Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christian-Islamic Relations here and in Nigeria

Ochi Agha Nke Eluigwe: Abu Catholic
I am a Muslim

Last week I meet with a priest from Nigeria. We talked about many things. One of the things we touched on was the need for respect for diversity. He told me that when many in the Muslim world reacted to the Pope quoting a Roman Emperor about Islam people in his country responded with violence.

The priest was clear, it was not a matter of Islam being more violent than Christianity. He stated that the Christians in Nigeria did not turn the other cheek and instead responded to violence with more violence.

He was clearly saddened to report that his people (all of the Nigerians) were killing each other, terrorizing one another and destroying property in the name of a loving God.

I was reminded again of the call by Islamic leaders for a dialogue among faiths. This is critical. The voice of reason, the voice of love or at least tolerance must prevail.

I have a colleague who is Muslim. She tells me of the hard decisions she and her family make in deciding where it is safe to travel in America and in Europe. We are scaring one another and where there is fear hatred can not be far off.

In Nigeria the two fastest growing religions are Christianity and Islam. Nigeria is an important nation and it will be important for them to find ways to respect one another and to trust one another.

The Holy Father gave us an example of how to deal with this problem, by being humble and fully engaged. After his scholarly quote resulted in anger, hurt and violence he acted. He had already been planning a trip to Turkey to meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I the spiritual leader of the Orthodox. He used the occasion to meet with Islamic leaders. He prayed with Islamic leaders, in a mosque. He built bridges by authentic action, prayer and love.

We, Americans, must find a way to not be defined as the nation that kills Muslims. We must have a foreign policy that is realistic but not simplistic. Our current foreign policy feeds into the recruiting plans of the very people we are trying to defeat.

What is even harder is to change our hearts. We are concerned about our safety, about the safety of our loved ones. In fear it is easy to revert to simplistic, us-them thinking. We must make sure we do not find ourselves endorsing a cultural war against Islam instead of a war against terror. This is not remotely easy. We need to participate in the dialogue moderate Islamic leaders have called for.

For my Franciscan brothers and sisters it is critical that we continue to embrace the spirit of Francis who sought out the Sultan and in dialogue they grew in mutual respect for one another. This week emphasizes how important is for that spirit of mutual respect to grow and flourish, the alternative is not acceptable.

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