Address to Muslim Leaders:

Christians and Muslims, Promoting Comprehension and Peace

Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran

Baitul Mukarram Mosque, Bangladesh

26 April 2011

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends,

I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude for the invitation extended to me to be here, at the Baitul Mukarram Mosque today, to meet you.

We are living in a world of great paradox. On the one hand, the Western societies proclaim themselves secular and, in some countries, religion is relegated to the private domain where it is not expected to play any role in public life. But, on the other hand, religion is very much talked about. One may even say that never before has religion been placed at the centre of concern of mass media as it is today.

Some people talk about religion not necessarily because of faith but out of fear. They look at the situation in the world today where some fundamentalists and terrorists have hijacked religion and used it to justify some of their despicable acts. The consequence is that, for many people, religion reminds them of violence and it inspires fear in them. It is, therefore, important to take note of what religious people are saying and doing. But we have to recognise that religion can lead to the best or to the worst. It depends on if it offers a project of holiness or a project of domination.

We know that religion is not something extrinsic. The human person is a religious being. The history of civilisation gives numerous proofs of this: houses of worship, rites, statutes, etc. One’s relation with God is deep. A professor of mathematics may not be willing to die for a self-evident theorem. But all through history there is a long list of martyrs for the sake of religion.

History has shown too that religion cannot be eliminated. The totalitarian system of the last centuries tried and they did not succeed in eliminating religion[1].

We are also aware that we live in multi-religious and multi-cultural societies where we face many common challenges together. So well has Nostra Aetate[2] (NA) summarized the situation of our world today: “In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger…” (NA 1). Men are looking for answers to the “unsolved riddles” of human existence: the meaning and purpose of life, the origin of suffering, the source of genuine happiness, the ultimate end of life, etc.[3].

Since the publication of Nostra Aetate the challenges have increased to include problems of urbanisation, loss of religious fervour, religious extremism, economic imbalance, injustice in the treatment of people of certain religious beliefs, over­generalization and labelling of people according prejudices. The list is long.

Yet religion has taught people about harmony, peaceful coexistence, justice, honesty, the importance of hard work, and the need to take care of God’s creation.

Need for Dialogue

In order to face the challenges of our time, all hands must be on the deck. Human beings across the religious divide must come together.

Dialogue is a two-way communication. It implies listening and speaking, receiving and giving, for mutual growth and enrichment. It is a pilgrimage and a risk: when you dialogue with somebody you agree to share his experiences and you are exposed to the possibility of changing your mind. It is more than conversation which involves “being nice to the other”. It is more than a negotiation which is often accompanied by shrewd bargaining and mutual concessions followed by reaching a solution and closing the question.

When the motivation of religion is brought into dialogue, it adds a different dimension. It includes witness to one’s own faith as well as openness to that of the other.

Interreligious dialogue takes different forms. It includes being together: living one’s life as taught by one’s religion (dialogue of life). It is working together in projects of common concern (dialogue of collaboration). It is reflecting together on the teachings of one another’s religion (dialogue of theological reflections). It is also sharing together religious experiences (dialogue of spiritual exchanges). These ideas have been developed over the years by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue as forms of interreligious relations.

There are people who think that interreligious dialogue is a new method for conversion to Christianity. It is neither. As regard to the Catholic Church, it urges her sons (and daughters) to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve, and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture”[4].

Christians consider peace as a gift from God and at the same time the ‘fruit’ of human efforts. It implicates at the same time God and man. Christ said to his disciples, before his death and resurrection, that he leaves them “his peace”. Christians have therefore a particular vision of peace. It is not just the absence of war or terror, but is the sum of many goods, especially that of security. It is the fruit of justice, because there is no peace without justice. War, on the contrary, with all its horrors, is one of the worst tragedies that can occur to communities and nations. Peace grows like a precious plant, it needs continuous care. Humanity needs to promote a culture of peace always and everywhere.

Basis of Peace

A real peace is based on three fundamentals: tolerance, mutual respect/reciprocity and cooperation.

1. Tolerance

Tolerance has a rather negative meaning; it could nevertheless be considered a lesser evil (minus malum), the minimum. Tolerance doesn’t mean simply living side by side and avoiding conflicts. Acceptance of diversity is more than tolerance. It means loving others as brothers and sisters. A brother or a sister is not just to be tolerated; he or she has to be loved.

This love is not a sentimental and romantic one, but one which is based on balanced knowledge about others in order to become acquainted with one another and to love one another!

