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Christians in the Muslim World

Christians in Sudanese Islam. Interview with Card. Gabriel Zubeir Wako, Archbishop of Khartoum

Christians and Muslims in Sudan: what is this relationship like today after a war which lasted too long and was ended only a year ago with a peace agreement that is still 'on trial'?

 

 

"The whole of the subject should be approached within the political context of the Sudan, which is based on Islam, but it should also be considered in the light of the diversity of races present in the country and the complexity represented by the fact that Muslims, here as throughout the Middle East, come to use Islam as an instrument for the maintenance of any system that they install. This leads them to totally ignore people who are different from them, especially if these other people are weaker and less in numbers than they are. At times it is really difficult to establish whether it is Islam that leads these people to do what they do or whether it is the evil that lies in the heart of man that leads to these excesses because of all these evils that are around. The question I ask myself is whether people really ask themselves and assess if they know how to use reason correctly. It is surprising, in fact, how in the face of certain facts, although recourse is made to human reason, that conclusions are arrived at that are so different from one another. An African has his mental vision to see things and to think. And an Arab, like a Muslim, has another. This fact is evident because one is not dealing so much with educated people who can manipulate a discussion or a dialogue but more of ordinary people. There is really a different mental vision between us and Muslims. This is the problem. This question, the relationship between Christians and Muslims, is really very complex in this country today, to the point that it remains suspended".

 

Thus dialogue remains a goal that is equally suspended?

 

 

"The attempt to develop a dialogue has become very problematic. I would like to make myself clear: a dialogue can be obtained easily when one is dealing with simple things such as, for example, the position of chairs in this room, but when it is asked to lead to a transformation in a way of thinking or to an openness to different forms of thought or reaction faced with precise and concrete situations, then everything becomes very difficult. And I think that a great deal of time will be needed. One need only think: who will begin it? If dialogue is attempted by a Christian, others will say that he is trying to brainwash people with Western ideologies. If it is begun by an African, the reaction will be the same; and if we look at the other side, to Muslims, who is really prepared to move in this direction? One needs mutual trust between people, which, because of the war and the hate that has been sown over the years, has been completely lost, and to rebuild will be very arduous. One can easily hear a person from the south of the Sudan declare in a convinced way that one cannot trust an Arab. And when he says an Arab, he means a Muslim. Given that this mentality is widespread, induced by the violence of many centuries of recent history, almost a hammering away in people's souls, one can imagine how difficult dialogue is. To achieve true reciprocal openness a great deal of road still remains ahead of us."

 

In this, can the Christians of Europe be of help? Or can they learn from this in their relationship with Muslim immigrants, who are increasingly numerous?

 

 

"What makes dialogue even more difficult is a certain tendency that seems to be becoming established amongst Christians especially in Europe and America, where they seem to be becoming uncertain about their roots and about the foundations of Christian identity. Europeans prefer almost to sell or to give away what they have in exchange for dialogue. But they do not realise that we should call this process slavery. If you give yourself away, you become a slave. As bishops of Sudan we have been disappointed by the attitude of some European Christians because they deceive themselves that they will be able to create co-existence between peoples but in reality what appears to be peaceful co-existence is nothing else but a temporary adjustment that will not last. The central question is that a real change of heart is required. And this can begin as a human effort but can only take place as a grace of God. We have a very powerful instrument for this prayer. For the mutual understanding of Christians and Muslims, this is the most powerful instrument that we have to walk forward and advance. Prayer is essential in this because it touches the deepest reality of man, where there begins the change in ways of thinking."

 

And the meeting or round tables for dialogue: are they of no use?

 

 

"At times it happens that such meetings are only a deception. We deceive ourselves and the world. Let us look at the example of the Christians of the Middle East: there both Christians and Muslims are Arabs and for Christians to refer to Islam is almost a natural fact of their make-up and for this reason they can go forward together. In some cases they live protected by Islam, in other cases they try not to enter into antagonism, but if they looked a little deeper into their situation, they would have to recognise all the handicaps to which they are subjected. When these examples are offered to us as a model for co-existence with Muslims, I smile inside myself because in reality this is nothing else but an approach of survival. Relations between Christians and Muslims function well when there are friendly relations in daily life but when one goes beyond this we can see that difficulties begin. In theory there should not be any reason to involve the religious question, but the political thinking of some people has wanted Islam to be involved. I see that some political leaders live their religion not with devotion to God but as an instrument to keep power: this is one of the difficult aspects of the question because once Muslims have power they also want to direct the religious life of non-Muslims, and it is here that things begin to go badly."

 

How was the address of the Pope at Regensburg received in the Sudan?

 

 

"There were no particular violent reactions, just some demonstrations. But now Christians ask themselves: why is it that Muslims heavily offended Christians, attacking the person of Jesus as well, and nobody ever reacted? They ask themselves whether the reactions to the address of the Pope were at bottom motivated by genuine religious feelings. In the West there was a great deal of fear in relation to this reaction, whereas there was a refusal to pose the question of achieving a more frank and profound, and less diplomatic, dialogue. Christians should manage to separate the question of the truth from the question of the fear and apprehension of people. In his address the Pope tried to achieve something much more profound, to separate religion from violence and to promote a more correct use of reason. This is something that is valid for all times. And if the Pope had not clarified the meaning of the discussion, other people would in the end have completely deviated the direction of his address."

 

How did you experience the visit of the Pope to Turkey? What consequences did it have for the life of your country?

 

 

"Dialogue must be sincere and frank, but the request for sincerity frightens people and inhibits the qualities of people. The problem lies in an education that will allow the acquisition of a new way of thinking. But I ask myself whether amongst the Muslims instruments and the people exist that are able and prepared to educate in this way. People that have the courage to take a stance, and not to surrender in the face of a widespread style according to which in order to present the truth you have to camouflage it. We seem to be concerned to look for fine clothes for the truth, rather than allowing it to free people. I have always been happy to be one of these people who speak in a direct way. Often we lose time in skirting around questions. Only when Christians and Muslims are ready to address the truth directly, in a frontal way, only then will dialogue take place. Otherwise we will limit ourselves to playing and dialogue will not take place."

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