12/31/2008, 00.00
INDIA – VATICAN

Catholic seminaries and Islamic schools unaware of developments in Catholic-Islamic dialogue

by Christian W. Troll
A great expert on Islamic-Christian dialogue, the German Jesuit points the finger at the superficial treatment given to important steps taken by Benedict XVI and Muslim scholars. This puts at risk the co-existence of the two great communities in a world also globalised at the religious level.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The joint paper that came out of the Catholic-Muslim Forum held last November in the Vatican is unknown in India. Indian seminaries and madrassah (Islamic schools) are completely unaware of the latest developments in Christian-Muslim relations. This is harmful to the life of the two communities which represent small minorities in the country. Nirmala Carvalho spoke about it with Fr Christian W. Troll, who is in India for studies. A member of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, the German Jesuit teaches at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Italy) and the Sankt Georgen Graduate School in Frankfurt (Germany).

Crucial for the growth of genuine inter-religious encounter and dialogue on the various levels would seem to be that the religious leaders and teachers of both religions are deeply convinced in faith: it is God's will that we should know about the other in order to appreciate and respect one another and this desire and effort constitutes an essential part of my mission as religious leader and theologian. Religious leaders and teachers must invest energy and time in genuine mutual knowledge and in Dialogue.

Much if not everything depends on religious leadership and teaching in this area. Unfortunately, here even the “Open Letter and Call” singed by more than 270 Muslim leaders and thinkers addressed to all the important Christian Churches—which is a Muslim initiative—has not been communicated down to the seminaries, madrassah, to the priests and teachers and even less to the common believers.

Similarly, the resolutions at the Conference in Yale, Cambridge and Rome have also not been “broken down” as it were to the great number of practicing believers in both traditions. Ask any student of theology, any priest or Maulvi, almost none of them is even aware that such an initiative has been taken and that these important meetings have taken place. This is tragic. If we are serious about Islam Christian dialogue and if we do not want to make ourselves ridiculous in the public as religious leaders, it would seem to be fundamental that such important and costly initiatives on the highest level, in which a significant number of Muslim and Christian leaders have taken part, be communicated to wider sections of both religious communities and be made subject matter for dialogues on various levels.

Theologically both Christianity and Islam are related to each other, we both have Abraham as our father in faith. India is part of the global village and for gainful solidarity in Asia and the western World, Justice and Peace are essential and for obtaining this goal the process of dialogue, among other things, is necessary. We must work with a sense of urgency, the world is a globalised village in religious terms also, and there are many challenges to overcome if believers of different traditions are to live together in harmony.

Muslim-Christian relations are 1,400 years old. During that long history there has never yet been an initiative like the Common Word. It is deplorable that not much has been done to make it known and effective.

In India, people belong to Dialogue groups which are on the level of cordiality and friendship. But for far too long this dialogue process has remained almost entirely on a sporadic and largely emotional level, involving relatively few persons. Dialogue must be backed by knowledge, shared thinking and a constructive spirit.

In India, both Christians and Muslims are minority communities and it is imperative that both these minority communities live in harmony and co-existence not to be a collective force but in order that both Christians and Muslims make their respective contributions (inspired by their respective faiths) to the formation and strengthening of the 'common good' in plural and democratic societies, societies which are secular (in the sense of aspiring to being religiously neutral) and which are committed to the human rights of all their members. For however valuable it may be to achieve theological agreement over the question of the double love-commandment—Love for God and Love for neighbor—on its own this can hardly guarantee just and peaceful co-existence within diversity. Much is being done in the name of love. Christians and Muslims will have to spell out concretely and of various level s of living how they wish to translate the commandment of love of God and neighbor into sustainable ways of shared initiatives and projects.

Very much indeed depends on religious leaders and teachers in India -- the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has taken this Islam-Christian dialogue into the second gear, the Pope has begun the rational procedure between two great religions both gifted with reason to search for the greater truth in genuinely lived religious values, and this has to be communicated effectively, religious leaders and teachers have a responsibility of taking the dialogue process to seeking out resolutions in spite of the differences for a common task. Dialogue should take place on the ideological, theological and practical levels. For dialogue on these levels to succeed the appropriate teaching and information about the religious views and developments of the other, the partner, religious community is a must. Are Christian and Muslim seminaries and madrassah doing sufficiently in this respect? Do they have the desire to do more? Is the ‘Islamic Studies Association’ of India, founded more than thirty years ago by Catholic bishops, priests, religious and laypeople to promote knowledge and understanding between Muslims and Christians in India, receiving the attention and interest it deserves? Beautiful common declarations on the international level raise expectations. If they are not met, if there is not even an effort to meet them, then frustration and ridicule will be the result.

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