The Egyptian Jesuit priest Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. here explains the thoughtful, careful, and realistic approach that Pope Benedict XVI has adopted toward the Islamic world. “When Civilizations Meet: How Joseph Ratzinger Sees Islam,” from Asia News via Chiesa, with thanks to D.:
Benedict XVI is probably one of the few figures to have profoundly understood the ambiguity in which contemporary Islam is being debated and its struggle to find a place in modern society. At the same time, he is proposing a way for Islam to work toward coexistence globally and with religions, based not on religious dialogue, but on dialogue between cultures and civilizations based on rationality and on a vision of man and human nature which comes before any ideology or religion. This choice to wager on cultural dialogue explains his decision to absorb the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue into the larger Pontifical Council for Culture.
While the pope is asking Islam for dialogue based on culture, human rights, the refusal of violence, he is asking the West, at the same time, to go back to a vision of human nature and rationality in which the religious dimension is not excluded. In this way — and perhaps only in this way — a clash of civilizations can be avoided, transforming it instead into a dialogue between civilizations.
Islamic totalitarianism differs from Christianity
To understand Benedict XVI”s thinking on Islamic religion, we must go over its evolution. A truly essential document is found in his book written in 1996, when he was still cardinal, together with Peter Seewald, entitled “The Salt of the Earth”, in which he makes certain considerations and highlights various differences between Islam and Christian religion and the West.
First of all, he shows that there is no orthodoxy in Islam, because there is no one authority, no common doctrinal magisterium. This makes dialogue difficult: when we engage in dialogue, it is not “with Islam”, but with groups.
But the key point that he tackles is that of shari”a. He points out that:
“the Koran is a total religious law, which regulates the whole of political and social life and insists that the whole order of life be Islamic. Shari”a shapes society from beginning to end. In this sense, it can exploit such freedoms as our constitutions give, but it cannot be its final goal to say: Yes, now we too are a body with rights, now we are present [in society] just like the Catholics and the Protestants. In such a situation, [Islam] would not achieve a status consistent with its inner nature; it would be in alienation from itself”.
This alienation could be resolved only through the total Islamization of society. When for example an Islamic finds himself in a Western society, he can benefit from or exploit certain elements, but he can never identify himself with the non-Muslim citizen, because he does not find himself in a Muslim society.
Thus cardinal Ratzinger saw clearly an essential difficulty of socio-political relations with the Muslim world, which comes from the totalizing conception of Islamic religion, which is profoundly different from Christianity. For this reason, he insists in saying that we cannot try to project onto Islam the Christian vision of the relationship between politics and religion. This would be very difficult: Islam is a religion totally different from Christianity and Western society and this makes does not make coexistence easy.
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