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Religion and Society

From the Patriarch of Venice: a realistic and encouraging text

The document is certainly an encouraging sign. The number and quality of subscribers is particularly noteworthy. We are not dealing simply with “media” since for Islam consent is a fountain of theology and law. If the subscribers have avoided giving a legal slant to the document, is also true that no document produced by the most extreme salafistic groups has ever been able to claim it received consent comparable to the 138 signatures at the bottom of the open letter. The approach is realistic (“if the Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace”) and ultimately proposes simply that “to say to Christians, that we, as Muslims, are not against them and Islam is not against them - unless they declare war against the Muslims in the name of their religion”. In light of this the Muslim leaders readily identify themselves with those “others” of whom Jesus spoke: “who is not against us is with us”.

 

 

The document, taken from the perspective of a two-fold love, that of God and one’s neighbour, gives value to a vein in Muslim tradition that has been partially overshadowed by the growth in fundamentalism. Man – the text affirms – has “a mind that is made so that it might understand the truth; a will that is made for freedom of choice and a sentiment that is made to love what is good and what is beautiful”. One notes between the lines a condemnation of terrorism: “…to those who seek conflict or destruction for their own sake or who think that at the end they will gain an advantage, to them we say to sincerely make every effort to bring about peace”. Its taking root in the Muslim tradition is very important and renders the text more credible when compared with other proclamations expressed in a Western language.

 

 

One must not ask more of this document that it can give. It is only a preclude to a theological dialogue which, in an atmosphere of heightened reciprocal esteem, proposes to examine the content of the two pillars (love of one God and love of one’s neighbour) of the two religious traditions. Nevertheless, this theological dialogue is not at all possible if there is no prior esteem. I have had the opportunity in Cairo and the USA to speak in public with three of the signatories to the document: Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb and Muzammil H. Siddiqui and I have ascertained that this reciprocal esteem is indeed real.

 

 

The document marks an important starting point for an authentic dialogue. It always requires two conditions: self-exposition and search for a good life. It appears to me that the subscribers to this letter are moving decidedly in this direction, from the moment they invite the Christians to a type of “spiritual emulation”, a competition to do good “we will compete against one another only in justice and good works”. My wish is that this document is read and widely diffused in the Muslim world and the West.

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