The Twelfth General Conference:Islam and Mutations of the Epoch
Islam, Europe and the West: A View from Rome
Islam, Europe and the West: A View from Rome
ABD AL-WAHID PALLAVICINI
We find difficulty in dealing with an issue of increasing importance:
the confrontation between Islam and Europe, Islam and the West, Islam
and the Occident. The difficulty lies in the fact that Islam is a divine,
monotheistic revelation, while Europe is only one of the five continents, the
West one of the four cardinal points, and the Occident a geographical
expression usually opposed to an ill-defined Orient.
The fact of being occidental and Muslim poses no personal conflict for
us, since the East can certainly not be equated with Islam nor the West with
Christianity. And though with time Islam has also come to manifest itself in
the West, the West is certainly no more Muslim today and no more than it
can be said to be truly Christian yet.
We should treat rather than confront these two latest revelations as
divine, Abrahamic, monotheistic, as we said, but also both universal, or
catholic in the etymological sense of the term, since their message is
addressed to all peoples and not just to certain geographical areas, to
certain caste systems or to certain peoples, as was the case with previous
revelations. This is done, however, without the pretense at least on the
Islamic side, if not the Christian, of invalidating their doctrine or seeking to
convert all humanity to the doctrine contained in one's own religion.
At the same time, the Islamic civilization cannot be compared with a
presumed Western civilization, since all the true traditional civilizations,
from the Mayans and Aztecs, from the Assyro-Babylonians, Hindus and
Buddhists, Chinese and Japanese, whether Taoists or Confucianists, to the
Egyptians, Greeks or Romans, Orthodox Jews or medieval Christians, have
always been founded on theocentric and theocratic principles. Only in the
presumed modern Western civilization are these things not contemplated,
so we do not feel it can qualify it as a true and proper civilization.
We should therefore compare these two latest two revealed religions
not only as universal, Abrahamic and monotheistic (this last term certainly
not intended in the sense that each of them has its own God) but also as
different revelations of the same and only God, the God of Abraham,
precisely that have originated theocratic civilizations each corresponding to
at least one billion believers in all the countries of the earth but are so the
only ones that contemplate in their doctrine, though in different forms, the
figure of Jesus Christ, seyyiddina `Isa, alayhissalam.
The objective of this confrontation should be mutual recognition of the
redeeming truth of each religion, and particularly of the two latest
revelations, accepting their different theological formulations and
respecting their necessarily different ritual forms, not only as expressions of
their respective holy texts, that confirm their earlier origins, the prophesies
contained in them regarding successive revelations, but especially as
recognition of the omnipotence of God that is revealed in ever new and
different forms to different peoples in places, times and manners that are
always providentially different.
But if such recognition seems more likely by Islam, which is based on
the Qur'anic expressions, which in turn recall those traditional writings of
the other holy scriptures in their most Orthodox foundations, Christianity
seems unwilling to recognize the prophesies contained in their own holy
books, such as announcements of the future advent of a Paracletic tradition
successive to Christianity.
The other objection usually expressed in this regard is the statement
that if a Christian were to recognize the truth contained in Islamic doctrine,
the would by this very deed become Muslim. We feel this concept again
derives from the modern Western, typically Christian, tendency to believe
that God gave the world a single true revelation, which is Christianity and
certainly not Islam, even if Islam were intended in its etymological sense of
surrender to the will of God.
Islam, on the other hand, is considered today by Christianity as a
propedeutica christi, a preparation for recognition of the Christ figure,
although already present in another form in the most Orthodox Islamic
doctrine or as semina verbi, seeds of a divine word that will only achieve
completion with recognition of the incarnation of Jesus as the Son of God.
This is not contemplated in Islam, where Jesus is regarded, rather, as spirit
of God, born of the Virgin and annunciation of the hour.
This hinders Christians from recognizing the Holy Qur'an, the Word
of God for Muslims, as another manifestation of the Word, to regard it as a
holy book on the same plane as the inspired texts of the Bible and New
Testament, in the same way the Muslims place the figure of Jesus on the
same plane as the other prophets, from Adam, first man and first Islamic
Prophet, to Noah, Abraham, Moses, down to Muhammad, Salla Allahu
alayhi wa sallam, seal of the Prophets, and to the expectation of the second
coming of Jesus on Judgement Day.
Consequently, Christians express the so-called Islamic-Christian
dialogue in terms of almost exclusive humanitarian equivalency,
recognizing the good intentions of the Muslims who, though they believe in
a single God and venerate the figure of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, will end
up where only such good intentions can lead. Muslims, on the other hand,
insist on the theological incompatibility of the two revelations regarding the
figure of Jesus. The fact that Jesus is viewed by Muslims as the Spirit of
God, but by Christians as the Son of God and God Himself, places in doubt
the very conception of the singleness of God of Abrahamic monotheism,
which the Christians ascribe only to the concepts of incarnation and
trinitarianism as antecedent even to His own manifestation.
In this way they choose to overlook, on the one side, the metaphysical
conception of an absolute principle, which the Fathers of the Church called
the Ocean of Being, and on the other, the Qur'anic phrases that say: There
is no coercion in religion; to you your religion and to us ours; if God had so
wished, He would have made you one community, but He did not, to test
your with what he gave you; all of you will return to God and then
everything on which your are discordant today will be clarified to you.
This brings to mind the adage of Orthodox Eastern Christianity that
says: if God became man, it was to make man become God. It is precisely
this Deificatio or Theosis, today denied to the Christian West, that would
offer the opportunity to recognize in life the validity of the other paths,
without having to oppose Orthodoxy, this time in the broad sense, whether
Christian or Islamic, but only the false modern conceptions of a
monotheism intended in the form of confessional exclusivism: yes, we
believe in one God, but only in ours.
But the greatest dangers of contact between Islam and the West
certainly do not derive just from these conceptions of hegemonic Christian
exclusivism toward other religions, or the leveling of Catholic theology to a
mere social doctrine of the Church, but from the secularization and
profanation of the West, be it so-called religious, or rather laic, agnostic or
more generally atheistic.
The Christians themselves do not attempt to convert Muslims to their
religion, which for the most part they no longer practice, but only to their
way of intending religion on almost exclusively ethical-social bases. They
are therefore resistant to the efforts of those on the Islamic side who would
attempt to show them the truths contained in the Holy Qur'an, which
Christians certainly do not regard as the word of God, just as they no
longer believe in the truths expressed in the holy books of their traditions
and not even, perhaps, in God Himself.
If, in effect, they still believed, this would require a major change in
their lives. They therefore seek by every means to combat the spirituality
that may still be present in Islam, that latest revelation that came, like the
others, from the East, equating it, rather, with backward or superstitious
conceptions or with the expressions of burgeoning fundamentalism, the real
obstacle to the propagation of Islam in the West.
Thus the danger behind the dialogue and confrontation of Islam with
the West, intended here in this sense, is certainly not that the West may be
engulfed by a world regarded as foreign but rather that even Islam may
humble itself to demand what are commonly called human rights rather
than maintain its original Eastern sacredness, which reminds us of all of our
divine duties. Islam today seems to be the last and only traditional
civilization that can demand those duties.