Vatican: Islam: John Paul II and the Muslims (Part III)

world | May 04, 2011 | By Asia News

Beirut - What can be drawn from this rapid evolution experienced in almost 27 years of his pontificate (1978-2005)? I will try to draw some conclusions.

Giving value to the positive aspects of Islam

Following the council, Pope John Paul II tried to value the positive aspects of Islam, as we must do in every encounter with each other. The Muslim is first and foremost a believer, who placed the transcendence of God first in his life, and who from this point prays. The Muslim is a person who has the ethical principles that in more than one point are connected to those of Christians. He is placed in the line of Abraham and recognize a special place for Jesus and Mary.

This is why John Paul II agrees on some points with Muslims, for example on the fight against abortion, which has become virtually free in the West. Some accused him of having implemented a "Holy Alliance" with Islam, during the "Cairo Conference" on population (7-13 September 1994). Evidently there is no alliance, but Islam and Christianity, and probably other religions agree on some principles concerning the process of life, while Western civilization places special emphasis on the individuals right to make his or her  own choices in matters of sexuality.

Concretely, what does dialogue mean?

What does dialogue really mean? Let’s start with the address at Casablanca (August 1985). John Paul II begins by recognising one fact: "We have many things in common, as believers and as human beings." Of course, the Pope might have added: "And many things that divide us" and it would have been true and correct. But this would place an obstacle in people's hearts too early on. Moreover, the distinction that immediately follows "as believers and as human beings” is very important: not only faith unites us or divides us. And we're not there to make a common front of believers against those who do not believe. From the start he spoke of two levels: one narrower and deeper level (believers) and another, more universal and more fundamental (humans). Now too often the problem with the Muslims, particularly the most fundamental among them, is that they only consider the religious aspect, and moreover the sectarian aspect of religion, "who is not with us, is against us. " A few lines later, you will see the importance of these levels, John Paul II said: "it is of God himself that, above all, I wish to speak with you; (...)I wish also to speak with you about human values, which have their basis in God". If dialogue does not touch our human values, humanity does not care; separating the religious from the human does not make sense, and this is an essential point to remember in our dialogue. Religion is not an end in itself rather it is Man! John Paul II was "too human" to forget this not stress it.

"We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection." This little phrase caused much debate among Catholics, and perhaps also Muslims. It is, in my opinion, a little hasty, because this is disputed by many Muslims and many Christians: do we really believe in the same God? And the Muslims add: "Is there really the one God? Are you not worshipers of the triune God? "As the Qur'an says:" You shall not say, "Trinity." You shall refrain from this for your own good"(Qur'an, 4:171 La taqulu thalatun. Intahu ! Khayran la-kum !). Personally I prefer the formula of the Christian Arab philosopher, Abù Rà’itah Habīb Ibn Hu dhayfah al-Takrītī, in his treatise on the Trinity, composed around the year 815 AD: "Surely God is only One, but how great the difference is between your understanding of God and ours! "( wa-lakin shattana ma ma bayna mafhumikum lahu wa-mafhumina lahu).

"God asks every man to respect every human creature and to love him as a friend, a companion, a brother.," the Pope says at the conclusion of this first paragraph, which will set the tone throughout the speech: to respect everyone as a brother. This is 'the deep ethics of this pope, so human and yet so close to God. Seeing a brother in every person, loved by God, is this not Christianity? It would be inappropriate to thus analyze this address, and other speeches. This prelude sufficiently clarifies the perspective of the Blessed, who had to fight to save human dignity from the grasp of Communist ideology, and not to project faith as something high in the sky, as wanted by a more spiritual approach.

Strong gestures for dialogue with Islam

He expressed this with strong gestures, at times questioned, at times questionable: the meeting with Yasser Arafat (March 2000 in Palestine and October 29, 2001 in the Vatican), his kissing the Koran (May 14, 1999), the visit to Turkey ( November 1979), his speech to 80 thousand young people at Casablanca (August 19, 1985), entering the great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus (May 6, 2001). His support for the construction of a mosque in Rome, and suggestion that the municipality provide the land.