2. Mutual Respect or reciprocity

Respect is a core value, a fundamental concept in human relations. Without it, no good could be achieved even if other noble sentiments are present like pity, compassion etc. Respect the other does not mean acceptance of what he believes in or approval of his behaviour. It is rather an attitude of consideration based on the fundamental and inalienable dignity of every human being.

3. Cooperation

This means working together for the common good and to help those who are in all kinds of need, especially the most needy.

The issue of cooperation among believers of different religions has been often raised. Many advocate that dialogue must go beyond niceties of exchange; that it must progress from words to deeds.

Dialogue of collaboration or dialogue of action in which Christians and others collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people has always been the main interest of the Catholic Church[5]. This is God’s will. As Pope Benedict XVI said in Turkey: “We are called to work together, so as to help society to open itself to the transcendent, giving Almighty God his rightful place…”[6].

In this regard, I would like refer to the four pillars of peace mentioned in the encyclical Pacem in Terris of Pope John XXIII: Truth, Justice, Love and Liberty. No peace without justice, no justice without love, no love without liberty.

The Holy See’s Collaboration with the Muslim Leaders

The Holy See through the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has a long history of collaboration with Muslim Scholars. There are some joint commissions with Islamic Institutions, mainly those in the Middle East and in the North African Countries. Just to mention a few:

Joint Committee between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the World Islamic Call Society (WICS) based in Tripoli, Libya.

With the “Islamic Culture and Relations Organization” of Iran

The “Islamic-Catholic Coordinating Committee” based in Saudi Arabia

Joint Committee with the Permanent Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions, Cairo, Egypt

With the Royal Institute in Jordan, etc.

In November 2008 a new Forum for collaboration with Muslim scholars flowing from the Open Letter of the 138 Muslim scholars to the Holy Father and diverse Christian leaders all over the world was established.

Worth mentioning here is the fact stressed in the “Open Letter” that Christians and Muslims represent 55% of the world population and consequently, if they are faithful to their own religions, they can do a lot for the common good, for peace and harmony in the society of which they are members.

Such a context is favourable for calmly tackling ancient, thorny “subjects” like the question of the human person’s rights; the principle of freedom of conscience and of religion; reciprocity with regard to places of worship.

Therefore, I should say that Christians and Muslims are heralds of a two-fold message:

1. Only God is worthy of adoration. Therefore all the idols made by men (wealth, power, appearance, hedonism) constitute a danger for the dignity of the human person, God’s creature.

2. In God’s sight, all men and women belong to the same race, to the same family. They are all called to freedom and to encounter Him after death.

I would like to indicate also, some concrete areas of life where Christians and Muslims together can contribute effectively to the common good of society:

— First, by witnessing to a life of prayer, both as individuals and as a community, recalling that “Man does not live on bread alone”. In our world today it is a must to stress and to show the necessity of an interior life.

— Secondly, Christians and Muslims being faithful to their spiritual commitments can help to understand better that freedom of religion means much more than to have a Church or a Mosque at their disposal (this is obvious and the minimum one can ask for) but it is also to have the possibility to take part in public dialogue through cultural exchanges (of schools, Institutes, Universities) and also through political and social responsibilities in which believers must be models.

— Together Christians and Muslims must not hesitate to defend the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the family, as they did in the framework of recent meetings organized by the United Nations.

— They should not refrain from uniting their efforts in fighting against illiteracy and disease.

— They have the common responsibility to provide moral formation for youth.

— Finally, they must be peacemakers and teach the pedagogy of peace in the family, in the church and mosque, at school and in the university.

If I may say, believers are prophets of hope. They do not believe in fate. They know that gifted by God with a heart and intelligence, they can with His help, change the course of history in order to orientate their life according to the project of the Creator: that is to say, make humanity an authentic family of which each one of us is a member. For us Christians, we must always remember the Apostle Paul’s exhortation in the letter to the Romans: “Let us then pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another” (14:19). It is a beautiful roadmap!

Dear Friends,

Our world is what we want it to be; our future is the one we choose and construct together. Our presence as religious leaders, scholars and persons representing our respective communities is an evident expression of our wish and commitment to friendly and constructive relations among the followers of all religions. Let us work for peace, build peace, give and receive peace!

Thank you!

[1] Cfr. Arnold J. Toynbee, Study of History, Oxford University Press, 1946/1947. 

[2] Nostra Aetate (NA) is the Second Vatican Council’s shortest declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.

[3] Cfr. NA 1. 

[4] NA 2

[5] Cfr. Dialogue and Proclamation. Reflections and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Joint Document of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples, Vatican City 19 May 1991.

[6] Meeting with the President of the Religious Affairs Directorate, Conference Room of the “Diyanet”, Ankara, 28 November 2006.