PEACETALK: A reflection about the Pope and Islam

My voice is not to add new arguments in favor of or against the Pope. It is clear that the Pope maintains his stand of respect to the Muslim Umma as was clearly stated in his letter, saying that he “sincerely regrets” that his words were interpreted in a manner contrary to his intentions. In fact the statement recalls his meeting with representatives of Muslim communities in Cologne, Germany, on 20 August 2005 saying that “The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other’s identity.” This reminder is for all.

On many occasions, but especially on March 12, 2000 during the great Jubilee (a big event for the renewal of the life of Catholics), the Church has expressed its solemn apology to the world for the major sins committed by the Church in history. We can find also “sorrow” declarations by respected Muslim leaders along the centuries.

In light of this introduction my point of reflection goes to my experience. I arrived in the Philippines in January 1977 and after a few weeks I flew from Manila to Zamboanga City on the way to my first mission in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte.

It was in Zamboanga City that I started to realize how deep were the feeling of prejudices of the Christians against the Muslims, and vice versa. Soon I understood that the conflict of the years has contributed to deepen the gap between the two communities. Both sides, Muslim and Christian people, have painful accusations against each other. However, I have also heard beautiful stories of friendship among Muslims and Christians.

The pain of those accusations was for me a challenge to give my contribution of friendship to the Muslim communities, taking some concrete steps to be closer to the Muslim Community of Siocon, helping in critical moments of conflict, risking my life on their behalf, etc.

I know I was criticized by some Christians, but I was convinced of my understanding of dialogue as an experience of love that starts from God and brings people back to God.
That initial experience of life in Siocon was for me a beginning to start, in 1984 in Zamboanga City, the Silsilah Dialogue Movement with some Muslim and Christian friends. I believe that in a difficult situation there are basically two ways to react: to take revenge or to love.

What will be our choice in this moment? I believe that the majority of Muslims and Christians are wiling to choose love, reconciliation, and compassion, guided by the basic principles of the Holy Bible and the Holy Qur’an.

I am convinced that in this critical moment of history – when sectors of society on both sides are encouraging violence- we, the people of the silent majority, have to stand and unite our hands for peace. It is time to put in place strategies to win over the other and work together for a common good.

We have to take more concrete steps to overcome the temptation to resort to violence. We have to stand against sectors of society that try to remove God from their hearts, proposing a materialistic society as a model to achieve.

It is wrong to accuse Christianity for the sins of Western society; it is wrong as well to accuse Islam for some forms of violence coming from some Muslim sectors.
I believe this is the worst of times for relations among cultures and religions, but it can become the best of the times if we, the silent voices among Muslims, Christians and people of other faith, will not allow ourselves to be used, but reaffirm instead our own faith, dignity and the basic ethic of the common good.

This is the time to make all possible efforts to call the people who represent the two brothers – Isaac and Ismael, both sons of Abraham – to reconcile and believe that they have a common mission in the world today. The mission of peace, through dialogue based on the experience of our own faith, encourages us to contribute for the future peace in the world.

The enemies of Islam and Christianity are in our midst no matter they claim to be Muslims or Christians or members of other religions. The great problems today come not from those who practice their religion with sincere heart, but from those who try to put God out of our life and society.

Christians and Muslims have in common a belief about the end of our life. The Holy Qur’an and the Gospels say that at the end of our life we will be judged. Are we ready for that day? How can we help each other to prepare ourselves?

Perhaps we have to start saying to each other, with sincerity and respect for each of our religions, the expression of Jesus “Peace be with you” , the same expression commonly repeated by the Muslim in Arabic “Assalam ‘Mualaikum” and the answer “And also with you,” which in Arabic is “Alaikum Muassalam.”  (MindaViews’ PeaceTalk  open to anyone who wants to share his/her views on the peace processes around us. Fr.  Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME is President of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement in Zamboanga City)