

Mahmoud AhmadinejadThe president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, recently wrote a long open letter to his counterpart in the United States urging him to “return to the teachings of prophets, to monotheism and justice, [and] to preserve human dignity and obedience to the Almighty and His prophets” by renouncing aggression, Western style democracy and support for Israel.

Robert Reilly has drafted a reply on George W. Bush’s behalf.

Dear President Ahmadinejad,

Please forgive this tardy response to your letter of early May. We did not reply at first because we doubted the letter’s authenticity. We suspected that someone was trying to play a trick on you. The discourse, you must admit, is unusual for a communication between heads of state. However, now that you have openly admitted that the letter is yours, I will respond.

Thank you for your invitation to accept Islam. As you know, I am a Christian. Throughout your letter you accuse me of being a bad Christian, which leaves me puzzled as to why you think I might make a good Muslim. However, before you proselytise outside your own country, you might want to address the condition of the Islamic faith in Iran.

I am genuinely sorry to hear that so many Iranians, especially the young, have lost their faith because of their profound disillusionment with theocratic clerical rule. Apparently, there is no way for them to distinguish between their religion and your rule. That is understandable since you claim there is none, that your authority comes directly from God and you are ruling in his name. It is no wonder you disdain “liberalism and Western style democracy”. Under it, you would be answerable not only to God, but to the Iranian people, to whom God gave certain “unalienable rights” that you and the mullahs have chosen to ignore. How ironic that, in the name of God, you deny your people’s God-given rights.

When young Iranians survey the way in which the clerical regime has enriched itself and impoverished the country, and enforced its rule with such harshness, what are they to think of this “God” who rules over them in this way? As a result, they abandon their religion and, unfortunately, many turn to drugs.

Your answer to the abuses under which the Iranian people live is nuclear “power.” Since your country is so richly endowed in oil and natural gas reserves, this is a strange answer. In fact, you so often denounce “lies” in your letter, I am surprised you would engage in such a whopper yourself. No country has conducted a 20-year clandestine program to develop nuclear power for peaceful domestic uses. The reason is that it is perfectly legal to do so in the open. In fact, we would support your nuclear power program, if that is what it was. However, as everyone outside of Cuba, Syria and Belarus knows, you are developing nuclear weapons.

You know that we know you are doing this. In fact, you deliberately exacerbate the free world’s worries with your continued exhortations about wiping Israel off the map. I understand that your policy of confrontation helps you to consolidate your domestic power and that is why you generate so much tension. The more likely you can make it seem that Iran will be attacked from the West, the more Iranians will rally around you. You provoke us. We respond. You get stronger. Since the Iranian people will soon realise we have no intention of attacking them, they will soon weary of this artificial hysteria and begin to wonder why your government fails to provide even the most basic necessities.

We also understand the real reason you want nuclear weapons. Of course, you have the dream of being the regional hegemon, and the prospect of your having nuclear weapons already terrifies your neighbours. But you also want them for the same reason as North Korea. Once you possess nuclear weapons, you believe you will be immune, as is North Korea, from external pressure for domestic political reform. You can tell the world to take a hike and to leave you in peace to oppress your own people. This is why Iranians who wish to see a return to genuine democratic, constitutional order despair at the thought of your succeeding. They know they will be finished, that no one will then dare speak up on their behalf.

So this is not really about nuclear weapons; it is about the rights of the Iranian people – your desire to take them away, and our desire to see them respected. We don’t worry about Great Britain, or France, or now India, having nuclear weapons, because they are democracies; they are founded on the “unalienable rights” of their peoples. People who are free to exercise those rights seldom seek to take them from others. We, and the rest of the world, are worried because of the nature of your regime, because you deny you own people its rights. Therefore, we take you seriously when you say you will take rights from others – most especially their unalienable right to life – by “wiping them off the map,” and we see you seeking to obtain the means to do this.

We do not think the Iranian people are going to let you get away with this. They see their religion prostituted to power and their great culture traduced by fanatic ideologues. We are on their side.

Thanks for writing.

Sincerely,

George W. Bush

P.S. I attach a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

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Vatican Unease Over Islamic Countries
Clear Talk About Problems Facing Christians

VATICAN CITY, MAY 27, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Persecution of Christians in Islamic countries makes the news almost daily, and the Vatican is concerned. On May 17 Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, secretary for relations with states in the Vatican's Secretariat of State, spoke to participants in the plenary session of Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers. The May 15-17 meeting focused on the theme of migration and Islamic countries.

After dealing with issues related to migration, Archbishop Lajolo, the equivalent of the Holy See's foreign minister, turned to Islam. The faith factor, he noted, is becoming more and more important in the debate over migration.

He first addressed the issue of migration from Islamic countries. The Holy See, he noted, has often defended the need for migrants to be able to freely follow their religious beliefs. This freedom includes the possibility to practice their religion, or even to change their faith. For their part, migrants should respect the laws and values of the society in which they now live, including the local religious values.

Turning to the conduct of Islamic countries themselves, Archbishop Lajolo warned that we are not faced with a homogeneous situation, but with a religion composed of many different facets. There is, nevertheless, a recent tendency for these governments to promote radical Islamic norms and lifestyles in other nations. He named, in particular, pressures from groups in Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In Asia, until recently, Muslims and non-Muslims lived largely in peace. In the last few years, however, extremist groups have grown and religious minorities are the target of violence. The archbishop also expressed concern over Islamic expansion in Africa, and, to a lesser extent, in Europe.

The problems posed by the radicalization of Islam range from Christians being unjustly subjected to trials by Islamic tribunals, to a lack of freedom in constructing places of worship and obstacles for the practice of faith.

The Vatican representative criticized Islamic countries for ignoring the concept of reciprocity, common in relations among states, when it comes to matters of faith. Islamic countries, he noted, demand religious rights for their citizens who migrate to other countries, but ignore this principle for non-Muslim immigrants present in their own lands.

Strategy detailed

What should the Church do in the face of these difficulties? Archbishop Lajolo outlined recommendations:

-- Faced with Islam the Church is called to live its own identity to the full, without backing down and by taking clear and courageous positions to affirm Christian identity. Radical Islamists, the prelate warned, take advantage of every sign they interpret as weakness.

-- We should also be open to dialogue, whether with individual nations or within the United Nations or other organizations.

-- An underlying problem in dealing with Islamic nations is the lack of separation between religion and the state. Part of the dialogue with Islamic religious and political authorities should be aimed at helping to develop a separation between these two spheres.

-- A particularly sensitive point is that of respect for minorities and for human rights, especially religious rights. The Holy See will continue to speak out at international meetings for the human rights of migrants. For its part the international community should ensure that humanitarian organizations do not unduly pressure recipients of aid to change religion.

-- The Holy See will continue to declare its firm opposition to all attempts to exploit religion by using it to justify terrorism and violence.

-- The protection of Christians in Islamic countries is particularly difficult in the area ranging from Turkey to the Middle East. Solutions must be found for the many Christians who flee their country of residence in search of safety.

-- Muslims who live in predominantly Christian countries should be integrated into the nation.

-- The Catholic media can play an important role in educating Christians, including those living in Islamic countries.

-- The Roman Curia together with bishops' conferences and local churches need to work closely together in these matters, including looking at the way to spread the Gospel in the Islamic world. This is our duty and our right, concluded Archbishop Lajolo.

British view

Muslim-Catholic relations were also examined recently by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. In a speech May 16 at the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, the archbishop of Westminster said: "Our mutual understanding is crucial for world peace and human progress, not least in this era when globalization and mass migration have placed Christians and Muslims ever closer to each others, as neighbors in the same European towns and cities."

Dialogue between the two religions must combine both an awareness of what they have in common -- and what profoundly distinguishes them. "Catholics, in order to be good dialogue-partners, must first be firmly rooted in their understanding and love of Catholicism," the cardinal stated, "and I suspect that this is true for Muslims too."

But the main obstacle to this dialogue "is the failure, in a number of Muslim countries, to uphold the principle of religious freedom," he added. "It is essential that Muslims can freely worship in Oxford or London, just as it is essential that Christians can freely worship in Riyadh or Kabul."

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor also called upon Muslims living in Britain to speak out when Christians are denied their rights in Islamic countries. "Where religious rights of minorities are disrespected in the name of Islam, the face of Islam is tarnished elsewhere in the world," he argued.

The cardinal furthermore distinguished between a "twisted religion" that is used to justify hatred and violence, and true religion. True religion, he explained, points us to healing, honor and purity.

Another prominent cardinal also recently expressed some concerns over Islam. Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, spoke on the theme of "Islam and Western Democracies" at a meeting of the organization Legatus in Naples, Florida.

His speech was given on Feb. 2, but only recently posted on the Web site of the Sydney Archdiocese. On the positive side, Cardinal Pell noted the points in common between Christians and Muslims, and he noted the great diversity in how Muslim beliefs are interpreted and lived.

Reciprocity

On the negative side, he observed that the Koran contains many invocations to violence. Moreover, Muslims believe that the Koran comes directly from God, unmediated. This makes it difficult for the Koran to be subjected to the same sort of critical analysis and reflection that has taken place among Christians over the Bible, according to Cardinal Pell. What is needed, the archbishop of Sydney stressed, is dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

The Pope spoke May 15 to the participants gathered in Rome for the plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers. Regarding Islam, Benedict XVI observed that in these times Christians are called upon to practice dialogue, but without losing their identity.

This process, the Pontiff clarified, requires reciprocity. The Christian community, for its part, must live the commandment of love taught by Christ, embracing with charity all immigrants. In turn, it is hoped that Christians living in Islamic countries will also be received well, and with respect for their religious identity. Reciprocity, it seems, is increasingly on the Vatican's mind when it comes to relations with the Islamic world.

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Cardinal Murpy-O'Connor on Christian-Muslim dialogue
OXFORD - 17 May 2006 - 4,892 words

"Where Christians are being denied their rights, or are subject to sharia law, that is not a matter on which Muslims in Britain should remain silent," the Archbishop of Westminster told an audience at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, last night. He added: "Where religious rights of minorities are disrespected in the name of Islam, the face of Islam is tarnished elsewhere in the world."

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's remarks were made in a speech spelling out the need for a close, respectful dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

The full text follows:

CATHOLIC-MUSLIM DIALOGUE TODAY

1. Director of the Centre, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: It is kind of you to invite me to take my place at the end of a long list of distinguished speakers who since 1985 have been invited by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies to contribute to your mission of promoting understanding. The Centre provides a meeting point for the Western and Islamic worlds of learning and opens a window for western scholarship onto the Islamic world. How vital is that role; and how necessary it is at this time, when Muslims in Britain are increasingly present in our public and academic life. Here in this University, founded in the scholastic, monastic tradition, I cannot but think of some of the great dialogues that have taken place between scholars of our faiths, most notably the fraternal search for the great truths of shared monotheistic faith of the encounter between Thomas Aquinas, Ibn Sina and Maimonides.

2. I am afraid I cannot offer anything quite so lofty tonight. Indeed, the topic I have chosen this evening is a matter which is not strictly academic, although it has many implications for theological study. I want to reflect with you on the place of our two key faiths in the world and how we might grow in mutual respect and understanding of one another. I am sure you will understand that I am looking at this from the point of view of the Catholic world.

3. Dialogue is of course as old as Islam itself. Our two faiths have always eyed each other, sometimes with suspicion and rivalry but just as much, I am glad to say, with mutual respect, and at many periods in history, in a way that has been mutually influential. For we are nothing if not neighbours. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are only 800 miles from Mecca and Medina. Ours are faiths marked by teachers who taught under trees, shading from the sun; and whose prayers are characterised by the deep yearning for the God of our energetic, enterprising peoples.

4. Our two faiths are boldly universal. This is what we have in common; and that has been the source, sometimes, of our tension. But universality is what today makes our dialogue imperative. Ours are the two largest world religions. Christians make up about a third of the population; Catholics about half that number, slightly under the numbers of Muslims. Christians and Muslims, in other words, make up about half of the inhabitants of the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that on the peace and respect between us hang the peace and respect between all the religions. Our mutual understanding is crucial for world peace and human progress, not least in this era when globalisation and mass migration have placed Christians and Muslims ever closer to each others, as neighbours in the same European towns and cities.

5. It was just over a year ago that the funeral of that apostle of dialogue, Pope John Paul II, captured the attention of the world. It was for us cardinals a source of great gratitude and joy to see so many representatives of other faiths and Churches present at this funeral. Not least was the large presence of Muslims from so many different nations and traditions.

6. It was also a reminder of just how rapid have been the developments in Catholic-Muslim dialogue in the last decades. The presence of Muslims at the Day of Prayer for World Peace in 1986, when Pope John Paul II called together the world's faith leaders for the first summit of its kind, was still timid. But in 1999, when the Pope called together an Interreligious Assembly in Rome, more than 40 Muslims took part. Perhaps the most remarkable event in the modern history of Catholic-Muslim relations was when John Paul II visited Morocco after an invitation from King Hassan II in 1985. The Pope addressed a crowd of some 60,000 young Muslims in a sports stadium - a truly remarkable moment. "We believe in the same God," Pope John Paul II told them, "the one God, the living God, the God who creates the world and brings the world to perfection."

7. This is the foundation for our dialogue: our common ancestry in a single God, and the rejection by Abraham of idols. This opens the possibility  indeed the obligation  of a bond between human beings whatever their beliefs. I was very glad to be present at the meeting of world's religious leaders last year in Lyon, organised by the Community of Sant'Egidio each year since that first meeting in Assisi in 1986. The meetings have developed what the Community calls a "spiritual humanism of peace" which stresses that we are all divinely-created human beings, sons and daughters of a common Father. We need to keep returning to this common ancestry in the same father. More religion of the true sort means human beings becoming closer to God, and therefore to each other.

8. The challenge in our theological dialogue is to be able to conduct this dialogue without, of course, diminishing what are, in both our faiths, rather exclusive claims. We can stress what we hold in common as children of Abraham, and continue to remind ourselves of this. But nor can we deny the profound differences between Christian and Muslim beliefs. Monotheism divides us as well as unites us. Muslims cannot accept Christian monotheism as Trinitarian monotheism. For Christians, Jesus is the Way to the Father; and for Muslims, there is a similar claim made for the Prophet and the Qu'ran. I think a deeper awareness of our individual traditions is important. Catholics, in order to be good dialogue-partners, must first be firmly rooted in their understanding and love of Catholicism, and I suspect that this is true for Muslims too.

9. But a realistic confession of our deep differences does not exclude a respectful dialogue. Indeed, in both our Scriptures and in our traditions mutual witness and sharing of convictions are a duty commanded by God. In the New Testament, Christians need always to remember Peter's words to "always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy, and respect, and a clear conscience." In the Qu'ran is that remarkable instruction to "Dispute not with the People of the Book [that is, Jews and Christians] save in the fairer manner, except for those of them that do wrong, and say: 'We believe in what has been sent down to us and what has been sent down to you. Our God and your God is One, and to him we have surrendered." [29.46]. In such passages, there is no suggestion of watering-down passionately-held beliefs.

10. Both of our traditions, of course, have other texts, which can be, and are, used belligerently. Yet such texts as I have quoted provide a real basis for dialogue, one which has been developing rapidly.

11. In case there can be any doubt about the sincere respect of the Catholic Church for Islam, I need only quote from the document Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican Council, in which the Catholic bishops of the world, gathered in Rome, declared:

12. "The Church has also a high regard for Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who has also spoken to people. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God's plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his virgin mother they also honour, and even at times devoutly invoke, Further, they await the day of judgement and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason, they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting." [NA 3].

13. Since the Vatican Council, successive popes have sought to express this respect on many different occasions. Pope John Paul II, meeting Muslims in Paris in 1980, greeted them as "our brothers in faith in the one God". In the Philippines in the following year he said:

14. "I deliberately address you as brothers: that is certainly what we are, because we are members of the same human family but we are especially brothers in God, who created us and whom we are trying to reach, in our own ways, through faith, prayer and worship, through the keeping of his law and through submission to his designs."

15. John Paul II was an exemplar of dialogue. Who can forget how, during his pilgrimage in the footsteps of Moses, he visited Al-Azhar in Cairo, or how, during his pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Paul, he entered the mosque in Damascus. It was a gesture in the great tradition of those Christians throughout the ages who have shown, in words and gestures, the respect of Islam.

16. Dialogue will be impossible as long as minds are closed, as long as adherents of either faith believe that we have nothing to learn from the other, or that the Spirit of God is not active in the whole of God's Creation.

17. The delicate task of our contemporary societies is to forge this dialogue and cooperation, to overcome ignorance and to learn mutual respect. That is the task of this Centre, and it is a noble and necessary one.

18. The main obstacle to that dialogue is the failure, in a number of Muslim countries, to uphold the principle of religious freedom. If we do not enjoy the freedom to practise our religion openly and without fear, then we cannot be honest; a defensive mentality is created, in which people treat their different religions as clubs  the only places where they can relax and be themselves. Dialogue assumes the freedom to witness. It is essential that Muslims can freely worship in Oxford or London, just as it is essential that Christians can freely worship in Riyadh or Kabul.

19. When Pope John Paul II spoke at the opening of the mosque in Rome in 1995, he called it an "eloquent sign of the religious freedom recognised here for every believer." He said it was significant that in Rome, the centre of Christianity and the See of the successor of St Peter, that Muslims should have their own place to worship with full freedom for their freedom of conscience.

20. "It is unfortunately necessary to point out," he went on, "that in some Islamic countries similar signs of the recognition of religious freedom are lacking. And yet the world, on the threshold of the third millennium, is waiting for those signs While I am pleased that Muslims can gather in prayer at the new Roman mosque, I earnestly hope that the rights of Christians and of all believers freely to express their own faith will be recognised in every corner of the earth."

21. This is a vital principle of sacred hospitality, and it is vital for the relationship between Christians and Muslims. Where Christians are being denied their rights, or are subject to sharia law, that is not a matter on which Muslims in Britain should remain silent. Where religious rights of minorities are disrespected in the name of Islam, the face of Islam is tarnished elsewhere in the world.

22. Sacred hospitality demands that we speak up for each other. And it impels our communities to take common action together, especially in response to social issues or in response to disasters and emergencies. One of my happier moments this past year was during a New Year's visit to Sri Lanka. I went to commemorate the anniversary of the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 in the company of the Catholic aid agency CAFOD, which has been rebuilding houses and communities there. I was on the east coast of the island, where there is a patchwork of villages of different beliefs: some Hindu, some Muslim, some Christian. It was a visit of great joy as well as witnessing great suffering. In one Hindu village they were not too sure how to explain what a Cardinal was and introduced me to the village as, "A member of the Roman Catholic High Command"! But what struck me very forcibly was the practical 'dialogue of life' between the different faiths, as they tried to rebuild their lives. In one Muslim village the leader told me that "many came and went, promising things. But only the Catholics stayed, and built us new houses." The Catholic aid workers who had helped those villagers did not engage in theological dialogue; they were not there as missionaries, to try to persuade anyone to convert. But by their actions, and by the villagers' welcome of them and of me, there was a moving example of the mutual solidarity  and dare I say it, love  which stirred in me the desire to see such love characterise Catholic-Muslim relations in the world.

23. Last year there were two memorable examples when I stood with Muslim leaders in a common witness. The first was at Edinburgh, during the Make Poverty History march which sought to put pressure on the G8 summit to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals; and shortly afterwards, in the wake of the 7 July bombings. On both occasions, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other religious leaders appeared together, in a very public way, to demonstrate our friendship and to show that we shared a belief in a God of justice and of peace; and that any other versions of God were blasphemous.

