CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM RELATIONS IN THE 21ST CENTURY,
JUN 20, 1997
(VIS) - Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, gave a talk entitled "Christian-Muslims Relations in the 21st Century" at the Center for Muslim- Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. on June 5. Following are excerpts from that speech: "Christians form about 33 percent of the total world population. Muslims number about 18 percent. That means that Christians and Muslims are more than a half of humanity. Moreover, theirs are the two religions most widespread geographically. ... What kind of relations do Muslims and Christians want in the next century? What are some of the obstacles and challenges to be reckoned with? What steps can be taken to overcome the obstacles or meet the challenges?" "May I make five suggestions on the kind of Christian-Muslim relations to be hoped for and worked for. "1. Knowledge of the other is the first requirement if one is to hope to build up relationships that will be respectful and fruitful. Goodwill is necessary, but it is not enough. A planned study of the other religion is required if interreligious relationships are not to stagnate at the superficial level of generalization and cliches. ... There are occasions or celebrations which favor mutual knowledge. ... Christians and Muslims can inform one another how they approach their period of fasting and how they celebrate their major religious feasts." "2. Correct information about the other will show Christians and Muslims that their two religions do share many beliefs. ... There are nonetheless fundamental differences. ... Also in the moral sphere there are points of convergence and divergence. There is common concern that religion occupy an adequate place in society, that materialism be overcome, that the institution of the family be upheld, that sexual permissiveness be opposed. Yet the concepts of law and society, of marriage and the family do not fully coincide." "3. Dialogue. ... Four forms of interreligious dialogue are generally identified: the whole area of relations across religious frontiers at the level of daily life in the family, ... interreligious cooperation such as assistance for refugees or victims of disasters. Dialogue of theological discourse is a third form. Finally, there is the exchange of religious experience together with the meeting of spiritualities." "4. Joint witness to shared values. ... There are some people who accuse religions of being at the root of rivalries and conflicts all along the corridors of history. ... No serious Christians or Muslims will accept such a view. ... (They must) live and interact in such a way that every person of good will see the falsity of such a deformation of the religions. ... Genuine religion is not the cause of hatred, tension or violence. Every religion worthy of the name teaches love of others." "5. Joint Promotion of Peace. ... Peace is necessary for individuals, within the same religious community, between two or more religions, between peoples and between states. Christians and Muslims have a duty to promote this tranquillity of order. No right-thinking Christian or Muslim today should support crusades or holy wars." "There are indeed obstacles and challenges. Let us mention a few. "1. The weight of the past. The present and the future also depend to some extent on the past. A community without memory is a community without future. Relations between Christians and Muslims have not always been peaceful and serene. ... The Second Vatican Council admits this and pleads for a new spirit." "2. Lack of self-criticism. Christians are taught by their religion to examine their conscience each day, ... to accept responsibility for any wrongs they may have done, and to repent and beg God for forgiveness. ... I would like to ask my Muslim friends whether in Islam there is a similar practice. Self- criticism is not a sign of weakness. It is really a proof of maturity. ... Where self--criticism is lacking, there is a tendency to be content with criticizing the others." "3. Manipulation of Religion by Politics. ... Since religious convictions are among the strongest of motivations, an unscrupulous politician may be tempted to use religion to attain political goals. It has happened in history that religion has been abused. ... This is sad. This is deplorable. It does no service to either religion or politics." "4. Religious Fanaticism or Extremism. Muslim-Christian relations are challenged and obstructed by religious fanaticism or extremism. The religious extremist or fanatic may be motivated by a desire to see his or her religion return to what is considered its original and pure state. ... Extremism is often characterized by an intransigent attitude towards co-religionists and others who hold different views." "5. Different approaches to human rights and especially to religious freedom. ... Christians see human beings as having been created in God's image and likeness. They are brothers and sisters of Christ, the Son of God made man. ...The Muslim vision is different. The human person is the servant of God. ... Christians see man as created by God with certain inalienable rights. Prominent among these is the right to religious freedom. ... Again, the Muslim view is somewhat different. Indeed, some predominantly Muslims countries have their reservations regarding the United Nations 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which they see as an expression of Western culture." "6. Reciprocity. The right to religious freedom applies to individuals and also to religious communities. It includes both the right to practice a religion and the right to share that religion with others ... (without) territorial boundaries. It applies to all countries whether they are predominantly Christian or Muslim. A religion should not ask for religious freedom for its followers in one country while denying the same right to other believers in a country where it is the religion of the majority. This is what reciprocity is all about." "Perhaps it is better and healthier to regard (the above) as challenges (instead of obstacles)." "Ways of Meeting Challenges. Healing of historical memories. The history of Muslim-Christian relations should be studied in all sincerity and truth. Past wrongs should be accepted and regretted. Pardon should be sought and given. ... Only a sincere study of the past also includes paying tribute to a religious community for its contribution(s) ... For example, Arabs, most of them Muslims, contributed to Western civilization. Christian communities were in the Middle East for centuries before the arrival of Islam, and Arabic culture owes much to them." Cardinal Arinze lists other ways of meeting these challenges: learning to exercise self-criticism, liberating religion from political manipulation, facing the phenomenon of religious extremism and promoting religious freedom. On this last point he stated: "Farseeing religious leaders and wise statesmen are needed to convince people that freedom of religion is one of the dearest of human rights and that no one should be prevented from exercising this right, provided that the just rights of other people are not violated." Additional ways of answering the challenges to better Christian-Muslim relations include: Promotion of justice and development, more attention to the spiritual dimension and joint concern over the use of the earth's resources. "Poverty, underdevelopment, injustice and corruption are fertile grounds for the rise or growth of extremist religious tendencies. ... The effective response is ... a joint commitment of Christians and Muslims, and other citizens, to justice, development, sound economic programs, honesty in private and public life." "Joint concern over the use of the earth's resources. The experts tell us that 20 percent of humanity consumes 80 percent of the earth's resources. ... Here is a rich area for Christian-Muslim collaboration in the forthcoming century in a world in which peoples realize more and more their interdependence."