On Truthtelling in Christian-Muslim Relations

Article excerpt

Honesty in Admitting Atrocities

Despite great advances in ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, which has progressed to such an extent that some even dare to call ours the "Age of Dialogue," we must face the fact that there is an enormous amount of tension and even murderous hostility not only in Christian-Muslim relations but pretty much among all religions. Suspicion, fear, hatred, discrimination, and violence continue to take place between and among members of religious communities. These are stoked, manipulated, and carried out by people who think of themselves as being good followers of their religion. They even explicitly say that they favor conflicts with other religious individuals and groups on the basis of claims that they make for their own religious convictions. (1)

One need not engage in extensive research to discover the evidence of this violence. All one need do is to browse the Internet to find easily videos of gruesome murders, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even genocides filmed by members of the perpetrator group--apparently taken with the same pride as hunters of big game use to document their kill. Regretfully and shamefully, not a few religious leaders, obscure as well as prominent, have promoted such rivalry and intolerance in the past and the present. Children in allegedly religious families and institutions have been taught hatred toward others. Violence of others toward our group is emphasized, while violence by members of our group toward others is overlooked or, if that is not possible, justified by claiming either self-defense or the advancement of truth and peace.

This editorial is not written in order to dwell on the heritage of suspicion and hatred between religious groups in general and between Christians and Muslims in particular. Rather, its purpose is to address issues arising out of the positive dialogue that is taking place between Muslims and Christians globally--simultaneously with the horrific killings, torture, rape, persecution, and discrimination. The dialogue between Christians and Muslims is necessary because of our murderous history, in order to see if these habits of the heart can be eliminated and replaced with the kind of love, justice, and peace that we espouse in our religious proclamations, which are often at such odds with our practice.

Much has been written in the pages of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies and elsewhere about different guidelines for dialogue or, as our editor, Leonard Swidler, calls them, Commandments. (2) One of the necessary ground rules for an effective interreligious dialogue is to avoid comparing our ideals with their practice and vice versa. Thus, for instance, it is not only unhelpful but corrosive of the relationship between Christians and Muslims for Christians to claim that theirs is the religion of love toward all, even enemies, while Islam is the religion of harsh and primitive justice and jihad; or, conversely, for Muslims to claim that theirs is the religion of peace due to the inseparable relationships of the words "Islam" and "salam," while Christianity pursues colonialist and neocolonialist expansion and subjugation of Muslim countries.

During a number of Christian-Muslim dialogue conferences or Jewish-Christian-Muslim trialogue conferences, the Christian partners have tended self-critically to admit the unfortunate linking of Christian missions and Western expansionism and to admit the egregious cases of violence that have been justified by religious reasons--during the Crusades, the expulsion of Arabs and Jews from Spain, the Inquisition, and the colonialist conquest in Africa and Asia, where huge swaths of land once ruled by Muslims were subjugated by Christian states or empires. Indeed, our Muslim partners would restate these events and use further examples of Christian aggression, such as the recent wars in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Iraq, even though religion did not play a primary role in these wars. …

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