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Mouchir Aoun, Christian Religious Arab Thought. Calls for reform and need for revival, (in Arabic)

Mouchir Aoun, Christian Religious Arab Thought. Calls for reform and need for revival, (in Arabic), Beirut, Dâr At-Talî’a 2007

This Arabic-language book wants to revive Christian Thought in the Arab world. In particular, the author wants to reformulate within the current Arab context the possibility of expressing a Christian thought that relates to its renaissance, renewal and modernity. Islam, Arabness and modernity are seen as three crucial cultural challenges that contemporary Christian consciousness must meet. On such bases, the book looks at the social and political conditions that might favour the emergence of this thought.

 

Arab theology cannot of course be isolated from the main theological questions that have been addressed throughout history. For this reason, theological studies in Arabic must be integrated into the framework set by the Second Vatican Council and the theological research that followed. Aoun begins his work by analysing the role of theology in universities and its relationship to philosophy and the positive sciences. The Eastern experience is the hermeneutical key to understand Christian theology in the Arab world because of the impact of Islamic thought on eastern Christian consciousness and its contribution to the formation of the cultural identity of Eastern Christianity as well as its theological formulas and moral disciplines. Christians realised as early as the 7th century of the need to adapt their intellectual and religious witness to the needs that developed with the rise of Islam. Thus, they found themselves halfway between loyalty to the traditions of the Fathers and the new culture.

 

Contemporary Lebanese society is characterised by the alienation of political and religious freedoms and the rise of religious extremism. The author wants to know whether it is possible to bear witness to the Christian truth in a predominantly Muslim environment. He also wonders whether Arab ideas can express theological truths that are in harmony with Western thought. He notes that ancient Eastern theology is the offspring of Christian Thought meeting Greek philosophy. This is why contemporary theology needs to interact with Arab culture to communicate adequately the Christian doctrine to modern Arabs.

 

Freedom of religion is today the greatest challenge in the Arab world. Finding ways to address it requires a dialogue between theology and the human sciences. However, the concept of religious freedom in the East is marked by a certain exclusivism that stems as much from Christian absolutism as it does from Islamic tendency to infringe upon religious freedom.

 

The author believes that an Islamic-Christian dialogue based on the theology of the Word of God can lead to a dialogue between the Word of God revealed in the Qur‘an and its incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ. Such a theological effort calls for the reinterpretation of the Christological formulas expressed by the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon, as well as an end to all forms of Christian exclusivism and totalitarianism. In fact, the theology of the incarnation could further radicalise the affiliation with the Arab world and its culture whilst allowing for greater openness towards other cultures.

 

The cosmic Christ takes up the last part of Aoun’s book. It is a theology that seeks to develop a Christological discourse for the Arab world. Undoubtedly, Christ is a gift for the whole of humanity that reveals itself in every man who seeks love, peace and justice. Hence, the author proposes an Arab Christology founded on the Christian mystery and the Muslim figure of Christ, in an approach that combines the Christ proclaimed in the Christian tradition and the one revealed in Arab traditions.

 

Whilst the Christ of the Qur‘an is not the same as the risen Christ, He remains at the centre of the Islamic-Christian dialogue. In Islam, Christ possesses prophetic dignity even if the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith are distinct. Muslims accuse Christians of raising Christ to the status of a divinity, but Shia theology proposes a somewhat moderate image of Christ that lies between Christian Christology and Sunni theology. For Shias, the divine light manifests itself in an elite group of men. Christ can thus be seen as the recipient of the divine light, and is a mirror in which revelation can be seen, but is not the ontological incarnation of God. This Christological reinterpretation is certainly not aimed at converting Muslims to Christianity but ought to be seen as a way to express the Christian truth and mystery in a language that is free of controversy.

 

In the end, Christians and Muslims both agree that God revealed himself in History, through his incarnation in Jesus Christ for the former and in the message communicated in the Qur‘an for the latter. Love leads God to freely manifest himself in History. Even if Christian-Muslim relations have been marred by controversies in the past, both can work together having found common ground in the figure of Christ.

 

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