Christians and Muslims, Living Together | Preface to English Edition of 111 Questions on Islam (Ignatius Press, 2008) | Samir Khali Samir, S.J. on Islam and the West | Interviews conducted by Giorgio Paolucci and Camille Eid
It Is a Fact That Muslims Are Now Part of Western Society
Due to large-scale immigration to Europe and the Western nations from Muslim countries since World War II, Islam is no longer a distant, exotic religion. In fact, Muslims are present throughout Europe and in many parts of the United States. Demographers project that the number of American and European Muslims will increase in the immediate future.
At present, Europeans are dealing with the challenge of protecting their values while seeking a solution to the social ills of alienation, segregation, poverty, and terrorism associated with the Muslim immigrants. Europeans express concerns about the rapid development of Eurabia.
Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center "Twin Towers" in New York City on September 11, 2001, Islamophobia has spread through the Western nations. The following pages were prepared to help readers understand three things:
1. how Muslims and Christians can coexist peacefully;In order to remain sensitive to and balanced in discussing the past and present situation, a question-and-answer format is used. The author responds to a series of questions posed by two journalists, one Italian and the other Lebanese. The intent of this balanced approach is to offer readers a clear portrait of Islam.
2. what are the causes for the deep unrest that pervades the entire Muslim world;
3. and what are the means to promote greater dialogue and understanding between Muslims and Christians that will lead to a joint social, universal, and political effort for the benefit of all people.
Muslims and Christians: How to Live Together
Islam shares some common elements with Christianity but also has many differences. The Muslim culture is quite different from that which emerged in the Western world as a result of the influence of Christianity. Because of massive demographic movement, both groups are now obliged to live together in contemporary society.
The Muslim world today faces one of the most profound identity crises in its entire existence. Comprising nearly 1.5 billion people living on all continents, it is struggling to find a common position for all Muslims. The search for identity has become particularly acute since the abolition of the khalifate (the office of Muhammed's successor, as head of Islam) on March 3, 1924, by Kemal Atatürk. The khalifate was the last representative symbol of unity of all Muslims. Therefore, contemporary Islam has no single recognized authority that would accomplish Muslim unity.
What are the foundations of Islamic faith? Why does Islam seem to be growing so fast today? What is the true meaning of the word jihãd, in the Qur'ãn and Islamic tradition, and in modern Arabic? Is it correct to say that men are superior to women in Islam, or is it just a cliché? Does religious freedom exist in Islam?
Furthermore, how does the Qur'ãn present the life of Jesus? What is the Qur'ãn's view of Mary? And of Christians and Jews? And of other religions? Is Islam a religion of peace, or one of violence? Can we reconcile Islam with democracy and modernity? Can we reinterpret the Qur'ãn for our era? Does Islam distinguish between politics and religion?
Modernity Is Difficult to Accept
After having passed through centuries of stagnation, the Muslim world is experiencing great difficulty in facing modernity. The Christian world has had the leisure of several centuries since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, since the French and American revolutions, and since industrialization to assimilate modernity slowly. Modernity is a concept that is foreign to many Muslims. This is exacerbated due to the fact that most Muslim countries suffer from widespread illiteracy and are governed by authoritarian political regimes or dictatorships. The concept of "human rights" is foreign to a large segment of the population.
There is an additional psychological barrier to accepting modernity. Many Muslim countries have experienced diverse forms of European colonization over the past two centuries. As a result, their attitude toward the West, modernity's birthplace, is ambiguous. This is a mixed attitude, one of simultaneous attraction and rejection. Moreover, because the West has become increasingly secularized in modern times, that is, rejecting many ethical principles and values that were common to both peoples, modernity appears to Muslims as a breeding ground for atheism and immorality.
Finally, the memory of the glorious period of the Middle Ages, especially between the ninth and twelfth centuries, when intellectual and scientific activities in the Muslim world had peaked and actually exceeded the achievements of the West, makes the current scientific and intellectual decline even more difficult to accept.
The Seeds of the Malaise
This current state of malaise results from the very sources of the Muslim faith: the Qur'ãn, the sunna (Islamic traditions connected to Muhammad), and tradition.
Many Westerners fear Islam as a "religion of violence". Muslims often call simultaneously for tolerance and understanding as well as for violence and aggression. In fact, both options are present in the Qur'ãn and the sunna. These are two legitimate manners--two distinct ways to interpret, to understand, and to live Islam. It is up to the individual Muslim to decide what he wants Islam to be.
It is necessary that we return to the very sources of the Muslim faith (the Qur'ãn and the sunna) and proceed rapidly through history until we arrive at this very day. This book, therefore, aims at presenting the Islamic faith in an objective manner, at providing a sure knowledge of this faith, and at helping people to engage in a profound reflection from a double point of view: that of history and that of modernity.
To Live and Build the Future Together
This volume intends to promote understanding and encounters between Muslims and Christians. It aims to provide the groundwork for dialogue, in the true meaning of the word, not as a search for some compromise between these two worlds but in a sincere and unswerving commitment to truth, with openness to the other side. Ambiguous speech serves neither Muslims nor Christians but creates only more confusion. The commentary shows that both of these cultural and religious traditions have many things in common, as well as many differences. Accepting the differences of another group does not mean surrendering one's human, spiritual, or religious convictions.
Muslims and Christians can surely live together if they want to do so. Neither group has to give up its identity, dogma, or faith, because at that level no compromise is possible. As the Muslims' prophet says in the Qur'ãn: "You have your religion and I have mine!" (Q 109:6).
Building a society together is certainly possible but also demanding, and that is precisely why it is worthwhile and rewarding!
Living together in a preexistent sociopolitical system means to accept the given system as it is but to remain open to improvement. This is the only way to grow together in wisdom and humanity and to build a future world open to everyone.
SAMIR RHALIL SAMIR, S.J.
and WAFIK NASRY S.J.
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• Is Dialogue with Islam Possible? Some Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Address at the University of Regensburg | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
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111 Questions On Islam: Samir Khalil Samir S.J. on Islam and the West
Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. | Interviews conducted by Giorgio Paolucci and Camille Eid
The terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, the Afghan conflict, waves of migration, and the presence of twelve million Muslims in the European Union: these are just a few of the things that have helped contribute to a growing interest in Islam, its culture, and its followers. They awaken old and new questions about a religious, cultural, and political reality that 1,200,000,000 people consider themselves a part of.
This book is the result of a series of extended interviews between an internationally acclaimed expert on Islam and two journalists who have dedicated themselves for many years to studying key themes of Islam and analyzing the possibility of coexistence between people of different faiths and cultures.
How was Islam born? What does the Qur'an represent for Muslims? What relationships have developed between Islam and violence, between Islamic culture and the West? How can a real integration of Islam take place in European societies? What are the conditions for a constructive encounter between Christians and Muslims?
Samir Khalil Samir--one of the world's leading experts on Islam--responds to these questions in an in-depth interview that can help one learn and judge for oneself, without prejudice or naivete. This is a contribution in the spirit of the realism needed in order to build adequate ways of living with those who have become our new neighbors.