Last update: 2022-04-22 09:37:45

Known and esteemed for the breadth and depth of his work in Islamic studies, Louis Massignon was anything but a man of libraries. Indeed, while he tried through culture to being two civilisations closer together which had been rivals for a long time and kept at a distance by mutual misunderstanding, he did not neglect the great challenges that were taking place under his eyes and in which were being established the premisses for special relations, especially between the country he came from, France, and the vast Muslim territories that were moving out of colonial domination. New forms of political partnership, unprecedented forms of cooperation, relationships with immigrants from overseas based on mutual respect on the basis of a ‘word given’ to be honoured…surprisingly prefigured questions and issues that are still today very topical, although they are located within a radically changed context. The broad documentation of his multiple activities, to which this book attests thanks to the pen of his closest collaborator who is still alive today, constitutes a valuable contribution to throwing light on the extraordinary and polyvalent personality of a great Catholic orientalist who died a little more than fifty years ago. Three five-year periods, full of journeys and correspondence, initiatives and grief-stricken appeals to ensure that special interests, short-sighted calculations of convenience, but above all else the denial of the dignity of all, did not prevail. ‘Deeds of generosity lived with courage at the time of the war in Algeria and the development of the situation in Tunisia and in Morocco’, according to the definition of the Archbishop Emeritus of Algiers, Henri Teissier, to be found in his introduction to this work. Published during the centenary of the Great War (1914-1918) which brought about in the Middle East a precarious settlement whose consequences are still with us, this volume contains prophetic warnings about the shouldering of responsibility that should not be ignored. After the end of the Second World War, the manifesto of 27 June 1947 of the Comité Chrétien pour l’Entente France-Islam declared amongst other things: ‘Down the centuries great Frenchmen have worked for reconciliation with the Muslim world. At this moment, when their work of comprehension and justice – which is so important for the future of humanity – has been placed at risk by a media campaign in which come together, in an empty paternalism mixed with an administrative Machiavellianism whose time has ended, too many economic interests, a group of Christians remembers the ‘Catholic Committee for the Defence of Law’ which worked to save the honour of France at the time of the Dreyfus affair. Today, as then, it is a matter of ensuring that justice is done to human beings. We know what superhuman trust in the Judgement of God animates the Islamic world and its social claims, everywhere not understood and mocked. Christendom should never be deaf to this appeal to sovereign justice, that would mean that it itself has stopped believing in such justice. We want as Christians to be in France the first witnesses to this: our task is to act for a loyal, civic and social agreement with the Muslims, for our shared destiny’. It is of no use to say that such stances cost Massignon insults and threats in the incandescent climate of those years and this also edifies and amazes those who, like ourselves, in rather grey days often listen to armchair intellectuals pontificate on questions that have never troubled them, as if the living and beating reality of their fellows was only a pretext for so many abstract, as much as peremptory, rhetorical exercises.