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The Umma has an Asian Majority

Author: Paolo Nicelli Title: L'Islam nel Sudest asiatico Publisher: Edizioni Lavoro, Rome, 2007

Although the missio ad gentes has been at times considered first and foremost, if not exclusively, a form of proselytising activity, its authentic meaning in the logic of the incarnation has always been more the ability to live the dimensions of the world as it is in time and space. Certainly bringing the message of Christ but also encountering and appreciating every human experience which in dialogue with him comes to be 'judged'. Obviously one is not dealing with a 'judgement' which falls from on high nor, even less, with one that comes from outside, imposing itself in an arrogant way, but with one which begins with knowledge about, and profound esteem for, every good thing, in order to achieve a sharing of a journey that leads to full maturation of the seed of truth that also exists in the most diverse and distant realities.


It is therefore very understandable that this presentation of Islam of the Far East is so profound and qualified: a missionary of the PIME, Rev. Paolo Nicelli, is in fact its author. Strong with his long stay in loco and in numerous villages in the area, Rev. Nicelli has deepened his knowledge of Islam in these lands through studies and readings that have illuminated his personal and very special experience in the field. From this arises a fresco of broad brushstrokes that is far from the banalising and in the final analysis falsifying mass-media simplifications, but not for this reason levelled down into a reading marked by being sweetened, exotic or folkloristic, and incapable of identifying the key questions and issues that in this part of the world, as well, are not absent.


The approach is in large measure historical and institutional, as is right, because the religions, and amongst these Islam in particular, are not only made up of dogmas, nor can they be summed up completely in the catechisms. One is dealing here with living realities, and thus realities that are complex and variegated, realities that are influenced by anthropological and cultural elements prior to being influenced by theological and doctrinal ones. Specifically in the area subject to examination, where Islam arrived late in the day, through traders and preachers, the hybridisation with the local civilisations was of determining importance and is still of fundamental importance in understanding dynamics which to us are very little known. This is rather paradoxical if one takes into account that it is specifically here that the majority of Muslims in the world actually live. Much more numerous than the Arabs, the Persians and the Turks who were indeed the forgers of classic Islam the faithful of Islam of the Far East are destined to play an increasingly relevant role in the future destinies of the umma and the whole of mankind.


To direct an attentive gaze in their direction is thus indispensable in surveying the possible pathways towards a conciliation between the traditional formulation of faith in Allah and the challenges of a plural world, which their world is and which is the world in which we will be increasingly called to co-exist.


To go back down the pathway by which Islam spread in these lands and to analyse the phenomenon of the Islamic rebirth that these lands have recently experienced will for many readers be a new and original experience. Scholars will find in the rich bibliography and notes of this book numerous references by which to explore key questions and issues on which it is impossible to document oneself in Italian. An instrument of knowledge, therefore, which is readable but well organised at a scholarly level, and which fills a major gap as regards what has already been published. A final observation should be made about the impassioned and participating tomes with which the author deals with his subject matter. Without ever taking away lucidity, this characteristic allows him to go deeper into the subject that he addresses, thereby becoming not only a study of the highest level but also, and perhaps above all else, direct witness, which reaches the mind through a vigil and beating heart.