Independent Catholic News logo Welcome Visitor
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Text: Cardinal spells out need for Christian-Muslim dialogue
Comment Email Print
¬†"Where Christians are being denied their rights, or are subject to sharia law, that is not a matter on which Muslims in Britain should remain silent," the Archbishop of Westminster told an audience at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, last night. He added: "Where religious rights of minorities are disrespected in the name of Islam, the face of Islam is tarnished elsewhere in the world." Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's remarks were made in a speech spelling out the need for a close, respectful dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The full text follows: CATHOLIC-MUSLIM DIALOGUE TODAY 1. Director of the Centre, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: It is kind of you to invite me to take my place at the end of a long list of distinguished speakers who since 1985 have been invited by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies to contribute to your mission of promoting understanding. The Centre provides a meeting point for the Western and Islamic worlds of learning and opens a window for western scholarship onto the Islamic world. How vital is that role; and how necessary it is at this time, when Muslims in Britain are increasingly present in our public and academic life. Here in this University, founded in the scholastic, monastic tradition, I cannot but think of some of the great dialogues that have taken place between scholars of our faiths, most notably the fraternal search for the great truths of shared monotheistic faith of the encounter between Thomas Aquinas, Ibn Sina and Maimonides. 2. I am afraid I cannot offer anything quite so lofty tonight. Indeed, the topic I have chosen this evening is a matter which is not strictly academic, although it has many implications for theological study. I want to reflect with you on the place of our two key faiths in the world and how we might grow in mutual respect and understanding of one another. I am sure you will understand that I am looking at this from the point of view of the Catholic world. 3. Dialogue is of course as old as Islam itself. Our two faiths have always eyed each other, sometimes with suspicion and rivalry but just as much, I am glad to say, with mutual respect, and at many periods in history, in a way that has been mutually influential. For we are nothing if not neighbours. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are only 800 miles from Mecca and Medina. Ours are faiths marked by teachers who taught under trees, shading from the sun; and whose prayers are characterised by the deep yearning for the God of our energetic, enterprising peoples. 4. Our two faiths are boldly universal. This is what we have in common; and that has been the source, sometimes, of our tension. But universality is what today makes our dialogue imperative. Ours are the two largest world religions. Christians make up about a third of the population; Catholics about half that number, slightly under the numbers of Muslims. Christians and Muslims, in other words, make up about half of the inhabitants of the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that on the peace and respect between us hang the peace and respect between all the religions. Our mutual understanding is crucial for world peace and human progress, not least in this era when globalisation and mass migration have placed Christians and Muslims ever closer to each others, as neighbours in the same European towns and cities. 5. It was just over a year ago that the funeral of that apostle of dialogue, Pope John Paul II, captured the attention of the world. It was for us cardinals a source of great gratitude and joy to see so many representatives of other faiths and Churches present at this funeral. Not least was the large presence of Muslims from so many different nations and traditions. 6. It was also a reminder of just how rapid have been the developments in Catholic-Muslim dialogue in the last decades. The presence of Muslims at the Day of Prayer for World Peace in 1986, when Pope John Paul II called together the world's faith leaders for the first summit of its kind, was still timid. But in 1999, when the Pope called together an Interreligious Assembly in Rome, more than 40 Muslims took part. Perhaps the most remarkable event in the modern history of Catholic-Muslim relations was when John Paul II visited Morocco after an invitation from King Hassan II in 1985. The Pope addressed a crowd of some 60,000 young Muslims in a sports stadium - a truly remarkable moment. "We believe in the same God," Pope John Paul II told them, "the one God, the living God, the God who creates the world and brings the world to perfection." 7. This is the foundation for our dialogue: our common ancestry in a single God, and the rejection by Abraham of idols. This opens the possibility ≠ indeed the obligation ≠ of a bond between human beings whatever their beliefs. I was very glad to be present at the meeting of world's religious leaders last year in Lyon, organised by the Community of Sant'Egidio each year since that first meeting in Assisi in 1986. The meetings have developed what the Community calls a "spiritual humanism of peace" which stresses that we are all divinely-created human beings, sons and daughters of a common Father. We need to keep returning to this common ancestry in the same father. More religion of the true sort means human beings becoming closer to God, and therefore to each other. 