The 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council is also an occasion to revive interreligious relations, stresses Khaled Fouad Allam, one of the greatest experts on Christian-Muslim relations, tells Vatican Insider in an interview.
Was the Council once a school for ecumenism?
The Second Vatican Council also laid the foundations for a dialogue with the Muslim world. The 1960s were more or less a period of euphoria because a large part of the Muslim world had begun a phase of decolonisation, of freedom; so political freedom naturally had to be followed by a freedom of misunderstandings between the Christian and Muslim worlds.
There is an entire generation of scholars of Islam and Muslims who have contributed to a greater mutual understanding of the Muslim and Christian worlds at a time when the rate of illiteracy in Muslim countries was extremely high.
Two examples that come to mind are Algerian Islamologist Muhammed Arkoun, who passed away two years ago and Islamologist Muhammed Talbi (over 80 year old) who received the Agnelli prize two years ago.”
“It is our duty to contribute, as far as we can, to a shared memory, but for the moment, as I have stressed on more than one occasion, there is still a kind of divorce between history and memory. Islam is history for Orientalists and cultured individuals but it is not shared memory; it remains distant despite the geographical proximity. I love saying that Palermo is a half hour flight away from Tunis.
But we are still not quite there yet. I should point out however that this is reciprocal. The Muslim world needs to be able to leave behind this vision of the West as the cause of all its strife and needs to work hard. It needs to be able to draw on elements that also form part of its memory, its cultural memory. Islamic civilization has altered certain facts that make up this memory.
There are influences from Greece and Rome, from Christianity, from Judaism and even from Islam in Asia with the various links between Islam and Buddhism. The great Japanese Islamologist, Toshihiko Izutsu, was the first to retrace these links over 50 years ago. The catastrophic image of the destruction of the Buddhas in Afghanistan comes to mind.”
Is the clash of civilisations inevitable?
“In a period of crisis such as the one we are living in - a crisis which I do not think is just economic but one of civilization, of what makes a society and of how societies will work in the next thirty years - the worst risk of the incommunicability between Christians and Muslims is that one will try to make a scapegoat of the other.
FULL STORY Council should be starting point for dialogue with Islam (Vatican Insider)