24. I remember , in particular the witness and words of the mother of one of the victims of the 7 July bombings, Marie Fatayi-Williams. She is a devout Catholic and standing with her Muslim husband a few days after that tragedy she echoed both their sentiments:

"Throughout history, those people who have changed the world have done so without violence, they have [won] people to their cause through peaceful protest. What inspiration can senseless slaughter provide? Death and destruction of young people in their prime as well as old and helpless can never be the foundations for building societyMy son Anthony is my first son, my only son, the head of my family..I will fight till I die to protect him. To protect his values and to protect his memory.Innocent blood will always cry to God Almighty for reparation. How much blood must be spilled? How many tears shall we cry? How many mothers' hearts must be maimed? .

It's time to stop and think. We cannot live in fear because we are surrounded by hatred. Look around us today. Anthony is a Nigerian, born in London, worked in London, he is a world citizen. Here today we have Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, all of us united in love for Anthony. Hatred begets only hatred. It is time to stop this vicious cycle of killing. We must all stand together, for our common humanity."

25. I think this 'standing together' must be our answer to the pessimism of the Samuel Huntington 'clash of civilisations'. There are very real tensions in our world, tensions provoked by injustice, terrorism and war. Inevitably, there will be those who wish to see in these tensions the faultlines of faith, and will find in the history of our two faiths evidence of this. In the course of thirteen centuries of co-existence, it could hardly be otherwise. There have been hard and painful periods. But there have also been periods of frank and fruitful collaboration and sincere friendship, and these flames have not been suffocated by conflict.

26. That is why there cannot be an intrinsic conflict between our religions, even if there will at times be tensions between Muslims and Christians. As Pope John Paul II wrote: "interreligious dialogue is especially important in establishing a sure basis of peace and warding off the spectre of the wars of religion which have so often bloodied human history." [NMI].

27. Here in Europe, we have a particular challenge now, one made urgent by the rising tensions in the Muslim community which are spilling out on the edges of that community in an adherence to fundamentalist or nostalgic doctrines which approve violence.

28. The fear and hostility which such groups and doctrines have produced in wider society are behind the Islamophobia which so many Muslims detect in modern British society. There is much in our Catholic experience  when being Catholic and Irish in the 1970s was to be equated in the minds of some with terrorism  that must surely lead us to sympathise.

29. Catholics, too, are familiar with the jibe that we are newcomers with dubious allegiances. It was only in 1873 that The Times could thunder that "a statesman who becomes a convert to Roman Catholicism forfeits at once the confidence of the English people To become a Roman Catholic and remain a thorough Englishman are  it cannot be disguised  incompatible conditions."

30. Such an opinion about being a Muslim would not, I hope, be found in the pages of The Times today; yet it is a sentiment not far below the surface of some of our newspaper reports, and more notorious political movements.

31. To listen to some of these, you would think Muslims were new to Europe! No one who has been to southern Spain or Portugal can fail to know how misguided that view is. The role of the Arabs in transmitting Greek science to the Western world is well known; it is hard, indeed, to imagine great medieval universities such as this one without the development of medicine, sciences, astronomy and medicine passed on by the Arabs and enriched by their pragmatic, empirical philosophy. The debt owed to the great scholastic theologians of the Catholic tradition to Muslim philosophers and theologians is also a matter of record.

32. So that while it is most commendable that the University of Oxford has made space for this Centre, it would be wrong to think of you as newcomers. When Catholics were once again admitted to this University in the nineteenth century, it seemed to those here that we were "new boys". But looking around these cloistered colleges, founded in most cases by monastic orders in communion with Rome, we were entitled to believe that "new boys" was not an entirely accurate term.

33. In many parts of central and eastern Europe, there are Muslim communities going back six centuries or more. But there is no question that the arrival of very large numbers of Muslims  there are perhaps 25 million now in the whole of Europe  is one of the great characteristics of this European moment.

34. Here in Britain, there is much that the Catholic community can do to assist Muslims in their journey towards feeling comfortable as fully British and fully Muslim. Catholics and Muslims are not guests in Britain, but homemakers. Both our communities have decades of experience as immigrant labourers building networks of solidarity around our mosques and churches and schools. We have both known discrimination and exploitation, and question marks about our allegiance.

35. In one of my last meetings with Dr Zaki Badawi before his death, he asked for our help in drawing on the Catholic experience in assisting Muslims to become comfortable British citizens, and of course I promised what assistance I could give. I want to say, at this point, how much I miss Dr Badawi. Not only did we exchange views honestly and with deep respect, but we laughed a lot. His was a voice which British Muslims were lucky to have, and I hope will soon find again.

36. One of the areas in which we have a shared experience is of a lack of respect for our beliefs in the media and in the Arts. Freedom of expression and artistic licence are cornerstones of our contemporary democracy; and yet too often these noble principles are invoked as a defence of advertisements or cartoons or films which are simply adolescent or iconoclastic in their desire to provoke.

37. It is important for Christians and Muslims to realise that, while we perceive ourselves to be powerless victims of all-powerful media corporations, that is not how secular public opinion often sees us. One of the consequences of secularism is ignorance, and ignorance is easily swayed by fear. This means that, while it is painful often to do so, we need to be restrained in how we manifest our disapproval at blasphemy and disrespect. When we protest too belligerently, we provoke a reaction in people who do not share our beliefs  a reaction of indignation. And we serve only the publicity machine. Indeed, the indignation of a cleric or a placard-waving crowd is sometimes all that a play or a television programme or an art work needs to secure a little free publicity, and that much sought-after tag of "controversial" or even better, "notorious".

38. This does not mean that we should stay silent. Witness to our beliefs demands that we defend them. Because we have religious belief we have a sensitivity to the religious symbols of other faiths and can, hopefully, help our secular culture be more sensitive to them too. Neither can we accept the argument that religious beliefs are merely ideas that can be treated as relative notions. There is sometimes a strange kind of logic operative in contemporary European society which suggests that it if you have a religious faith then your voice should somehow be marginalized, whereas if you have no faith that in itself gives you the credentials to have a voice to speak out on the Common Good, or the Family or on matters of life and death. The attempt to create a "neutral" public space is so often really an attempt to neutralise religion. But we need to remember also that in a free, secular society we cannot demand respect for our beliefs as of right: respect has to be earned. The market for parodies of faith would be smaller if people were less ignorant. When the spotlight turns on us, we need to do what we can to counter that ignorance.

39. This is, perhaps, one area where we can co-operate to help form a spiritual humanism of peace. Since September 11 and here since July 7, religious leaders have been demonstrating that when religion is linked to violence, violence is done to religion; and that religion in the name of God is blasphemy. In the same way, perhaps religious leaders need to respond together to the mockery of faith  whether their own or that of others - in the media and in the arts.

40. But it is in the "how" of that response that we witness to our faiths. There is a famous line of St Paul's, that "when we are weak, then we are strong". I am sure you could find a similar sentiment in the Qu'ran. It is a truth borne out by history. It was only since the Catholic Church lost the papal states that we have had a series of great and holy popes. It is not that there were none before; but temporal power never sits easily with the call to the desert which both our faiths make. God is heard in simplicity and in holy poverty. Catholics may sometimes be nostalgic for the Middle Ages, for the days when holy law and temporal law were at least allied, in the same way that there are Muslims today who dream of the recreation of the Caliphate of Cordoba. History offers inspiration and sustenance; but it also carries the warning that the Kingdom of God can never be the Kingdom of this World, and that those who confuse the two often place a barrier to God's self-revelation.

41. These are areas of common experience, shared wisdom. But mostly I believe that our journey together in contemporary Europe will experienced at a local level, in the places where Christian and Muslims families coexist in the same towns and boroughs. In London, there is an organisation called London Citizens, which works with churches and mosques to bring to bear their concerns to local authorities. At the meetings of London Citizens, it is very heartening to see Mass-going Catholics and Mosque-going Muslims share common experiences and common concerns, and decide to act together on issues such as housing or fair wages for migrants. From such encounters come friendships, and from friendships is born the curiosity to know each other better. When Lent comes around, the Catholics can explain what they do and why; and Muslims, at the time of Ramadan, can do the same. Catholics go on pilgrimages, to Rome and Jerusalem; Muslims make the haj to Mecca. Here is a wealth of common human experience grounded in shared spiritual knowledge.

42. I would like Catholics to know Muslims better: to know what makes them tick, why they believe what they believe. And to act together, as they do in London Citizens, to make our society a more human, more civilised place to be.

43. This is a task which falls particularly to the religious believers of modern Britain. You cannot solve the difficulties created by the existence of a multitude of visions for society by trying to create a society emptied of vision altogether. An utterly secular society, which turns its back on transcendent value, and governs itself by sheer pragmatism and the lowest common denominator, can never be a home for human beings worthy of that name. Wisdom is not private; morality is not private; the holiness of life is not private. We have to find ways to make the public fabric of our society, our laws, our civic institutions, the texture and quality of the life we live together, reflect more than just the values of the global market. They must reflect wisdom and love and justice. They must defend the God-given dignity of all. They must look out, above all, for the poorest and most vulnerable, lest the strong be left to walk on them. These are not pragmatic matters.

44. It is fashionable among some to talk as if religion was the source of all that is amiss in our world, to see it as bringing nothing but violence and hatred and conflict. Love and hate do indeed live close together in the human heart. Where people's deepest loyalties and deepest convictions are engaged, then there is always the danger of perversion. But a world without deep loves and deep loyalties would be a desert. Twisted religion may be used to justify hatred and violence. But true religion points us towards healing and wholeness, towards whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious.

45. This is what faith agrees on. This common witness is helping to build a spiritual humanism of peace, a framework for belonging recast for our diversified world. Here is a task for Catholics and Muslims, in collaboration with our brothers and sisters in the other faiths.

46. I say "spiritual" humanism, because society needs more than abstract ideals, it must embody and promote decency, dignity, respect for others. And as long as there have been human beings, they have looked to religion, to a sense of living in God's world under God's law, for light on what decency and dignity and respect for others might mean. The shrines are not redundant: we need holiness and wisdom and love and peace as much as ever we did, and the ancient wells from which holiness and wisdom and love and peace have been drawn have not run dry.

47. These are matters on which Catholics and Muslims share a common passion, born of a common father who is merciful, but who demands of us to conquer self-indulgence with love and service of others. Regular prayer and the disciplines of abstinence, as well as a regular admission of our failings, are the means to this. That is why we cannot expect to be always understood, or even to be liked.

48. But through these common experiences of rejection and misunderstanding, we can forge bonds of friendship between our faiths. We can work together, laugh together, seek justice together. We can learn from each other. And we can grow together, supportive of each other, giving a common witness to the God who made us and all the earth, and who desires that one day we all be one and united, in the image of God himself. It is an exciting task, and one we can all begin today.
 
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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR. (May, 2006)

Every era of church history seems to present its own mega-question. In the period following the Second World War, the deep question facing Catholicism was the confrontation with Soviet Communism, with the two basic options being confrontation or Ostpolitik.

Tension between those two options looms again today, but with a different interlocutor: Islam. Once again, the fault lines run between dialogue and confrontation, between those who see a gradual opening on the other side leading to peaceful co-existence, and those who see an almost inevitable confrontation between opposed systems of thought and practice.

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney recently summed up the point by saying, "The challenge of Islam will be with us for the remainder of our lives -- at least."

The question is, what would a coherent Catholic approach to Islam look like?

Some believe key components should include outreach to moderates, a critical examination of conscience by the West for the various ways its past and present have stoked Muslim resentment, and a determined effort to solve the roots of anti-Western sentiment today. The premise of this approach is that the tensions between the Muslim world and the West often only appear to be religious and cultural; at bottom they are usually political and economic.

Others believe this approach is naïve. Ultimately, they say, the most determined Muslim leaders believe that Islam is destined for global supremacy, which means that Islam is not really interested in making its way in a pluralistic world. For those who take this view, only a determined reassertion by the West of its traditional Christian identity will have the inner strength to resist the pressure. From this point of view, politics and economics are secondary to the real forces of history, which are intellectual and cultural.

To employ a typically reductionist journalistic formula, we might call this the difference between the doves and the hawks.

Recent weeks have offered classic illustrations of both views.

* * *

Had I not been at the Sant'Egidio event at Georgetown last week, I would have been in Vienna, Austria, where Cardinal Christoph Schönborn hosted a gathering of American and European intellectuals to discuss the challenge posed by George Weigel in his book The Cathedral and the Cube, where Weigel expresses a rather dim view about the cultural prospects for contemporary Europe.

The subject of the Vienna summit was not Islam, but Europe, and especially the destiny of its Christian heritage. Yet one cannot raise that question in today's Europe without taking into account the growing Islamic presence, a culture-shaping force if ever there was one.

While the speakers in Vienna differed on the extent to which contemporary Europe is adrift, most shared the sense that a determined reassertion of the traditional cultural and religious identity of the West is a priority.

Weigel opened the summit by pointing to John Paul's 1979 trip to Poland as a decisive moment in the events which led to the collapse of the Soviet system, arguing that those nine days were, like the guns of August in 1914, "a pivot on which the history of the 20th century turned."

One would have thought, Weigel suggested, the West would have realized, on the strength of this experience, that its Christian and spiritual roots are the bedrock of its political and cultural resources. It was the hunger for those resources which fueled the anti-Soviet uprising.

Alas, he said, the Vienna summit assembled precisely because such does not appear to be the case.

"The West has not learned the lesson it should have learned," Weigel said.

"That failure is one expression of what I have called Europe's 'crisis of civilizational morale;' the sources of that crisis are, fundamentally, in the order of ideas -- metaphysical nihilism and its offspring, epistemological skepticism, moral relativism; these corrosive ideas have had, and will continue to have, profound consequences for the democratic project throughout the Western world, and, indeed, for the very future of the West."

Weigel offered two bits of evidence for this diagnosis.

First, he noted that no country in the European Union today has a birth rate above replacement level, a phenomenon he calls "demographic suicide." Second, Weigel points to the refusal of the EU to even acknowledge God in the preamble to its constitutional tractate, which, following Joseph Weiler, Weigel argues reflects a "'Christophobia' in European high culture, which aims at nothing less than a European public space shorn of religiously-informed moral argument."

Thus Weigel's bottom line: pragmatic or utilitarian defenses of democracy, human rights, and political and economic liberty aren't enough.

"This is the thinnest of intellectual and cultural foundations on which to build a democratic political experiment -- particularly at a moment in time when an assertive alternative culture is making its own claims about the European future, and buttressing those claims with the thickest of warrants, the warrant of the will of God," he said, making a clear reference to the Islamic challenge.

* * *

Marcello Pera, former president of the Italian Senate and also professor of philosophy at the University of Pisa, who co-authored a book on Europe with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Without Roots, 2004), argued that what Europe needs is a "Christian civil religion."

By that, Pera meant something like C.S. Lewis' "mere Christianity," a statement of the essentials of Christian belief that can be shared across denominational lines. Such a bundle of convictions, Pera argued, represent the unspoken premises upon which European institutions are based, and apart from which they make little sense.

Perhaps the most intriguing element of Pera's argument is that although non-believers in Europe ought to recognize that ultimately the freedoms and democratic institutions they cherish make no sense without Christianity, there's a price to be paid in all this by the churches as well.

What Pera means is that church leaders need to stand and fight on principle, for the core values Christianity embodies, rather than accept a public silence about those values for the sake of securing the church's institutional interests. Without saying so, Pera was taking issue with several Vatican diplomats and senior European church leaders who took the position that an explicit reference to God in the preamble to the European constitution really wasn't that important as long as Article 52 ensured that the concordats signed with various European states would be respected under European law, and that the other institutional prerogatives of the church will be respected.

"To speak crudely," Pera said, "it seems that many thought that a Mass in Brussels was not worth the advantages gained in Rome or Berlin or Vienna."

This implies, Pera said, a robust defense of the roots of Western culture.

"When dealing with domestic policies relating to the integration of immigrants it is necessary to safeguard our own identity," he said. "To speak only of the rights of minorities and to ignore the rights of the majority is a serious mistake. Multiculturalism is a weak doctrine and a wrong policy, which has already produced ghettos and social tensions in Europe."

"It must be borne in mind that 'tolerance', 'dialogue', 'equality', and similar, are empty words, and ultimately words of surrender, if we abandon our identity," Pera said. "Terrorists say they are attacking us because we are 'Jews and Christians'. Indeed, we are, and we should not deny it, conceal it or be ashamed of it. Quite the contrary. We should reject the blackmailing argument according to which affirming our own identity amounts to be arrogant vis-à-vis other people's identity. The opposite is true: to assert our identity is the first step, the pre-requisite, for acknowledging the identity of others and for engaging in a real dialogue with them."

That, in a nutshell, is the hawk argument.

* * *

Participants in the Vienna summit said Pera's presentation generated lively debate, especially among Americans who thought he was talking about a kind of "civil religion" along the lines of Rosseau. The concern is that if what results from Pera's proposal is a Christianity of mere civic virtue, shorn of doctrinal content, it would be an impoverishment. Pera tried to explain that he's not talking about a neutered Christianity, but an affirmation of Europe's Christian heritage to which even non-believers such as himself can subscribe.

* * *

The dove argument with regard to Islam recently found expression in testimony delivered before the House International Relations Committee by Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Florida, chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Policy. Wenski had been invited to testify on the subject of religious freedom in majority Islamic states, but used the occasion to sketch out a comprehensive policy with respect to engaging the Islamic world.

First, Wenski urged the House committee to "avoid an overly simplistic view that argues that there is a fundamental clash of cultures between all of Christianity and all of Islam." In addition, Wenski said that all religions struggle with tolerance, including Christianity, pointing to John Paul's Jubilee apology for "intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth."

Wenski also said the history of colonialism is partly responsible for anti-Western resentments among Muslims, as well as relentless secularizing pressures from the Western nations.

"These conflicts can lead some in the Islamic world to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that their culture and religious beliefs are under assault by outsiders or the West as a whole," he said.

Wenski also urged that problems with religious freedom in some Islamic countries not be generalized.

"The example of countries with Muslim majorities that better respect the rights, practices and principles of religious freedom should be acknowledged and held up as models," he said.

Wenski then laid out a five-point "program" for approaching the difficulties in the relationship between Islam and the West.

    * First, he said, "Our nation must promote equitable economic opportunity, equal participation in political decision-making, and respect for local cultures."
    * Second, we must "promote religious respect and cultural civility, especially in the media," in response to perceptions that Western media are often heavily secularized and disdainful of serious religious belief. Wenski made specific reference to the recent controversy over cartoons of Muhammad published in a Danish journal.
    * Third, "The struggle against terrorism must be conducted principally with non-military means and with the just and discriminate use of force only when absolutely necessary," Wenski said. "Tragically, the abuse and humiliation of prisoners and detainees in U.S. custody has reinforced negative perceptions of the struggle against terrorism in Islamic countries," he said.
    * Fourth, the West should "support in appropriate ways those courageous religious leaders who seek to correct the distortions and abuse of religion by militants and extremists."
    * Fifth, "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with its resulting occupation of Palestinian lands, the current occupation of Iraq by U.S. troops, and the continuing presence of the U.S. military in a number of Muslim countries contribute to some Muslim suspicions and hostility toward our nation and its Christian majority, and sometimes spills over into prejudices and distrust of indigenous Christians in Muslim nations."

In short, Wenski argued that whatever tensions exist between Islam and the West are not entirely the fault of Islamic radicalism, and that if the West wants better relations with Muslims, it has to be willing to meet them halfway.

