FaithWorld

No news is good news at Catholic-Muslim Forum

The news at the Catholic-Muslim Forum today is that there is no news.  No news in the MSM (mainstream media) sense. Nobody’s walked out of the talks, there have been no enormous blow-ups, outrageous charges, etc. It would take something like that for a story about interfaith dialogue to have any luck in the MSM on the day after Barack Obama was elected U.S. president. In fact, several Catholic-Muslim Forum delegates I spoke to today first mentioned how pleased they were at Obama’s victory across the ocean before they got around to talking about their meeting here.

The other reason the Forum has “no news” is that what’s happening seems like mostly good news, which by the usual MSM definition (see above…) is no news. These pioneering talks between Muslim signatories of the Common Word manifesto and Vatican officials and Catholic Islam experts moved ahead on their second day with what participants said were open and useful discussions. “The discussion is not getting derailed where it could get derailed, if someone wanted to do that,” one delegate said.

That’s interesting, because today’s topic — human dignity and mutual respect — was the natural place for a strong stand by those Catholics who want this dialogue to focus on reciprocity, or giving minority Christians in Muslim countries the same rights as Muslim minorities in western countries. Actually, the talks got around to that topic late in the first day of talks yesterday and the debate apparently got quite spirited. Both Catholics and Muslims told me it was lively but respectful, a useful face-to-face exchange of what is usually only said about the other. Let’s see what the final communique on Thursday says about this.

The delegations also discussed the more philosophical issue of how each religion handles the threat they see in secular modernity. The world’s two largest faiths can easily discover how much they have in common (along with other religions) when they get together to discuss what they see as the godlessness of modern times. As one delegate told me, the Catholic side defended the legal separation of church and state, what Pope Benedict would call “positive laïcité.” The Muslim side made a difference between a secular state in the American mold and a militantly secularist outlook, such as France’s decision to ban headscarves from state schools.

There was some discussion of practical measures to take going forward, such as drawing up lists of recommended books about each religion for teachers to use for courses about the other faith. There was also a suggestion that the Common Word’s use of the first two commandments as common foundational doctrines of Christianity and Islam might be expanded to cover all ten commandments. That could open up an interesting discussion about what’s called the Judeo-Christian-Islamic heritage. Again, let’s see what develops here.

Christian-Muslim statement on world financial crisis

Common Word conference at University of Cambridge, 11 Oct 2008/Sohail NakhoodaThe Common Word group of Muslim scholars met Christian leaders and theologians in Cambridge and London this week. Discussions in this interfaith dialogue have mostly been theological, based on the idea that the love of God and neighbour is a core dogma of both religions. In a statement on Wednesday, they included a paragraph about the world financial crisis. There have been lots of comments from various faith leaders about the crisis, but this is the first Christian-Muslim statement I’ve seen.

Here’s the paragraph:

We live in an increasingly global world that brings with it increased interdependence.  The closer we are drawn together by this globalisation and interdependence, the more urgent is the need to understand and respect one another in order to find a way out of our troubles.  Meeting at a time of great turbulence in the world financial system our hearts go out to the many people throughout the world whose lives and livelihood are affected by the current crisis.  When a crisis of this magnitude occurs, we are all tempted to think solely of ourselves and our families and ignore the treatment of minorities and the less fortunate.  In this conference we are celebrating the shared values of love of God and love of neighbour, the basis of A Common Word, whilst reflecting self-critically on how often we fall short of these standards.  We believe that the divine commandment to love our neighbour should prompt all people to act with compassion towards others, to fulfil their duty of helping to alleviate misery and hardship.  It is out of an understanding of shared values that we urge world leaders and our faithful everywhere to act together to ensure that the burden of this financial crisis, and also the global environmental crisis, does not fall unevenly on the weak and the poor.  We must seize the opportunity for implementing a more equitable global economic system that also respects our role as stewards of the earth’s resources.

Do you see any link between faith and the financial crisis? Could this crisis lead to tensions between people of different religions — or bring them closer together?

Looking for the red lines between Christianity and Islam

Christian crosses and Muslim crescent in Beirut, 28 Nov 2006/Eric GaillardCan someone be Christian and Muslim at the same time? This came up over the weekend in two articles from almost opposite sides of the globe.

Rev. Ann Holmes Redding in Seattle thinks she can be both. Her Episcopal Church does not and is moving toward defrocking her if she does not renounce Islam. Redding, who has been an Episcopal priest for 25 years, first announced her dual faith over a year ago and was given 15 months to think it over. Now facing defrocking, she told Janet Tu of the Seattle Times that she is “still following Jesus in being a Muslim” and feels “privileged to see God in more places, rather than fewer places.”

