A very warm welcome to all of you here to the Palace of Westminster.It is a great honour and a pleasure for me to introduce to you His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Scola for what I’m sure will be some fascinating and enlightening discussions on one of the most important issues of our time.Your Eminence, ever since you had the idea for the Oasis Foundation in 2004, it has achieved a great deal in creating vital space for dialogue and understanding between Christians and Muslims and their respective cultures. In fostering mutual knowledge and encounter between Christians and Muslims, it takes as its motto: “Christians and Muslims in an age of métissage of civilisations”, a term which the Cardinal will – I guess – clarify in his exposition.
This morning’s encounter at Westminster - and the public lecture at the Heythrop College that will follow in the afternoon - has twin objectives: from one side, to present the work of Oasis and its activities for interreligious dialogue to the UK. From the other side, to allow Oasis and its President, Cardinal Scola, to get a closer knowledge of the British reality, in its different dimensions: political, cultural, social and ecclesial.Oasis works mainly in the field of cultural dialogue, that is, by comparing the ways in which Christians and Muslims interpret and live their respective faiths. The first focus of Oasis is on the Christian minorities in the Middle East and the Muslim societies in which they live. And obviously enough, Oasis has been devoting recently a great deal of reflection on the Arab revolutions and their possible outcomes. However, through this study, the Foundation has concluded that the transition which is occurring on the southern shore of the Mediterranean is challenging also the historical fabric of the Western Societies. This is the fundamental reason why the Foundation was so keen to organize a presentation in London.
I can anticipate therefore that you are not going to listen to an “orientalistic” exposition about Islam and the small Christian minorities in the Middle East. Rather, you are going to be given a picture of our pluralistic society through the mirror of these realities. This is exactly one of the aspects of the unprecedented mixing of cultures that we are witnessing, most notably in the UK: that you can no longer separate between “them” and “us”, “there” and “here”: we all face the same challenges and everybody is called to draw the best from its tradition and to propose it to others. This is, as it seems to me, the way Oasis works.
The Oasis foundation has a vast network of relationship: a board of promoters including Cardinals and Bishops, from the West, but also from the Countries with an Islamic majority, and a scientific board, which meet every year, alternatively in the West and in the Middle East. Its conception has proved providential, coming at a time when – as we all know – tensions between Christians and Muslims have been on the rise throughout the world.
But the foundation’s greatest and unique strength, I believe, has been to recognize the complexity of these tensions, offering intelligent, profound and effective responses to the challenges faced in - what His Eminence has rightly called - our “hybridized” societies.
Oasis goes beyond mere intellectualism, and seeks to transcend usual labels such as multiculturalism and reciprocity and the usual “moderate – radical” epithets. All of this is to be applauded, and I am sure we will learn much more about this invaluable and greatly needed approach today.
Before I hand over to His Eminence, I also introduce to you three highly respected scholars with an interest in this field who will lead a debate after Cardinal Scola’s lecture:
Dr. Karim Lahham is a barrister and an expert in Islamic Law who completed his doctorate at the University of Cambridge;
Professor John Milbank is a theologian who lectures in religion, politics and ethics at the University of Nottingham;
And Ian Richard Netton, Sharjah Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter. Professor Netton was recently appointed Consultor of the Vatican Commission for religious relations with Muslims.
Your Eminence, we may not be angels but we will most certainly be attentive as I now give you the floor.
Please welcome His Eminence.