The Ninth General Conference:Islam And The West Past - Present - Future
Speech of The Vatican.
The 9th General Conference Of The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs Egypt, 13-16 July 1997
By Fr. Khaled Akasheh
Secretary commission for Religious Relations with Muslims Pontifical Council Muslims for Inter-religious Dialogue)
1. The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious is grateful to H.E. Prof. Dr. Mahmoud H. Zakzouk, Egyptian Minister of Awkafs and Chairman of the 9th General Conference of The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, for the invitation to attend this Conference on "Islam and the West, Past, Present, Future".
2. The fact that the Office of the Catholic Church for Inter-religious Dialogue in the Vatican is invited to attend a Muslim Conference is indicative in more than one respect.
3. The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of a human group, should become the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of all humanity, especially of the other believers (Cfr. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. (Gaudium et Spes), No.1). It is together, Christians and Muslims, that we are invited to reflect, study and discuss an important theme, the relations between Islam and the West in the past, present and future. Such a Congress without Christian participants would have reflected one position- that of Muslims- and, in consequence, would have been less rich than it is actually.
4. Regarding the theme "Islam and the West", there is some perplexity. The symmetry, in fact, between Islam and the West does not exist. Islam is a religion, but what is to be intended by "the West"? Is it the West understood in a religions sense- signifying then "Christianity"-; in a cultural sense- the Islamic culture and the Western culture, of Christian inspiration; in a political sense, with a special reference to colonialism and neo - colonialism? The distinction between the West and Christianity is however, of great importance for better understanding between Christians and Muslims. The West should not be identified with Christianity. For one thing, there are many Christians in other parts of the world, in the East, in the South, in Asia and Africa. Moreover, the Church takes distance from what is happening in the West, especially regarding morality and justice: "let us not be guilty of the scandal of having some nations, most of whom bear the name of Christians, enjoying the abundance of riches, while others lack the necessities of life and are tortured by hunger, disease, and all kinds of misery. For the spirit of poverty is the glory and witness of the Church of Christ Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), No.88). We would like also to lay stress on this point to avoid an indirect judgement on Christianity through a condemnation of what is happening in a supposedly "Christian" West.
5. Generalizations and global judgements are far from being accurate and true. Many values are present in the "secular" Western society and these are mainly of Christian inspiration: respect for the human person and for fundamental rights, solidarity with the poor, care for the sick, attention to the environment, concept of voluntary service, etc.
6. Clarifying the basis of the relationship between a secular West of Christian roots and culture, and the Islamic world is necessary for the peace of the world and for a fruitful collaboration between Muslims and Christians for their well being and that of humanity. Taking in consideration the three axes of the theme- past, present and future- we would suggest:
6.1, The Past
Christian (Western) and Muslim scholars should study together the relations between the two communities through the centuries. Such study should examine, for example, the Crusades, colonialism and neo-colonialism. On the other side, the Arab Islamic conquests, the islamization of the conquered populations, Islamic expansionism under the Ottoman Empire and other themes related to these questions should also be examined. Teaching this history to young generations is a great challenge: how to reconcile fidelity to the historical truth and, at the same time, contribute to constructing positive relations between Christians and Muslim and other believers-? Our historical education should not transmit hatred but pardon and reconciliation.
6.2. The Present
Meeting to discuss questions of mutual interest and examine sources of tension between the two communities is important for the present and the future. The question of minorities, for example, is a delicate issue in Muslim-Christian relations. Because of the link between religion and politics in Islam, Muslim minorities can be taken care of through the solidarity of Islamic states. As the majority of Western countries recognize themselves as "secular", it would be not on religious, but on human basis that the solidarity with Christian is to be found. Reciprocity, understood as a relation of justice and love, is essential for understanding between Muslims and Christians. The golden rule, "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them" (Matthew 7, 12) is present in the three monotheistic religions, though in different words.
6.3. The Future
"Let us give to our children a future of peace". This was the theme of the Message of Pope John II on the of the world day of prayer for peace, in 1996. Religions have an important contribution to make in promoting and implementing peace. In the past- but also in the present- religions were wed to create tension, hatred and violence between human beings. Should we continue to experience the manipulation of religious for the goals of some individuals? Let religion inspire attitudes of respect, love and solidarity This common witness to God and man by Muslims and Christians would render glory to God and alleviate the sufferings of humanity, for "the glory of God is man fully alive" (St. Iraeneus).