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Religion and Society

Oasis and the “common grammar” between Christians and Muslims

VaticanInsider - Saturday, June 22nd 2013



The Saudi architect Sami Angawi is undoubtedly an uncommon figure, even in his behaviour and way of dressing. He began his career with the universal cosmic order and the series of prophets, to then come to the bulldozers that in his city of birth, Mecca, are destroying one monument after the other to make room for new skyscrapers. Wahhabism hates history, with the exception of the golden age of the first three generations of Muslims, and considers it a mass of deviations. In the 1970s Angawi had provocatively constructed a photomontage that depicted the Ka’ba suffocated by skyscrapers. . “But today’s reality is much worse than my photomontage”. We have lost the balance – says Angari – and what is going on cannot but be reflected on the rest of the Islamic world.



The perspective is mystical, a mysticism strongly connoted in a Gnostic sense.


And yet, despite the cultural distance, Angawi fully feels the question of techno-science, so much so that having listened to Mauro Magatti, professor at the ‘Cattolica’ University, speaking about “immanence in movement” and the communications system, he approaches him and invites him to his cultural centre in Jeddah. The magic of Arafa (modern science) that undermines the old Ghabalawi (the God of creation), mentioned by Cardinal Scola in his introduction, is not limited only to the West.


It is this type of sometimes unexpected meetings and exchanges that probably represent the most important fruit of this tenth Oasis committee, held in Milan on 17 and 18 June. Before mentioning the single contents, the analyses or the personal accounts, the most interesting aspect was the emergence, more emphatically with respect to the past, of what Cardinal Scola called “a common grammar”. A common grammar which is fundamental for the future of Oasis, as the Foundation is called upon to work on the boundary, making it possible for Christians and Muslims to speak together in the concreteness of today



The aspect of the context is decisive: as the relations from the “western” side have shown it is important to fully understand the questions arising from historical processes. Secularisation – was Francesco Botturi’s argument – is born for example as a radical questioning of Christian universalism, even paradoxically overturning itself in the post-modern loss of all universalism. Today in fact – declared Rémi Brague – we are experiencing rather an anti-humanism, we can say what we do not want but not what we want, nor above all why. And it is for this reason also on the question of a new universalism and a new humanism, following the tragedy of the atheist one, that the Christian proposal will be measured. Without understanding the context and its questions one risks “missing the target”, as Cardinal Scola once again pointed out, referring to the toil of many European churches.



On the other hand, numerous papers from the “eastern” side highlighted the crisis (the word was used more than once) that the Islamic world is going through and which arises from the imposing of one single vision, “narrow and anti-human” as defined by Sayyed Jawad al-Khoei, an Iraqi Shiite, to the detriment of plurality. In this sense, the risk of the ideologisation of religion was widely denounced, from Nigeria to Morocco and Iran.



“It is impossible to understand al-Azhar or the Salafites without a good knowledge of Islam – the Egyptian Tewfik Aclimandos observed. But in order to understand the working of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood it is much better to go and study the history of the Leninist parties of the twentieth century”. Reality is coming thick and fast: this was the sincere and dramatic account of the rector of the Saint-Joseph University, in a Lebanon on the verge of institutional collapse, as was also that of a young Dominican friar of Istanbul. “I study Ottoman mystical theology, but when the other day, when leaving the church where I officiate near Taksim Square, I could not breathe because of the tear gas, I asked myself what the sense was of what I was doing. The problem of evil was thrown into my face”.


Between secularism and ideology, as the title goes, Oasis has tried to map out a pathway, challenging a doxa of post-secular society, that is that secularisation is the necessary direction for modern democracy. He did this basing himself on the whole religious experience, always in need of purification and always culturally interpreted. Because the tragedy, as Olivier Roy reminded us in reply to a question on religious identities in the Middle East, is not a culture that is taking root, but a faith that is being eradicated.