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Religion and Society

To Come Closer, Learn the Differences

Normally instructions for use do not have a very good literary or scientific consideration. And perhaps the author of this volume, the learned Jesuit father Christian Troll, would not want to see it placed next to a manual of indications and solutions. But in this case we want to give ‘instructions for use’ the sense of a work that must not be missed, an essential instrument for any type of Christian-Muslim approach. In over three hundred pages, published last year in Germany and only recently in Italy, including papers and essays written over at least a ten year period, Father Troll brings an exemplary piece of work to conclusion, as hinted at in the title: and that is, the distinction and highlighting of all (and they are all mentioned) the elements which more or less differentiate radical Islam and Christianity. The reason is evident. To understand each other and perhaps, as many suggest, share some common responsibilities, poses a condition: to know one another. And to know one another means making comparisons, to lay on the table what constitutes me and what constitutes you. Thus the text progresses in stages comparing the essential dimensions of the two faiths, their parallels and contrasts. The first part climbs up the roads of dialogue: why it is necessary and why it is difficult. ‘The European Christians (the author addresses himself to them in particular, editor’s note) are called upon as individuals and groups and communities to perceive and recognise the changes that the relatively sudden introduction of Muslim communities in many parts of the continent has brought about’. And he goes on by proposing the acceptance of ‘the fact with an open heart’ and ‘a positive attitude’. The quotation is not misleading: the road to reach a just and beautiful end is not necessarily straight and flat.

 

 

Apart from the easy ‘unitary’ rhetoric, the differences appear to be powerful and implacable: Holy Scriptures, founders, institutions. And the diversity is not just connected with historical facts, but concerns ‘the origin’ of a way of considering life and the world, which the author sums up in a series of formulas. ‘According to the Islamic conception, the person as servant and representative of God, called upon to obey and answer God’s will as it was revealed definitively and conclusively in the Koran; in the Christian faith the idea of the human being according to the image of Christ through the force of the Holy Spirit. In Islam human duties, explicitly revealed and enforced by God, determined and sealed so as to say by the divinely sanctioned sharî‘a; in the Christian doctrine human rights founded on human nature as such’. In the second part are set out the differences in faith, from the very conception of dialogue, to Abraham, to the nature of the “prophet” Jesus and the “prophet” Mohammed. The third part is entitled Valutazioni della teologia with references to the conception of the Word of God and to theological elaboration and Christian teachings in relation to Islam.

 

 

Can people coexist in this way? – one asks oneself. If this distance has repercussions on so many deep aspects of existence, what kind of contact will ever be possible, what kind of understanding? The road is not easy. There are however positive signs, reciprocal appeals which encourage people to go on. The Christians for example must recognise that ‘the most impressive thing of worldly Islamic faith is undoubtedly the conscience of the majesty and the presence of God. This conscience is expressed and renewed continuously in the faithful fulfilment of the ritual prayer of countless men and women’. Besides ‘it will be of vital importance that all Muslims understand that the democratic secular legal system is the universally required condition for the possibility of a plural coexistence in solidarity and justice’. Therefore, suggests Father Troll, if we observe one another we can learn. And many others say the same thing. But generally their proposal is to look vacantly, without expression or affectivity. Instead, what the author, who has built up a specific and keen competence in this during his life, is asking for man to look with awareness, self-awareness, at himself and at others, and everything that makes us very very different. This is the only possibility to be able to recognise others as equals in the unique human condition.

 

 

Roberto Fontolan

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