RAPPORT WITH MUSLIMS
To the laity of Ijebu-Ode diocese, 25 August 2001
Why talk about rapport or relations with Muslims? What must be the problem? They are the same as us in so many ways: fellow human beings, maybe of the same language, town or even family. But there is a difference of religion, and that touches on what is most dear and central to our lives: how we relate to God in this life and how this affects our eternal destiny.
It is easy to bridge small differences that come between us, such as in what we like to eat or wear. But it is difficult when we come to more fundamental matters. Religious differences have been and should be a source of pain for those concerned. To show friendship and respect the full rights of someone who does not share our religious beliefs is difficult and requires us to excercise the virtue of love, which is a divine gift.
Let us look first at the question of religious rights, which is a question of justice, and then at dialogue, which is a special exercise of love or friendship.
Which the generality of Muslims expect Christians to respect:
- Respect for his person, i.e. justice.
- Respect for his religious conscience, but not that we should believe all that he believes.
- That we do not pressure him to become a Christian, but not that we hide our Faith or refuse to answer questions about it.
The Catholic Church has a good name among Muslims for these points, because we follow the Vatican II "Declaration on Religious Liberty" which recognizes the civil right of people to choose whichever religion they want, because the human conscience cannot be forced, but only led by recognizing the truth, and also because civil power has no authority to decide what is religious truth.
Some Muslims expect:
- A position of superiority, command, or rule.
- That no Muslim be permitted to convert to Christianity.
This latter expectation conflicts with:
Christian expectations from Muslims:
- Of religious liberty, equal justice for all.
- A level playing field, with the right to accept converts.
- Not avoid Muslims or ignore them, but reach out to them, as the Pope did in Damascus.
- Give credit where credit is due. For instance Muslims believe in one God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and Judge of all that we do, and they try, with some success, to live good lives.
- Admit the possibility that Muslims can be saved, provided they are living according to their consciences to the best of their understanding of what they should do. Vatican II, quoted by John Paul II in Redemptor hominis insists that the grace of Christ's passion, death and resurrection touches every human person, offering each one the chance to respond and be saved.
- Not be ashamed or embarrassed by objections Muslims have to our beliefs, but realize that what is most problematic to them is what is most attractive about Christianity, e.g. the Incarnation. We do not need to water down our own Faith, as is stressed in Dominus Jesus, the recent document of the Roman Congregation for the Faith. That document cautions certain theologians who were saying that God may save people of other religions apart from the mediatorship of Christ, and that it is pointless for us to try to share our Christian Faith with them.
- Thus the Catholic Church steers a middle course between Christian fundamentalists who say that Muslims are all doomed unless they become Christians, and certain theologians who say that Muslims will all be saved, even apart from Christ, and it is useless to preach to them. The Church tells us to share our Faith, not by pressurizing people, but by being open to them in a spirit of dialogue.
How to dialogue
- Dialogue of peaceful resistance: There are many places where Muslims encroach on the rights of Christians and restrict their religious freedom. Christians should not take to violence, but nevertheless make their grievances heard. This is the lowest, but sometimes very necessary, form of dialogue.
- Share our life with love, good example and cooperation. The best witness to our Faith is to live it. Just as Jesus is true God and true man, so the Christian should be equally a citizen of heaven and of this world. That means that he must not only be religious, but should also be professionally competent. Whether in teaching or business or any other profession, the Christian watchword is "excellence".
- We need not shy away from discussing our Faith when the occasion arises of doing so in a relaxed manner without the tension of debate and argument.
- Only the Christian Faith reveals the Most High God coming so close as to share our nature ("The Word became flesh"), so that we could share the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
- He came to us in our misery and sin to heal us, moving in our status of poverty throughout his life, until he endured his passion and death, preserving the order of justice by offering perfect satisfaction for sin, and letting us share in this redemption by his grace given in the sacraments and by his dwelling in us.
