Catholic-Muslim dialogue depends on religious freedom, Cardinal tells Oxford audience
posted on 17 May 2006
“Where Christians are being denied their rights, or are subject to sharia law, that is not a matter on which Muslims in Britainshould remain silent,” the Archbishopof Westminster told an audience at Oxford on 16 May. Adding: “Where religious rights of minorities are disrespected in the name of Islam, the face of Islam is tarnished elswhere in the world.”
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s remarks are made in a speech spelling out the need for a close, respectful dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
Full text follows:
CATHOLIC-MUSLIM DIALOGUE TODAY
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster
Lecture given at Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies: 16 May 2006
1. Director of the Centre, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: It is kind of you to invite me to take my place at the end of a long list of distinguished speakers who since 1985 have been invited by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies to contribute to your mission of promoting understanding. The Centre provides a meeting point for the Western and Islamic worlds of learning and opens a window for western scholarship onto the Islamic world. How vital is that role; and how necessary it is at this time, when Muslims in Britain are increasingly present in our public and academic life. Here in this University, founded in the scholastic, monastic tradition, I cannot but think of some of the great dialogues that have taken place between scholars of our faiths, most notably the fraternal search for the great truths of shared monotheistic faith of the encounter between Thomas Aquinas, Ibn Sina and Maimonides.
2. I am afraid I cannot offer anything quite so lofty tonight. Indeed, the topic I have chosen this evening is a matter which is not strictly academic, although it has many implications for theological study. I want to reflect with you on the place of our two key faiths in the world and how we might grow in mutual respect and understanding of one another. I am sure you will understand that I am looking at this from the point of view of the Catholic world.
3. Dialogue is of course as old as Islam itself. Our two faiths have always eyed each other, sometimes with suspicion and rivalry but just as much, I am glad to say, with mutual respect, and at many periods in history, in a way that has been mutually influential. For we are nothing if not neighbours. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are only 800 miles from Mecca and Medina. Ours are faiths marked by teachers who taught under trees, shading from the sun; and whose prayers are characterised by the deep yearning for the God of our energetic, enterprising peoples.
4. Our two faiths are boldly universal. This is what we have in common; and that has been the source, sometimes, of our tension. But universality is what today makes our dialogue imperative. Ours are the two largest world religions. Christians make up about a third of the population; Catholics about half that number, slightly under the numbers of Muslims. Christians and Muslims, in other words, make up about half of the inhabitants of the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that on the peace and respect between us hang the peace and respect between all the religions. Our mutual understanding is crucial for world peace and human progress, not least in this era when globalisation and mass migration have placed Christians and Muslims ever closer to each others, as neighbours in the same European towns and cities.
5. It was just over a year ago that the funeral of that apostle of dialogue, Pope John Paul II, captured the attention of the world. It was for us cardinals a source of great gratitude and joy to see so many representatives of other faiths and Churches present at this funeral. Not least was the large presence of Muslims from so many different nations and traditions.
6. It was also a reminder of just how rapid have been the developments in Catholic-Muslim dialogue in the last decades. The presence of Muslims at the Day of Prayer for World Peace in 1986, when Pope John Paul II called together the world’s faith leaders for the first summit of its kind, was still timid. But in 1999, when the Pope called together an Interreligious Assembly in Rome, more than 40 Muslims took part. Perhaps the most remarkable event in the modern history of Catholic-Muslim relations was when John Paul II visited Morocco after an invitation from King Hassan II in 1985. The Pope addressed a crowd of some 60,000 young Muslims in a sports stadium - a truly remarkable moment. “We believe in the same God,” Pope John Paul II told them, “the one God, the living God, the God who creates the world and brings the world to perfection.”
7. This is the foundation for our dialogue: our common ancestry in a single God, and the rejection by Abraham of idols. This opens the possibility – indeed the obligation – of a bond between human beings whatever their beliefs. I was very glad to be present at the meeting of world’s religious leaders last year in Lyon, organised by the Community of Sant’Egidio each year since that first meeting in Assisi in 1986. The meetings have developed what the Community calls a ”spiritual humanism of peace” which stresses that we are all divinely-created human beings, sons and daughters of a common Father. We need to keep returning to this common ancestry in the same father. More religion of the true sort means human beings becoming closer to God, and therefore to each other.
8. The challenge in our theological dialogue is to be able to conduct this dialogue without, of course, diminishing what are, in both our faiths, rather exclusive claims. We can stress what we hold in common as children of Abraham, and continue to remind ourselves of this. But nor can we deny the profound differences between Christian and Muslim beliefs. Monotheism divides us as well as unites us. Muslims cannot accept Christian monotheism as Trinitarian monotheism. For Christians, Jesus is the Way to the Father; and for Muslims, there is a similar claim made for the Prophet and the Qu’ran. I think a deeper awareness of our individual traditions is important. Catholics, in order to be good dialogue-partners, must first be firmly rooted in their understanding and love of Catholicism, and I suspect that this is true for Muslims too.
9. But a realistic confession of our deep differences does not exclude a respectful dialogue. Indeed, in both our Scriptures and in our traditions mutual witness and sharing of convictions are a duty commanded by God. In the New Testament, Christians need always to remember Peter’s words to “always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy, and respect, and a clear conscience.” In the Qu’ran is that remarkable instruction to “Dispute not with the People of the Book [that is, Jews and Christians] save in the fairer manner, except for those of them that do wrong, and say: ‘We believe in what has been sent down to us and what has been sent down to you. Our God and your God is One, and to him we have surrendered.” [29.46]. In such passages, there is no suggestion of watering-down passionately-held beliefs.
10. Both of our traditions, of course, have other texts, which can be, and are, used belligerently. Yet such texts as I have quoted provide a real basis for dialogue, one which has been developing rapidly.
11. In case there can be any doubt about the sinc