Fatka (AsiaNews) – Education can be the chief instrument to bring Christians and Muslims to live together if it is free from “absolute positivism” and “formal fundamentalism”. The former reduces education to the transmission of facts collected in the exact sciences, seen as man’s only horizon, stifling his other dimensions. The latter passes on rules of behaviour and “truths” that need not freely welcome others, pushing adherents towards violence and social destruction. This is what Card Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice, said at the start of the annual meeting of the scientific committee of the Oasis Foundation, titled this year “Education between faith and culture: Christian and Muslim experiences in dialogue”.
The meeting, annually held alternatively in Venice and outside of Italy, brought together about 60 leading Christian and Muslim figures from Asia, North Africa, Europe and the Americas. This year, the event is being held at the House of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family from 19 to 23 June, in Fatka, north of Beirut (Lebanon), a location with view on the Mediterranean and the statue of Our Lady of Harissa.
Lebanon’s choice was almost a must since it is the country with the highest levels of literacy (93 per cent for men and 84 per cent for women) in the Middle East, where Christians and Muslims share their education and attend each other’s schools. Many speakers actually remembered John Paul II, who defined the country itself as a “message”.
In the first two days, committee participants visited a number of locations. Proceedings formally began this morning with a brief introduction by Card Nasrallah Sfeir, the Maronite Patriarch, and Mr Tarek Mitri, Lebanon’s Information Minister.
Mitri noted that Lebanon decided to set aside 25 March, the Christian Feast Day of the Annunciation, as a national holiday to strengthen Christian-Muslim dialogue around the devotion for the Virgin Mary. He stressed that dialogue is hugely important as a form of “preventive diplomacy” to guarantee peace. For this reason, it has to be lasting, resilient and credible.
Lebanese speakers stressed, with difference nuances, that schools and universities played an important role in allowing the Lebanese to learn about one another across the religious divide even during the Civil War, when confessional divisions were at their strongest.
Some, like Prof Antoine Messarra, argued that confessional schools played a positive role in this because their clearly demarcated identity helped defeat the fear of others. Prof Hisham Nashabe, of Makassed University, highlighted the role of public schools in bringing together students from different religious backgrounds around common values. All speakers, Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites, condemned violent fundamentalism (Christian as well) because it leads to ill will and threatens Lebanon’s mix.
One of them, Sheikh Ridwan Al-Sayyed, of the Université Libanaise, lamented the rise of fundamentalism in the Muslim world, in private life and schools as well as in mass media (radio and TV). Social plans are equally inspired by that orientation. In the end, Muslims no longer speak to non-Muslims, but are also unable to speak to one another in the Muslims world, choosing instead to impose rules in personal matters (women’s dress, prayer, etc.) or turning against foreigners (without criticising the dictatorial regimes under which they live).
Card Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said that in a certain way fundamentalism is a sign of the rebirth of religious needs in modern society, referring in particular to the secularised societies of the West, and of the need for religion to have a place in organising our societies. He noted that religions should work together for the world, inspired by shared values like solidarity, freedom, spiritual and a thirst for knowledge.
In this first the day, one element highlighted by cardinal Scola in his presentation, took the back the seat, namely the idea that education “is an act of love whereby the educators give themselves, totally, bearing witness to the truth that they already live, and which they freely give to students. If education is not a “meeting in freedom”, he said, it inevitably becomes “fundamentalism”. For this reason, “the best antidote to fundamentalism is education . . . , not any education, but education that knows how to hold together truth and freedom”.