BY SCO Admin | October 13 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Catholic expert on Islam calls for interfaith cooperation

One of the greatest experts of Islam in the Catholic Church visited Scotland last week to urge people of all faiths and none to ‘see beyond their own beliefs’ an cooperate to save ‘a world in travail’.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, former president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the apostolic nuncio to Egypt, addressed the Scottish Parliament, gave a lecture at Glasgow University and lead an event on interfaith cooperation for young Catholics at St Roch’s High School in Glasgow.

Born in Walsall, the archbishop was ordained a priest of the Missionaries of Africa in 1961 and told the SCO that Muslims are often seen as ‘public enemy number one.’

“In this century which we began with such hope, there has been a backlash against Muslims since September 11,” he said. “That is unfair to many Muslims I think. The majority of Muslims do not agree with what is sometimes done in the name of Islam.”

He said that in his long career he had seen that a key difference between Christianity and Islam was that Christianity—as a more individualistic religion—encouraged outside-the-box thinking.

“We have found that Muslims, especially those trained in religious studies, are very careful to keep within the tradition—not true of all Muslims of course,” he said. “Muhammad was both prophet and statesman. From the beginning he was head of the community so that political aspect was very important. Where Jesus never had that role and he didn’t tell his disciples to have that role.

“I think Christians need to have a critical distance from those in power and be ready to speak truth to power but that is more difficult for Muslims in some ways.”

Still, he says he see a public commitment to their Faith among Muslims which is less common among Christians.

“Yes we have to recover a sense of the Church as a community of communities, learned from strength of community bonds in Islam,” he said.

“I live in Jerusalem just opposite the Dome of the Rock,” he said. “It is really impressive to see the number of Muslims who go to pray there not just on Fridays. We don’t have that in our churches in the same way. We need to remember our prayer is not an ­individual relationship with God but a gift to all.”

Living in Jerusalem, he sees first-hand the limits on inter-religious dialogue.

“The hopes of a solution diminish all the time,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be any solution coming. There are fears of an imposed solution that would not be based on justice and the rights of peoples and it is that which creates the unease—a lack of trust.”

Without trust, there can be little hope of dialogue, he said.

“How can you talk to people when you don’t trust them,” he said. “There is a fundamental principle in the Arab world ‘against normalisation,’ that you should not have relations with people who are officially connected with     Israeli society.

“People are not invited to speak if they are Jews. Of course, it should be the opposite—that, without peace, dialogue is required, because how else can you prepare for peace. But you can understand the reluctance to engage in dialogue because of the fundamental lack of trust.”

As for the Catholic Church, he says its approach to Islam has not changed in recent years.

“I don’t think the approach has changed—the theory remains the same,” he said. “Of course, each pope has his own ways of doing things and certainly Pope Francis has won over the esteem of Muslims by gestures, his openness and just his own personality, but there is no change on the doctrine towards people of other religions.

“And it’s a good thing each pontiff has his own personality and way of doing things and some work better than others.”


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