No doubt neither Wenski nor Pera is so unsubtle a thinker as to believe there's no truth whatsoever in either the dove or the hawk view. Both men would no doubt agree that a comprehensive Catholic approach to Islam must include elements of both.

Nevertheless, at the level of emphasis, it's clear that different constituencies in the church size up the priorities differently. To date, Benedict XVI seems to lean to Pera in terms of his own language; it will be fascinating to watch this develop over the next few months of his pontificate.

* * *

One footnote from the Vienna gathering. Opus Dei Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, widely recognized as a provocative and unpredictable thinker, argued for a kind of "Christian secularity," by which he meant the capacity of Christians to recognize democratic institutions as legitimate and accept their outcomes even when they contradict Christian religious convictions.

Paradoxically, Rhonheimer said this act of humility actually facilitates a Christian "superiority complex," in the sense that once the secular world accepts the universality of human dignity and the bundle of absolute human rights it implies, it will sooner or later discover that the Christian gospel provides the strongest cognitive basis for explaining and defending those rights.

As part of this discussion, Rhonheimer got tongues wagging by suggesting that American Catholics have made a mistake by exalting the abortion issue above virtually everything else, neglecting other important human and social rights issues. As one participant later said, it sounded reminiscent of the "seamless garment" argument once made by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.

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Islam and Western Democracies
Legatus Summit, Naples, Florida U.S.A

By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
7/2/2006

September 11 was a wake-up call for me personally. I recognised that I had to know more about Islam.

In the aftermath of the attack one thing was perplexing. Many commentators and apparently the governments of the “Coalition of the Willing” were claiming that Islam was essentially peaceful, and that the terrorist attacks were an aberration. On the other hand one or two people I met, who had lived in Pakistan and suffered there, claimed to me that the Koran legitimised the killings of non-Muslims.

Although I had possessed a copy of the Koran for 30 years, I decided then to read this book for myself as a first step to adjudicating conflicting claims. And I recommend that you too read this sacred text of the Muslims, because the challenge of Islam will be with us for the remainder of our lives – at least.

Can Islam and the Western democracies live together peacefully? What of Islamic minorities in Western countries? Views on this question range from näive optimism to bleakest pessimism. Those tending to the optimistic side of the scale seize upon the assurance of specialists that jihad is primarily a matter of spiritual striving, and that the extension of this concept to terrorism is a distortion of koranic teaching[1]. They emphasise Islam’s self-understanding as a “religion of peace”. They point to the roots Islam has in common with Judaism and Christianity and the worship the three great monotheistic religions offer to the one true God. There is also the common commitment that Muslims and Christians have to the family and to the defence of life, and the record of co-operation in recent decades between Muslim countries, the Holy See, and countries such as the United States in defending life and the family at the international level, particularly at the United Nations.

Many commentators draw attention to the diversity of Muslim life—sunni, shi’ite, sufi, and their myriad variations—and the different forms that Muslim devotion can take in places such as Indonesia and the Balkans on the one hand, and Iran and Nigeria on the other. Stress is laid, quite rightly, on the widely divergent interpretations of the Koran and the shari’a, and the capacity Islam has shown throughout its history for developing new interpretations. Given the contemporary situation, the wahhabist interpretation at the heart of Saudi Islamism offers probably the most important example of this, but Muslim history also offers more hopeful examples, such as the re-interpretation of the shari’a after the fall of the Ottoman empire, and particularly after the end of the Second World War, which permitted Muslims to emigrate to non-Muslim countries[2].

Optimists also take heart from the cultural achievements of Islam in the Middle Ages, and the accounts of toleration extended to Jewish and Christian subjects of Muslim rule as “people of the Book”. Some deny or minimise the importance of Islam as a source of terrorism, or of the problems that more generally afflict Muslim countries, blaming factors such as tribalism and inter-ethnic enmity; the long-term legacy of colonialism and Western domination; the way that oil revenues distort economic development in the rich Muslim states and sustain oligarchic rule; the poverty and political oppression in Muslim countries in Africa; the situation of the Palestinians, and the alleged “problem” of the state of Israel; and the way that globalisation has undermined or destroyed traditional life and imposed alien values on Muslims and others.

Indonesia and Turkey are pointed to as examples of successful democratisation in Muslim societies, and the success of countries such as Australia and the United States as “melting pots”, creating stable and successful societies while absorbing people from very different cultures and religions, is often invoked as a reason for trust and confidence in the growing Muslim populations in the West. The phenomenal capacity of modernity to weaken gradually the attachment of individuals to family, religion and traditional ways of life, and to commodify and assimilate developments that originate in hostility to it (think of the way the anti-capitalist counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s was absorbed into the economic and political mainstream—and into consumerism), is also relied upon to “normalise” Muslims in Western countries, or at least to normalise them in the minds of the non-Muslim majority.

Reasons for optimism are also sometimes drawn from the totalitarian nature of Islamist ideology, and the brutality and rigidity of Islamist rule, exemplified in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Just as the secular totalitarian-isms of the twentieth century (Nazism and Communism) ultimately proved unsustainable because of the enormous toll they exacted on human life and creativity, so too will the religious totalitarianism of radical Islam. This assessment draws on a more general underlying cause for optimism, or at least hope, for all of us, namely our common humanity, and the fruitfulness of dialogue when it is entered with good will on all sides. Most ordinary people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, share the desire for peace, stability and prosperity for themselves and their families.

On the pessimistic side of the equation, concern begins with the Koran itself. In my own reading of the Koran, I began to note down invocations to violence. There are so many of them, however, that I abandoned this exercise after 50 or 60 or 70 pages. I will return to the problems of Koranic interpretation later in this paper, but in coming to an appreciation of the true meaning of jihad, for example, it is important to bear in mind what the scholars tell us about the difference between the suras (or chapters) of the Koran written during Muhammad’s thirteen years in Mecca, and those that were written after he had based himself at Medina. Irenic interpretations of the Koran typically draw heavily on the suras written in Mecca, when Muhammad was without military power and still hoped to win people, including Christians and Jews, to his revelation through preaching and religious activity. After emigrating to Medina, Muhammad formed an alliance with two Yemeni tribes and the spread of Islam through conquest and coercion began[3]. One calculation is that Muhammad engaged in 78 battles, only one of which, the Battle of the Ditch, was defensive[4]. The suras from the Medina period reflect this decisive change and are often held to abrogate suras from the Meccan period[5].

The predominant grammatical form in which jihad is used in the Koran carries the sense of fighting or waging war. A different form of the verb in Arabic means “striving” or “struggling”, and English translations sometimes use this form as a way of euphemistically rendering the Koran’s incitements to war against unbelievers[6]. But in any case, the so-called “verses of the sword” (sura 95 and 936)[7], coming as they do in what scholars generally believe to be one of the last suras revealed to Muhammad[8], are taken to abrogate a large number of earlier verses on the subject (over 140, according to one radical website[9]). The suggestion that jihad is primarily a matter of spiritual striving is also contemptuously rejected by some Islamic writers on the subject. One writer warns that “the temptation to reinterpret both text and history to suit ‘politically correct’ requirements is the first trap to be avoided”, before going on to complain that “there are some Muslims today, for instance, who will convert jihad into a holy bath rather than a holy war, as if it is nothing more than an injunction to cleanse yourself from within”[10].

The abrogation of many of the Meccan suras by the later Medina suras affects Islam’s relations with those of other faiths, particularly Christians and Jews. The Christian and Jewish sources underlying much of the Koran[11] are an important basis for dialogue and mutual understanding, although there are difficulties. Perhaps foremost among them is the understanding of God. It is true that Christianity, Judaism and Islam claim Abraham as their Father and the God of Abraham as their God. I accept with reservations the claim that Jews, Christians and Muslims worship one god (Allah is simply the Arabic word for god) and there is only one true God available to be worshipped! That they worship the same god has been disputed[12], not only by Catholics stressing the triune nature of God, but also by some evangelical Christians and by some Muslims[13]. It is difficult to recognise the God of the New Testament in the God of the Koran, and two very different concepts of the human person have emerged from the Christian and Muslim understandings of God. Think, for example, of the Christian understanding of the person as a unity of reason, freedom and love, and the way these attributes characterise a Christian’s relationship with God. This has had significant consequences for the different cultures that Christianity and Islam have given rise to, and for the scope of what is possible within them. But these difficulties could be an impetus to dialogue, not a reason for giving up on it.

The history of relations between Muslims on the one hand and Christians and Jews on the other does not always offer reasons for optimism in the way that some people easily assume. The claims of Muslim tolerance of Christian and Jewish minorities are largely mythical, as the history of Islamic conquest and domination in the Middle East, the Iberian peninsula and the Balkans makes abundantly clear. In the territory of modern-day Spain and Portugal, which was ruled by Muslims from 716 and not finally cleared of Muslim rule until the surrender of Granada in 1491 (although over half the peninsula had been reclaimed by 1150, and all of the peninsula except the region surrounding Granada by 1300), Christians and Jews were tolerated only as dhimmis[14], subject to punitive taxation, legal discrimination, and a range of minor and major humiliations. If a dhimmi harmed a Muslim, his entire community would forfeit protection and be freely subject to pillage, enslavement and murder. Harsh reprisals, including mutilations, deportations and crucifixions, were imposed on Christians who appealed for help to the Christian kings or who were suspected of having converted to Islam opportunistically. Raiding parties were sent out several times every year against the Spanish kingdoms in the north, and also against France and Italy, for loot and slaves. The caliph in Andalusia maintained an army of tens of thousand of Christian slaves from all over Europe, and also kept a harem of captured Christian women. The Jewish community in the Iberian peninsula suffered similar sorts of discriminations and penalties, including restrictions on how they could dress. A pogrom in Granada in 1066 annihilated the Jewish population there and killed over 5000 people. Over the course of its history Muslim rule in the peninsula was characterised by outbreaks of violence and fanaticism as different factions assumed power, and as the Spanish gradually reclaimed territory[15].

Arab rule in Spain and Portugal was a disaster for Christians and Jews, as was Turkish rule in the Balkans. The Ottoman conquest of the Balkans commenced in the mid-fifteenth century, and was completed over the following two hundred years. Churches were destroyed or converted into mosques, and the Jewish and Christians populations became subject to forcible relocation and slavery. The extension or withdrawal of protection depended entirely on the disposition of the Ottoman ruler of the time. Christians who refused to apostatize were taxed and subject to conscript labour. Where the practice of the faith was not strictly prohibited, it was frustrated—for example, by making the only legal market day Sunday. But violent persecution was also a constant shadow. One scholar estimates that up to the Greek War of Independence in 1828, the Ottomans executed eleven Patriarchs of Constantinople, nearly one hundred bishops and several thousand priests, deacons and monks. Lay people were prohibited from practising certain professions and trades, even sometimes from riding a horse with a saddle, and right up until the early eighteenth century their adolescent sons lived under the threat of the military enslavement and forced conversion which provided possibly one million janissary soldiers to the Ottomans during their rule. Under Byzantine rule the peninsula enjoyed a high level of economic productivity and cultural development. This was swept away by the Ottoman conquest and replaced with a general and protracted decline in productivity[16].

The history of Islam’s detrimental impact on economic and cultural development at certain times and in certain places returns us to the nature of Islam itself. For those of a pessimistic outlook this is probably the most intractable problem in considering Islam and democracy. What is the capacity for theological development within Islam?

In the Muslim understanding, the Koran comes directly from God, unmediated. Muhammad simply wrote down God’s eternal and immutable words as they were dictated to him by the Archangel Gabriel. It cannot be changed, and to make the Koran the subject of critical analysis and reflection is either to assert human authority over divine revelation (a blasphemy), or question its divine character. The Bible, in contrast, is a product of human co-operation with divine inspiration. It arises from the encounter between God and man, an encounter characterised by reciprocity, which in Christianity is underscored by a Trinitarian understanding of God (an understanding Islam interprets as polytheism). This gives Christianity a logic or dynamic which not only favours the development of doctrine within strict limits, but also requires both critical analysis and the application of its principles to changed circumstances. It also requires a teaching authority.

Of course, none of this has prevented the Koran from being subjected to the sort of textual analysis that the Bible and the sacred texts of other religions have undergone for over a century, although by comparison the discipline is in its infancy. Errors of fact, inconsistencies, anachronisms and other defects in the Koran are not unknown to scholars, but it is difficult for Muslims to discuss these matters openly.

In 2004 a scholar who writes under the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg published a book in German setting out detailed evidence that the original language of the Koran was a dialect of Aramaic known as Syriac. Syriac or Syro-Aramaic was the written language of the Near East during Muhammad’s time, and Arabic did not assume written form until 150 years after his death. Luxenberg argues that the Koran that has come down to us in Arabic is partially a mistranscription of the original Syriac. A bizarre example he offers which received some attention at the time his book was published is the Koran’s promise that those who enter heaven will be “espoused” to “maidens with eyes like gazelles”; eyes, that is, which are intensely white and black (suras 4454 and 5220). Luxenberg’s meticulous analysis suggests that the Arabic word for maidens is in fact a mistranscription of the Syriac word for grapes. This does strain common sense. Valiant strivings to be consoled by beautiful women is one thing, but to be heroic for a packet of raisins seems a bit much!

Even more explosively, Luxenberg suggests that the Koran has its basis in the texts of the Syriac Christian liturgy, and in particular in the Syriac lectionary, which provides the origin for the Arabic word “koran”. As one scholarly review observes, if Luxenberg is correct the writers who transcribed the Koran into Arabic from Syriac a century and a half after Muhammad’s death transformed it from a text that was “more or less harmonious with the New Testament and Syriac Christian liturgy and literature to one that [was] distinct, of independent origin”[17]. This too is a large claim.

It is not surprising that much textual analysis is carried out pseudonymously. Death threats and violence are frequently directed against Islamic scholars who question the divine origin of the Koran. The call for critical consideration of the Koran, even simply of its seventh-century legislative injunctions, is rejected out of hand by hard-line Muslim leaders. Rejecting calls for the revision of school textbooks while preaching recently to those making the hajj pilgrimage to Mount Arafat, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia told pilgrims that “there is a war against our creed, against our culture under the pretext of fighting terrorism. We should stand firm and united in protecting our religion. Islam’s enemies want to empty our religion [of] its content and meaning. But the soldiers of God will be victorious”[18].

All these factors I have outlined are problems, for non-Muslims certainly, but first and foremost for Muslims themselves. In grappling with these problems we have to resist the temptation to reduce a complex and fluid situation to black and white photos. Much of the future remains radically unknown to us. It is hard work to keep the complexity of a particular phenomenon steadily in view and to refuse to accept easy answers, whether of an optimistic or pessimistic kind. Above all else we have to remember that like Christianity, Islam is a living religion, not just a set of theological or legislative propositions. It animates the lives of an estimated one billion people in very different political, social and cultural settings, in a wide range of devotional styles and doctrinal approaches. Human beings have an invincible genius for variation and innovation.

Considered strictly on its own terms, Islam is not a tolerant religion and its capacity for far-reaching renovation is severely limited. To stop at this proposition, however, is to neglect the way these facts are mitigated or exacerbated by the human factor. History has more than its share of surprises. Australia lives next door to Indonesia, the country with one of the largest Muslim populations in the world[19]. Indonesia has been a successful democracy, with limitations, since independence after World War II. Islam in Indonesia has been tempered significantly both by indigenous animism and by earlier Hinduism and Buddhism, and also by the influence of sufism. As a consequence, in most of the country (except in particular Aceh) Islam is syncretistic, moderate and with a strong mystical leaning. The moderate Islam of Indonesia is sustained and fostered in particular by organisations like Nahdatul Ulama, once led by former president Abdurrahman Wahid, which runs schools across the country, and which with 30-40 million members is one of the largest Muslim organisations in the world.

The situation in Indonesia is quite different from that in Pakistan, the country with one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. 75 per cent of Pakistani Muslims are Sunni, and most of these adhere to the relatively more-liberal Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence (for example, Hanafi jurisprudence does not consider blasphemy should be punishable by the state). But religious belief in Pakistan is being radicalised because organisations, very different from Indonesia’s Nahdatul Ulama, have stepped in to fill the void in education created by years of neglect by military rulers. Pakistan spends only 1.8 per cent of GDP on education. 71 per cent of government schools are without electricity, 40 per cent are without water, and 15 per cent are without a proper building. 42 per cent of the population is literate, and this proportion is falling. This sort of neglect makes it easy for radical Islamic groups with funding from foreign countries to gain ground. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of religious schools (or madrasas) opening in Pakistan, and it is estimated that they are now educating perhaps 800,000 students, still a small proportion of the total, but with a disproportionate impact[20].

These two examples show that there is a whole range of factors, some of them susceptible to influence or a change in direction, affecting the prospects for a successful Islamic engagement with democracy. Peace with respect for human rights are the most desirable end point, but the development of democracy will not necessarily achieve this or sustain it. This is an important question for the West as well as for the Muslim world. Adherence to what George Weigel has called “a thin, indeed anorexic, idea of procedural democracy”[21] can be fatal here. It is not enough to assume that giving people the vote will automatically favour moderation, in the short term at least[22]. Moderation and democracy have been regular partners in Western history, but have not entered permanent and exclusive matrimony and there is little reason for this to be better in the Muslim world, as the election results in Iran last June and the elections in Palestine in January reminded us. There are many ways in which President Bush’s ambition to export democracy to the Middle East is a risky business. In its influence on both religion and politics, the culture is crucial.

There are some who resist this conclusion vehemently. In 2002, the Nobel Prize Economist Amartya Sen took issue with the importance of culture in understanding the radical Islamic challenge, arguing that religion is no more important than any other part or aspect of human endeavour or interest. He also challenged the idea that within culture religious faith typically plays a decisive part in the development of individual self-understanding. Against this, Sen argued for a characteristically secular understanding of the human person, constituted above all else by sovereign choice. Each of us has many interests, convictions, connections and affiliations, “but none of them has a unique and pre-ordained role in defining [the] person”. Rather, “we must insist upon the liberty to see ourselves as we would choose to see ourselves, deciding on the relative importance that we would like to attach to our membership in the different groups to which we belong. The central issue, in sum, is freedom”.[23]

This does work for some, perhaps many, people in the rich, developed and highly urbanised Western world, particularly those without strong attachments to religion. Doubtless it has ideological appeal to many more among the elites. But as a basis for engagement with people of profound religious conviction, most of whom are not fanatics or fundamentalists, it is radically deficient. Sen’s words demonstrate that the high secularism of our elites is handicapped in comprehending the challenge that Islam poses.

I suspect one example of the secular incomprehension of religion is the blithe encouragement of large scale Islamic migration into Western nations, particularly in Europe. Of course they were invited to meet the need for labour and in some cases to assuage guilt for a colonial past.

If religion rarely influences personal behaviour in a significant way then the religious identity of migrants is irrelevant. I suspect that some anti-Christians, for example, the Spanish Socialists, might have seen Muslims as a useful counterweight to Catholicism, another factor to bring religion into public disrepute. Probably too they had been very confident that Western advertising forces would be too strong for such a primitive religious viewpoint, which would melt down like much of European Christianity. This could prove to be a spectacular misjudgement.

So the current situation is very different from what the West confronted in the twentieth century Cold War, when secularists, especially those who were repentant communists, were well equipped to generate and sustain resistance to an anti-religious and totalitarian enemy. In the present challenge it is religious people who are better equipped, at least initially, to understand the situation with Islam. Radicalism, whether of religious or non-religious inspiration, has always had a way of filling emptiness. But if we are going to help the moderate forces within Islam defeat the extreme variants it has thrown up, we need to take seriously the personal consequences of religious faith. We also need to understand the secular sources of emptiness and despair and how to meet them, so that people will choose life over death. This is another place where religious people have an edge. Western secularists regularly have trouble understanding religious faith in their own societies, and are often at sea when it comes to addressing the meaninglessness that secularism spawns. An anorexic vision of democracy and the human person is no match for Islam.