- We should realize that faith in these Christian mysteries is a gift from God, and it will seem nonsense to a Muslim until the Holy Spirit himself opens his mind to receive them. Nevertheless, we are called to witness to our Faith and have an answer for any who ask. Faith comes by hearing.
- In discussing with Muslims, many objections or questions may come up that you may not anticipate. I try to answer the most common questions in the AECAWA publication (2000), West Africa and Islam. For greater depth, see my translation of Thomas Aquinas, "Reasons for the Faith against Muslim objections," Islamochristiana 22 (1996), 31-52. Note also my Views on Christian-Muslim relations (Lagos: Dominican Publications, 1999). All of these can be read or down-loaded from my web site: www.op.org/nigeriaop/kenny.
- We should not forget the importance of Mary as a bridge to Muslims. Muslims believe in the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth, and honour Mary more than many of our Christian brethren. On this, refer to my Jesus and Mary in Islam, a Christian look (Dominican Publications, 2000).
Appendix: Excerpts from Dominus Jesus
4. The Church's constant missionary proclamation is endangered today by relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism, not only de facto but also de iure (or in principle). As a consequence, it is held that certain truths have been superseded; for example, the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, the nature of Christian faith as compared with that of belief in other religions, the inspired nature of the books of Sacred Scripture, the personal unity between the Eternal Word and Jesus of Nazareth, the unity of the economy of the Incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit, the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ, the universal salvific mediation of the Church, the inseparability--while recognizing the distinction--of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, and the Church, and the subsistence of the one Church of Christ in the Catholic Church.
The roots of these problems are to be found in certain presuppositions of both a philosophical and theological nature, which hinder the understanding and acceptance of the revealed truth. Some of these can be mentioned: the conviction of the elusiveness and inexpressibility of divine truth, even by Christian revelation; relativistic attitudes toward truth itself, according to which what is true for some would not be true for others; the radical opposition posited between the logical mentality of the West and the symbolic mentality of the East; the subjectivism which, by regarding reason as the only source of knowledge, becomes incapable of raising its "gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being";8 the difficulty in understanding and accepting the presence of definitive and eschatological events in history; the metaphysical emptying of the historical incarnation of the Eternal Logos, reduced to a mere appearing of God in history; the eclecticism of those who, in theological research, uncritically absorb ideas from a variety of philosophical and theological contexts without regard for consistency, systematic connection, or compatibility with Christian truth; finally, the tendency to read and to interpret Sacred Scripture outside the Tradition and Magisterium of the Church.
On the basis of such presuppositions, which may evince different nuances, certain theological proposals are developed--at times presented as assertions, and at times as hypotheses--in which Christian revelation and the mystery of Jesus Christ and the Church lose their character of absolute truth and salvific universality, or at least shadows of doubt and uncertainty are cast upon them.
5. As a remedy for this relativistic mentality, which is becoming ever more common, it is necessary above all to reassert the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ. In fact, it must be firmly believed that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is "the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6), the full revelation of divine truth is given: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him" (Mt 11:27); "No one has ever seen God; God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed him" (Jn 1:18); "For in Christ the whole fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form" (Col 2:9-10).
Faithful to God's word, the Second Vatican Council teaches: "By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines forth in Christ, who is at the same time the mediator and the fullness of all revelation". Furthermore, "Jesus Christ, therefore, the Word made flesh, sent ''as a man to men", ''speaks the words of God' (Jn 3:34), and completes the work of salvation which his Father gave him to do (cf. Jn 5:36; 17:4). To see Jesus is to see his Father (cf. Jn 14:9). For this reason, Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making himself present and manifesting himself: through his words and deeds, his signs and wonders, but especially through his death and glorious resurrection from the dead and finally with the sending of the Spirit of truth, he completed and perfected revelation and confirmed it with divine testimony... The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away, and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Tim 6:14 and Tit 2:13)".