8. The challenge in our theological dialogue is to be able to conduct this dialogue without, of course, diminishing what are, in both our faiths, rather exclusive claims. We can stress what we hold in common as children of Abraham, and continue to remind ourselves of this. But nor can we deny the profound differences between Christian and Muslim beliefs. Monotheism divides us as well as unites us. Muslims cannot accept Christian monotheism as Trinitarian monotheism. For Christians, Jesus is the Way to the Father; and for Muslims, there is a similar claim made for the Prophet and the Qu'ran. I think a deeper awareness of our individual traditions is important. Catholics, in order to be good dialogue-partners, must first be firmly rooted in their understanding and love of Catholicism, and I suspect that this is true for Muslims too. 9. But a realistic confession of our deep differences does not exclude a respectful dialogue. Indeed, in both our Scriptures and in our traditions mutual witness and sharing of convictions are a duty commanded by God. In the New Testament, Christians need always to remember Peter's words to "always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy, and respect, and a clear conscience." In the Qu'ran is that remarkable instruction to "Dispute not with the People of the Book [that is, Jews and Christians] save in the fairer manner, except for those of them that do wrong, and say: 'We believe in what has been sent down to us and what has been sent down to you. Our God and your God is One, and to him we have surrendered." [29.46]. In such passages, there is no suggestion of watering-down passionately-held beliefs. 10. Both of our traditions, of course, have other texts, which can be, and are, used belligerently. Yet such texts as I have quoted provide a real basis for dialogue, one which has been developing rapidly. 11. In case there can be any doubt about the sincere respect of the Catholic Church for Islam, I need only quote from the document Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican Council, in which the Catholic bishops of the world, gathered in Rome, declared: 12. "The Church has also a high regard for Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who has also spoken to people. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God's plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his virgin mother they also honour, and even at times devoutly invoke, Further, they await the day of judgement and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason, they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting." [NA 3]. 13. Since the Vatican Council, successive popes have sought to express this respect on many different occasions. Pope John Paul II, meeting Muslims in Paris in 1980, greeted them as "our brothers in faith in the one God". In the Philippines in the following year he said: 14. "I deliberately address you as brothers: that is certainly what we are, because we are members of the same human family but we are especially brothers in God, who created us and whom we are trying to reach, in our own ways, through faith, prayer and worship, through the keeping of his law and through submission to his designs." 15. John Paul II was an exemplar of dialogue. Who can forget how, during his pilgrimage in the footsteps of Moses, he visited Al-Azhar in Cairo, or how, during his pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Paul, he entered the mosque in Damascus. It was a gesture in the great tradition of those Christians throughout the ages who have shown, in words and gestures, the respect of Islam. 16. Dialogue will be impossible as long as minds are closed, as long as adherents of either faith believe that we have nothing to learn from the other, or that the Spirit of God is not active in the whole of God's Creation. 17. The delicate task of our contemporary societies is to forge this dialogue and cooperation, to overcome ignorance and to learn mutual respect. That is the task of this Centre, and it is a noble and necessary one. 18. The main obstacle to that dialogue is the failure, in a number of Muslim countries, to uphold the principle of religious freedom. If we do not enjoy the freedom to practise our religion openly and without fear, then we cannot be honest; a defensive mentality is created, in which people treat their different religions as clubs ≠ the only places where they can relax and be themselves. Dialogue assumes the freedom to witness. It is essential that Muslims can freely worship in Oxford or London, just as it is essential that Christians can freely worship in Riyadh or Kabul. 19. When Pope John Paul II spoke at the opening of the mosque in Rome in 1995, he called it an "eloquent sign of the religious freedom recognised here for every believer." He said it was significant that in Rome, the centre of Christianity and the See of the successor of St Peter, that Muslims should have their own place to worship with full freedom for their freedom of conscience. 20. "It is unfortunately necessary to point out," he went on, "that in some Islamic countries similar signs of the recognition of religious freedom are lacking. And yet the world, on the threshold of the third millennium, is waiting for those signs While I am pleased that Muslims can gather in prayer at the new Roman mosque, I earnestly hope that the rights of Christians and of all believers freely to express their own faith will be recognised in every corner of the earth." 21. This is a vital principle of sacred hospitality, and it is vital for the relationship between Christians and Muslims. Where Christians are being denied their rights, or are subject to sharia law, that is not a matter on which Muslims in Britain should remain silent. Where religious rights of minorities are disrespected in the name of Islam, the face of Islam is tarnished elsewhere in the world. 