No62 June 2004.4
Christian and Moslem worlds :
Are conflicts unavoidable ?
For centuries, Islam and Christianity have clashed on all subjects, Christians and Moslems have collided from Morocco to the Philippines. The two Religious systems have mobilized their followers and given them a whole arsenal of objections and counter-objections that would enable them to defend their faith and turn the other one into ridicule.
It is a fact that Christianity began with the figure of Christ, essentially a man of peace, who let himself be crucified, and then forgave his killers. In his example, the first Christian communities experienced persecution, and exalted the figure of martyrs who did not defend themselves. The most important Christian prayer constantly reminds us, "Forgive us as we forgive others."
But it also is true that the emperor Constantine made of the cross a symbol of military power, and of the Church an integral part of his empire. Later, the Christianity of Charlemagne, of the crusaders and of the conquistadors reveals an alliance between the throne and the altar, of the sword and the holy water sprinkler that lasted for a long time in spite of occasional skirmishes and splits. We must admit, though, that here and there the separation was not always effective; the debates concerning the war in Irak proves it clearly. For the Moslems, Christianity is intimately linked with the Western invaders who pretend to be "'the axis of good."
The story of Islam is not less complicated. From its very beginning in Mecca, Mohammed faced persecution with patience and serenity. Expelled from the city, he found in Medina an official footing from where he led a politico-religious conquest of his native city and of Arabia. From that victory, his disciples concluded that state and religion were intimately linked; a militant faith and an aggressive religiosity.
And this is how, from the beginning, Islam was presented as a conquering religion whose armies were in charge from India to Spain.
But this theology developed in an empire where Islam was supreme clashed with the new reality that half the Muslims were living in non-Moslem countries where they were in the minority. And even in countries where Moslems were in the majority, the mentality has changed; public opinion was no longer made by illiterate people blindly following their literate leaders. Faith is not only submission to leaders and scholars, it wants to think things out, or else it disappears.
Moslems can no longer draw their inspiration from a theology in which Islam is, at the same time, Religion and State policy. They must therefore live their faith out of a personal conviction.
What must be our understanding? Is Islam really a message of Peace, incompatible with violence, or is violence an integral part of the message, as certain Moslem say, and certain Christian groups as well?
Does not Christianity present a similar problem when we compare Jesus' message of non-violence and the killings still perpetrated today in Ireland, in Lebanon, Uganda and elsewhere by groups of Christians, in the name of Christianity or one of its branches?
Even if we deny to the criminals involved the name of muslins, there is no doubt that the Muslin population as a whole expresses its deep conviction that the Islamic message is to be understood as an exhortation to justice, to goodness, to tolerance, to respect of others, to the service of the neighbor as well as the worship of God. For the great majority of the Muslin believers we meet, Islam means first of all a faith in a code of fundamental values, which they share with all humanity. It is in the name of that global and ideal appreciation that we condemn its behavior, even if they justify it by their religion.
But the true question remains to be asked. Like the Bible, the Koran presents its central message through a multitude of verses, which theologians try to harmonize to find out which is the most important and central. The fact that a great number of believers determine their faith from a large number of the most peace-loving and spiritual verses does not prevent other believers and some theologians to choose the war-like verses, as if they were central to the message of the Koran.
It being so, should we not ask questions of another order: are there theologians who could justify their opinions before their peers? Are the theologians and the men of religions so convinced that they are willing to defend the peace-loving ideal of the Koran? And is the official teaching given to their young people in official manuals clear enough on that point?
To end the present tendency to violence, it is essential that all, Christians and Moslems, examine the way in which they can, without even realizing it, keep alive a spirit of superiority, of desire to dominate, or of intolerance, under cover of prejudices about their own religion and its past.
It is only wrong to accuse Islam or Christianity of the atrocities of some of their believers if these religions did not use their spiritual and moral resources to combat injustice and violence in their most secret roots. What is the truth of it, and what are we doing to avoid it?
From confrontation to witnessing
The time is past when humans could live in solid populations with only one religion and one ideology. There was a time when Europe was mostly Christian and North Africa mostly Muslim, but liberty of thought, of opinion, of publication and of parole liberty, in fact- has now introduced such a diversity in everything: beliefs, systems of spirituality and of conduct, that we find it difficult to accept it at times.
History has scrambled the playing cards, there is no longer all spades on one side and all hearts on the other. All human societies are now consisting of a mixture of allegiances, either religious or cultural.
In spite of their differences, all races discover that they are companions on the way, and that they share the same destiny. Denying the differences would condemn all societies to sink into chaos and atrocities. But this type of hostility mostly emerges between people whose religious approach is more centered on common experiences than on religious or mystical experiences.
The one who is really spiritual, either Christian or Moslem, sees immediately that those quarrels make him lose his "sense of God." How could he start arguing, pretending that he understand God better than the other, when he feels so small in God's close presence, the Sovereign, the one who transcends all our thoughts?
For the Christian, there is another aspect; all his faith tells him that God has intervened gratuitously, immediately, unbelievably in our history; God has shared our humanity! How could he prove such a free gift, how to prove necessary what is "foolishly" loving gesture, the foolishness of Jesus, who, having loved his own, loved them to the end and gave his life for them? The mission of Christians is not to prove the truth of Christianity, but to pass on its message.
There is nothing less aggressive than a message. We try to prove nothing, we only tell what we have seen, this is what the apostles did and today's Christian witnesses to his evidence, that of having also received the Spirit and to be in contact, though obscurely, with the Risen Christ who reveals Himself as He had promised: "I will show myself to him who loves me." If we neglect our role as witnesses we risk being unfaithful to the Christian message. My role is not to prove a doctrine, but to live an experience, to witness to it and to listen to that of my neighbor.
In the complicated world of tomorrow where the commercial, political, cultural and religious propagandas keep increasing, the only true witnesses are those who are anchored in truth and leave others at their anchorage with the links of fraternal love.
Jean-Marie Gaudeul, M.Afr.
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