Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An Interview with Prof Christian W Troll SJ

Prof Christian W Troll was a professor of Islamic Studies at Vidya Jyoti, Delhi, lecturer for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations in Birmingham and professor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. In 1999 he took over the direction of Christian-Islamic Forum of the Catholic Academy in Berlin. Since 2001 he is professor of the Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology of St Georgen, Germany. Recently, the Holy Father appointed him to the Catholic-Muslim Forum. He speaks to Victor Edwin SJ about the first meeting of the Catholic-Muslim Forum.

Is ‚Christian Muslim Forum’ a new chapter in the history of relations between Islam and Christianity?
I would not yet go so far as to qualify the creation of this Forum
as a new chapter in the total history of relations between Islam and Christianity, although it has the potentiality to become this. In any case, the Forum certainly adds to the important existing institutionalized, regular Catholic-Muslim dialogue initiatives – for instance, with al-Azhar University, with the Shiite establishment in Teheran and with the Muslim Call Society in Libya – an important new element.
New in the initiative of the core groups of Muslim leaders and scholars who have written the so-called ‚Letter of the 138’ is that their letter was able to gain the signatures of up to now 271 important Muslim personalities and, furthermore, that this Letter declares in unambiguous und eloquent ways the dual love commandment to be central not only in the light of the Hebrew and Christian Holy Scriptures but also of the Koran. In fact it quotes and discusses in some detail the relevant texts from these Scriptures.

Did the Conference give to both Muslims and Christians the opportunity to explain their understanding of the commandments to love God and love neighbour?
Yes, in their letter of October 2007 the Muslims had declared the dual love commandment to be the focus and centre of the Islamic doctrine. The Christians were able at this conference gratefully to take note of this Muslim declaration which is remarkable in the light of how the Muslims previously used to present Islam and Christianity. The Christians at the Conference made it however also clear, that for them the core of their faith is the affirmation of the primacy of the Love of God (cf. 1 Jn 4:16), made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ and in his love of God his Father and of the neighbor. They pointed out that it is God’s redeeming, liberating and transforming love that alone enables the believers to overcome sin, understood as alienation from God and the fellow human beings. And they spoke of the prayer to become instruments of God’s love who in the power of the Holy Spirit may practice the dual love of God and neighbour.

In the Common Word, Muslims argued that both faiths shared the dual commandment of Love for God and love for neighbor. What does this mean for both Christians and Muslims and how it can foster harmony between them?
From the point of view of the two delegations who in a short time were able to enter into a deep and mutually challenging exchange the sincere effort to practice love of God and neighbor should lead to palpable consequences in, for example the following areas: the recognition of human life as precious gift of God and the effort to preserve and honour it in all its stages; the respect of the human dignity of every person; the unconditional recognition of the person’s identity and freedom by individuals, communities and governments, supported by civil legislation that assures equal rights and full citizenship; the extension of human dignity and respect on an equal basis to both men and women; respect for the freedom of conscience and religion; respect of religious convictions and practices; the right to own places of worship; special care for the less privileged; the providing of sound education in human, civic, religious and moral values and providing accurate information about each other’s religions; the promotion of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole; renouncing any oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism, especially that committed in the name of religion, and upholding the principle of justice for all.

What are the common responsibilities of Christians and Muslims in today’s world, emphasized by the conference?
In addition to those mentioned already I should underline the call of the conference upon believers to work for an ethical financial system in which the regulatory mechanisms consider the situation of the poor and disadvantaged, both as individuals, and as indebted nations. Furthermore the call upon the privileged of the world to consider the light of those afflicted most severely by the current crisis in food production and distribution and to work together to alleviate the suffering of the hungry, and to eliminate its causes. Another responsibility is to provide for the young people above all – who increasingly live in multicultural and multireligious societies – a solid formation not only in their own religious traditions but also objective information about other cultures and religions.,

What are some mechanisms developed during the Conference by which the Forum can carry forward dialogue?
The Conference agreed to convene a follow-up conference in approximately two years. The next meeting will be convened in a Muslim majority country yet to be determined. Furthermore, the conference agreed to explore the possibility of establishing a permanent Catholic-Muslim committee to coordinate responses to conflicts and other emergency situations.
Dialogue would be successful only if all believers have equal rights
everywhere, which is not the case in some Muslim countries.

Did the Conference discuss the issue of religious freedom?
The conference dwelled repeatedly, and at moments emotionally, on this point. The equal rights to private and public worship was unambiguously demanded in the final declaration. The catholic delegation comprised four bishops from Muslim-majority countries: the Apostolic Delegate for the diocese of Arabia (who resides in Abu Dhabi), the Archbishop of Kerkuk in Iraq, the Greek Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo in Syria and Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan in Pakistan. They spoke about the fundamental importance of this right in a plastic and urgent manner. The Grand Mufti of Bosnia, H.E. Mustafa CeriƧ, on his part insisted vehemently on the same right from the point of view of an important Muslim minority in Europe.

What was the message of the holy father to the delegates and to the world in the end of the conference?
The Holy Father’s address echoed in a striking manner the main points of the final document of the Conference. The key passage of it, to my mind, is the following: “We should thus work together in promoting genuine respect for the dignity of the human person and fundamental human rights, even though our anthropological visions and our theologies justify this in different ways. There is a great and vast field in which we can act together in defending and promoting the moral values which are part of our common heritage.”

What are the main features of the joint declaration?
I have in this interview already hinted at the main content. I appreciate that the 15 points of the Final Declaration do not waste time with non-committal compliments. It emphasizes the straight connection between commitment to love of God and neighbour and the practical and shared responsibilities that follow from it for Muslims and Christians alike and make them responsible for acting together wherever possible.

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