AS a Catholic who has a Muslim daughter and granddaughter, and who is a regular guest at the Canberra Islamic Centre, I was both saddened and confused by Fr Kevin Ryan’s column (Real Life, CL 29/10/06) where he defends the Pope’s comments on Islam.
Confused, because he readily concedes that both Christianity and Islam have failed many times to act “as if God is a god of love”.
We could add that they have both failed to act as if God is a God of reason.
Yet he also argues that we must not “pretend differences do not exist”, and identifies the basis of the difference as the Christian recognition of “God’s nature to act within reason” and “Muslims not seeing it that way”. What is the evidence for this?
Neither Fr Ryan nor the Pope has identified anything intrinsic to Islam. A parade of historic examples only invites an exchange from the other side.
The 14th century is a particularly apt era to bring to mind.
Most historians say that Muslim Spain was a beacon of tolerance relative to that era, and credit the Moors with the preservation of the Greek scholarship and reason so dear to the Pope.
Compare that to what followed after the Reconquest, the treatment of Jews and Muslims, and those of them who succumbed to conversion.
History as well as the present day can provide many examples of appalling violence and unreason.
Religion (all religions) is only one of the elements of national and cultural identity which can sometimes erupt into conflict.
We get nowhere by trying to show one religion was better or worse than another, or that regimes that rally under a religious banner were better or worse than the avowedly atheistic.
Christianity can mean any one of many Catholic traditions, the broadest Anglican or Uniting Church, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist … we could go on.
All are deeply embedded in a culture and a national history. It is the same in Islam.
The Canberra Islamic Centre has members from 60 different nationalities.
Their board has men and women from a variety of traditions, and I have observed a lot of lively (and reasoned) debate. Whether or not the women cover or wear hijab is almost always to do with their cultural tradition. Perhaps the most influential person there in terms of setting agendas is a Lebanese woman in her 40s, who wears hijab and is divorced.
My own daughter is a single mother who does not wear hijab. The centre always invites Christians and Jews to significant occasions such as Eid, and has representatives at interfaith gatherings.
Selective quotes from scripture, exchanges of horrors perpetrated by the other side and media stories which inevitably focus on the sensational do not get us anywhere or prove anything.
It is only by seeing how ordinary people actually live their faith that we can begin to understand.
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