It is easy for us to tell Muslims that they must look to themselves and find ways of reinterpreting their beliefs and remaking their societies. Exactly the same thing can and needs to be said to us. If democracy is a belief in procedures alone then the West is in deep trouble. The most telling sign that Western democracy suffers a crisis of confidence lies in the disastrous fall in fertility rates, a fact remarked on by more and more commentators. In 2000, Europe from Iceland to Russia west of the Ural Mountains recorded a fertility rate of only 1.37. This means that fertility is only at 65 per cent of the level needed to keep the population stable. In 17 European nations that year deaths outnumbered births. Some regions in Germany, Italy and Spain already have fertility rates below 1.0.

Faith ensures a future. As an illustration of the literal truth of this, consider Russia and Yemen. Look also at the different birth rates in the red and blue states in the last presidential election in the U.S.A. In 1950 Russia, which suffered one of the most extreme forms of forced secularisation under the Communists, had about 103 million people. Despite the devastation of wars and revolution the population was still young and growing. Yemen, a Muslim country, had only 4.3 million people. By 2000 fertility was in radical decline in Russia, but because of past momentum the population stood at 145 million. Yemen had maintained a fertility rate of 7.6 over the previous 50 years and now had 18.3 million people. Median level United Nations forecasts suggest that even with fertility rates increasing by 50 per cent in Russia over the next fifty years, its population will be about 104 million in 2050—a loss of 40 million people. It will also be an elderly population. The same forecasts suggest that even if Yemen’s fertility rate falls 50 per cent to 3.35, by 2050 it will be about the same size as Russia — 102 million — and overwhelmingly young[24].

The situation of the United States and Australia is not as dire as this, although there is no cause for complacency. It is not just a question of having more children, but of rediscovering reasons to trust in the future. Some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. Belief in a benign God who is master of the universe has a steadying psychological effect, although it is no guarantee of Utopia, no guarantee that the continuing climate and geographic changes will be benign. In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Most of this is a preliminary clearing of the ground for dialogue and interaction with our Muslim brothers and sisters based on the conviction that it is always useful to know accurately where you are before you start to decide what you should be doing.

The war against terrorism is only one aspect of the challenge. Perhaps more important is the struggle in the Islamic world between moderate forces and extremists, especially when we set this against the enormous demographic shifts likely to occur across the world, the relative changes in population-size of the West, the Islamic and Asian worlds and the growth of Islam in a childless Europe.

Every great nation and religion has shadows and indeed crimes in their histories. This is certainly true of Catholicism and all Christian denominations. We should not airbrush these out of history, but confront them and then explain our present attitude to them.

These are also legitimate requests for our Islamic partners in dialogue. Do they believe that the peaceful suras of the Koran are abrogated by the verses of the sword? Is the programme of military expansion (100 years after Muhammad’s death Muslim armies reached Spain and India) to be resumed when possible?

Do they believe that democratic majorities of Muslims in Europe would impose Sharia law? Can we discuss Islamic history and even the hermeneutical problems around the origins of the Koran without threats of violence?

Obviously some of these questions about the future cannot be answered, but the issues should be discussed. Useful dialogue means that participants grapple with the truth and in this issue of Islam and the West the stakes are too high for fundamental misunderstandings.

Both Muslims and Christians are helped by accurately identifying what are core and enduring doctrines, by identifying what issues can be discussed together usefully, by identifying those who are genuine friends, seekers after truth and cooperation and separating them from those who only appear to be friends.

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[1]. For some examples of this, see Daniel Pipes, “Jihad and the Professors”, Commentary, November 2002.

[2]. For an account of how some Muslim jurists dealt with large-scale emigration to non-Muslim countries, see Paul Stenhouse MSC, “Democracy, Dar al-Harb, and Dar al-Islam”, unpublished manuscript, nd.

[3]. Paul Stenhouse MSC, “Muhammad, Qur’anic Texts, the Shari’a and Incitement to Violence”. Unpublished manuscript, 31 August 2002.

[4]. Daniel Pipes “Jihad and the Professors” 19. Another source estimates that Muhammad engaged in 27 (out of 38) battles personally, fighting in 9 of them. See A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq (Oxford University Press, Karachi: 1955), 659.

[5]. Stenhouse “Muhammad, Qur’anic Texts, the Shari’a and Incitement to Violence”.

[6]. Ibid.

[7]. Sura 95: “Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way; for God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.”

Sura936: “And fight the unbelievers totally even as they fight you totally; and know that God is with the godfearing.” (Arberry translation).

[8]. Richard Bonney, Jihad: From Qur’an to bin Laden (Palgrave, Hampshire: 2004), 22-26.

[9].“The Will of Abdullaah Yusuf Azzam”, www.islamicawakening.com/viewarticle.php? articleID=532& (dated 20 April 1986).

[10]. M. J. Akbar, The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity (Routledge, London & New York: 2002), xv.

[11]. Abraham I. Katsch, Judaism and the Koran (Barnes & Co., New York: 1962), passim.

[12]. See for example Alain Besançon, “What Kind of Religion is Islam?” Commentary, May 2004.

[13]. Daniel Pipes, “Is Allah God?” New York Sun, 28 June 2005.

[14]. On the concept of “dhimmitude”, see Bat Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, trans. Miriam Kochman and David Littman (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison NJ: 1996).

[15]. Andrew Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non Muslims (Prometheus Books, Amherst NY: 2005), 56-75.

[16]. Ibid.

[17]. Robert R. Phenix Jr & Cornelia B. Horn, “Book Review of Christoph Luxenberg (ps.) Die syro-aramaeische Lesart des Koran: Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Qur’ansprache”, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, 6:1 (January 2003). See also the article on Luxenberg’s book published in Newsweek, 28 July 2004.

[18]. “Hajj Pilgrims Told of War on Islam”, www.foxnews.com, 9 January 2006.

[19]. The World Christian Database (http://worldchristian database.org) gives a considerably lower estimate of the Muslim proportion of the population (54 per cent, or 121.6 million), attributing 22 per cent of the population to adherents of Asian “New Religions”. On the WCD’s estimates, Pakistan has the world’s largest Muslim population, with 154.5 million (or approximately 96 per cent of a total population of 161 million). The CIA’s World Fact Book (http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook) estimates 88 per cent of Indonesia’s population of 242 million is Muslim, giving it a Muslim population of 213 million.

The Muslim proportion of the population in Indonesia may be as low as 37-40 per cent, owing to the way followers of traditional Javanese mysticism are classified as Muslim by government authorities. See Paul Stenhouse MSC, “Indonesia, Islam, Christians, and the Numbers Game”, Annals Australia, October 1998.

[20]. William Dalrymple, “Inside the Madrasas”, New York Review of Books, 1 December 2005.

[21]. George Weigel, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America and Politics without God (Basic Books, New York: 2005), 136.

[22]. For a sophisticated presentation of the argument of the case for the moderating effect of electoral democracy in the Islamic world, see the Pew Forum’s interview with Professor Vali Nasr (Professor of National Security Studies at the US Naval Postgraduate School),“Islam and Democracy: Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan”, 4 November 2005, http://pewforum.org/events/index.php?EventID=91.

[23]. Amartya Sen, “Civilizational Imprisonments”, The New Republic, 10 June 2002.

[24]. Allan Carlson, “Sweden and the Failure of European Family Policy”, Society, September-October 2005.

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Islam Seen as Politicized in Nigeria
Vicar General of Enugu Diocese Sounds Warning

KOENIGSTEIN, Germany, MAY 2, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Tensions between Muslims and Christians have become more acute in Nigeria because of the politicization of Islam and perhaps of religion in general, says a Church official.

"Islam came to Nigeria around the year 1000 and Christianity, even though younger in Nigeria, has existed side by side with Muslims and there has been a very natural and human relationship for so long," said Father Obiore Ike, vicar general of the Enugu Diocese, during a recent visit to the Germany-based charity Aid to the Church in Need.

"Recently, however, we noticed rising aggression and violence," said the priest, whose diocese is located in southern Nigeria. "We notice a rising politicization of Islam and perhaps of religion."

Father Ike went on to explain: "The most fundamental and critical politicization of Islam was the 1985 registration of Nigeria by the military government as an Islamic state.

"Nigeria has been registered -- by a Muslim president -- as one of the countries belonging to the organization of Islamic countries. Of course, Christians protested, but Nigeria remained a member of the Islamic countries."

The priest continued: "Added on top of that is -- and this has been underplayed -- that 12 states in Nigeria have decided to make the Shariah the overriding rule in their territory. This contradicts the federal constitution, which says that Nigeria is a secular state and no religion shall be considered as state religion."

Citing the example of Kaduna state, which "has imposed the Shariah and has 70% Christians and no Muslims," the vicar general asked: "So, how do you impose Shariah over people who don't want it and even impose Shariah in those states, over the Nigerian Constitution?"

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What the Islamic Riots Reveal
Interview With Father Mitch Pacwa

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama, MAY 2, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The recent riots related to the publication of anti-Muslim cartoons in Western newspapers were widely viewed as a popular religious reaction to offensive depictions of the prophet Mohammed.

But according to one expert on Islam, the riots were incited by governments to manipulate both the West and the Muslim world for political purposes.

Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa is a theologian, Middle East scholar and co-contributor to the "Islam and Christianity" DVD series.

He spoke with ZENIT about how the cartoon riots are part of radical Islam's attempt to seize control of the Muslim world -- and what it all means for the West.

Part 2 of this interview will appear Wednesday.

Q: What were your thoughts as Muslim riots over a cartoon of Mohammed erupted across Europe, the Middle East and Asia?

Father Pacwa: There are two thoughts that I would have.

First, a cartoon of Mohammed in itself is a grave insult to Islam. And so it is easy for Muslims to be stirred into action.

But that is my second thought: They were stirred into action apparently by the governments of Syria and Iran who want the attitude on the street to be one of incitement against the West.

Now the problem of course is that the people who did the cartoons were not representatives of Christianity. They were secular people who have a strong commitment, and perhaps even an absolute commitment, to freedom of speech in the way that the West is accustomed to it.

Unfortunately, the people on the street blamed Christians because they do not make the distinction between secularized Europeans and religious Christians.

So, one of the horrendous things that happened because of the instigation of the violence is that quite a number of Christians were killed, including at least two priests, one in Nigeria and one in Turkey.

This is a kind of lack of responsibility by secular press people over the results of their work. Should they have to be concerned about this type of freedom of speech? Should they worry about Muslim reactions?

In one sense they can say they are not responsible, but their lack of responsibility led to hundreds of deaths. I think they do need to be more responsible toward Muslim sensibilities.

On the other hand, in their reporting about this, they also need to pay attention to the Muslims themselves. They have to report the way Syria, Iran, perhaps al-Qaida, are instigating these riots for their purposes.

The results of these riots of course lead to nothing. They don't really produce any positive results, except maybe to bully the West into going along with Muslim sensitivities. But it is not going to really accomplish much.

Q: What does this outburst reveal about the state of the Muslim world and its relationship with the West?

Father Pacwa: I think one first reaction to the state of the Muslim world and its relationship with the West is that the Muslim world has been affected still to this day by the collapse of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. And they have been making social experiments trying to cope with that collapse.

One attempt has been the forms of Arab nationalism -- the Baath party in Syria inspired by Michel Aflaq in the late 1920s; its branch, the Baath party in Iraq which is also a nationalist party, not a religious party, and which had also made overtures to national socialism in Germany, the Nazi party, and saw themselves as some sort of ally; the PLO, which is another nationalist group; and the followers of Egypt's former President Nasser. The nationalist party in Egypt once had great influence, but not as much anymore.

Those various nationalistic movements had tremendous impact on the Arab world as a way to try to achieve national identity where it had not existed before.

Prior to nationalism, Muslims saw themselves as primarily Muslims and members of the Ummah, the Muslim people. And the result is that nationalism took on as an idea to modernize the world and to give national identities to these new countries -- Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Jordan, though Jordan was not as affected by such nationalism.

So these were one style of reaction to the collapse of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. But they became far more oppressive than the Sultan had been.

So what you see now is a religious reaction against the nationalistic ideas, which are perceived as having been Western ideas imported to the Middle East. This outburst shows the use of religious sentiment as the motivating force attempting to go back to a religious identity, even though nation-states still exist.

One of the ways it is being developed is that a number of people in the Middle East are trying to regain an Islamic past ideal through a new Islamic state rather than a nationalist state.

And as a result, they are instigating followers and there are all kinds of sects, the leaders of which want to become the next Sultan. That is a part of the issue. It will be a serious question -- which sect or what individual will be able to lead the people and be the next caliph or the next Sultan.

That is partly underlying some of this tension. And different groups -- whether it be the Salafi party from Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt, al-Qaida, the Wahhabi sect in Arabia, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, or the various movements going on in Iraq and Iran -- are all vying for that kind of control.

You also have Abu Sayyaf, which means father of the sword, in the Philippines; they are all making the same kind of move, and that is part of the present state of Islam.

The radical groups may represent only about 15% of Muslims but it is an extremely active part, while the great majority are generally unwilling or afraid to stand up to the radicals, because the radicals will kill them as being infidels. That is how bad it is gotten in many parts of the Muslim world. So it is a very risky situation.

Q: Given the secularized, and sometimes anti-religious, stance of Western Europe today, what difficulties does that pose for the vast majority of Muslims who try to live in peace with the society around them?

Father Pacwa: The vast majority of Muslims do keep themselves away from the religious parties. But, the majority of that majority, while unwilling to fight in jihad, will protect those who do, and that is something that is very important to understand.

While it is only 15% of the population that is radicalized in Islam, you have the majority of the rest who are very willing to hide them, protect them, feed them, and even if they wouldn't actively join them, they would take care of them. This seems to be the study of Tony Blankley in his book the "The West's Last Chance." This is something that is very difficult.

The moderate Muslims who try to live in peace in the society around them still have a couple of difficulties.

For one, Islam is not prone to democracy or secularism. There is no such idea of a secular society within Islam. Everyone has to be in some way related to the religious reality and that is part of the understanding of God. So, the majority of Muslims will still not be able to fit into a secular society around them in Europe.

Also, they will have pressure put on them either to convert to radical Islam or to support them, which will be another tension. And that is why a number of the mullahs and the imams in the West and Europe say that Muslims may not vote -- the elections are not Islamic, so no Muslim should vote. They are getting some pressure not to participate.

Also they are encouraged not to marry non-Muslims, except for girls, who are encouraged to become Muslim along with the children. But they typically will send their children to their country of origin to marry Muslim girls.

So this is something that indicates how little moderate Muslims fit in to the non-Muslim world, and this is going to be a situation that is going to continue. And I think it is typical of Muslims that their commitment to Islam is stronger than their commitment to their local government.

The only group that would be different is the Druze. The Druze believe they are required to follow whatever leadership there is in the local government and give their allegiance to them.

But apart from the Druze -- by the way the Druze are a sect, and not considered very Muslim by the other Muslims -- the other Muslims will simply not feel themselves to be part of that world and that is going to be difficult.

Q: Given the Muslim-Vatican cooperation at U.N. conferences in the past decade or so -- where they stood up against abortion and anti-family policies -- does the Catholic Church enjoy any special advantages in reaching out to Islam?

Father Pacwa: There are some special advantages that the Catholic Church does have because we've had Catholics and Eastern Orthodox living in the Muslim world for centuries.

And there is a certain type of relationship, usually one of getting along, but sometimes breaking out into violence as a reaction against Catholics.

But this kind of cooperation at U.N. conferences between Muslim countries and the Vatican is not seen as a way to make peace with each other, but instead to help each other attain their own ends.

And I don't think in the long term that the Muslims in the street are going to be able to say that "we should be friendlier with Catholics."

This is a key to understanding the Muslim world. They divide the world into two parts: the home of Islam, the "dar al-Islam"; and the "dar al-harb," the home of war.

If you are in a Muslim country where Shariah is the law and Muslims are the majority, you are in the home of Islam. If you are in a non-Muslim country, then you are in the home of war or the place of war. This distinction is a very, very basic one.

There will be polite cooperation and sometimes very positive cooperation at various levels and that can be marvelous. But we also have to keep in mind that that background of dividing the world into the home of Islam and the home of war is very ancient in Islam and is very basic, so I don't know about any special advantages in reaching out to Islam.

For instance, in Indonesia, where there are quite a few Muslim converts to Catholicism, you also have a great deal of persecution of Catholics and lots of Catholics are killed there.

And also in some places where Muslims become Christians, whether Orthodox or Catholic, they are subject to tremendous pressure, if not death, for doing so. I don't think that has changed and we have to be very realistic about that mentality.

Q: An unusual question, if we may: Are there any lessons that the Church can learn from Islam today vis-à-vis the Muslims' entrance into Western society? For example, is there a positive side to keeping a bit distant from secular society?

Father Pacwa: Yes, this is one thing that we need to learn from Muslims. Is it possible for us to have a distance from Western society? We do not and should not judge the Gospel by the norms of secular society. Muslims certainly don't do that and they are wise in that.

We allow secular norms to invade the Gospel message at our own peril, and we allow too much of our secular society to influence us. We need to be able to stand up against modern society and not consider modernity inevitable.

Some of modernity needs to be turned back, and that has been one of the issues that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have been talking about for a long time as well as others.

So we have to have our own identity, and that when it comes to the Gospel or the secular society, we stick with the Gospel of Christ just as the Muslims are very wise to stick to their own religious identity rather than the modern world.

Q: What do you think is the best way for Catholics to respond to Muslims and Islam?

Father Pacwa: First, we must start out with a stance of respect for Muslims and their commitment to God. If we have no respect for them, then we cannot do anything helpful at all.

Second, I think that we also have to understand our own identity over and against Islam, and not be cowed or treated like the weak kid in the face of bullyism. And that is just what these riots are. When you have bullies you have to stand up to them and face them down.

So you show respect, you don't go looking for a fight, but neither do you back down from it when it is brought to your door.

So I think that we should engage in discussion about the problems in the Koran, what it says about Jesus and Mary, what it says about God and its mistaken notion of the Trinity.

For instance, the Koran understands the Trinity to be God, Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary; that is not what we believe. Let's make sure we clarify that we believe in one God in three Persons. Not three gods. And these are very basic things. We are going to have right-upfront disagreements.

For instance, the Koran apparently, at least in most ways that it is interpreted -- but not necessarily so -- indicates in Chapter 4 that Jesus did not die on the cross but another man died in his place.

We have to say look, we believe Jesus Christ truly died and the Blessed Mother and the Apostle John were witnesses to this, and the other apostles were witnesses to his resurrection.

The Koran also claims that Christians distorted the New Testament and the Gospel of Jesus. Please show us where we did that.

You can't just get away with making a statement that we changed the New Testament for personal gain, when in fact the ones who passed on the New Testament died for Jesus Christ and the Gospel that he gave them. They didn't make gains -- they suffered.

So this is the kind of thing that we have to make very clear and stand for without trying to pick an argument or pick a fight, but neither can we back down from the claims that Islam makes. And that is part of our own willingness to be adults and clear about our own identity and willing to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

My own hope of course as a Christian is the same hope of Muslims. I hope that they will all become Christians. They of course hope that we become Muslims.

