Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

True Religious Tolerance and Dialog

There has continued to be some very interesting discussion about pope Benedict XVI personally baptising Magdi Allam.

Sherry Weddell continues to fear that turning the baptism of an Islamic-born, politically controversial journalist into a global media event will have tragic repurcussions for Christian converts and missionaries living in the Middle East and North Africa.

Abu Daoud reponds to her concerns.

(Incidently, if all blogsphere argument was as civil and thoughtful as the Sherry/Abu Daoud exchange, it would be a pretty wonderful thing.)

Zenit has posted the full text of an editorial letter dealing with his conversion which Magdi Allam sent to the newspaper at which he works. (HatTip: Blackadder) From that letter by Allam come some interesting thoughts:
Dear Director, you asked me whether I fear for my life, in the awareness that conversion to Christianity will certainly procure for me yet another, and much more grave, death sentence for apostasy. You are perfectly right. I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith. And I will be more so after the courageous and historical gesture of the Pope, who, as soon has he knew of my desire, immediately agreed to personally impart the Christian sacraments of initiation to me. His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.

For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the abuse and the violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice. In Italy there are thousands of converts to Islam who live their new faith in peace. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists who lurk among us. By one of those “fortuitous events” that evoke the discreet hand of the Lord, the first article that I wrote for the Corriere on Sept. 3, 2003 was entitled “The new Catacombs of Islamic Converts.” It was an investigation of recent Muslim converts to Christianity in Italy who decry their profound spiritual and human solitude in the face of absconding state institutions that do not protect them and the silence of the Church itself. Well, I hope that the Pope’s historical gesture and my testimony will lead to the conviction that the moment has come to leave the darkness of the catacombs and to publicly declare their desire to be fully themselves. If in Italy, in our home, the cradle of Catholicism, we are not prepared to guarantee complete religious freedom to everyone, how can we ever be credible when we denounce the violation of this freedom elsewhere in the world? I pray to God that on this special Easter he give the gift of the resurrection of the spirit to all the faithful in Christ who have until now been subjugated by fear. Happy Easter to everyone.
So it seems that in Allam's mind there is also a very real significance to this to members of the ex-Muslim convert communities in Italy and in Europe as a whole, who may find themselves with little protection against retribution for their "apostacy" when government and church authorities are so focused on respecting "cultural diversity" that they fail to reign in its more dangerous elements.

Finally, Routers reports that several Islamic scholars associated with the A Common Word initiative towards better Islamic/Christian dialog have voiced regret that the pope baptised Allam so publically, seeing this as a public blow to dialog.
Aref Ali Nayed, a key figure in a group of over 200 Muslim scholars launching discussion forums with Christian groups, said the Vatican had turned the baptism of Egyptian-born journalist Magdi Allam into "a triumphalist tool for scoring points."....

"The whole spectacle... provokes genuine questions about the motives, intentions and plans of some of the pope's advisers on Islam," Nayed, who is director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, said in a statement.

"Nevertheless, we will not let this unfortunate episode distract us from our work on pursuing 'A Common Word' for the sake of humanity and world peace. Our basis for dialogue is not a tit-for-tat logic of reciprocity."
Reading all this, however, I find myself wondering if Benedict's aim in all this is to make a statement about the nature of true religious toleration and dialog. There has been a tendency in the '60s for many to downplay the importance of conversion in favor of "dialog". I'm sure that nearly all of us know a few converts who were initially told by some priest or layperson, "God just wants you to be the best person that you can be where you already are. We don't 'convert' people anymore."

Even when things are not taken to this extremity, it often seems to be held that religius toleration and dialog requires that the parties not talk about the fact that, by virtue of belonging to very different religious traditions, they to some degree hold that the others have false beliefs and would be better off converting.

Benedict is no political and cultural fire-breether, but he is a thoughtful and holy man who is in no sense afraid of difficult and unpopular truths. I wonder if the pope, who according to Allam immediately agreed to personally receive him into the Church when Allam made the request, means with this action to make a statement that he will bring to the table when he meets with scholards from the A Common Word initiative in November: Toleration means not merely ignoring and minimizing points of difference, but respecting the conscience of others even in the face of grave and important points of difference.

True progress in the dialog between Islam and Christianity must mean not only respect for all that is good and shared by the two traditions, but also an acknowledgement that we do indeed differ on profound and important questions of faith, and that despite this members of both faiths must respect the freedom of conscience of the others.

Tolerance, in its real sense, must mean not merely minimizing the differences between us, but treating each other with respect while acknowledging our differences.

1 comment:

CMinor said...

Hear, hear!