Now take a Google Earth-style leap to Istanbul. There, Mustafa Akyol asked in the Turkish Daily News whether Islam required Christians and Jews to give up their traditions in order to be saved. The standard answer is yes, but Hayrettin Karaman, a professor emeritus of Islamic law, recently questioned that in the conservative Islamic daily newspaper Yeni Safak. “He noted that Islam does not necessarily ask Christians and Jews to abandon their traditions. It rather tells them to keep their traditions while respecting Islam as a sister faith,” Akyol wrote.

Pope wants real interfaith dialogue, not just talk

Pope Benedict in Lourdes, France, 14 Sept 2008/Regis Duvignau Is Pope Benedict getting impatient to make some progress in dialogue with Muslims? He told French bishops in Lourdes today that the Church wants to pursue interreligious dialogue, but it must be real dialogue about serious theological issues and not just polite talk that leads nowhere.

“Good will is not enough,” he told them at a meeting during his pilgrimage to the famous shrine. “One must follow closely the various initiatives that are undertaken, so as to discern which ones favour reciprocal knowledge and respect, as well as the promotion of dialogue, and so as to avoid those which lead to impasses.”

These comments may help put an end to a long-standing doubt about how committed Benedict is to dialogue with Muslims. The doubt started soon after his election when he sidelined the Vatican’s top Islam expert, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, and folded his Council for Interreligious Dialogue into the larger Council for Culture. His Regensburg lecture in 2006 seriously set back relations with Muslims by suggesting Islam was violent and irrational. As part of the patching-up work, he restored the interreligious council as an independent Vatican department. But he handed it over not to an Islam or dialogue expert but to a former diplomat, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who publicly said that theological discussion was impossible with Muslims (much to some Muslims’ surprise) and that the world was “obsessed” with Islam.

Low-key “first” as cardinal attends Paris iftar dinner

Cardinal André Vingt-Trois and Rector Dalal Boubakeur, 3 Sept 2008/Tom HeneghanSome “firsts” take place amid crowds and television cameras, others happen more quietly. The Grand Mosque of Paris chose the low-key approach when it received Cardinal André Vingt-Trois on Wednesday evening for an iftar dinner. It was the first that a Roman Catholic archbishop of the French capital had visited its leading mosque for the traditional meal breaking the Ramadan fast. After a short prayer by an imam and introductory remarks, they sat down to an North African-style dinner of spicy chorba (soup), chicken and olives and dessert of honey pastries and mint tea.

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority, about five million, and interfaith contacts often depend on the personalities involved, especially at the local level. Pope Benedict will meet a delegation of French Muslims — some national leaders such as the cardinal’s host, Paris Grand Mosque Rector Dalil Boubakeur, and some local leaders active in Christian-Muslim dialogue — when he visits Paris next week.

Grand Mosque of Paris courtyard, 3 May 2008/Tom HeneghanBoubakeur thanked Vingt-Trois for the support the Church had given its “immigrant brothers” over the years, especially help to integrate young Muslims. In one such project, the Catholic Institute of Paris offers courses on French politics, law and secularism for future imams studying Islamic theology at the Grand Mosque.

Paris archdiocese restores medieval college as faith forum

Main hall of the College des Bernardins in Paris, 1 Sept 2008/Charles PlatiauOne of the largest medieval buildings in Paris reopens this week as a forum for discussion about faith in the modern world after more than two centuries being used mostly as a fire station and police training centre. The Collège des Bernardins was founded in 1247 by the English Cistercian monk Stephen of Lexington as a residential college for the order’s monks. After the French Revolution, it was taken over by the city.

The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Paris bought the building and spent five years renovating it to house its theology school and host debates, conferences, art exhibitions and evenings of film and music. Its first major event will be a speech on faith and culture by Pope Benedict, who will address an audience of 700 personalities from the world of French culture on the first day of his Sept. 12-15 visit to France.

The college, whose name comes from its original designation as St. Bernard’s College, stands on the Left Bank just off the Boulevard Saint Germain. The five-year restoration highlighted the building’s simple Gothic architecture while adding modern comforts such as heating, air conditioning and WiFi (see video). The college aims “to serve mankind in all its dimensions — its emotions, its intelligence, its liberty, its relations and its faith”.