How are we going to deal with that difference and speak to each other honestly? Forthrightly and with a sense of absolute respect that God has chosen to love us all infinitely. The only way God knows how to love is infinitely. This is what the Lord commands us to do, to love with our whole being.

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New Pope maintains outreach to Islam     
By Waleed Aly  
Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Confounding the pessimists, the Vatican's links with Islam have not cooled down since the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope, says a Muslim observer.

Benedict XVI is to visit Turkey in November. A year ago, white smoke wafted from the Sistine Chapel's chimney, signalling the appointment of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as successor to Pope John Paul II. But amid much Catholic celebration, commentators internationally indulged in an inordinate amount of speculation on the damage Ratzinger's appointment might do to Catholic-Muslim relations.

On one level, it is absurd that such a significant concern surrounding the appointment of a new Catholic head would be his attitudes towards another faith. But on another, the importance is clear. These are the two largest religious communities on the planet, together constituting about 40 per cent of the world's population. They co-inhabit vast regions, particularly in Europe, Africa and Asia.

As long as religion remains a powerful tool in shaping attitudes and motivating action, it will possess both great constructive and destructive power. The world therefore has an interest in ensuring minimal friction in the Catholic-Muslim interface. Indeed, that had been a central theme in John Paul's pontificate. No other pope in history has done so much to build harmonious bridges to the Muslim world. This was a man who apologised officially for the Crusades and the transgressions of colonialism.

In 1986 he visited Morocco, becoming the first pope to visit a Muslim country, and making conciliatory statements that echoed the Koranic message that Muslims and Christians believe in the same God. In a highly symbolic moment in 2001, he became the first pope to enter and pray in a mosque. The scene was equally symbolic: Damascus' famous Umayyad mosque, which for centuries had functioned as a mosque on Fridays and church on Sundays. Politically, he won many admirers throughout the Muslim world through his opposition to the Iraq war.

Such gestures resonated powerfully with Muslims, which explains the genuine, heartfelt sentiments of sadness and gratitude expressed by Muslim organisations across the world upon John Paul's passing.

But Joseph Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict XVI, was widely fancied to bring much of this work undone. Partly this was because, as a cardinal, he had not demonstrated the same passion for outreach to Muslims as other mooted candidates such as Venice's Angelo Scola, Milan's Dionigi Tettamanzi or Nigeria's Francis Arinze. Partly, too, it stemmed from Ratzinger's opposition to Turkey's inclusion in what he called the "Christian-rooted EU".

Principally, however, this popular forecast of interfaith doom was based on Ratzinger's reputation as "God's rottweiler", a dogmatic defender of orthodoxy and the supremacy of Catholicism. Here we were regularly reminded that Ratzinger had been the driving force behind a document entitled Dominus Iesus, published in 2000, which asserted unequivocally that Christianity alone was the truth.

Precisely why anyone thought this should pose a fatal problem is unclear. It is emphatically unremarkable that a cardinal would make an exclusive claim to truth on behalf of Christianity, which by definition implies deficiencies in other theologies. Indeed, as much is claimed by proponents of most great religious traditions.

Yet for the predominantly secular international commentariat, this made conflict inevitable. Such conventional pessimism simply served to demonstrate a comprehensive misunderstanding of the basis for interfaith dialogue. It assumes that fruitful and harmonious interfaith relationships can exist only in a world of post-modern relativism. This presents a false dichotomy: that people either agree or live in hostility.

But even John Paul was never a relativist. His acknowledgment of theological similarities never led him to deny differences or surrender his conviction of the exclusive truth of Christianity. If anything, this only made his interfaith engagement more meaningful.

If any of this needed demonstration, Benedict's first year has provided it. The very day after his installation Mass, in one of his first official acts as Pope, he made history by inviting Muslim leaders to the Vatican, pledging to build "bridges of friendship" between Catholics and Muslims. He even condemned the publication of now infamous cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in European newspapers.

Those searching for signs of antagonism will find little more from Benedict than his comments in response to a large Saudi-funded mosque being built in Rome, noting the absence of reciprocity in constructing churches in Saudi Arabia. Really, more an even-handed observation than vitriolic belligerence.

Few would expect Pope Benedict to match his predecessor's phenomenal efforts in interfaith relations. Even so, with no sign of relativism on the horizon, he has made an impressive start. Perhaps now we can feel comfortable with the fact that the Pope is Catholic.

Waleed Aly, a Melbourne lawyer, is an executive member of the Islamic Council of Victoria

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St. Francis and Christian-Muslim Relations
Interview With Lawrence Cunningham of Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, MARCH 29, 2006 (Zenit.org).- In the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi ventured into Muslim territory to visit the caliph of Egypt and preach the Gospel.

His example may provide a good role model for modern interreligious dialogue today, according to one scholar.

Lawrence Cunningham is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and the author of "Francis of Assisi: Performing the Gospel of Life" (Eerdmans).

He shared with ZENIT how St. Francis (c. 1181-1226) considered himself to be a spiritual crusader, and how his peaceful and truthful approach helped in his outreach to Muslims.

Q: How did the average Christian view Islam and Muslims during St. Francis' time? Where might St. Francis have learned about Islam?

Cunningham: Generally, Muslims were considered to be a huge external enemy, fueled by rhetoric coming from the Crusade that began at the end of the 11th century.

People who were aware of what was going on in the world -- excluding large slices of peasantry -- knew about Muslims through the stories men brought back from fighting in the Crusades. That's probably how Francis learned about them.

The idea of converting Muslims seemed to be in the air for many saints. Francis tried to go to Morocco once, but he became ill when he got to Spain. Teresa of Avila also shared the common impulse; as a child she and her brother wanted to go to the Muslim lands to be martyrs.

St. Anthony of Padua was taken by the bravery of Franciscan friars martyred in Morocco; he wanted to be a Franciscan and go to North Africa because of their sacrifice. Anthony eventually ended up in Sicily where there was a huge Islamic influence.

Q: Did St. Francis view Muslims as Christian heretics or infidels? What was his understanding of Islam in the scheme of Providence?

Cunningham: We don't know for certain what St. Francis thought of Muslims. We have very little in the form of writing from him and most is not terribly theological.

My educated guess is that Francis thought Muslims, like the Jews, needed to be converted to Christianity.

Also, any theologian in Francis' time that knew anything about Muslims would know the Koran explicitly denies the doctrine of the Trinity; "ipso facto," that makes them heretical.

If you could extrapolate from a famous writer a few generations later, Dante Alighieri, he places Mohammed in the circle of hell with the schismatics that broke the unity of the church. Mohammed's punishment was to be chained to the floor with his body split lengthwise because he split the Church. The punishment fit the crime.
Q: What was the relationship between St. Francis' trips to the Holy Land and Egypt, and the Crusades? Did he see himself as a different type of Crusader, or was he in opposition to the Crusades?

Cunningham: When Francis converts to the evangelical life -- when he strips his clothes in front of Bishop Guido and dons a peasant's robe -- he chalks a cross on his back; in that sense becomes a "cross bearer," literally, a Crusader.

Earlier in his life Francis had given up the idea of being a solider, so later he became a spiritual crusader -- a warrior without arms. He saw himself and his friars as Knights of the Round Table fighting a spiritual crusade.

We do know that he made it to Damietta in Egypt where there were Crusaders fighting Muslims. He and Brother Pacifico crossed the Crusader lines to visit and have an audience with the caliph.

My book mentions an Arabic inscription in stone in a Cairo museum that recounts the caliph spoke to Western holy men. You also can see in Assisi a gift from the caliph to Francis: a piece of ivory horn on a gold stand.

Legend embroiders their conversation, saying that Francis was willing to undergo trial by fire to prove the truth of Christianity to the caliph, and the caliph became a secret Christian. We don't know if any of that is true.

The caliph did receive him kindly; he may have been a Sufi -- a Muslim mystic -- who want to identify mystically with the love of Allah. Thus, the caliph may have had an instinctual sympathy for Francis, whom he probably saw as a holy man.

Francis wasn't a 20th-century ecumenist -- he probably tried to convert the caliph. We don't know the character of the conversation. We do know that he went peacefully in an attempt to engage the caliph face to face and possibly stop the killing and fighting.

Francis certainly wanted his own friars to not engage in violence and warfare. He probably was a realist and knew it would happen, but he didn't want it that way.

One interesting aspect about Francis that doesn't get much attention is that during his years of active ministry one of the most important things he did was go into towns in Italy and stop civil strife. An eyewitness account of a student in Bologna reports he saw Francis preaching about angels and demons in the town square and reconciled warring families.

He did that in Assisi and Arezzo and many other towns. It's an element of his ministry that has not been highlighted enough.

Q: St. Francis is often declared as a model of interreligious dialogue, yet he attempted to convert the caliph of Egypt and the other Muslims he encountered to the Catholic faith. In what ways does St. Francis provide a model for Christian-Muslim dialogue?

Cunningham: I would say there's been a lot of water under the historical bridge. But I think that Francis is a model in the sense he comes nonviolently, nonbelligerently and honestly.

I think interreligious dialogue can only function effectively if people say truthfully and nonbelligerently what they believe and why.

Also, Francis comes as a genuine contemplative; he speaks not only from intellectual knowledge but deep spiritual experience. I think that's a good model for dialogue with believers of any religious tradition.

Q: During St. Francis' life, the Franciscans sent missionaries to Islamic lands. Can you describe the nature of their missions?

Cunningham: The most conspicuous thing Francis did, after he met with the caliph, was go to the Holy Land; there have been Franciscan friars there ever since. All the major Christian shrines today -- from Judea to the Galilee -- are all manned by the Franciscans.

The Franciscans serve three functions there: maintain shrines, be hospitable to pilgrims and work with Catholic peoples in the Holy Land.

If you go to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, next to it is the parish church of St. Catherine for the Latin-rite Catholics, where there are Franciscans.

Q: Did St. Francis believe that martyrdom would be the most likely outcome of his and his brothers' missionary work? Was he disappointed by this?

Cunningham: We don't know if he was disappointed; but we know he knew that if you went to North Africa, there was a chance you would die if you evangelized.

There's a fair history of his friars being martyred, besides the five in Morocco. The friars were aggressive missionaries; after Francis' time, they made their way to China, to the court of the Mongols and to Armenia.

Q: Does the Franciscan order continue to live its tradition of evangelizing Muslims?

Cunningham: They certainly have continued the tradition of living in Muslim lands; they are still located in North Africa and the Holy Land. They have to be very careful. For a Muslim to convert in some strongholds is to invite the death penalty.

I think the Franciscan outreach to Muslims today is an outreach of presence.

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Mauritania: Islamic, Not Islamist
KOENIGSTEIN, Germany, MARCH 28, 2006 (Zenit.org).- An Islamic republic is very different from an Islamistic republic, says a Catholic bishop of Mauritania who holds up the country as an example of the former.

"When I applied for a visa in order to work there, the ambassador told me: 'Mauritania is an Islamic republic, not an Islamistic republic. So, a Catholic bishop is welcome,'" said German-born Bishop Martin Happe, of Nouakchott, in a recent visit to the headquarters of the charity Aid to the Church in Need.

"Indeed, there are no problems with the Church's social commitment, such as education and health care," he added.

According to the bishop, in "a country like Mauritania, where Islam is virtually the only thing that the various ethnic groups have in common, Catholics and Muslims must accept and respect their differences."

Mauritania's 3 million people include only 4,500 Catholics, mostly foreign residents, said Bishop Happe.

Referring to the pressure exerted by Muslim extremists, noticeable in the country, the bishop said he hoped "that Mauritania will never turn into an Islamistic republic."

The Diocese of Nouakchott was established in 1965, five years after the country gained independence from France.

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British Cardinal's View on Islam
"We in the West Have to Impose a Kind of Reciprocity"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 27, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's only answer to what he calls "aggressive Islam" is "very deep Christianity."

The 73-year-old archbishop of Westminster made that and other observations in an interview today with Vatican Radio.

Among other topics, the papal broadcasting station asked the British prelate about the pre-consistory discussion by cardinals last Thursday, especially on the question of Catholic traditionalists, or Lefebvrists.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: The feeling is cautious depending on the attitude of the group and how willing they are to come into a real reconciliation with the Church -- it's not just a question of liturgy, but the bishops and the authority of the Pope.

So there are quite a number of issues that refer back to the Vatican Council abut also the Church as it is, and there's still a ways to go. But certainly, I'm sure the Holy Father, and indeed all of us, want to do what we can to effect a reconciliation.

Q: Can you tell us more about another topic discussed, the question of Islam, of great concern to so many church leaders in so many parts of the world today?

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: The situation is very complex. In mostly Muslim countries there's very little space for Christianity; in other countries, in parts of Africa, there's a conflict of cultures, between the culture of Islam and the culture of Christianity.

In Europe again, it's complex. We need to meet with Muslims and speak the truth honestly, not hold back on the truth we believe.

We must be careful to avoid the position whereby they are blaming war on religion -- terrorism, this is the scourge of religion -- whereas the cardinals would see that we have to meet Muslim leaders and concentrate on the things we hold together: many moral values, matters of family, even if we disagree on the essentials of our religion.

But you know, the only answer to what I would call aggressive Islam is very deep Christianity, deep Catholicism, a faith that is strong; I am sure the Holy Father is very preoccupied by Islam, and certainly its militant tendencies.

So I think particularly we in the West have to impose a kind of reciprocity: We are tolerant of having mosques or of people wearing particular clothing; we expect the same for minority Christians in Islamic countries, that there would be tolerance of us having crucifixes, freedom to worship in church and so on.

So I think there's a feeling to speak the truth in love and honesty with each other.

Q: The meeting that you've had with the Pope seems to be a definite move by Pope Benedict to listen more closely to what the cardinals are saying in the different countries ……

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: There was some gesture for the Synod of Bishops -- we had these free interventions, and certain other changes; and now he's asked and obtained this meeting, so who knows? There could be other ways in which he hopes to exercise collegiality and I think that would be very welcome.

Q: One of the ways in which the Catholic community is changing over in Britain is the huge number of migrant workers who are coming in, particularly to your own Diocese of Westminster. You're going to be focusing on that soon, aren't you?

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: We do have a very significant number of people who come, especially to London, for work, and I'm concerned on a number of fronts.

One of them is justice, that they're not given wages that are below living wages, and that they should have rights to go with their status; and then there's the question for me of enabling them, through their membership of the Church -- because many of them are practicing Catholics -- for them to feel that the Diocese of Westminster is their diocese, their home, to feel that they're part within the universal Church of this local Church.

Q: Where are they mostly coming from?

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: Increasingly from India and the Philippines and Central and Eastern Europe, especially those that have recently entered the European Union. They like coming to London; a lot of them know English quite well; and a lot are skilled workers, which we need.

From the non-European countries, many will have great difficulty in getting legal papers and becoming legal residents in Britain.

This is another challenge for us, but also for the government, to make sure that migrant workers are treated fairly.

There has to be a policy by the government in terms of how many of these you let in; there's no doubt the world is a global village now, and people come from all over the world; with mass communications it's just a different world.

And the big cities are the focus of it; a city like London, along with other capitals, bear the opportunities and the brunt of this mass migration of people.

Q: Yet people find it very hard to accept this changing face of Britain, perhaps the changing face of the Church as well. How do you think the Catholic community rates in terms of tolerance of people who are different from them?

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: I would have thought very well. I told the prime minister, Tony Blair, the last time I had a conversation with him, that the Catholic Church in London is a microcosm of what the whole of London is -- here you have people, and often 20 or 30 languages spoken in some parishes, of all different ethnic communities, worshipping together, happy together, belonging together. This is what London is going to be and should be. And here are people at the heart of it. So faith communities, and particularly I would say the Catholic Church, are extremely important and that's why the way we look after and have care for these ethnic communities, is very important.

And I was delighted, by the way, this year -- I've just been interviewing candidates for the priesthood; 10 of them or so have been accepted -- three of them were from ethnic communities, who have come here and settled here and now want to be priests of the diocese. And that's very good.
Religious freedom is universal (The Tablet, Editorial, March 25, 2006)

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Aman stands trial for his life in Afghanistan, accused under sharia law of converting from Islam to Christianity. The Prince of Wales visits Cairo to deliver a lecture calling for mutual tolerance between world faiths and declaring it is time for ““reciprocity””. The same word –– meaning that Western and Christian acceptance of Muslim religious freedom requires Muslims to recognise Christian religious freedom –– has become code for a more robust approach towards the Islamic world. Many have interpreted the transfer of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald from being head of the Vatican department dealing with Islam to being papal nuncio in Cairo as a downgrading, signifying that his emollient approach to interfaith relations no longer reflects Vatican policy. Benedict XVI, it is suggested, is less concerned with areas where Muslims and Christians agree, and more with their differences.

In Italy, where there is an ongoing debate about the place of 900,000 Muslims in Italian society, reciprocity has become an issue. Should Muslim children be taught the Qur’’an in Italian schools, as Catholic children are taught Christianity? Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said this ““sign of human respect”” should not be regarded as something to barter, to improve the treatment of Christians in Muslim countries. He was right, for respect for the religious rights of Muslims is required by Catholic teaching. He presumably has the Pope’’s ear on this matter. But it is also true that the West, and the Vatican in particular, has soft-pedalled the issue of reciprocity for too long. Maybe it takes the alarming case of the Kabul convert to bring such concerns to a head. As for Archbishop Fitzgerald, who better than someone the Islamic world trusts to deliver a warning that the Catholic Church, and indeed non-Muslim opinion everywhere, is growing impatient? Prince Charles, who does not speak on such issues without Foreign Office advice, echoed the recent speech of Tony Blair in rejecting the theory that what is happening between Islam and the West is a ““clash of civilisations””. This favourite nostrum of the Washington neo-cons is all the more dangerous for being self-fulfilling, once it is believed. Mr Blair preferred to regard the situation as a clash between civilisation and barbarism, which has the advantage of putting the large body of moderate Muslim opinion on the same side as the West. There is also much truth in treating the clash between extremist and moderate Muslims as a battle for the soul of Islam, and hence seeing terrorism against Western interests in the context of this battle.

The fundamentalist insurgency in Iraq, for instance, would not be halted just by withdrawing American and British forces, for it is a battle about the Islamic character of the new Iraqi state being fought by those who regard “Western” human rights and democratic freedoms –– and hence “reciprocity” itself –– as incompatible with a true Islamic order. Abdul Rahman, the Afghan man who was caught with a copy of the Bible, may find he has become the centre of a global storm.

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Respectful Engagement With Islam Urged
U.S. Bishop Calls for More Protection of Religious Freedom

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 16, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A bishop testifying before a congressional panel called for positive efforts to understand and engage Islam and Muslim leaders and to promote religious freedom for Christians in some Muslim countries.

"Constructive and respectful dialogue with Islam is imperative in today's world," said Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the episcopate's Committee on International Policy.

"Rather than deploring a clash of cultures, we need to foster cultures of dialogue and respect as keys to justice and peace," said the Orlando, Florida, prelate.

Bishop Wenski, 55, testified today before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations. The hearing was devoted to the 2005 Human Rights Report of the U.S. Department of State.
At the request of the subcommittee, the bishop addressed religious freedom and the status of Christians in a number of Islamic countries. He offered recommendations for U.S. policies to improve religious freedom in countries with Muslim majorities.

"This focus, which is both timely and relevant, should not be interpreted as suggesting that these are the principal or only countries in which there are serious concerns for religious freedom or that other religious minorities that are not Christian do not suffer from religious discrimination," Bishop Wenski said.

Different expressions

Some of the most significant challenges for religious freedom and forging constructive roles for religion in world affairs are developing relationships between Christians and Muslims, Bishop Wenski stated.

