I am all for dialogue between Muslims and Christians when it is honest and not based on false pretenses. There doesn’t seem to be any use to dialogue that ignores difficulties and points of disagreement rather than confronting them. They won’t go away if ignored. I discuss the genuine prospects for dialogue and its pitfalls at length in my book Not Peace But A Sword, which will be published next week by Catholic Answers.
One thing that must be recognized is that for many Muslim spokesmen and leaders, dialogue with adherents of other religions is simply a proselytizing mechanism designed to convert the “dialogue” partner to Islam, as the Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb explained: “The chasm between Islam and Jahiliyyah [the society of unbelievers] is great, and a bridge is not to be built across it so that the people on the two sides may mix with each other, but only so that the people of Jahiliyyah may come over to Islam.”
In line with this, 138 Muslim scholars wrote to Pope Benedict XVI, inviting him to dialogue. The title of the document they sent to him was A Common Word Between Us and You. Reading the entire Qur’anic verse from which the phrase “a common word between us and you” was taken makes the Common Word initiative’s agenda clear: “Say: “˜People of the Book! Come now to a word common between us and you, that we serve none but God, and that we associate not aught with Him, and do not some of us take others as Lords, apart from God.” And if they turn their backs, say: “˜Bear witness that we are Muslims– (3:64). Since Muslims consider the Christian confession of the divinity of Christ to be an unacceptable association of a partner with God, this verse is saying that the “common word” that Muslims and the People of the Book should agree on is that Christians should discard one of the central tenets of their faith and essentially become Muslims. Not a promising basis for an honest and mutually respectful dialogue of equals.
“‘Intensify’ dialogue with Islam: Pope to Roman Catholic Church,” from PTI, March 22 (thanks to Milad):
Vatican City: Pope Francis on Friday called for the Roman Catholic Church to “intensify” its dialogue with Islam, echoing hopes in the Muslim world for better ties with the Vatican during his reign.
“It is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions and I am thinking particularly of dialogue with Islam,” the new pontiff said in an address to foreign ambassadors at the Vatican.
Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI was seen by some Muslim leaders as hostile to Islam and the change at the top had been welcomed by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, head of the Saudi-based OIC, said earlier this month that he hoped “the relationship between Islam and Christianity will regain its cordiality and sincere friendship”.
Mahmud Azab, adviser for inter-faith affairs to Al-Azhar imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb in Cairo, also told AFP earlier, “As soon as a new policy emerges, we will resume the dialogue with the Vatican”. Al-Azhar broke off ties in 2011 after Benedict called for the protection of Christian minorities following a suicide bombing at a church in Egypt.
So apparently the new policy that Azab wants is for the pope never to criticize the Muslim persecution of Christians. Then we’ll all be great friends — and what’s a few burnt churches and dead bodies when we’re getting on so famously?
Benedict was also heavily criticised early in his reign when he recounted a Byzantine emperor’s description of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed as a warmonger who spread evil teachings.
In his address on Friday, Francis also called for the Church to dialogue more with non-believers — returning to an effort begun during Benedict’s reign amid rising secularism in the Western world.
“It is also important to intensify outreach to non-believers so that the differences which divide and hurt us may never prevail but rather the desire to build true links of friendship,” he said.
True friendship cannot be built on false pretenses.