Christians and Muslims:

A Dialogue in a Secularized Society

Cardinal Jean-Louise Tauran

At the beginning of the Third Millennium, Christianity and Islam are the two largest religions of the world. We have to take into consideration the fact that Muslims are present in North America and Europe, not as passing immigrants but as definitively-settled citizens.  That means that they are our neighbors, in the sense of the Good Samaritan parable.

Living among us, our Muslim friends can open a Bible and read it. They can find Jesus Christ. They can enter a church and they can discover the beauty of our liturgy.  In a way, the presence of so many Muslims around us means that we Christians have a witness to offer them. Most of them know only Jesus of the Koran; we have the duty to show them Jesus of the Gospel. We have to witness that God is Love and only Love.

In spite of great differences, Christians and Muslims are called to meet the challenge of modernity, which is nothing other than globalization.  And so we can imagine that our rivalry could take the form of reciprocal emulation in the service of the common good (Nostra Aetate, n. 3).

So the question arises, what is the essence of interreligious dialogue?  It is not a question of being nice to the other. It is not a negotiation.  It is not a strategy.  It is rather an invitation to discover the seeds of the Word, the ray of the Truth, the signs of the presence of God in every brother and sister in humanity.  With interreligious dialogue we are compelled to promote all positive and constructive relationships with persons and communities “…in order to learn to know each other and to enrich each other in obedience to the truth and respect for the freedom of everyone”. (Dialogue and Proclamation, n. 9). Interreligious dialogue is not therefore the search for the smallest common denominator among religions (that would be relativism).  It is indeed the endeavor to know and to respect the convictions of the other and to recognize that God never ceases to be present and to be at work in the heart of every human person.

This dialogue usually is carried out through four different modalities.

1)the dialogue of life (I share the joys and sorrows of my neighbor belonging to another religion);

2)the dialogue of works (I collaborate in the well-being of the other. I met the needs of those who, although belonging to other religions, are living in precariousness.);

3)theological dialogue, when it is possible;

4)the dialogue of spiritualities.

Such an attitude, of course, cannot lead to relativism in conception of Truth. For us, Christians, Christ, the Son of God who became man, is the way, the Truth and the Life (John 14, 6and it is only in Him, that all men and women, will find the fullness of religious life (NA, n.3), but, we recognize the value of positive elements present also in many religions and regard “with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men” (NA, n. 2).

To realize such a program, partners must have a clear-cut idea of their own faith and be disposed to listen, to understand and to love their counterparts, and finally, to know and to respect each other’s differences.

Interreligious dialogue is also a providential call inviting us to deepen our own beliefs in order to be able to answer to those are asking for an account of our religion, that is to make account, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:14).

Dialogue claims mutual knowledge among believers, leading to a greater respect and understanding.  It is also an occasion to correct erroneous images which exist, to overcome stereotypes and misconceptions which distort true knowledge of the other.  If problems arise between Christians and Muslims very often they are due to ignorance. Very often we do not know the content of other religions or we have never met believers of other religions.  We are reluctant to meet followers of other religions because we have no clear idea about our own religion.  And, of course, we cannot under-evaluate violence perpetrated in the name of religion or the discrimination of religious minorities in countries where the majority religion enjoys a privileged status due to history. Only convinced Christians are qualified to engage in interreligious dialogue.

Only Christians who live according to their convictions are qualified to engage in interreligious dialogue.

1)     We must have a clear idea of our own religion. We cannot dialogue in ambiguity. Catechesis in parishes and teaching in seminaries and universities are particularly important.

2) We have to live according to our convictions. We have to be creditable believers. In interreligious dialogue we are exposed to the other’s gaze.  We ask one another, “Who is your God, how do you live your religious faith in every day life?” – and everyone must personally answer.  Interreligious dialogue does not happen between religions, but between believers.

3) We mustn’t be shy in sharing our faith. If I am convinced that Christ is the answer to the riddles of the human condition, I cannot keep to myself what I consider to be the key to happiness: those who have recognized a great truth or discovered a great joy have to pass it on.  They absolutely cannot keep it to themselves. These great gifts are never intended for one person. In such a context, it is obvious that the brother or the sister who is a practicing non-Christian is not a competitor but a partner in Interreligious dialogue and that we are able to recognize that the followers of other religions can receive God’s grace. The Italian priest Andrea Santoro who was murdered in Turkey February 5th 2006, declared that he found in his Muslim friends: “an instinctive sense of God and His Providence; spontaneous welcome of His word and His will; trusting abandonment to His guidance; daily prayer in the middle of one’s activity; certainty about the after life and resurrection; the sacredness of the family; the value of simplicity of the essential, of welcome and of solidarity.”

Finally, Christians and Muslims who dialogue are a great help for peace and harmony between peoples and societies.  Together, in a secularized society, we can give witness to prayer.  We can help each other to behave as responsible citizens. We can work in order that religious freedom be more and more a reality.  We can defend the family against aggressive policies which are undermining its solidity.  We can fight together against illiteracy and disease.  We are aware of our common responsibility for the moral formation of younger generations.  And finally, we can teach the pedagogy of peace in our churches and mosques.