"The violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and several conflicts in Africa come close to being perceived, in overly simplistic terms, as just conflicts of East versus West, of all of Islam versus all of Christianity," he said.

"Like Christianity, Islam is a religion with different expressions," Bishop Wenski continued. "Tensions among these expressions of Islam have been exacerbated by the rise of militant Islam and the misuse and perversion of faith to justify violence."

"Serious conflicts and religious tensions do exist between Christians and Muslims in some Islamic countries and the denial of religious liberty in these situations is a painful reality," he continued.

"But it is essential to recognize that these problems can be made worse by ignoring them or exacerbated by policies that reinforce the sense that Islam itself is under siege," the prelate said. "In addition to addressing forthrightly infringements on religious liberty, our country must be cognizant of a number of other social, economic, political and military factors that contribute to situations in which religious intolerance toward Christians and other religious minorities is more likely to grow."

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Modern Aftermath of the Crusades
Robert Spencer on the Battles Still Being Waged

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 11, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The Crusades may be causing more devastation today than they ever did in the three centuries when most of them were fought, according to one expert.

Robert Spencer, author of "Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)" (Regnery), claims that the damage is not in terms of lives lost and property destroyed but is a more subtle destruction.

Spencer shared with ZENIT how false ideas about the Crusades are being used by extremists to foment hostility to the West today.

Q: The Crusades are often portrayed as a militarily offensive venture. Were they?

Spencer: No. Pope Urban II, who called for the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095, was calling for a defensive action -- one that was long overdue.

As he explained, he was calling the Crusade because without any defensive action, "the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked" by the Turks and other Muslim forces.

"For, as most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George," Pope Urban II said in his address. "They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire.

"If you permit them to continue thus for a while with impunity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them."

He was right. Jihad warfare had from the seventh century to the time of Pope Urban conquered and Islamized what had been over half of Christendom. There had been no response from the Christian world until the Crusades.

Q: What are some popular misconceptions about the Crusades?

Spencer: One of the most common is the idea that the Crusades were an unprovoked attack by Europe against the Islamic world.

In fact, the conquest of Jerusalem in 638 stood at the beginning of centuries of Muslim aggression, and Christians in the Holy Land faced an escalating spiral of persecution.

Early in the eighth century 60 Christian pilgrims from Amorium were crucified; around the same time the Muslim governor of Caesarea seized a group of pilgrims from Iconium and had them all executed as spies -- except for a small number who converted to Islam.

Muslims also demanded money from pilgrims, threatening to ransack the Church of the Resurrection if they didn't pay.

Later in the eighth century, a Muslim ruler banned displays of the cross in Jerusalem. He also increased the tax on non-Muslims -- jizya -- that Christians had to pay and forbade Christians to engage in religious instruction of their own children and fellow believers.

Early in the ninth century the persecutions grew so severe that large numbers of Christians fled for Constantinople and other Christian cities. In 937, Muslims went on a rampage in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, plundering and destroying the Church of Calvary and the Church of the Resurrection.

In 1004, the Fatimid Caliph, Abu 'Ali al-Mansur al-Hakim, ordered the destruction of churches, the burning of crosses, and the seizure of church property. Over the next 10 years 30,000 churches were destroyed, and untold numbers of Christians converted to Islam simply to save their lives.

In 1009, al-Hakim commanded that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem be destroyed, along with several other churches, including the Church of the Resurrection. In 1056, the Muslims expelled 300 Christians from Jerusalem and forbade European Christians from entering the rebuilt Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

When the Seljuk Turks took Jerusalem in 1077, the Seljuk Emir Atsiz bin Uwaq promised not to harm the inhabitants, but once his men had entered the city, they murdered 3,000 people.

Another common misconception is that the Crusades were fought to convert Muslims to Christianity by force. Glaringly absent from every report about Pope Urban's address at the Council of Claremont is any command to the Crusaders to convert Muslims.

It was not until over 100 years after the First Crusade, in the 13th century, that European Christians made any organized attempt to convert Muslims to Christianity, when the Franciscans began missionary work among Muslims in lands held by the Crusaders. This effort was largely unsuccessful.

Yet another misconception revolves around the Crusaders' bloody sack of Jerusalem in 1099.

The capture of Jerusalem is often portrayed as unique in medieval history, and as the cause of Muslim mistrust of the West. It might be more accurate to say that it was the start of a millennium of anti-Western grievance mongering and propaganda.

The Crusaders' sack of Jerusalem was a heinous crime -- particularly in light of the religious and moral principles they professed to uphold. However, by the military standards of the day, it was not actually anything out of the ordinary.

In those days, it was a generally accepted principle of warfare that if a city under siege resisted capture, it could be sacked, and while if it did not resist, mercy would be shown. It is a matter of record that Muslim armies frequently behaved in exactly the same way when entering a conquered city.

This is not to excuse the Crusaders' conduct by pointing to similar actions. One atrocity does not excuse another. But it does illustrate that the Crusaders' behavior in Jerusalem was consistent with that of other armies of the period -- since all states subscribed to the same notions of siege and resistance.

In 1148, Muslim commander Nur ed-Din did not hesitate to order the killing of every Christian in Aleppo. In 1268, when the jihad forces of the Mamluk Sultan Baybars took Antioch from the Crusaders, Baybars was annoyed to find that the Crusader ruler had already left the city -- so he wrote to him bragging of his massacres of Christians.

Most notorious of all may be the jihadists' entry into Constantinople on May 29, 1453, when they, according to historian Steven Runciman, "slew everyone that they met in the streets, men, women and children without discrimination."

Finally, it is a misconception that Pope John Paul II apologized for the Crusades. He did not.

There is no doubt that the belief that Pope John Paul II apologized for the Crusades is widespread. When he died, the Washington Post reminded its readers "during his long reign, Pope John Paul II apologized to Muslims for the Crusades, to Jews for anti-Semitism, to Orthodox Christians for the sacking of Constantinople, to Italians for the Vatican's associations with the Mafia and to scientists for the persecution of Galileo."

However, John Paul II never actually apologized for the Crusades. The closest he came was on March 12, 2000, the "Day of Pardon."

During his homily he said: "We cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel committed by some of our brethren, especially during the second millennium. Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and for the distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken toward the followers of other religions."

This is hardly a clear apology for the Crusades.

Q: How have Muslims perceived the Crusades then and now?

Spencer: For centuries, when the Ottoman Empire was thriving, the Crusades were not a preoccupation of the Islamic world. They were, after all, failures from a Western standpoint.

However, with the decline of the military power and unity of the Islamic world, and the concomitant rise of the West, they have become a focal point of Muslim resentment of perceived Western encroachment and exploitation.

Q: To what extent are false ideas about the Crusades being used by extremists to foment hostility to the West today?

Spencer: The Crusades may be causing more devastation today than they ever did in the three centuries when most of them were fought -- but not in terms of lives lost and property destroyed. Today's is a more subtle destruction.

The Crusades have become a cardinal sin not only of the Catholic Church but also of the Western world in general.
They are Exhibit A for the case that the current strife between the Muslim world and Western, post-Christian civilization is ultimately the responsibility of the West, which has provoked, exploited, and brutalized Muslims ever since the first Frankish warriors entered Jerusalem.

Osama bin Laden has spoken of his organization not as al-Qaida but of a "World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," and called in a fatwa for "jihad against Jews and Crusaders."

Such usage is widespread. On November 8, 2002 -- shortly before the beginning of the Iraqi war that toppled Saddam Hussein -- Sheikh Bakr Abed Al-Razzaq Al-Samaraai preached in Baghdad's Mother of All Battles mosque about "this difficult hour in which the Islamic nation [is] experiencing, an hour in which it faces the challenge of [forces] of disbelief of infidels, Jews, crusaders, Americans and Britons."

Similarly, when Islamic jihadists bombed the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in December 2004, they explained that the attack was part of larger plan to strike back at "Crusaders": "This operation comes as part of several operations that are organized and planned by al-Qaida as part of the battle against the crusaders and the Jews, as well as part of the plan to force the unbelievers to leave the Arabian Peninsula," the jihadists said in a statement.

They also said that jihad warriors "managed to enter one of the crusaders' big castles in the Arabian Peninsula and managed to enter the American consulate in Jeddah, in which they control and run the country."

In the face of this, Westerners should not be embarrassed by the Crusades. It's time to say, "enough," and teach our children to take pride in their own heritage.

They should know that they have a culture and a history of which they can and should be grateful; that they are not the children and grandchildren of oppressors and villains; and that their homes and families are worth defending against those who want to take them away, and are willing to kill to do so.

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Teaching Islam in Italy Calls for Reciprocity, Says Martino
Clarifies Previous Press Statements

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 10, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The proposal to teach Islam in Italian schools is a "complex" initiative which needs to be studied, respecting the principle of reciprocity, said Cardinal Renato Martino.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace made these comments today on Vatican Radio, in which he clarified statements reported Thursday in which he said: "If in a school there are 100 children of Muslim religion, I don't see why their religion cannot be taught to them."

According to the cardinal, he spoke on Vatican Radio to offer "a serene assessment" of his statements, and "a correct understanding of them with the object of avoiding partisan or even erroneous interpretations."

"Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, inherent to every human being, which must be defended and promoted," he said.

This right calls for reciprocity, the cardinal said, that is, "it is valid for all and everywhere."

"I am convinced that the application of this principle is something complex, which calls for many steps and wise considerations," he said.

In this connection, the Cardinal Martino recommended consulting the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which addresses the question in numbers 421 and 422.

Mutual appreciation

"The willingness I have expressed to the introduction of the teaching of the Islamic religion in the Italian school system must be applied with the prudent evaluation it entails on the part of the Islamic community in this respect, and the appreciation of Christianity and of the values that, inspired in the latter, have shaped the culture and identity of the Western world," he said.

"I did not say that the duty of reciprocity" with Islam should "be minimized," he stressed. "[I]f religious freedom is a fundamental right, it must also be applied in those countries in which Christians are persecuted or marginalized."

"Suffice it to read any report on religious freedom to realize the delicate situation in which Christians live in contexts characterized by other religious majorities. What is more, I believe that we must begin to claim reciprocity with greater vigor," he added.

This reciprocity, the cardinal added, finds in fundamentalism the main obstacle.

Secularist fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism, he said, are "two positions that deny a correct presence of religion in public life, as the first denies it and the second invades it."

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Martyrdom and Muslim Fundamentalism
Interview With Robert Royal

NEW YORK, FEB. 13, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The main culprits behind the martyrdom of Christians appears to be shifting from the ideologies of yesteryear to the Muslim fundamentalism of today.

So says Robert Royal, author of the 2002 book "The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century."

The most recent, high-profile example of the tendency was the case of the teen-ager in Turkey arrested in the murder of Father Andrea Santoro. The young Turk reportedly told authorities that he was driven by hatred aroused by the cartoons of Mohammed published in the Western press.

For more perspective on the problem, the Catholic newspaper Avvenire interviewed Royal, the president of the Washington, D.C.-based Faith and Reason Institute.

Q: What reactions do you elicit when you speak of "martyrs" to a contemporary public?

Royal: It is a difficult concept to understand, even for Catholics. It is thought that it is something that could only happen in the times of the first Christians, in the Colosseum, and that no longer happens. But in numbers, martyrdom has never been more prevalent.

Q: What makes it possible today?

Royal: In my book I pointed out the ideological nature of the century that just ended. But lately I have noticed a worrying tendency which perhaps within a year will be clear in all its seriousness.

It is the resentment of many Muslim fundamentalists toward Westerners and the ease with which it is manipulated by radical leaders and regimes.

Q: Could you give an example?

Royal: Look at Turkey itself. It has always been dangerous for Catholic priests. Although it describes itself as a secular regime, in fact tolerance of Christians is very low.

Therefore, I am not surprised that Turkey was the scene of Father Santoro's murder. But this case shows the type of degeneration of events that we might continue to see in the near future, because of the growing tension between East and West.

It reveals that there are many fanatics, in this case Muslims, ready to take recourse to violence at the least provocation.

Q: How far back does this tension go? Does it precede September 11 and the invasion of Iraq?

Royal: In my opinion, yes. A clear example is the murder of John Joseph, bishop of Faisalabad, in Pakistan, who died in mysterious circumstances in May [1998], which reflects an ever more frequent Muslim fundamentalist view of the West that makes it almost impossible for Muslims to find work or take part in public life and, therefore, creates a climate in which their persecution is legitimate.
It is a form of forced Islamization, of a campaign for "religious purity" now common in many Muslim countries.

Not all scholars of the Koran or Muslim religious justify it, but the pressure of the fundamentalists is ever stronger.

Suffice it to think that some Muslim countries have formally requested the United Nations to prohibit the very use of the word "Islamization" by groups for the defense of human rights.

Q: Which are the countries where Christians are most at risk?

Royal: One, certainly, is Saudi Arabia, which is even more rigid than Pakistan. Any public _expression of the Christian faith there is prohibited and in theory one can be arrested for praying on one's home.

When the Americans were in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, for example, they were ordered not to pray before the battles. And there, as almost anywhere in the Muslim world, a Muslim who converts to Christianity can be punished with death.

But the rights of Christians are regularly violated, and by law, in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the Arab Emirates and Turkey. And things are getting worse. I see, for example, outbursts of anti-Christian violence also in Egypt, in addition to, of course, Iraq.

Q: Do you think, then, that in the coming years the martyrdom of Christians will occur more frequently in the Arab Muslim world?

Royal: There is also China and North Korea, and threats exist in the Western countries themselves. In many European countries we are witnessing in fact the birth of anti-Christian and anti-religious movements that can be very violent.

And it must not be forgotten that in the Muslim world opportunities for dialogue also arise continually. But it is a very difficult dialogue, which clashes constantly with the determination of regimes to exploit any occasion to drive the masses to anti-Western violence.

Q: Do you think that hatred in these countries is directed at Christians as such or at Westerners?

Royal: In many countries of the Muslim world this distinction does not exist. Anti-Western feeling extends to Americans and Europeans, Jews and Christians.

Religious such as Father Santoro are seen as representatives of Western governments, in the same way that in the Muslim world religion and politics are the same thing.

It is a hatred born from a feeling of profound humiliation that has its roots in the history of the past century, beginning with World War I.

But now the resentment is sharp. Of course there are many reasons to reflect on the conduct of the West vis-àà-vis the Middle East. But the difference is that Christians are prepared for dialogue, while in many Muslim countries the atmosphere is too poisoned to allow for an honest confrontation in equality.
Suffice it to say that, although it is true that the cartoons on Mohammed are blasphemies for a Muslim, the anti-Christian and anti-Jewish caricatures and articles are the order of the day in Arab newspapers. But very few are willing to acknowledge it.

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1st Catholic-Muslim Conference in Russia Meets
Marks 40th Anniversary of "Nostra Aetate"

MOSCOW, NOV. 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- For the first time in Russia, representatives of the Catholic Church and Islam formally sat down to discuss their differences, and what they have in common.

The meeting, entitled "Islam and Christianity: The Path to Dialogue," took place Thursday in the main mosque in Moscow, and commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's declaration "Nostra Aetate," on the relationship between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions.

The declaration promoted a new understanding between Catholics and Muslim believers, "who worship the one God, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty." It also highlighted points of dogma that are common to both religions born from the tradition of Abraham.

The Mufti Council of Russia; the Spiritual Management of Muslims of the European part of Russia; the Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, and the St. Andrew's Theological-Biblical Institute organized the meeting.

Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Moscow pointed out that "in the present prevailing context between the religions of the world, the conference takes on an extraordinary relevance when not only our local but also worldwide society is faced with the call of more dangerous times."

United

"Our different religions must respond jointly to these calls in a worthy and appropriate manner," the Catholic prelate said. "It is our moral obligation and our civic duty.

"It is paradoxical that, on one hand, the modern world becomes ever more secular and lives as if God did not exist, and, on the other, it implores religious leaders: Help us, all our hope is in you!"

The archbishop continued: "Though, unfortunately, the hope in religions to solve world problems has not given the expected results, we are obliged to teach the world, stained by inequality, moral relativism, xenophobia, corruption, interminable bellicose conflicts and terrorism, that reciprocal dialogue and tolerance between different beliefs is the way to cure world problems."

Ravil Gainutdin, president of the Mufti Council of Russia, said: "Forty years ago the age of dialogue and unity between confessions began.

"For the first time in the history of Christian-Muslim relations, the Church saw in Muslims -- not enemies or heretics but participants with equality of rights in relations between humanity."

According to Gainutdin, "the 'Nostra Aetate' declaration laid the basis for reciprocal cooperation between Catholics and Muslims on a world scale."
Referring to the contribution of the preceding Pope, Gainutdin added: "We Muslims recognize in the person of John Paul II a great religious reformer, who greatly influenced the spread of the idea of the Second Vatican Council, and the dialogue between religions."

Just in time

Father Igor Byzhanov, secretary for Inter-Christian Relations of the Department of Religious Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, said that the principles of "Nostra Aetate" are more timely today than ever in the life of Europe, where the recent turmoil in France put into question the peaceful coexistence of the Muslim and Christian cultures, including in Russia.

"The Russian Orthodox Church can give a good example of practical dialogue," continued Father Byzhanov, adding that in his opinion the dialogue is "optimistic and friendly."

"If there is love at the base of relations between different religions, then there will be no room for enmity, extremism and terrorism," he said.

In a declaration signed by the participants at the end of the meeting, the religious leaders observed that "the world will not improve by resolving its problems only in the limits of secularism."

The participants were convinced that "every man has the right to freedom of conscience and to worship according to his religious beliefs."

"Extremism is foreign to the religious character, and almighty God does not bless violence and terrorism," they added. "Understanding, dialogue and tolerance between different beliefs have a way of healing the problems of the world."

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Coexistence With Islam Is Possible, Says Journalist
Luigi Accattoli's Book Talks About Muslims in Italy

ROME, NOV. 23, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A journalist who covers the Vatican has written a book showing 150 episodes that reflect the good relations with Muslims in Italy.

"Good coexistence is frequent, but rarely does anyone talk about it," commented Luigi Accattoli, a reporter for the newspaper Il Corriere della Sera.

His book "Islam: Italian Stories of Good Coexistence" was published by Dehonian Publications of Bologna. The Italian bishops' National Service for the Cultural Plan contributed to the volume.

"I would say that the stories came to me spontaneously," the journalist recalled. "It was enough for me ask, for example, when arriving in a city or a parish of Rome for a conference: 'Do you know a Muslim who lives peacefully and is well integrated?' The response was immediate: 'Go to this association, speak with that Caritas volunteer, visit this bookstore,' etc."

From here it was a short step to hear stories about good coexistence, Accattoli told ZENIT.

Prayerful Islam

"For example," he said, "the discovery of seven Muslims who study at the Gregorian University, of a Muslim who works in the Vatican, of another who is sacristan in a Milan parish, of Muslim immigrants who have become directors of Caritas; mayors; heads of ACLI [Christian Associations of Italian Workers] departments."

Accattoli insisted that "four Muslim interlocutors must be distinguished: prayerful Islam, Muslim fundamentalism, political Islamism, and Muslim terrorism."

"The prayerful Islam must be respected," said the 24-year veteran of Il Corriere della Sera. "According to specialists, it represents 85% of the whole of Islam. It is to the latter that I have turned preferentially to look for my stories."

"Muslim fundamentalism must be combated," the journalist continued. "There must be a political reaction to political Islamism, and Muslim terrorism must be prevented and suppressed, with intelligence services and arms, but not with war, which affects peoples and increases the challenge of terror. It encourages, exacerbates and multiplies it.

