Europe: the challenge of encounter with Islam

Source: FSSPX News


>A document of the Joint Committee "Islam in Europe" of the KEK (Conference of European Churches – ecumenical) and of the CCEE (Council of Episcopal Conference of Europe), would like to help European Churches to calculate the risks of the encounter with Muslims.

According to its authors, the work is inspired by the Gospel, which "asks us to consider all human beings as brothers and sisters, and to love our enemies". The aim of the text is to propose a reflection and a type of behavior "which will have to be adapted according to the context and the demands of the Christian witness, in a world which cannot be limited to a village, a town or a nation".

The document comprises six chapters. The first, To evaluate the pluralist society, recalls the challenge to the attitude of "defense and retreat into one’s confessional shell" in the light of phenomena such migration, secularization, and globalization. The 2nd, Reference points in Scriptures, offers a series of Biblical points of reference. The 3rd, The Church, sign and sacrament of union and brotherhood, describes the Church as "this tent that the Lord God asks us to leave open to the breath of the Holy Spirit. If the Church is this tent, we are the nomads, ever seeking other places and meeting other people".

The 4th chapter introduces us to the pioneers of dialog, and proposes historical examples of dialog between Christians and Muslims. Among those mentioned: Charles de Foucauld, the Reform pastor Samuel Zwemer, the patriarch Athenagoras and John-Paul II, promoter of interreligious meetings at Assisi. "After the days of the pioneers, now is the time of Ecclesial Institutions; this spirit of openness must now be assumed and taken on board by all Christians. It is the entire Church which must attract the support of the majority in order to arrive in the interreligious domain, to the time of openness to others in the respect for everyone’s convictions."

The 5th chapter, Stages for meeting and dialog, enumerates the various steps towards a constructive dialog between Christians and Muslims. The beginning cannot be improvised. It must be attained by stages. The study takes some of these stages into consideration. First of all, the Church reminds us that we cannot offer someone a helping hand, if we have not first "become aware of our own injuries" and recognized that "God alone can bring about the healing" of our memories, and "compel us to look at the faith and the lives of others, without prejudice". Dialog does not mean "acceptance of everything that the other person does, as valid, and even less, taking all they say to be true. One must be vigilant and evaluate the differences of faiths and religious practices. Anyone who finds everything about the other, good, is either naïve or "coward" who fears differences. It is not a question of suppressing differences but of getting rid of the psychological barriers which are raised between us. Another necessary stage to dialog with Islam is "to have the courage not to defend the past at any cost, but to look and see whether we have really been as perfect as our history books have told us, and are still telling us".

To be besides "brothers and sisters in the human race" and "believers in one God" does not mean being equal in our way of believing. "The refusal to accept our differences has led religious groups to despise one another and to wage war. To acknowledge this difference is easy if we understand that it is not necessary to believe in the same manner in order to walk together". By accepting the difference, "we lessen our antagonism… towards the other believer and we avoid the trap of either syncretism or leveling down".

The 6th and final chapter on the Formation of Christians, outlines the principles for forming Christians, with a view to meeting with Muslims. "In order to meet the other person in the truth, we must endeavor to know him, so that we can meet him as he is, and as he wishes to be." The authors invite Christian communities to commit themselves to a catechesis which is "neither on the offensive, or the defensive", but knows how to look at the other person "with respect". The text invites us to "listen" to people inside the Christian community, who are opposed to approaching Muslims, after having had difficulties or problems with them. One paragraph of the document is dedicated to interreligious marriages, destined "inevitably to increase". "Perhaps we had better take a positive interest in these couples."

In its conclusion, the document stresses that "if we were less afraid of each other, we could achieve great things. To approach the other would not lead to the dead end of being crushed, but to the boulevard of mutual respect.

"Christians and Muslims: praying together? – Reflections and texts" is another working document recently published by the KEK-CCEE Committee "Islam in Europe". Christians who live alongside Muslims have long asked the question of whether there is room for common prayer.

The elaboration of these reflections had made it possible for the Committee to discover, that widely differing attitudes and experiences exist throughout Europe. Being unable to speak of a consensus on the subject, they have decided to present a provisional study of the current situation, destined to illustrate the variety of answers and religious reflections, in order to encourage each Church to make a stand. There is an appendix to the document, which contains an anthology of prayers from Christian and Muslim traditions.