05/11/2017, 14.30
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Pope Francis's call for dialogue against Islamophobia with an eye on the Second Vatican Council

by Fady Noun

More and more videos are posted online carrying attacks against Islam and mentioning massacres and forced conversions. The pontiff’s visit to Egypt shows how to deal with biases. Muslim leaders and institutions (like al-Azhar) should encourage reforms. Christians should accompany them on this long and difficult journey.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – This is becoming a real social phenomenon. We are bombarded every day by Islamophobic videos that try to tell us one thing: the history of Islam is a long litany of massacres and forced conversions. Daesh (the Arabic acronym for Islamic State), IS) is "the true face of Islam". However, this is not what the Catholic Church teaches.

In Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, which was the outcome of a long-drawn battle, the Second Vatican Council states, “In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions.”

With respect to various religions, the document goes on to say, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.” Bearing witness to the faith and the Christian way, the text encourages Christians to “preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men."

On Islam in particular, the document says, “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men [. . .] Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.”

One must therefore choose between, on the one hand, videos and articles that praise the iron fist and, on the other, the Church's teachings. Today, we cannot judge Islam with arguments that the evolution of the culture and the teachings of the Church, particularly those of Vatican Council II, have made anachronistic. References to faith must necessarily refer to such teaching, namely that “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems.” This is the concrete experience to which we often refer.

Of course, the doctrine of the Catholic Church can still evolve, but it is doubtful that it will evolve in the direction of mistrust. In “the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems,” the Declaration says, but we are asked to turn the page. The times in which we live are also characterised by a new and unprecedented globalisation that is overturning the course of international relations.

In such troubled times, in which fanatical groups do not show us the true face of Islam, but rather its grin, Pope Francis’s visit to Cairo shows the world, especially Lebanon’s Christians – worried more than anyone else because of the shared life they must preserve – how to cope with the tide of prejudices that Islam is subjected to.

The contact between Islam and a modernity understood as the sacred constitution of faith and reason in autonomous (but not independent) spheres can no longer be postponed. Hundreds of millions of Muslims must undertake a radical cultural change and institutions like al-Azhar, whom the pope has chosen to encourage in its reform work, are the first that have to become aware of this change.

It is up to us to accompany them as much as possible, knowing that it will be a long and difficult process. Whatever Islam’s historical precedents, irrespective of its past and present excesses, giving in to prejudices and arguments that encourage hatred cannot, nowadays, but destroy social ties and reinvigorate situations of underlying violence.

Videos undermine our shared life. For us Lebanese, it is a clear sign that these are anti-Christian (and perhaps premeditated) elements. Because what we have before us are human beings in flesh and blood. What we have in front of us is, in fact, our nature as human beings.

Of course, we have to remain clear headed, be perceptive and prudent, but we cannot go back to the past and jeopardise the possibilities of the present. To quote one of the pope’s strongest points made during the meeting in al-Azhar University: "the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict; there is no other way”.

It is much better to welcome than exclude.

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