"Day in, day out, I think the best reaction to Muslim terrorism is to encourage good coexistence. To make achievements in coexistence known is a variant of this attitude that is especially appropriate for a journalist like me."

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Muslim Mosaic in Europe
Interview With Joséé Morales of University of Navarre

PAMPLONA, Spain, NOV. 7, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The "silent revolution" of Muslims in Europe has bubbled up violently in France in recent days.

To put the violence in perspective, ZENIT turned to theology professor Jose Morales of the University of Navarre, who has researched the impact of Islam on the Continent.

His most recent book, "Musulmanes en Europa" (Muslims in Europe), has just been published by Eunsa.

Q: Europeans, and Spaniards in particular, "do not think a sincere relationship is viable or possible between Muslims and Westerners." This is a strong affirmation. Can you add to it?

Morales: I speak in general terms, which allow for exceptions. Muslims are seen as people who belong to another cultural world and who have a sensitivity that is different from our own on important issues for the organization of life and coexistence.

When I say "sincere relationship" I am referring to a personal relationship of a certain depth and to a community of "existential horizon."

Many of us Europeans have wonderful Muslim friends, with a great capacity of fidelity and true affection. Moreover, they need to be integrated for reasons of work, social security, medical care, housing, schooling for their children, etc.

But they usually do not assimilate themselves, that is, they do not become a vital and active part of society. They are integrated pragmatically and yet live in a ghetto.

Q: Do you regard European Islam as more dynamic and open than it is in its countries of origin?

Morales: It is too early to say. It is an ongoing process and we cannot know now how it will evolve.

The fact is that, at present, European Islam is a mosaic of attitudes, currents, groups and sects that try to acquire power and influence over Muslims who live on the Continent.

At the moment there are no signs that make one think of a more dynamic and open European Islam than that of the countries of origin.

No doubt there are individuals who are more open but with little repercussion on the Islamic collective, which obeys other more-rigid sociological laws and evolves with incredible slowness.

Q: You allude to a significant number of people in Europe who convert to Islam. What are the reasons for this fascination with Islam?

Morales: I don't think I have said anywhere that the number of "conversions" of Europeans to Islam is significant.
Rather, I try to lessen the importance of the phenomenon of those more or less formal adherences to Islam and I say it is a trivial event, which is exaggerated considerably for ulterior and ideological motives.

It is a marginal phenomenon of adding and subtracting due, to a large extent, to the crisis of the Church in Europe. I think that the two chapters of the book dedicated to the matter explain it reasonably well.

Q: Muslims criticize Christians for having a "weak" faith. Do you think this will make Christian believers wake up?

Morales: Muslims know little about Christianity, as they usually know little about their own religion, with some honorable exceptions.

They are right, undoubtedly, when they say that we Christians have weak faith at this historical moment. I don't think, however, that we will wake up by the advice that Muslims give us or their appreciation of Christians.

In general they look upon us with resentment because we belong to the civilization that dominates economically and politically.

It is possible, of course, that contact with Islam will make many Christians increase their sense of evangelical identity and realize that they are the depositories of a Revelation not imagined by man.
Vatican Message to Muslims for Ramadan

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"Continuing of the Path of Dialogue"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 14, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is the message sent by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, to Muslims on the occasion of the month of Ramadan.

* * *

"Continuing of the Path of Dialogue"

Dear Friends,

1. As "Id al-Fitr" comes round again, at the close of the month of Ramadan, I wish to offer to all of you, in whatever part of the world you may be, my very best wishes for a Happy Feast.

2. It has become a tradition for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to send a message to our Muslim brothers and sisters on the occasion of the end of Ramadan. The message has usually been signed by the president of the Pontifical Council. In 1991, on account of the first Gulf War, the good-will message was signed by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. He wrote about the need for "a sincere, profound and constant dialogue between believing Catholics and believing Muslims, from which there can arise a strengthened mutual knowledge and trust." These words are surely still relevant today.

3. On April 2 of this year Pope John Paul II completed his earthly life. Many Muslims around the world, with Catholics and other Christians, followed closely the news of the Pope's last illness and his death, and official delegations of Muslims, political and religious leaders from many countries, attended his funeral in Saint Peter's Square. Many had appreciated deeply the Pope's constant efforts on behalf of peace. A Muslim journalist who had had occasion to meet personally with Pope John Paul II wrote: "I am not exaggerating when I say that the death of Pope John Paul II has been a great loss for the Catholic Church and for Christians in general, and also for Christian-Muslim relations in particular. There can be no compensation for this loss other than to follow in his footsteps and to continue in the way that he has traced out with the faith and courage of Assisi in 1986, Assisi where lie the remains of Saint Francis, pioneer among Catholics of Christian-Muslim dialogue."

4. It was faith in God and confidence in humanity that impelled the late Pope to engage in dialogue. He constantly reached out to brothers and sisters of all religions with respect and a desire for collaboration, as had been encouraged by the Second Vatican Council in its Declaration "Nostra Aetate" of which the fortieth anniversary occurs this year. His commitment in this regard was actually rooted in the Gospel, following the example of the Lord Jesus who showed his love and respect for each person, even for those who did not belong to his own people.

5. Following the teaching of the Vatican Council II and continuing on the path taken by Pope John Paul II, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, when receiving the representatives of other religions who attended the celebration for the beginning of his Pontificate, stated: "I am particularly grateful for the presence in our midst of members of the Muslim community, and I express my appreciation for the growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians, both at the local and international levels. I assure you that the Church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with followers of all religions, in order to seek the true good of every person and of society as a whole."

Then, making reference to the conflicts, violence and wars present in our world, the Pope emphasized that it is the duty of every one, especially those who profess to belong to a religious tradition, to work for peace, and that "our efforts to come together and foster dialogue are a valuable contribution to building peace on solid foundations."

Pope Benedict XVI concluded by saying: "It is therefore imperative to engage in sincere and authentic dialogue, built on respect for the dignity of every human person, created, as we Christians firmly believe, in the image and likeness of God" (cf. Genesis 1:26-27) (L'Osservatore Romano, April 26, 2005).

6. Encouraged by these words of the Pope, it is for us to strengthen our engagement in building up good relations among people of different religions, to promote cultural dialogue and to work together for greater justice and enduring peace. Let us, as Christians and Muslims, show that we can live together in true fraternity, striving always to do the will of Merciful God who created humanity to be one family.

Once more I express to you my warmest greetings.

Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald
President

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"White Father" Wins UNESCO Prize for Arab Culture
For His Work on Relations Between Christianity and Islam

PARIS, SEPT. 23, 2005 (Zenit.org).- UNESCO will award a Missionary of Africa the Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture, for his work on improving relations between Christianity and Islam.

Father Michel Lagarde, of the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, will receive the prize Sept. 29 in Paris, announced the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The director-general of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, will be awarding the prize to two laureates on the recommendation of an international jury.

Algerian writer and journalist Tahar Ouettar will also receive the Sharjah prize for contributing "to making Arab literature and language known outside Arab countries," with his novels translated into numerous languages.

The jury awarded Father Lagarde the prize because "he has dedicated his life, teaching and an important work to the Arab language and the study of the Islamic religion. His works on relations between Christianity and Islam have contributed to mutual respect and the rapprochement of the two cultures."

In addition, UNESCO stated that the missionary has "contributed strongly to the intercultural dialogue thanks to his profound knowledge of the Arab and Islamic culture through his numerous stays in the Arab and Islamic countries."

Arabic expert

Of French nationality, Father Lagarde is a professor of Arabic and an expert on classical commentaries of the Koran, stated a biographical note of the Missionary Service News Agency.

Outstanding among his many known studies is the analysis of the monumental 32-volume work, the "Great Commentary" of Fahr al-Din al-Razi, Persian author of the year 1200, which can be described as an encyclopedia of Arab Medieval thought.

He is also known for his translation of the complete work of the 19th century warrior and Sufi mystic Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri, known as "Kitab al-Mawaquif." The White Father has alternated long years of study with periods of missionary work in Mali.

The Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture recognizes the efforts of a citizen of an Arab country and of a citizen of some other country who by their artistic, intellectual and promotional work have contributed to the growth and diffusion of Arab culture in the world.

The award, an initiative of the United Arab Emirates, was created in 1998, and the first award given in 2002.


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Heirs of Abraham
Written by Francis Phillips
 
Three eminent representatives of the “Peoples of the Book” - Jews, Christians and Muslims - engage in a trialogue in an effort to promote mutual understanding.

Heirs of Abraham: The Future of Muslim, Jewish and Christian Relations
edited by Bradford E. Hinze and Irfan A. Omar
158pp | Orbis Books | ISBN 157075585X | US$20.00 | 2005

Sometime between 1274 and 1276 Blessed Ramon Llull, a Catalan polymath, missionary, scholar and martyr, wrote The Book of the Gentile and the Three Wise Men. It remains a fascinating medieval experiment in a “trialogue”, in which a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim explain their beliefs for the benefit of the others. It is distinguished by the delicacy and courtesy which the participants display towards each other. At the conclusion, Llull writes that the three “took leave of one another most amiably and politely and each asked forgiveness of the other for any disrespectful words he might have spoken against his religion”.

Heirs of Abraham is a courageous modern attempt to take up the baton from Llull. It began as a lecture series at Marquette University in the spring of 2004. The three participants in this contemporary trialogue are Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Reuven Firestone, a professor of medieval Judaism and Islam and Mahmoud Ayoub, a professor of Islamic studies. The format of the book, somewhat more flexible and responsive than that devised by Llull, is a statement of religious belief beginning with the Jew, followed by the Christian and finally the Muslim. Each statement is replied to by the others; the individual spokesman then responds to these replies.

The question that inspires the book is: “Can there be friendship between the heirs of Abraham?” All three of the great monotheistic religions share Abraham as their common spiritual ancestor; all are “People of the Book”; all share a belief in God’’s revelation and in the function of the prophets. Today, even more acutely than in the 13th century, when Blessed Ramon Llull was devising his ingenious method in order to lead Jews and Saracens to an understanding of the Trinity and the Incarnation (the two great stumbling blocks to Christian faith in their eyes), we need to pray and work for greater mutual understanding and friendship between these religions. The turmoil of the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Israel, the rapid advent of suicide bombing and the antipathy towards America and the West by international Islamists all threaten world peace and are a cause of endless violence and suffering. Churchill once remarked, “Jaw , not war” and this book is to be commended for trying to promote, in its civilised and scholarly exchanges, the peaceful coexistence and true tolerance –– not indifference –– needed to change the current political climate.

In his initial statement of faith Reuven Firestone, rather surprisingly, attempts a naturalistic explanation of the development of monotheism: sometime between 800-200 BC “the old polytheistic systems no longer spoke to the intellectual and spiritual needs of the time.” Gradually “the primary Gods of old that Israel knew became conceptually and structurally united in YHVH”, ie, Yahweh. Both the other participants find this unsatisfactory; Fitzgerald raises the question of the Exodus and, more importantly, the covenant relationship God established with His chosen people; Ayoub thinks it “a purely secular investigation”, drawing attention to the great personalities of the Old Testament, such as Moses, Isaiah and Elijah. Divine guidance, he points out, is essential to the human quest for Truth. To demonstrate Muslim enlightenment, he draws attention to the Lebanese Christian holy man, Sharbel Maklouf, venerated by devout Muslims for many decades –– until, ironically, he was canonised by the Church.

Archbishop Fitzgerald follows Firestone with the Catholic perspective, emphasising a reference in the Mass to “Abraham, our father in faith.” For Christians Abraham symbolises faith, hope and trust in God. The Church, Fitzgerald reminds the others, proposes the Truth but does not impose it, emphasising that “in dialogue partners must remain true to their own identity.” What about the Church’s commitment to missionary activity? For Fitzgerald, “mission” is a call to “conversion from idolatry to the living and true God”. Although Islam is not considered by Christians a revealed religion –– like Judaism –– we share with Muslims the belief in one God, who is creator and judge. Yet we still have the duty, Fitzgerald acknowledges, to bear witness to Christ. He quotes John Paul II’s address to Muslims in 1981: “I deliberately address you as brothers…” One might comment that the example of fraternal love shown by the late Pope towards Muslims by this very form of address is itself a witness to the love of Christ.
Professor Ayoub, who is the third to state his case, explains the importance of Ishmael, son of Abraham’s slave girl, Hagar, to the Muslim tradition, rather than the legitimate son, Isaac, who is critical for the Judaeo-Christian tradition. For him, Abraham’s true heirs are those who follow his example of faith and submission to the will of God. (“Islam”, we recall, means “submission”). He also points out that religion “has been most creative when it has spoken in poetry, allegory and myth”. He appeals for respect for the scriptures of the other, emphasising the need for a “dialogue of life, or belief and of faith.”

This is necessarily only a brief summary of a book much more significant than its modest size and unheralded publication would suggest. It is full of reflections by the three scholars that cry out for further development. The statements and responses are characterised by a courtesy reminiscent of Llull, yet rarely present in contemporary exchanges where ignorance and prejudice too often blight the possibility of mutual respect and understanding.

Yet such a respectful attentiveness to another’s faith must not blind one to the truth of one’s own. For Christians, the Trinitarian nature of the one God, His becoming Man in the person of Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and the divine foundation of the Church can never be put aside or forgotten. The Church claims to speak with authority, the authority given to her by a divine founder, and it has to be recognised that neither Jews nor Muslims accept this Christian concept of ecclesial authority - though they do accept the concept of revelation. The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in his book, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions (2003) writes appositely: “Christian mission will doubtless have to understand other religions far more profoundly and accept them at a deeper level than has been the case hitherto; but these religions…… need to recognise their own adventual character, the way they point forward to Christ.”

Does Archbishop Fitzgerald play down these truths in this trialogue? It might seem so –– until one remembers that he is responding to a particular perspective; that of being an “heir of Abraham,” and trying to hold fast to what is held in common rather than draw attention to what divides.

For Firestone, the Jew, “my religious tradition teaches that no one has the wisdom to really know the divine will”. To Christians, this seems odd: they would aver that by the grace of God, they can know it.

 For Ayoub, the Muslim, “May the faith of Abraham, the spirit of Christ and the prophetic genius of Mohammed continue to guide us to the good and to God”. Again, for Christians there can be no new revelation after Christ, whether from Mohammed or anyone else. Perhaps the final word should go to Fitzgerald, the Catholic, who points out the importance of the Holy Spirit in the lives of non-Christians: “Muslims can die to self and live for others” –– the essence of the paschal mystery, entirely contrary to the fanaticism and false “martyrdom” of suicide bombers.

Rather than focussing on our differences and seemingly insurmountable hurdles to Truth in our encounters with Jews and Muslims, Christians should look towards the example of Abraham who is truly our father in faith, and pray for divine inspiration. This book certainly impels one in that direction. St Paul tells us that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Gentile” –– and perhaps no Muslim, either. I shall give my copy to a local taxi-driver I know, a devout Muslim of Pakistani origin, who is far removed from Bin Laden and his kind and for whom I have great respect -- and see where it leads us.

Francis Phillips, who is married with eight children, lives in Bucks, in the UK. Her reviews often appear in British Catholic publications.

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Islam's Hard Brand of Law

Rise of Shariah Is Raising Concerns

WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 3, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Concern over extremist Islamic groups and terrorism has renewed interest in the role played by Shariah, a form of Islamic law. A recent book, "Radical Islam's Rules," looks at the influence of what it termed "the rapid growth of a starkly repressive version of Islamic shariah law."

Edited by Paul Marshall, senior fellow at Washington-based Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, the book contains essays from a variety of human rights activists and experts on the issue of religious freedom.

In his introduction Marshall explains that extreme Islam is only one strand of the religion, which began its modern phase as a reaction to the secularization of Turkey in the early 20th century. He also observes that most people who push for the spread of Shariah are not terrorists, though "such law is part of the terrorist's ideology."

Shariah is a combination of both civil and religious matter. It tries to synthesize the Koran, the sayings of Islam's founder Mohammed, and the life of the prophet and his early followers. As well as being divided into a number of schools of interpretation, Shariah also differs from place to place insofar as it has incorporated local laws and traditions.

The extreme form of Shariah, Marshall points out, seeks to entrench only one version, an extreme literalist view that has a double foundation: one that is based on Wahhabism, the form of Islam followed in Saudi Arabia; and the extreme form of Islamic law introduced by the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran in 1979, following the overthrow of the shah.

Prior to 1979 only Saudi Arabia was governed by Shariah, but in the last couple of decades it has spread to a number of other countries. In Pakistan, Shariah has been gradually supplanting the previous legal system. Sudan introduced a radical form of Shariah in 1983. Then, in 1994, the Taliban in Afghanistan began to institute a form of Shariah.

Nigeria has incorporated Shariah into the legal system since independence. In recent years some of the country's northern states have announced that Shariah will be given the leading role in determining laws. In Asia, meanwhile, some states in Malaysia have introduced laws based on Shariah. Similar efforts in Indonesia have been blocked, though at the local level radicals enforce Shariah in some areas, writes Marshall.

Saudi ways

In his chapter on how Shariah operates in Saudi Arabia, author and journalist Stephen Schwartz explains that it has dominated the country since the 1930s, even if pockets of resistance persist. Members of minority groups face stringent penalties. The mere possession of writings that belong to the Sufi school of Islam is a capital offense, and Shiite Muslims face regular persecution.

Characteristics of Shariah as practiced in Saudi Arabia include the prohibition of any public practice of non-Muslim religion and a ban against bringing into the country any non-Muslim religious literature or objects, even for personal use. Women's rights are systematically denied, including the possibility of driving cars.

Maarten Barends, lawyer and editor of a youth magazine for Amnesty International in the Netherlands, describes the situation in Pakistan. The legal system is unstable and a variety of principles and norms is a feature of its operation, with remnants of the 19th-century British-style penal code still in function.

But in recent times there has been a growing influence of Shariah, especially in the northwestern region bordering Afghanistan. As well, in the last couple of decades Shariah's influence in the criminal code has expanded. In 1979 Pakistani President Zia Ul-Haq introduced Shariah into the criminal legal code and made major changes in the judicial system. This has led to persecution of non-Muslims and to ill treatment of women. In the last few years Christians and Hindus alike have suffered at the hands of Muslim extremists.

Changes in Sudan

The 1983 introduction of Shariah in Sudan rekindled a civil war that led to more than two decades of conflict. In his contribution to the book, human rights activist Hamouda Fathelrahman Bella describes how the change was accompanied by the sacking of many prominent judges and the creation of new tribunals to implement Shariah. Amputations, public floggings and executions quickly followed.

A 1989 military coup worsened the situation, leading to the domination of "a regime of fanatics." The government, based in the northern part of the country with a predominantly Muslim population, waged war on the Christian and animist population in the southern regions. This was backed by fatwas, or religious decrees, that were used to justify enslavement and the wholesale destruction of villages, schools and churches.

The legal system underwent various changes after 1983, but a new legal code introduced in 1991 and the 1999 constitution have further entrenched the official role of Islam and the permit the practice of harsh punishments dictated by Shariah norms.

In his chapter on Nigeria Paul Marshall notes that in the short time since the 1999 introduction of Shariah in the state of Zamfara, 12 of the 16 northern and central states have adopted a form of Islamic law.

Marshall draws attention to the role played by foreign aid in stimulating the changes. Representatives from countries such Saudi Arabia, Syria and Sudan have been present in some of the states. The changes quickly led to problems for Christians. Not only have they been denied permission to build churches in some areas, but existing some churches have been destroyed. Non-Muslims have also suffered discrimination in jobs, and Muslim programs dominate the state-owned media outlets.

