06/04/2018, 15.17
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Fr. Samir: Muslim friends, let us look for a more beautiful way of living together

by Samir Khalil Samir

The problem with Islam is the almost undistinguishable mingling, of politics and religion, which distorts the latter. Common citizenship between Christians and Muslims. A frank dialogue not for proselytism, but for love of the truth of man and woman. The testimony of Christians in Arab countries. A guideline from the great Egyptian Islamologist.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - A more beautiful way of living together as brothers and sisters of a single human family; a rejection of violence and regression into the past; a commitment to respect the citizenship of all, without dividing the rights between Christians and Muslims. This is the message and the invitation that Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, the Jesuit and global expert on Islam, addresses to "Muslim friends" with the call to distinguish politics from religion. To mark his 80th birthday, a convention held in his honor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Fr Samir also traces the outlines of the fundamental witness of Christians in the Arab world.

1. Islam is not just a religion: it is a totality

"Islam, unlike Christianity, is not just a religion: it is a totality. This is its strength and its danger. It can become an empire, a dictatorship, because nothing escapes Islam: the economy, politics, the military aspect, the relationship between man and woman, precise gestures in prayer, the way of dressing, everything! Everything is Islamic!

"This is a strength a power, but it is also a handicap, it is Islam’s greatest difficulty. By mixing religion, politics, economy and power, religion loses its essence. This is what I try to explain to Muslim friends: as long as there is this mingling - and it is likely to be for eternity - it will be difficult for Muslims to find a complete humanist line.

2. The problem: mixing politics and religion

Mixing politics and religion has happened to all religions, at some stage. Often Muslims criticize me by saying, "So, what about the crusades?", adding things that are inaccurate and untrue. I reply: "You are talking about a phase of history, but let's go to the root. Take the Gospel, and find me one passage in which Jesus says 'fight them, kill them, do not let them escape', as it is written in the Qur'an "(2: 190-191; 4: 89; 9: 5; 9: 123; etc. ). This is the big difference! Men are all similar, but the founding text is essential.

Jesus does not say "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (Leviticus 24:20; Exodus 21:24), like Moses. On the contrary, He says: " You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."(Matthew 5, 38-42).

To those who come to say: "But then, you submit to him, to the Muslim!" I answer: "No, I overcome the provocation, to help him understand: it is the gospel vision of Christ, his original project.

Instead, Muhammad's original plan is a political project, which uses religion and faith - but it is political. Islam is unable to distinguish between the two dimensions. There are trends that want to dissociate politics and religion, but these are criticized. They are told that what they bring forward "is not Islam".

This also happens in other religions. Just think of Hinduism - which I believed to be the perfect pacifism - and of what happens in India today: every day there is an attack against Protestants, Catholics, Muslims. There is difficulty in distinguishing religion from political and economic culture.

3. "Religion belongs to God, but the nation to all!"

In 1919, in Egypt, there was a revolution against the British. The leader of the opposition, the famous Saad Zaghloul, to gather all the Egyptians - Muslims, Christians, Jews, unbelievers – to rise up against them, launched the slogan: "Religion belongs to God, but the nation to all!" (Ad- dīn li-llāh, wa-l-waṭan li-l-ǧamī ').

Copts and Muslims joined arms against the British who invaded Egypt. It was a national issue, not a religious one. It was not a conflict between Muslims (ie, Egyptian) and Christians (ie British), but a purely political conflict.

This was the real revolution of mentalities. We fought then shoulder to shoulder. And we also lived shoulder to shoulder, Muslims, Christians and Jews. In proportion to their number, there were more Christian ministers than Muslims; the same at all levels of social, economic, cultural and political life. The Jews felt at home, and the biggest shops were theirs.

Religion is a personal affair, between God and I. No one has the right to interfere. This distinction of the sectors is fundamental, it is what I personally try to suggest in Islamic-Christian dialogue. If we talk about Islam, Christianity and Judaism, we do not talk about Jews, Muslims and Christians: let's talk about the project. Is it a pure project, valid for all human beings, or is it a "tribal" project? Until we understand this, I fear there will be no peace.

4. The periods of liberalism in Islamic history

Throughout history, there have been periods of inclusive respect for everyone, especially in the Abbasid period, between 750 and the year one thousand. We were all together, some were disciples of others. As a result, everything became politicized.

Later, in 1800, we rediscovered this possibility of cohabitation, with an opening up to the middle of the 20th century; but then the Islamist tendency returned. The return to a more liberal era is possible, but it is not foreseeable in the short time.

Now we have even gone from intransigence to terrorism. And it is a purely Islamic terrorism. Those who kill do so in the name of Islam, not in the name of Arabism or nationalism, but against those who are not "perfect Muslims": Shiites, Yazidis, Christians ... And this current has also arrived in the West. I fear that Europe is oblivious to the immensity of danger.