Thus, the Encyclical Redemptoris missio calls the Church once again to the task of announcing the Gospel as the fullness of truth: "In this definitive Word of his revelation, God has made himself known in the fullest possible way. He has revealed to mankind who he is. This definitive self-revelation of God is the fundamental reason why the Church is missionary by her very nature. She cannot do other than proclaim the Gospel, that is, the fullness of the truth which God has enabled us to know about himself". Only the revelation of Jesus Christ, therefore, "introduces into our history a universal and ultimate truth which stirs the human mind to ceaseless effort".
6. Therefore, the theory of the limited, incomplete, or imperfect character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, which would be complementary to that found in other religions, is contrary to the Church's faith. Such a position would claim to be based on the notion that the truth about God cannot be grasped and manifested in its globality and completeness by any historical religion, neither by Christianity nor by Jesus Christ.
Such a position is in radical contradiction with the foregoing statements of Catholic faith according to which the full and complete revelation of the salvific mystery of God is given in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the words, deeds, and entire historical event of Jesus, though limited as human realities, have nevertheless the divine Person of the Incarnate Word, "true God and true man" as their subject. For this reason, they possess in themselves the definitiveness and completeness of the revelation of God's salvific ways, even if the depth of the divine mystery in itself remains transcendent and inexhaustible. The truth about God is not abolished or reduced because it is spoken in human language; rather, it is unique, full, and complete, because he who speaks and acts is the Incarnate Son of God. Thus, faith requires us to profess that the Word made flesh, in his entire mystery, who moves from incarnation to glorification, is the source, participated but real, as well as the fulfilment of every salvific revelation of God to humanity, and that the Holy Spirit, who is Christ's Spirit, will teach this "entire truth" (Jn 16:13) to the Apostles and, through them, to the whole Church.
8. The hypothesis of the inspired value of the sacred writings of other religions is also put forward. Certainly, it must be recognized that there are some elements in these texts which may be de facto instruments by which countless people throughout the centuries have been and still are able today to nourish and maintain their life-relationship with God. Thus, as noted above, the Second Vatican Council, in considering the customs, precepts, and teachings of the other religions, teaches that "although differing in many ways from her own teaching, these nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men".
The Church's tradition, however, reserves the designation of inspired texts to the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, since these are inspired by the Holy Spirit. Taking up this tradition, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council states: "For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 20:31; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:19-21; 3:15-16), they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself". These books "firmly, faithfully, and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures".
Nevertheless, God, who desires to call all peoples to himself in Christ and to communicate to them the fullness of his revelation and love, "does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals, but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression even when they contain ''gaps, insufficiencies and errors'". Therefore, the sacred books of other religions, which in actual fact direct and nourish the existence of their followers, receive from the mystery of Christ the elements of goodness and grace which they contain.
12..... Furthermore, the salvific action of Jesus Christ, with and through his Spirit, extends beyond the visible boundaries of the Church to all humanity. Speaking of the paschal mystery, in which Christ even now associates the believer to himself in a living manner in the Spirit and gives him the hope of resurrection, the Council states: "All this holds true not only for Christians but also for all men of good will in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery".
Hence, the connection is clear between the salvific mystery of the Incarnate Word and that of the Spirit, who actualizes the salvific efficacy of the Son made man in the lives of all people, called by God to a single goal, both those who historically preceded the Word made man, and those who live after his coming in history: the Spirit of the Father, bestowed abundantly by the Son, is the animator of all (cf. Jn 3:34
MEETING WITH THE MUSLIM LEADERS
OMAYYAD GREAT MOSQUE, DAMASCUS
ADDRESS OF THE HOLY FATHER
Sunday, 6 May 2001
Dear Muslim Friends,
1. I give heartfelt praise to Almighty God for the grace of this meeting. I am most grateful for your warm welcome, in the tradition of hospitality so cherished by the people of this region. I thank especially the Minister of the Waqf and the Grand Mufti for their gracious greetings, which put into words the great yearning for peace which fills the hearts of all people of good will. My Jubilee Pilgrimage has been marked by important meetings with Muslim leaders in Cairo and Jerusalem, and now I am deeply moved to be your guest here in the great Umayyad Mosque, so rich in religious history. Your land is dear to Christians: here our religion has known vital moments of its growth and doctrinal development, and here are found Christian communities which have lived in peace and harmony with their Muslim neighbours for many centuries.
