February 20, 2006


Christians, Islam and the Future of Europe: How, and why, Islam can be part of “Catholic” Europe. On two conditions: a strong Christianity, and Muslim self-reform. A conference held in Denver, Colorado, at the invitation of the archdiocese (Sandro Magister, 2/20/06, Chiesa)

For a part of European culture today, the public square should be impenetrable against Christianity. And Christianity should be entirely cut off from the European civilization in which it has its roots and to which it gives nourishment.

But exactly the opposite is happening today in the world, and also in Europe: everywhere there is an impetuous return of religion to the public square.

Here “religion” means: the Catholic Church, reinvigorated by the political charisma of pope Karol Wojtyla and by the theological guidance of Benedict XVI; the Protestant Churches of the American evangelical strain; the Orthodox Churches, with their Byzantine model of conjunction of throne and altar. Then there is Judaism, interwoven with the extremely concrete destiny of Israel, a people, a land, and a state. Then there is Islam, in which faith, politics, and sacred law tend to blend into one, and in which, wherever voting is conducted today, the consensus goes to parties that are strongly inspired by Koranic law: the most recent and overwhelming case being that of Palestine.

Everyone can see the failure of the prophecy of the privatization of religion. But many lack the clarity of thought and the courage to recognize it and act accordingly.

The Muslims are asked to accept the ground rules of democracy. But the process must also work in reverse: Islam, like all the other religions, must be permitted to put its principles of faith into effect in the civil order – as long as these are compatible with the charter of principles that neither Islam nor the West may reject, the charter valid for all, principles “conveyed to us unmistakably by the quiet but clear voice of conscience" (words of Benedict XVI to the Muslims, in Cologne).

The case of Iraq is an exemplary one. What fell with Saddam Hussein was not an imaginary “secular” state purified of fundamentalist beliefs, but an atheistic system crudely copied from European models of a Nazi stamp, which asserted itself through the bloody repression of Shiite Islam and the Kurds. And in contrast, the new Iraqi state, whose constitution has been approved, will be genuinely secular only if its political configuration permits and reflects the full expression of the Islamic religion on the public scene, in respect for the plurality of faiths and for the different traditions.

The existence of political configurations with religious characteristics does not belong to the past alone, but is the present and future of societies worldwide.

The American model of the democratic public sphere and of a widespread religious presence is not the only one from which inspiration may be drawn.

In Europe, there is the Italian model of equilibrium between the secular state and the Catholic Church, with a mutually recognized agreement (called “concordato”) between the two sovereign powers, which is completed by agreements with each of the other religions.

It is natural that countries under Muslim rule should develop their own appropriate models of the interweaving of politics and religion.

The connection between the two forms of citizenship – profane and sacred, earthly and heavenly – is an essential characteristic not only of the Church and of Christians, and not even of the West alone, where this characteristic was born beginning with Plato and Aristotle.

These two Greek philosophers were the first to open the order of society to a higher, transcendent order, thereby un-divinizing the “powers of this world” and freeing man from his slavery in their regard.

In Christianity, the great theoretician of the twofold earthly and heavenly citizenship was Saint Augustine, in his masterpiece “The City of God,” written shortly after the invasion of Rome by the “barbarians” in 410, a shock that might be compared to the one we received on September 11, 2001.

Augustine’s theory – which is profoundly biblical – left a huge imprint on Christian culture and history. But it was not only studied in books. It also speaks through architecture, works of art, and churches. [...]

[T]here are two obligatory steps along the way to integrating the Muslims within the Europe of today and tomorrow.

These are the self-reform of Islam, and the education of minds.

The first step is very difficult, but possible. It is difficult because the Koran is not the equivalent of what the Sacred Scriptures are for Christians, but rather the equivalent of Christ, the Eternal Word of God come down to earth. And thus the Muslim does not see the Koran as open to interpretation and adaptation, as the Sacred Scriptures are, which are “divinely inspired” but still written by men.

But it is possible because in the Muslim world – above all among the Shiites, but also among the Sunnis, from Morocco to Turkey to Indonesia – there are nevertheless currents that acknowledge and practice various interpretations of the Koran, and some of these are capable of incorporating its principles with modern democracy. Together with his former theology students, Benedict XVI dedicated a meeting of study last September at Castelgandolfo to precisely this varied approach to divine revelation on the part of Muslims.

As for the second step toward the integration of Muslims into Europe, the education of minds, last August 20 Benedict XVI insisted upon this in his meeting in Cologne with some of the exponents of the Muslim community in Germany.

After condemning in biting words the acts of terrorism carried out “as if this could be something pleasing to God,” the pope addressed the Muslims present there as follows:

“You guide Muslim believers and train them in the Islamic faith. Teaching is the vehicle through which ideas and convictions are transmitted. Words are highly influential in the education of the mind. You, therefore, have a great responsibility for the formation of the younger generation. As Christians and Muslims, we must face together the many challenges of our time.”

This is the interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims that Benedict XVI wants.

We remain dubious that the Europeans will ever refortify their Christian foundations enough to have a firm ground from which to force Islamic integration.

The good in Muslim hearts offers a better self-portrait than violence: A distinct American Muslim voice is quietly emerging in the arts. (Ibrahim N. Abusharif, 2/21/06, CS Monitor)

A growing discussion among American Muslims centers on this observation: We are missing from the diverse cultural space of American life. The focus on terrorism and the vague war against it threatens to relegate and typecast Muslims forever. What more can we do to encourage and empower American Muslims to produce and show their art, to express what they value through literature, theater, film, song, visual arts, and even humor? [...]

The signs are there, but they're still "signs." American Muslims in their 20s and early 30s easily admit to the struggle of presenting spiritual traditions in the face of cultural anonymity and journalistic repetitions that link violence to a great world religion. But it is naive to expect the American public to independently reject mendacious labels about Islam if the flavorful and extraordinarily rich traditions of this religion and its people are kept secret.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 20, 2006 4:13 PM

No need to read beyond the two conditions, neither a possibility.

Posted by: ed at February 20, 2006 8:08 PM

Typecast? 1500 years of history and they're typecast?

There's someone who posts at Bjorn Staerk's place as ex-Christian now muslim.

I was recently informed that wayyyy back when, people converted willingly and they respect churches, there are a lot in the ME. I said wait until we ask for right of return. I also asked how many there were in the magic kingdom

I also wrote too bad we couldn't bring back Charles Martel and others and ask them.

Posted by: Sandy P. at February 20, 2006 11:46 PM