22. Sacred hospitality demands that we speak up for each other. And it impels our communities to take common action together, especially in response to social issues or in response to disasters and emergencies. One of my happier moments this past year was during a New Year's visit to Sri Lanka. I went to commemorate the anniversary of the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 in the company of the Catholic aid agency CAFOD, which has been rebuilding houses and communities there. I was on the east coast of the island, where there is a patchwork of villages of different beliefs: some Hindu, some Muslim, some Christian. It was a visit of great joy as well as witnessing great suffering. In one Hindu village they were not too sure how to explain what a Cardinal was and introduced me to the village as, "A member of the Roman Catholic High Command"! But what struck me very forcibly was the practical 'dialogue of life' between the different faiths, as they tried to rebuild their lives. In one Muslim village the leader told me that "many came and went, promising things. But only the Catholics stayed, and built us new houses." The Catholic aid workers who had helped those villagers did not engage in theological dialogue; they were not there as missionaries, to try to persuade anyone to convert. But by their actions, and by the villagers' welcome of them and of me, there was a moving example of the mutual solidarity ≠ and dare I say it, love ≠ which stirred in me the desire to see such love characterise Catholic-Muslim relations in the world. 23. Last year there were two memorable examples when I stood with Muslim leaders in a common witness. The first was at Edinburgh, during the Make Poverty History march which sought to put pressure on the G8 summit to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals; and shortly afterwards, in the wake of the 7 July bombings. On both occasions, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other religious leaders appeared together, in a very public way, to demonstrate our friendship and to show that we shared a belief in a God of justice and of peace; and that any other versions of God were blasphemous. 24. I remember , in particular the witness and words of the mother of one of the victims of the 7 July bombings, Marie Fatayi-Williams. She is a devout Catholic and standing with her Muslim husband a few days after that tragedy she echoed both their sentiments: "Throughout history, those people who have changed the world have done so without violence, they have [won] people to their cause through peaceful protest. What inspiration can senseless slaughter provide? Death and destruction of young people in their prime as well as old and helpless can never be the foundations for building societyMy son Anthony is my first son, my only son, the head of my family..I will fight till I die to protect him. To protect his values and to protect his memory.Innocent blood will always cry to God Almighty for reparation. How much blood must be spilled? How many tears shall we cry? How many mothers' hearts must be maimed? . It's time to stop and think. We cannot live in fear because we are surrounded by hatred. Look around us today. Anthony is a Nigerian, born in London, worked in London, he is a world citizen. Here today we have Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, all of us united in love for Anthony. Hatred begets only hatred. It is time to stop this vicious cycle of killing. We must all stand together, for our common humanity." 25. I think this 'standing together' must be our answer to the pessimism of the Samuel Huntington 'clash of civilisations'. There are very real tensions in our world, tensions provoked by injustice, terrorism and war. Inevitably, there will be those who wish to see in these tensions the faultlines of faith, and will find in the history of our two faiths evidence of this. In the course of thirteen centuries of co-existence, it could hardly be otherwise. There have been hard and painful periods. But there have also been periods of frank and fruitful collaboration and sincere friendship, and these flames have not been suffocated by conflict. 26. That is why there cannot be an intrinsic conflict between our religions, even if there will at times be tensions between Muslims and Christians. As Pope John Paul II wrote: "interreligious dialogue is especially important in establishing a sure basis of peace and warding off the spectre of the wars of religion which have so often bloodied human history." [NMI]. 27. Here in Europe, we have a particular challenge now, one made urgent by the rising tensions in the Muslim community which are spilling out on the edges of that community in an adherence to fundamentalist or nostalgic doctrines which approve violence. 28. The fear and hostility which such groups and doctrines have produced in wider society are behind the Islamophobia which so many Muslims detect in modern British society. There is much in our Catholic experience ≠ when being Catholic and Irish in the 1970s was to be equated in the minds of some with terrorism ≠ that must surely lead us to sympathise. 29. Catholics, too, are familiar with the jibe that we are newcomers with dubious allegiances. It was only in 1873 that The Times could thunder that "a statesman who becomes a convert to Roman Catholicism forfeits at once the confidence of the English people To become a Roman Catholic and remain a thorough Englishman are ≠ it cannot be disguised ≠ incompatible conditions." 