Recently, it a proposal was put forward in Britain that sharia be applied to Muslims, and not English law! If Britain accepted something like this - if everyone had his own law: Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc. - then there would be no country, there would be no nation.

The fundamental principle to be implemented is this: the distinction of the sectors. Politics applies to everyone, we all decide together and we make mistakes - and we correct them - all together. Faith is a personal fact. If you want to be an atheist, you have the right to be. I think you are missing out on a great deal, but that is your business. You have the right to be an atheist, as I have the right to be a believer, and the other to be a Muslim or a Buddhist, etc. This is lacking in the Islamic vision.

5. To help Muslims regain their former liberalism

Christians must help Muslims (and other religious or ideological groups) to remember these principles: it is not just a Christian principle, it is a humanistic principle. We are all "Italian", "human", man and woman. I have no authority over a woman, nor does a woman have authority over me. We are all under one authority, that of the law and - if you so believe - under that of God.

If the Constitution divides Christians and Muslims, or woman and man - as, unfortunately, since 1971 the Egyptian one does - there is no longer equality and there is no longer citizenship! This concept of citizenship was "the" major request of the Synod for the Middle East that took place October-December 2010, but it was not possible to transmit it to the Muslim population.

The inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims, men and women, rich and poor, the various social classes, etc., are the causes of the retardation at all levels in many countries. The constitution and the laws apply equally to everyone, and there should be no distinction between the members of the country and the nation!

6. Salafism is the scourge of Islam

The Salafist tendency is the current scourge of Islam. This tendency consists in thinking that the solution to the evils of Islam is a return to the seventh century origins of Islam and it takes various forms and names: Wahhabism, from a certain Muḥammd Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhāb (1703-1792), who lived in Najd in the center of Arabia; the Salafis, born in Egypt in the late nineteenth century, with the desire to reform Islam returning to the model of the first companions and successors of Muhammad; the Muslim Brotherhood, movement created in Egypt in March 1928 by Hassan al-Banna.

These groups share a vision which sees no distinction between the seventh and the twenty-first centuries. What was valid then is still valid today. Yet 14 centuries have passed, and the mentality has changed, and continues to changes day by day. How can we say "let's go back to practicing what was done at the time of the Prophet", as the Salafis say? It cannot be done. You have to have common sense and logic, and it must be criticized, respectfully of course! but criticized nonetheless, because I know that whoever applies this idea does so convinced that this is the word of God – and it is applied with force and violence!

So, I should help him, saying: "Reflect with me, let's reflect together". Our mission is to help reflect, and they must decide. I cannot decide for them, but I cannot ignore that they are thinking with non-contemporary criteria. It is a commitment to information and openness, not to impose something.

This is the message that I personally send to Muslim friends. Without aggression, I say: "My brother, I love you so much. See how you can make a family, loved and loving, structured; See how you can build an industry that is for the benefit of the poor ". We need to balance everything, think globally. And, after all, we are all human beings, members of the same family that can be our nation, the Egyptians, the Italians ... but not a family that divides.

7. Christians of the Arab world: our mission

When the word "Muslim" is used, it is opposed to "Christian". It is true that I think of evangelization, but not to convert, rather to announce the Gospel, as a project of liberation! If you think this message helps you be better, take what you want from it. But I am not attempting to make you a Christian. We are looking for a more beautiful path. If you see one, follow it - but on the condition that there is never someone who suffers, who pays the price.

I would like to conclude with what we wrote in the Special Assembly for the Middle East, at the Vatican, on December 2009 8:

"Relations between Christians and Muslims have to be based on two principles. On the one hand, both must be seen to be citizens of the same country and homeland, sharing the same language and culture, not to mention the same fortunes and misfortunes of our countries. On the other, Christians must see themselves as members of the society in which they live and working on its behalf as witnesses of Christ and the Gospel. Oftentimes, relations can be difficult, mainly because Muslims frequently mix religion and politics, putting Christians in a precarious situation of being considered as non-citizens."(§ 68).

"Our responsibility, therefore, is to work, in a spirit of love and loyalty, to establish equality for every citizen on all levels - political, economic, social, cultural and religious - in harmony with the constitutions of the majority of our countries. In faithfulness to one's nation and the Christian spirit, we face a lived reality which is laden with daily challenges, not to mention declarations and threats from certain movements. Where we note the rise of fundamentalism in many countries, we also witness the readiness of a great number of Muslims to resist this growing religious extremism."(§ 70).

I conclude with the declaration to the world of the Second Vatican Council, October 28, 1965: "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, who has spoken to men."(Nostra Aetate, 3).

This is the Christian vision, which, in my limited knowledge, seems to me to be the most open of all the others.

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