Egypt: The Interreligious Dream and the Islamic Reality
On January 31, Vaticanist Sandro Magister published on his website chiesa.espressonline.it the call launched by 23 Egyptian Muslims in favor of a more authentic Islam, more respectful of the rights of all; as a commentary, figures the analysis of the Egyptian Jesuit Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, who compares this call to some of Benedict XVI’s declarations. The text entitled “Document for the Renewal of Religious Discourse” was published and made available online on January 24, by the Egyptian paper “Yawm al-Sâbi” (The Seventh Day), and passed on by many Arab websites, at the very moment that the crisis that would obtain the departure of President Hosni Moubarak was beginning.
Fr. Samir translated and made available to the non-Arab world, on the website of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions’ press agency Asia News, this document made up of 22 points, the basis of a reform program for Islam in order to pass “from a superficial and exterior practice of this religion to a more authentic and more essential practice”, followed by developments. Fr. Samir considers point 8 to be important: it proposes a separation of religion from politics. In the development of this point by the Muslim intellectuals is the word “almaniyyah”, secularism, a word which, in Arab countries, is generally understood as meaning atheism and is therefore condemned by principle. The authors of the document write in their commentary that secularism should not be considered as an enemy of religion, but rather as a protection against the political or commercial use of religion. “In this context,” they write, “secularism is in harmony with Islam and is therefore legally acceptable.” But it is not so if it is transformed into a control exercised by the State over Muslim activities. “This point,” underlines Fr. Samir, “even if it has been the object of many debates, is the proof of the fact that the concept of a civil society that does not immediately coincide with the Muslim community is being born in Egypt.”
He also indicates point 6 concerning holy war. The authors of the document would allow it only if it is defensive and only on Muslim land. It is never permitted to kill unarmed people, women, old people, children, priests, monks. It is never permitted to attack places of prayer. The authors underline that this doctrine has been that of Islam for 1,400 years and that those who violate it commit a grave transgression.
According to Fr. Samir, if we examine what Benedict XVI said – the same year as his discourse in Ratisbonne and his trip to Turkey – concerning Islam’s future, this document from Cairo constitutes a little step in the direction hoped for by the Pope. Benedict XVI had claimed before the Roman Curia on December 22, 2006: “The Muslim world today is finding itself faced with an urgent task. This task is very similar to the one that has been imposed upon Christians since the Enlightenment, and to which the Second Vatican Council, as the fruit of long and difficult research, found real solutions for the Catholic Church.
“On the one hand, one must counter a dictatorship of positivist reason that excludes God from the life of community and from public organizations, thereby depriving man of his specific criteria of judgment.
“On the other, one must welcome the true conquests of the Enlightenment, human rights and especially the freedom of faith and its practice, and recognize these also as being essential elements for the authenticity of religion. As in the Christian community, where there has been a long search to find the correct position of faith in relation to such beliefs – a search that will certainly never be concluded once and for all -, so also the Islamic world with its own tradition faces the immense task of finding the appropriate solutions in this regard.”
Commentary: Such is the hope that guides the inter-religious dialogue with Islam: the apparition of disciples of Mohamed rallied to the ideas of the Enlightenment and human rights, as the Roman authorities have been ever since Vatican II. Not to mention the doctrinal difficulties that such a project does not fail to raise up and that are of no little stature, let us evoke a simply practical problem: could Islam, which has no clergy, convoke a council for a “Muslim Vatican II” that would impose itself upon all Muslims no matter their school of thought (shiite, sunnite,…), and no matter the antagonism between these schools of thought?
In the end, what do these Egyptian Muslim intellectuals who wrote up this document really represent? Sure, we have seen at Tahrir Square in Cairo Muslims and Coptic Christians united against the regime in power; but at the same time, an investigation led by Washington’s Pew Forum on Religion &Public Life in seven countries where Muslims are the majority – including Egypt –, quoted by chiesa.espressonline, reveals that the “democratic” aspirations of the Egyptian population (59%) coexist with the defense of the principles of Islam, for example, the death penalty for those who abandon Islam (84%), the influence of the Islamic religion on politics (85%)… To go from a dream to reality, the only solution is to wake up. (Sources: chiesa/asianews – DICI#231, March 3, 2011)
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