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Overtures for dialogue; The Roman Catholic Church on Islam and Muslims

An adaptation of ‘Mary, Jesus and Christianity: An Islamic Perspective’, by Hujjatulislam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali

An adaptation of ‘Mary, Jesus and Christianity: An Islamic Perspective’, by Hujjatulislam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali

The contemporary dialogue movement can be traced back to the 1950s when the World Council of Churches and the Vatican organised a number of meetings between Christian leaders and representatives of other religious traditions. A decade later in 1964, toward the end of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican known as the “Vatican II”,  Pope Paul VI established a Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions to study religious traditions. The objective of this body was to provide resources and promote interreligious dialogue through various means. Several major documents adopted at Vatican II (1962–1965) focused on interfaith relations in general and made specific overtures to Islam and Muslims with no internal opposition.
In 1964 the Dogmatic constitution of the Catholic Church, a document compiled as a compendium of Catholic beliefs states that:

“The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day. (Lumen Gentium, no. 16 -1964). By recognising salvation for Muslims the Catholic Church relinquishes the monopoly over salvation.

Still under Pope Paul VI in 1965 an historical document was issued by the Catholic Church known as Nostra Aetate (In our Age):

“The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honour Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the Day of Judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting (Nostra Aetate, 1965).

Naturally respect of the Catholic Church for Islam is not limited to its followers, i.e. Muslims. It also extends to the Prophet Muhammad(s) and the values that he preached. As Cardinal Tarancon, president of the Spanish Bishop’s Conference at the 1977 International Muslim – Christian Conference at Cordoba put it:

“How is it possible to appreciate Islam and Muslims without showing appreciation for the Prophet of Islam and the values he promoted? Not to do this would not only be a lack of respect to which the [Vatican] Council exhorts Christians, but also neglect of a religious factor of which account must be taken in theological reflection and religious awareness.”

Between 1979 and 1985 several more occasions provided opportunities for the Church under Paul VI to state its position, recognising Islam as a sister faith and Muslims as sisters and brothers in faith, Not only does the Church allow for the salvation of Muslims, it also takes Islam as a genuine expression of the faith of Abraham:

“They have, like you, the faith of Abraham in the one, almighty, and merciful God.” (Pope John Paul II, to the Catholic community in Ankara, 3rd December 1979).

“Your God and ours is the same, and we are brothers and sisters in the faith of Abraham.” (Pope John Paul II, to young Muslims of Morocco, Casablanca, 19th August 1985)

The Catholic Church has come a long way from the Council of Clermont in 1095 when Pope Urban II gave his famous speech that signalled the beginning of the Crusader wars against the ‘infidel Muslims’.

By the 1980s and 1990s, other international organisations developed formal and informal programmes for Muslim-Christian dialogue. The Muslim World League, the World Muslim Congress, and the Middle East Council of Churches all made early attempts..

In 2000 while visiting Jerusalem and addressing Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, the head of the Catholic Church Pope John Paul II pronounced the following words:

“The Catholic Church wishes to pursue a sincere and fruitful interreligious dialogue with the members of the Jewish faith and the followers of Islam. Such a dialogue is not an attempt to impose our views upon others. What it demands of all of us is that, holding to what we believe, we listen respectfully to one another, seek to discern all that is good and holy in each other’s teachings, and cooperate in supporting everything that favours mutual understanding and peace.” (Pope John Paul II to Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, Jerusalem, 23rd March 2000).

A year later in 2001, Pope John Paul II became the first Pope to visit a mosque during an official visit to Syria.

It is clear that Christians and Muslims are very close to each other; they share a lot and there is no reason why there cannot be a strong sense of unity between them. Indeed, as we see above, there are many reasons that call for them to come together and work together for the betterment of mankind. 

It is clear that Christians and Muslims are very close to each other; they share a lot and there is no reason why there cannot be a strong sense of unity between them. Indeed, as we see above, there are many reasons that call for them to come together and work together for the betterment of mankind. 

originally published on Issue 3 Jan 2013

An adaptation of ‘Mary, Jesus and Christianity: An Islamic Perspective’, by Hujjatulislam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali

Islam Today issue 65 (Special Issue) is dedicated to the interfaith work undertaken by the Islamic Centre of England over the past few years.

Download the full Pdf here

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