Bishop of Arabia highlights Catholic questions on Muslim appeal

November 16, 2007

The Roman Catholic bishop of Arabia has published a letter on the dialogue call by 138 Muslim scholars pointing out possible stumbling blocs for future talks. The article by Bishop Paul Hinder in Oasis , a multilingual Catholic-Muslim dialogue magazine published in Venice, welcomes the appeal and says: “Here are Muslims offering a hand that we should take.”

Oasis reviewThe Swiss-born bishop is based in Abu Dhabi with responsibility for Catholics in the whole Arabian Peninsula. Just before the historic visit by Saudi King Abdullah to the Vatican on Nov. 6, he called in a Reuters interview for more freedom and security for minority Christians in Saudi Arabia and more freedom for foreign priests to enter the country to administer to them. There are about 1.2 million Christians in Saudi Arabia, nearly a million of them Catholics. Most are Filipino migrant workers.

In his Oasis article, Hinder listed several points that seem to have raised questions among Catholic theologians:

— There has to be further clarification about whether “the love of God” and the “love of neighbour” have the same meaning in both religions … we cannot speak about the love of God and love of the neighbour without taking a clear position regarding the human dignity of each individual person and his or her right to live and to grow in freedom … For Christians, love goes beyond neighbour to include the enemy too, whether that person belongs to their own religion or not…

— Another crucial point might be that Christians cannot simply see Jesus Christ as one among other prophets, but profess him in his divinity as the living Son of God within the belief in One God in three Persons.

Bishop Paul Hinder— Looking at some of the signatories, the question might be raised of whether some of their earlier statements and publications can be interpreted or revised in the light of this letter, or whether its credibility should suffer because of their earlier statements. I am more than happy if the first of these two presumptions is the right one.

— Regarding the love of God and the love of the neighbour, Jews and Christians have literally a common ground, which is explicitly mentioned in the letter of the 138 Muslims. Taking the content and the quotations of the Open Letter I am surprised that it is addressed to Christian leaders only and not also to the Jewish leaders. Is it not a missed opportunity?

Hinder has also spoken to the Rome-based Catholic news agency AsiaNews about King Abdullah’s visit and what it could mean for Christians in Saudi Arabia.

Aref Ali Nayed, one of the 138 Muslim scholars, spoke to the BBC’s Reporting Religion programme on the twin theme of the appeal and Abdullah’s visit. And Adrian Pabst, a professor of religion and politics, wrote in the International Herald Tribune thatWe need a real debate, not more dialogue.”

The tenor of the Muslim appeal seems to be that the issues Hinder mentions are minor, while some Catholic reactions hint they could be major hurdles.

Do you think these Catholic reservations should hold up a dialogue that many other Christian leaders have responded positively to?


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Of course there are going to be theological differences and those have to be acknowledged. But “dialogue” does not mean agreement – it should mean a chance to further explore areas of agreement AND disagreement and to more fully understand the other’s group’s perspective.

Posted by Jerry | Report as abusive


“For Christians, love goes beyond neighbour to include the enemy too, whether that person belongs to their own religion or not…”

Correction: Christians are *supposed* to love their enemies regardless of religion. That can be a very far cry from what *actually happens* in the real world, especially given the omnipresent “War On Terror.”

Posted by Christopher W. Chase | Report as abusive