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Religion and Society

Christianity And Islam: A Dialogue Necessary For Europe

For the first time delegates for relations with Muslims from the Bishops' Conferences of Portugal, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Poland, Italy, Malta, Scandinavia, Austria and Turkey met in Bordeaux in the presence of Card Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, to discuss what each country is doing in the area of Christian-Muslim dialogue.



Experts from a number of backgrounds took part in the conference, including Fr Andrea Pacini, author of a 2005 study on Europe's young Muslims; Martino Diez, director of the Oasis Foundation in Venice, and Fr Hans Vöcking, a member of the White Fathers, the Society of the Missionaries of Africa.



The meeting began with a presentation by Cardinal Tauran on the status quaestionis of Christian-Muslim dialogue. This led to a discussion centred on the publication of the 'Letter of 138 Muslim Scholars' which resulted in the first Catholic-Muslim Forum that was held in November 2008 in Rome. Also in the months leading up to the Bordeaux meeting Cardinal Tauran's dicastery worked on draft Pastoral Orientations, which should be released after the summer break.


In his address the cardinal stressed how important but also how complex the dialogue with Muslims is for the Church. He also noted that such dialogue also represents an opportunity for it gives Christians the possibility to broaden their understanding of their own faith and find better ways to explain it. Only through mutual witness, Tauran said, can dialogue be sincere and true without the danger of relativism.



During the conference delegates presented reports describing the situation of Christian-Muslim dialogue in their respective countries. One topic rose above the rest, one that is always relevant, namely what is the best attitude or position to take vis-à-vis Muslims now living in Europe, an issue that can no longer be treated as a simple problem of immigration.



Unlike some countries that are experiencing Muslim immigration for the very first time, most European nations already have second, third, fourth and even fifth generation Muslims, men and women who were born and bread in Europe, and who now see themselves as European.



The meeting also addressed other inter-faith issues as well, issues such as mixed marriages, the place (education and integration) of young Muslims in Catholic youth groups and schools, not to mention the tensions generated in some European cities by the building of mosques with their minarets. . . . Significantly, participants also noted that Christians and Muslims are on the same wavelength on certain issues like bioethics or the public place of religion, something which deserves greater focus.



Fr Andrea Pacini's presentation on young European Muslims highlighted how, to understand their identity as Muslims, three interacting factors must be taken into account, namely the first generations' relationship to "ethnic" Islam, the relationship to European society and the influence of transnational flows of Muslims in Europe.




Increasingly a gap is emerging between how Muslims traditionally experienced their faith in their countries of origin and the more individualised forms of religion that are emerging in the context of European culture, a trend that leads some to more liberal forms and others to experiences dubbed "neo-traditional". In turn such trends are reflected in new types of faith-based organisation, centred on voluntary associations whose goals are not exclusively religious, and which interact with their European cultural milieu. Still and in spite of different traditions, Muslims continue to view themselves personally and collectively as part of the wider world of Islam.



In his presentation Martino Diez focused instead on the subject of identity and otherness, a sensitive topic that can easily lead to stereotypes that are far from reality. He did so by also addressing the issue of the ongoing process of inter-civilisational mixing or métissage. He said that even if this phenomenon were a problem, it must also be treated as an opportunity. If properly managed, métissage can open the door to new possibilities and forms of coexistence for people and families from different cultural and religious backgrounds. But to do this people must talk about and to each other as a first step towards mutual recognition. Real dialogue is possible when in society everyone is prepared to talk and listen to one another, something which is essential to recognise each other.



After going over the work done by the Council of European Bishops' Conferences in cooperation with the other Churches in the Conference of European Churches (CEC) in relation to Christian-Muslim dialogue, Fr Hans Vöcking said that the Catholic Church has to rethink its approach to this issue because its work with Muslims can no longer be seen as "helping immigrants" as the case might have been 30 years ago. Muslims now are an integral part of European societies, a fact that requires a reflection that is at the same time pastoral, social, charity-related and religious in nature.


Participants ended the meeting by reiterating their commitment to working together because, even if the reality of their respective countries is different, problems and obstacles are often the same and can be best addressed by sharing and exchanging ideas as well as reading, analysing and planning collegially.