2. We are meeting close to what both Christians and Muslims regard as the tomb of John the Baptist, known as Yahya in the Muslim tradition. The son of Zechariah is a figure of prime importance in the history of Christianity, for he was the Precursor who prepared the way for Christ. John''s life, wholly dedicated to God, was crowned by martyrdom. May his witness enlighten all who venerate his memory here, so that they - and we too - may understand that life''s great task is to seek God''s truth and justice.
The fact that we are meeting in this renowned place of prayer reminds us that man is a spiritual being, called to acknowledge and respect the absolute priority of God in all things. Christians and Muslims agree that the encounter with God in prayer is the necessary nourishment of our souls, without which our hearts wither and our will no longer strives for good but succumbs to evil.
3. Both Muslims and Christians prize their places of prayer, as oases where they meet the All Merciful God on the journey to eternal life, and where they meet their brothers and sisters in the bond of religion. When, on the occasion of weddings or funerals or other celebrations, Christians and Muslims remain in silent respect at the other''s prayer, they bear witness to what unites them, without disguising or denying the things that separate.
It is in mosques and churches that the Muslim and Christian communities shape their religious identity, and it is there that the young receive a significant part of their religious education. What sense of identity is instilled in young Christians and young Muslims in our churches and mosques? It is my ardent hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders and teachers will present our two great religious communities as communities in respectful dialogue, never more as communities in conflict. It is crucial for the young to be taught the ways of respect and understanding, so that they will not be led to misuse religion itself to promote or justify hatred and violence. Violence destroys the image of the Creator in his creatures, and should never be considered as the fruit of religious conviction.
4. I truly hope that our meeting today in the Umayyad Mosque will signal our determination to advance interreligious dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam. This dialogue has gained momentum in recent decades; and today we can be grateful for the road we have travelled together so far. At the highest level, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue represents the Catholic Church in this task. For more than thirty years the Council has sent a message to Muslims on the occasion of Îd al-Fitr at the close of Ramadan, and I am very happy that this gesture has been welcomed by many Muslims as a sign of growing friendship between us. In recent years the Council has established a liaison committee with international Islamic Organizations, and also with al-Azhar in Egypt, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year.
It is important that Muslims and Christians continue to explore philosophical and theological questions together, in order to come to a more objective and comprehensive knowledge of each others'' religious beliefs. Better mutual understanding will surely lead, at the practical level, to a new way of presenting our two religions not in opposition, as has happened too often in the past, but in partnership for the good of the human family.
Interreligious dialogue is most effective when it springs from the experience of "living with each other" from day to day within the same community and culture. In Syria, Christians and Muslims have lived side by side for centuries, and a rich dialogue of life has gone on unceasingly. Every individual and every family knows moments of harmony, and other moments when dialogue has broken down. The positive experiences must strengthen our communities in the hope of peace; and the negative experiences should not be allowed to undermine that hope. For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and to offer each other forgiveness. Jesus teaches us that we must pardon others'' offences if God is to pardon us our sins (cf. Mt 6:14).
As members of the one human family and as believers, we have obligations to the common good, to justice and to solidarity. Interreligious dialogue will lead to many forms of cooperation, especially in responding to the duty to care for the poor and the weak. These are the signs that our worship of God is genuine.
5. As we make our way through life towards our heavenly destiny, Christians feel the company of Mary, the Mother of Jesus; and Islam too pays tribute to Mary and hails her as "chosen above the women of the world" (Quran, III:42). The Virgin of Nazareth, the Lady of Saydnâya, has taught us that God protects the humble and "scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts" (Lk 1:51). May the hearts of Christians and Muslims turn to one another with feelings of brotherhood and friendship, so that the Almighty may bless us with the peace which heaven alone can give. To the One, Merciful God be praise and glory for ever. Amen.