30. Such an opinion about being a Muslim would not, I hope, be found in the pages of The Times today; yet it is a sentiment not far below the surface of some of our newspaper reports, and more notorious political movements. 31. To listen to some of these, you would think Muslims were new to Europe! No one who has been to southern Spain or Portugal can fail to know how misguided that view is. The role of the Arabs in transmitting Greek science to the Western world is well known; it is hard, indeed, to imagine great medieval universities such as this one without the development of medicine, sciences, astronomy and medicine passed on by the Arabs and enriched by their pragmatic, empirical philosophy. The debt owed to the great scholastic theologians of the Catholic tradition to Muslim philosophers and theologians is also a matter of record. 32. So that while it is most commendable that the University of Oxford has made space for this Centre, it would be wrong to think of you as newcomers. When Catholics were once again admitted to this University in the nineteenth century, it seemed to those here that we were "new boys". But looking around these cloistered colleges, founded in most cases by monastic orders in communion with Rome, we were entitled to believe that "new boys" was not an entirely accurate term. 33. In many parts of central and eastern Europe, there are Muslim communities going back six centuries or more. But there is no question that the arrival of very large numbers of Muslims ≠ there are perhaps 25 million now in the whole of Europe ≠ is one of the great characteristics of this European moment. 34. Here in Britain, there is much that the Catholic community can do to assist Muslims in their journey towards feeling comfortable as fully British and fully Muslim. Catholics and Muslims are not guests in Britain, but homemakers. Both our communities have decades of experience as immigrant labourers building networks of solidarity around our mosques and churches and schools. We have both known discrimination and exploitation, and question marks about our allegiance. 35. In one of my last meetings with Dr Zaki Badawi before his death, he asked for our help in drawing on the Catholic experience in assisting Muslims to become comfortable British citizens, and of course I promised what assistance I could give. I want to say, at this point, how much I miss Dr Badawi. Not only did we exchange views honestly and with deep respect, but we laughed a lot. His was a voice which British Muslims were lucky to have, and I hope will soon find again. 36. One of the areas in which we have a shared experience is of a lack of respect for our beliefs in the media and in the Arts. Freedom of expression and artistic licence are cornerstones of our contemporary democracy; and yet too often these noble principles are invoked as a defence of advertisements or cartoons or films which are simply adolescent or iconoclastic in their desire to provoke. 37. It is important for Christians and Muslims to realise that, while we perceive ourselves to be powerless victims of all-powerful media corporations, that is not how secular public opinion often sees us. One of the consequences of secularism is ignorance, and ignorance is easily swayed by fear. This means that, while it is painful often to do so, we need to be restrained in how we manifest our disapproval at blasphemy and disrespect. When we protest too belligerently, we provoke a reaction in people who do not share our beliefs ≠ a reaction of indignation. And we serve only the publicity machine. Indeed, the indignation of a cleric or a placard-waving crowd is sometimes all that a play or a television programme or an art work needs to secure a little free publicity, and that much sought-after tag of "controversial" or even better, "notorious". 38. This does not mean that we should stay silent. Witness to our beliefs demands that we defend them. Because we have religious belief we have a sensitivity to the religious symbols of other faiths and can, hopefully, help our secular culture be more sensitive to them too. Neither can we accept the argument that religious beliefs are merely ideas that can be treated as relative notions. There is sometimes a strange kind of logic operative in contemporary European society which suggests that it if you have a religious faith then your voice should somehow be marginalized, whereas if you have no faith that in itself gives you the credentials to have a voice to speak out on the Common Good, or the Family or on matters of life and death. The attempt to create a "neutral" public space is so often really an attempt to neutralise religion. But we need to remember also that in a free, secular society we cannot demand respect for our beliefs as of right: respect has to be earned. The market for parodies of faith would be smaller if people were less ignorant. When the spotlight turns on us, we need to do what we can to counter that ignorance. 