As in other countries the Shariah criminal code discriminates against women in matters such as adultery, with some women sentenced to death by stoning. Cruel punishments are also allowed, with little chance of appeal. Non-Muslims are subjected to Shariah courts, but are barred from being judges, prosecutors or lawyers in these tribunals.

Problems for freedom

A concluding chapter by Nina Shea, director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, notes that the core premise of Shariah is that the law has been given by Allah without human mediation. By thus placing the system beyond any possibility of debate or accountability, serious problems for freedom result.

This premise has led to coercion and repression by governments and, Shea argues, "in country after country, it has had devastating implications for basic human rights." To the extent that it becomes a method of absolute control, Shariah is better understood as a political ideology, Shea says.

An example of the political effects is the screening of election candidates by Iran's religious Council of Guardians that, in 2004, disqualified over 2,000 would-be contenders, mostly reformists.

Shea is critical of the lack of attention paid to the phenomenon of Shariah. She also notes that Saudi Arabia is given a free hand to promote its version of radical Islamic ideology, even in Western societies such as the United States. Material financed and distributed by the Saudi regime incites hatred toward Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims, and in Pakistan Saudi-funded religious schools, or madrassas, have become a breeding camp for terrorists. Grounds indeed for concern over where Islam is headed.

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Islam’s ‘heart of darkness’
Abdal Hakim Murad
(20-07-2005)

 Wahhabism, the hardline ideology at the core of current terrorism, has cut deep wounds in Islam, and helped alienate young UK Muslims. Can a British version of Islam break free of its influence?

REACTION in Britain’s Muslim community to the 7 July bombings was swift and seemingly unanimous. “These killings had absolutely no sanction in Islam,” said a conference of imams convened at the London Central Mosque, while the British Muslim Forum delivered a fatwa that classified the London bombings as hiraba, an Islamic legal term denoting aggravated violence against the innocent. All implicated in the crimes were to be “excluded from the Muslim community and places of worship until their repentance has become manifest”.

The loud unanimity of the leadership has done much to assuage the fears of other communities. Yet the arguments are not at an end. The leadership has issued decree that is the nearest thing Islam has to excommunication. Yet it has not so clearly given an answer to a pressing question: why should some apparently devout young men regard their terroristic acts as sanctioned by religion?

One explanation is that Western crimes against Muslims, such as the Iraq sanctions and the subsequent invasion, have been so provocative that a Muslim radical backlash was entirely predictable. This makes some sense; but only as psychology, not theology.

Another theme prominent in the Muslim reaction is that Islam is not the only world religion currently afflicted by lunatic fringes. The London bombers simply represented a Muslim version of this tragic, omnipresent distortion.

Again, such observations are not unhelpful. Yet as a serious religious explanation they do not satisfy. They resemble a self-exoneration through finding like faults in others, a moral vice stoutly condemned in Islamic ethics. Muslims still need to offer to the outside world a clear diagnosis that explains how such an aberration could emerge. Given that the use of terrorism for “Islamic” political ends has been steadily increasing since its emergence a quarter of a century ago, it is time that more Muslims question themselves. After all, the saints and the prophets, despite their perfection, are endlessly self-critical; as the founder of Islam said: “I seek God’s forgiveness 70 times each day.”

Fortunately, this picture of a Muslim community enmeshed in a mentality of hurt innocence is not quite accurate. While Muslim leaders may often reach for a language of self-exoneration in public, behind the scenes, and in publications and conferences intended for insiders alone, there is a growing disquiet and a passionate debate.

This debate juggles two intimately related themes. First, the established leaders of the religion are aware that the radicals are not listening to them. Each Muslim country has its authoritative scholars, often led by a mufti, who will rule on controversial issues. To become a mufti, a scholar must have received an ijaza, an elaborate certification of teaching competence, from a comparably certified figure. The radicals, like the London bombers, and Osama bin Laden, have no such qualifications. According to the traditional system they should be bound by the rulings of the muftis; yet they refuse to submit.

The classically authorised scholars denounce terrorist acts, which they generally stigmatise as hiraba. However over the past decade, these men have been increasingly denounced by the radicals as weaklings and stooges. From al-Qaida’s perspective, the religion’s leaders have failed to realise that America’s “evil empire” can only be halted when Western civilians, terrified by urban mayhem, vote against their governments’ expansionist policies.

There is a second crisis that is now distressing the traditional leadership. This takes the form of a profound doctrinal disjuncture. Al-Qaida sympathisers regard the traditional Sunni muftis and imams, not only as politically spineless, but as heretical. Mainstream imams, including those trained in the UK’s 16 Muslim seminaries, follow traditional Sunnism, while al-Qaida is rooted in Wahhabism, the eighteenth-century reform movement of central Arabia. Strict Wahhabis consider the theology and piety of mainline Sunnism to be kufr (disbelief). Hence Wahhabi radicals have not hesitated to kill Muslims, including senior scholars; indeed, Muslims have always been al-Qaida’s principal victims.

Wahhabism represents a sort of Islamic Reformation: scripturalist, literal-minded, hostile to the veneration of saints and to philosophical theology. Hence Wahhabi zealots are no more likely to heed the voice of the muftis than, say, Cromwell would have been responsive to the entreaties of the Pope as his Puritan armies laid waste to Ireland.

A revealing example of this dysfunctional Islam is supplied by Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa, where he urges Muslims to “kill the Americans and their allies, military and civilians, in any country where this is possible”. The fatwa lacks any reference to the classical methods of Islamic law, and simply takes its cue from a Quranic verse that runs “slay the idolators wherever you find them”. Classically this passage is taken to refer to Arab idol-worshippers, a category now extinct; but the Wahhabi method allows bin Laden to disregard the views of the classical schools, and impose his own meaning on the text. The sanctity of civilian life, affirmed by orthodox jurists, is not even mentioned. The fatwa stands in flagrant violation of the orthodox consensus (ijma). But from his drastically reformed perspective, his followers alone are the true believers, and the consensus may simply be disregarded.

Muslim leaders have often been coy about publicly acknowledging the role of this schism in the current crisis. Sometimes this is because of physical threats: in Pakistan or Iraq, it is now possible to be murdered for criticising Wahhabism. Sometimes, more innocently, it is because of squeamishness about recognising that the seamless garment of Islam has been so disastrously torn. On other occasions, institutions and states may be nervous of publicly venting their anger at Wahhabism for fear that the cornucopia of Saudi donations might suddenly end.

Wahhabism was generally loathed in the Islamic world when it made its first appearance in the eighteenth century. The collapse of Ottoman power during the First World War allowed it to assert itself and, amid scenes of shocking massacre, the Holy Cities were annexed. In the late twentieth century, the explosion of oil wealth allowed Saudi Arabia to export this same puritanism to the outside world.

It is in the context of Wahhabi theology that Osama bin Laden and his admirers operate. Saudi Arabia thus finds itself in the difficult position of maintaining a moderate, pro-Western international profile, while simultaneously supporting a doctrinal system that is easily seized upon by the angry and disaffected as a justification for mass murder. After the 11 September attacks, the Saudi authorities worked hard to rein in and monitor their missionary infrastructure, even banning Saudi charities from operating abroad.

Saudi Arabia is struggling to temper its Wahhabi inheritance; but it is still quietly regarded by the Muslim leaders of my acquaintance as the heart of darkness in the current crisis. On a recent visit to Bosnia I learned how the impoverished Muslim community is working hard to establish colleges from which Wahhabism is excluded, as part of a reaction against the often-fierce intolerance of Bosnian Muslims who have benefited from Saudi largesse by training in Wahhabi schools.

Even more revealing is the case of Indonesia. This large Muslim democracy offers little comfort to theorists of fundamentalism. Yet a recent conference at the Islamic University in Jakarta heard detailed accounts of how Saudi-backed groups were crucial in shaping the ideology of the terrorists charged with the Bali bombing of October 2002.

Among alienated and confused young Muslims in the United Kingdom, there is also a Wahhabi influence. One Muslim bookseller tells me that mainstream Islamic bookshops cannot compete with the radical alternative, since Saudi organisations supply the radical shops with books free of charge. No less troubling to established mosque leaders is the tendency of some young British Muslims to study in new Wahhabi colleges in Pakistan and elsewhere.

The picture is complex, but it does suggest that the medicine for terrorism must be supplied from within the Muslim community, and within the theological resources of Islam. Sociological explanations outline circumstances, but cannot disclose the religious underpinnings of these aberrations, or offer a counter-argument. Legislation, and any other form of government interference, are unlikely to put an end to the problem; and may make it worse. It is clear that only Muslims can heal this wound.

Fortunately, serious moves are under way to challenge the extremists on religious grounds. The most recent was an ecumenical conference in Jordan, held between 4 and 6 of July, at which the assembled leaders of Sunni and Shia Islam issued a joint statement banning the key Wahhabi practice of considering other Muslims to be unbelievers. The immediate context for the conference was Wahhabi violence against Shia and other non-Wahhabi communities in Iraq; but the problem was acknowledged to be global.

In the United Kingdom, an increasingly educated Muslim community is now developing a religious identity that has little time for zealotry. The unanimity and temper of the community’s response to the recent outrages point to the progress that has been made in the 15 years since the Salman Rushdie debacle. The community is discussing itself in increasingly mature novels, plays, films, and poems. Perhaps this maturation will be accelerated by the recent horrors, and in our lifetime we will see orthodox British Muslims travelling to Saudi Arabia and other troubled lands, offering not only formal theological advice, but an alternative and more convivial style of engaging with modernity.

al Hakim Murad teaches Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, is imam of the Cambridge Mosque, and chair of the Muslim Academic Trust.

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A Look Inside the Koran and the Bible

Father Sidney Griffith Compares and Contrasts the Texts

WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 26, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Muslims think of the Koran as presenting in Arabic the same message that God had previously sent down earlier in the Torah, at the hands of Moses, and in the Gospel, at the hands of Jesus.

So says Father Sidney Griffith, a professor of Semitic and Egyptian languages and literature at the Catholic University of America.

Father Griffith shared with ZENIT how Christians can better understand the Koran and how its teachings on Christ and Revelation differ from those found among Christians.
 

Q: What exactly is the Koran? How was it written?

Father Griffith: The Koran -- Qur'an, in the conventional transcription -- in the sense in which we normally use the term, designates the holy scripture of the Muslim community.

It contains the revelations in Arabic, which God, Allah, sent down occasionally by the agency of the angel Gabriel to God's messenger, Mohammed, from about the year A.D. 610 to his death in A.D. 632, the years during which the first Islamic community was assembling.

In the sense in which the term Koran is used in the text itself, it means the "reading" or "recitation" that God put on Mohammed's heart, commanding him to read it, or to proclaim it, to its audience. Accordingly, in its origins the Koran was an oral "scripture" and to this day one normally hears it presented in a cadenced chant.

A relatively short time after Mohammed's death, early Muslims collected the text of the revelations from the memories of the messenger's companions and from some written aides de mémoire into the form and organization of the scripture, substantially as we have it in the standard editions today.

It comprises verses, described as marvelous "signs" from God, arranged in 114 suras, or chapters, each with its own name, taken from a key word in the text.

Conceptually, Muslims think of the Koran as presenting in Arabic the same message that God had previously sent down earlier in the Torah, at the hands of Moses, and in the Gospel, at the hands of Jesus.

Q: What would be the hardest for a Christian to understand about the Koran?

Father Griffith: First of all, a Christian, or any other reader unfamiliar with the biography of Mohammed and the early history of the Muslim community, is normally first struck by what he considers to be the disorder of the text.

It seems on a first reading, while being formally highly structured, to lack any topical system of narrative presentation.

In fact, the Muslim reader brings with him to the text in his Islamic consciousness the paradigms which enable him immediately to attune himself to the messages of the verses.

Secondly, the Christian reader knowledgeable about the Bible and the lore of early Christianity often finds it hard to understand the Koran's way of dealing with biblical characters, stories and narratives familiar to him from the Bible and Christian tradition.

In fact, the Koran's intention is not to repeat them. Rather, the Koran presumes in its audience a previous knowledge of these matters, enabling the Koran simply to allude to them or to evoke them in its audience's mind for the purpose of making its own, often very different point.

Q: Briefly, could you explain the key differences between Islam and Christianity?

Father Griffith: The differences between Islam and Christianity are several; two of the most significant of them concern Christology and the theology of Revelation.

The Koran rejects the Christian confession of the divine sonship, that is, the divinity, of the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, as the Koran calls him. This denial in turn involves the rejection of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, on the grounds that it compromises the Christian profession of monotheism.

Furthermore, according to the Koran, the genuine, uncorrupted Gospel, together with the Torah before it, and the Koran after it, are on a par as revelations which God has sent down to human beings at the hands of the messengers: Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. In Chapter 33, Verse 40, it says that Mohammed is the last, or the seal, of the prophets.

But the Torah and the Gospel, in the form in which the Jews and the Christians actually have them, are considered by the Muslims to be textually corrupt and subject to distorted interpretations.

For most Muslims, the Koran is considered to be the uncreated word of God, whereas for Christians the Bible, under divine inspiration, is the word of God in the words of human beings.

Most of the other differences between Islam and Christianity flow from these fundamental differences in doctrine. There is also no clergy in Islam, comparable to Christian clergy; nor any authoritative, institutional magisterium, as in Catholicism.

Q: What part does the Koran play in Islam? Does it work along with Tradition, as in Catholicism?

Father Griffith: The Koran is the ultimate, revealed authority in Islam. There is no doctrine of a deposit of revelation both in Scripture and Tradition, as in Catholicism.

However, there is authoritative tradition, or "hadith," in Islam, both in what is called holy tradition -- "hadith qudsi" -- and prophetic tradition -- "hadith nabawi."

The former is a report of a divine saying, repeated by Mohammed, which was nevertheless not included in the Koran, and therefore does not have the authority of the Koran. The latter is a report of a saying or an action of Mohammed, or a fact about him.

Traditions were collected and carefully scrutinized from the earliest days of Islam; a detailed system to guarantee the authenticity, or soundness, of genuine traditions was elaborated.

Since the ninth Christian century there have been official collections of sound traditions available to Muslim scholars for help in interpreting the Koran, especially in the effort to discern how to apply Koranic teaching to the vicissitudes of human life.

The Koran and the sound traditions are together the authoritative sources of Islamic law, of the biography of Mohammed, and of much else in the life of Muslims.

Q: The Koran mentions Jesus and Mary. Could you explain the context?

Father Griffith: The Koran mentions both Jesus and Mary a number of times, always in terms of great personal esteem.

Most importantly, in Chapter 4, Verse 171, the Koran presents Jesus, the son of Mary, as the Messiah, as God's messenger; Jesus is seen as a word of God which he cast into Mary, and a spirit from him, who is nevertheless, in God's sight like Adam, a creature -- according to Chapter 3, Verse 59.

At one point the Koran says God asked Jesus, "Did you tell people to take you and your mother as two gods?" -- a question that Jesus answered in Chapter 5, Verse 116, saying, "It is not given me to say what is untrue." Clearly, in the Islamic view, both Jesus and Mary are human beings.

The Koran regularly follows the mention of Jesus, the Messiah, with the epithet "son of Mary," as if explicitly to deny the Christian belief that Jesus is the "Son of God."

At one point the Koran denies that Jesus' adversaries killed or crucified him, saying in Chapter 5, Verse 157, "it only seemed so to them," a statement that most Muslims take to mean that Jesus did not in fact die on the cross.

On the basis of a number of other passages in the Koran, most Muslims believe that there will be a role for Jesus on the final day of reckoning. Many Sufis, Muslim mystics, revere Jesus as a model holy man.

Q: For a non-Muslim, the Koran seems to contain a number of contradictions. How would a Muslim see it?

Father Griffith: The contradictions that non-Muslims claim to see in the Koran involve a number of perspectives, both internal and external to the text.

Internally, for example, non-Muslims often point to perceived inconsistencies or reversals of thought or practice between the Meccan and Medinan periods of Mohammed's prophetic career. Externally, they might cite differences between narratives concerned with biblical characters as they appear in the Koran and in the Torah or the Gospel.

Muslims would not consider these differences to be contradictions. Rather, they would think of the non-Muslim's perception of contradiction to be due to a failure in hermeneutics, that is, a failure to read and to understand verses in the Koran on their own terms, and within the interpretive frameworks of the Islamic communities.

Q: What elements in the Koran could open the way for interreligious dialogue? What elements could limit such dialogue?

Father Griffith: In many ways the Koran encourages dialogue with Jews and Christians -- "People of the Book" as the Koran calls them some 54 times. For example, Chapter 10, Verse 94, says, "If you are in doubt about what We have sent down to you, ask those who were reading scripture before you."

Chapter 29, verse 46, proclaims, "Do not dispute with the People of the Book save in the fairest way; except for those of them who are evildoers. And say: 'We believe in what has been sent down to us and what has been sent down to you. Our God and your God are one and to Him we are submissive.'"

But there is some ambivalence. It is also the case that the Koran provides a powerful critique of the religious beliefs and practices of Christians and Jews. It characterizes their beliefs as going beyond the bounds of religious propriety -- for example, in Chapter 4, Verse 171, and Chapter 5, Verse 77) and their customary behavior as morally objectionable.

On the one hand the Koran says in Chapter 5, Verse 82, that Christians are "the closest in affection to the believers."

On the other hand, in Chapter 5, Verse 51, it says, "Taken them not as friends." Another verse -- Chapter 2, Verse 120, says, "Neither the Jews nor the Christians will be pleased with you until you follow their religion."

And within the Islamic polity, as envisioned by the Koran in Chapter 9, Verse 29, the People of the Book are required to pay a special poll tax and to adopt a low social profile in return for the protection, "dhimmah," of the Muslims, hence the adjective "dhimmi," or "one under protection," as applied to Christians or Jews.

Nevertheless, the Koran provides numerous points of convergence for interreligous dialogue. One of the most important of them is the significance of the faith of the biblical patriarch Abraham.

While the Koran insists in Chapter 3, Verse 67, that he was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but a submissive monotheist, it also speaks of the "religion of Abraham" in terms very close to those used by Jews and Christians. The Koran speaks of Abraham as God's friend; so do Isaiah 41:8 and James 2:23.

Q: What do you think attracts Western converts to Islam?

Father Griffith: There are many factors involved in the attraction of Islam to religious seekers in the West.

Positively, Islam is a compelling, reasonable, uncompromising monotheism with a biblical flavor. It provides a compelling moral code, which many moderns and postmoderns view as both realistic and honorable. The Koran's prophetology provides a congenial estimation of what it perceives to be the positive factors in earlier revelations, along with reasons why earlier peoples failed to heed them faithfully.

Islamic history and tradition in various times and places have produced societies with many admirable intellectual and scientific accomplishments. Many Westerners find Islamic mysticism attractive; others see in Islam an effective religious answer to what they view as the ills of the modern Western world.

On the negative side, many Christians who are attracted to Islam lack an adequate understanding of the history and teachings of the Church, and are easily deceived by the many hostile attacks on the Church's doctrines, practices and historical record.

They are unaware of the Church's answers to Islam's critique of Christianity. The shortcomings and moral failures they perceive in Christian communities sometimes dismay them. Often they are unaware of comparable problems in other communities of faith, including the Muslims.

The prevalent materialism and secularism of Western society has in many instances convinced potential converts to Islam that only in Islam can they find an effective antidote to it.

Sometimes potential converts to Islam are overcome in their own efforts faithfully to live the Christian life and, failing to find effective pastoral care from fellow Christians, or failing to follow it, they receive moral guidance and support from pious, observant Muslims.

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