But above all he launched the idea of a meeting of leaders of all the great world religions, which took place October 27, 1986 and brought together 130 religious leaders from throughout the world. It was followed by two other gatherings in Assisi, and we are waiting for another still in October 2011 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first. Many Catholics have criticized this "ambiguous gesture." And yet the Pope was careful to open this meeting with the following words:

"The fact that we have come here does not imply any intention of seeking a religious consensus among ourselves or of negotiating our faith convictions. Neither does it mean that religions can be reconciled at the level of a common commitment in an earthly project which would surpass them all. Nor is it a concession to relativism in religious beliefs, because every human being must sincerely follow his or her upright conscience with the intention of seeking and obeying the truth".

"Our meeting attests only - and this is its real significance for the people of our time - that in the great battle for peace, humanity, in its very diversity, must draw from its deepest and most vivifying sources where its conscience is formed and upon which is founded the moral action of all people"

Apart from the fact of kissing the Koran, the Pope's spontaneous gesture to mark his respect for this book which is the source of inspiration for many people, a gesture that was interpreted by many Muslims as significant to the recognition of "revealed" nature of the Koran (which can not be so for a Christian), the other gestures do not involve ambiguity. Entering a mosque is quite a normal thing to do in the East, just as a Muslim enters a church in some circumstances. As to whether to remove his shoes upon entering, it is the gesture of Moses, which recognizes a sacred place, and it is the habitual gesture that the Copts have on entering the sanctuary.

His political positions in favour of countries with Muslim majorities

Others accused him of having met with Yasser Arafat, during his visit to the Holy Land in March 2000, and even of welcoming him to the Vatican in October 29, 2001. This gesture was an opportunity for the Holy Father to renew the appeal to peace and nonviolence. As Joaquin Navarro-Valls, then Vatican spokesman, said at the end of this encounter: "Your Holiness, in expressing his condolences for the many victims of the endless spiral of violence, has renewed his appeal to all to abandon weapons and resume negotiations. " For his part, the president of the Palestinian Authority "condemned all forms of terrorism" and stressed "the desire for peace of the Palestinian population." The Vatican reiterated its wish to see international resolutions to resolve the crisis in the Middle East respected, "without forgetting the necessary commitment of the international community aimed at the people of the region to ensure mutual respect and security for all."

His opposition to the United States led allied invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq was abundantly clear and also affected Arab and Muslim masses. This man without an army was one of the few high profile figures to take on the pro-war in Iraq current, in a clear and irrevocable manner, while respecting the "diplomatic style". We now know that this invasion of Iraq, which began Thursday, March 20, 2003, cost the lives of more than 100 thousand Iraqi civilians and has caused the exodus of at least two million Iraqi refugees since then, and in particular a high proportion of Christians.

In general, John Paul II was no more in favour of Muslim countries than he was of "Christian" countries of (as they are seen by Muslims). He was in favour of international law and justice as a means of achieving peace. Ultimately, it was the defence of peace and harmony that mattered to him above all else. Because war, even if has “justifiable” grounds "right" only brings death and destruction. On the other hand we see that for him, as for a large part of the Catholic Church, the concept of a "just war" is being increasingly questioned. In December 2002 the Pope condemned the idea of a "preventive war" in his annual message for peace proclaimed on January 1st 2003. It was 'immediately supported by Mgr. Renato Martino, the new president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who stated: "Preventive war is a war of aggression and does not fall within the definition of a just war." And Mgr. Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican "foreign minister", who said, going against American views: "We must wait for the results of inquiries conducted by UN inspectors in Iraq before any conviction."

The position of John Paul II was unambiguous. It was opposed by that of many neo-conservative Catholic theologians, including his most famous biographer, George Weigel. At this point, the pope had a position that was linked to that of the "left", for ethical reasons. (more to follow)

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