39. This is, perhaps, one area where we can co-operate to help form a spiritual humanism of peace. Since September 11 and here since July 7, religious leaders have been demonstrating that when religion is linked to violence, violence is done to religion; and that religion in the name of God is blasphemy. In the same way, perhaps religious leaders need to respond together to the mockery of faith ≠ whether their own or that of others - in the media and in the arts. 40. But it is in the "how" of that response that we witness to our faiths. There is a famous line of St Paul's, that "when we are weak, then we are strong". I am sure you could find a similar sentiment in the Qu'ran. It is a truth borne out by history. It was only since the Catholic Church lost the papal states that we have had a series of great and holy popes. It is not that there were none before; but temporal power never sits easily with the call to the desert which both our faiths make. God is heard in simplicity and in holy poverty. Catholics may sometimes be nostalgic for the Middle Ages, for the days when holy law and temporal law were at least allied, in the same way that there are Muslims today who dream of the recreation of the Caliphate of Cordoba. History offers inspiration and sustenance; but it also carries the warning that the Kingdom of God can never be the Kingdom of this World, and that those who confuse the two often place a barrier to God's self-revelation. 41. These are areas of common experience, shared wisdom. But mostly I believe that our journey together in contemporary Europe will experienced at a local level, in the places where Christian and Muslims families coexist in the same towns and boroughs. In London, there is an organisation called London Citizens, which works with churches and mosques to bring to bear their concerns to local authorities. At the meetings of London Citizens, it is very heartening to see Mass-going Catholics and Mosque-going Muslims share common experiences and common concerns, and decide to act together on issues such as housing or fair wages for migrants. From such encounters come friendships, and from friendships is born the curiosity to know each other better. When Lent comes around, the Catholics can explain what they do and why; and Muslims, at the time of Ramadan, can do the same. Catholics go on pilgrimages, to Rome and Jerusalem; Muslims make the haj to Mecca. Here is a wealth of common human experience grounded in shared spiritual knowledge. 42. I would like Catholics to know Muslims better: to know what makes them tick, why they believe what they believe. And to act together, as they do in London Citizens, to make our society a more human, more civilised place to be. 43. This is a task which falls particularly to the religious believers of modern Britain. You cannot solve the difficulties created by the existence of a multitude of visions for society by trying to create a society emptied of vision altogether. An utterly secular society, which turns its back on transcendent value, and governs itself by sheer pragmatism and the lowest common denominator, can never be a home for human beings worthy of that name. Wisdom is not private; morality is not private; the holiness of life is not private. We have to find ways to make the public fabric of our society, our laws, our civic institutions, the texture and quality of the life we live together, reflect more than just the values of the global market. They must reflect wisdom and love and justice. They must defend the God-given dignity of all. They must look out, above all, for the poorest and most vulnerable, lest the strong be left to walk on them. These are not pragmatic matters. 44. It is fashionable among some to talk as if religion was the source of all that is amiss in our world, to see it as bringing nothing but violence and hatred and conflict. Love and hate do indeed live close together in the human heart. Where people's deepest loyalties and deepest convictions are engaged, then there is always the danger of perversion. But a world without deep loves and deep loyalties would be a desert. Twisted religion may be used to justify hatred and violence. But true religion points us towards healing and wholeness, towards whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious. 45. This is what faith agrees on. This common witness is helping to build a spiritual humanism of peace, a framework for belonging recast for our diversified world. Here is a task for Catholics and Muslims, in collaboration with our brothers and sisters in the other faiths. 46. I say "spiritual" humanism, because society needs more than abstract ideals, it must embody and promote decency, dignity, respect for others. And as long as there have been human beings, they have looked to religion, to a sense of living in God's world under God's law, for light on what decency and dignity and respect for others might mean. The shrines are not redundant: we need holiness and wisdom and love and peace as much as ever we did, and the ancient wells from which holiness and wisdom and love and peace have been drawn have not run dry. 47. These are matters on which Catholics and Muslims share a common passion, born of a common father who is merciful, but who demands of us to conquer self-indulgence with love and service of others. Regular prayer and the disciplines of abstinence, as well as a regular admission of our failings, are the means to this. That is why we cannot expect to be always understood, or even to be liked. 48. But through these common experiences of rejection and misunderstanding, we can forge bonds of friendship between our faiths. We can work together, laugh together, seek justice together. We can learn from each other. And we can grow together, supportive of each other, giving a common witness to the God who made us and all the earth, and who desires that one day we all be one and united, in the image of God himself. It is an exciting task, and one we can all begin today.
Share:  Bookmark and Share
Tags: None

Powered by Bondware
News Publishing Software

The browser you are using is outdated!

You may not be getting all you can out of your browsing experience
and may be open to security risks!

Consider upgrading to the latest version of your browser or choose on below: