Proven rules for a hope-filled future
As more and more EU Member States reconsider their integration policy, there is also debate within the Catholic Church concerning new avenues for dialogue with Muslim citizens. Martin Rupprecht is a parish priest in Vienna and the director of the Centre for Christian-Islamic Encounter in the Archdiocese of Vienna. Based on his experience, he has drawn up some basic principles.
Confrontation with Islam has become a welcome opportunity – including for many within the Church – to promote a threat scenario: much is made of the higher birth rate, and some seek to prove that violence is inherent to Islam, and that therefore a defence strategy needs to be prepared.
Psychologically, focusing on the concept of an enemy can help compensate for a perceived weakening of the individual’s own identity. Although understandable, this response does not contribute much to a workable model for human coexistence; neither is such an approach remotely Christian. From the experience gained through our efforts at dialogue –for which, it may be said, we can report a good measure of success – we have distilled the following principles:
“Audiatur et altera pars – hear the other side”; whether this be an issue of interpretation of the Koran or persecution of Christians in Iraq, and however abundantly clear the matter may be, the only way to act responsibly is to include engagement with representative voices of the other side.
For example, when we look at the dreadful massacre that claimed 58 lives in a church in Baghdad at Christmas 2010, we must also note that over 100 people were killed in an attack on a Shiite mosque in Baghdad the very next day. We need to see that while there are indeed terrorist groups intent on driving Christians out of Islamic countries, many Muslims are still suffering the same fate.
Opening up to learning opportunities: The history of the Roman Catholic Church is a prime example of learning processes. Talking about these things, showing developments in theology, and pointing to the working of the Holy Spirit in the midst of it all can be a means of coming alongside Muslims in friendly fashion. In my opinion, statements by Church representatives of the sort “There can be no theological dialogue between Christians and Muslims” or “You can never trust a Muslim” are sins against the Holy Spirit – of which Matthew 12:31 says that only these will not be forgiven.
Human beings, not only Christians, are the focal point of our concern: “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.” Gaudium et Spes 1. Distinguishing between Christians and non-Christians is necessary for many internal processes within the Church. Yet this must not lead to a dynamic of “us and them”. Appealing to an “us and them” paradigm serves as a tool for political agitation and leads to hatred and division.
Experiencing one another at prayer: In May 2011 we organised a pulpit exchange. Imam Hizir Hoca preached at the Sunday Mass in my church, and I was invited to speak to Muslims at Friday prayers in the mosque. In preparation for this, there had been years of reciprocal invitations, training sessions and seminars on beliefs – but, above all, visits to the services of worship. When have Muslims seen for themselves Christians at prayer? When have Christians observed a day of Islamic fasting in a family?
Recognising God’s work in others – and His message for me: “The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.” Nostra Aetate 2.
The Islamic discipline of fasting, abstinence from alcohol, strictly dividing up the day for the purpose of prayer – is there not something here from which we can and must learn? Are these not promptings of the Spirit for me? Can we not tell the Muslims that we find it wonderful the way they live out their faith – and desist from aggressively asserting in the same breath that their conception of God is different from our own?
It is the task of the Church to develop a perspective which promotes peace. We must finally develop an active programme that takes seriously the positive willingness of many Muslims to shape a common future. We should stop talking about Muslims and start talking with them and making plans together.
Director of the Centre for Christian-Islamic Encounter, Archdiocese of Vienna
Translated from the original German