Dialogue with Islam represents a special challenge for all those who want to engage in inter-religious dialogue. Father Joseph Scattolin, a Comboni missionary, underlines three fields which are important for a dialogue between Christianity and Islam.
In the dialogue between Christianity and Islam, it is first of all important to have a rational investigation. History shows us that in the past there have been important exchanges in this field between the Christian and the Islamic worlds. One may think of the influence of Arab philosophy on Christian thought in the Middle Ages and, later, of modern thought on contemporary Islam. Reason, in fact, is a common basis upon which people, animated by goodwill, can and should meet. Human reason is not a privilege of few and special people, or of a particular race and religion, but it is a common feature of all human beings, beyond all cultural differences. Thus, it should become a meeting point among them all. A good and healthy use of reason from all sides, sustained by accepted and proven methods of scientific research, should help with overcoming many historical prejudices, facilitating people to meet in mutual understanding. I believe that, especially in the field of historical research, we have reached quite a scientific level enabling all parties to overcome many ‘mythological’ representations of one’s own and others’ history. Such historical myths have conditioned human minds for centuries and have often been the source of the most fanatic ideologies of all types and colours. In the encounter with Islam much emphasis should be placed on a critical, rational approach to its history, even to its founding moment, that is the Koranic revelation and the community tradition. Such a critical approach may free Islamic minds of many mythical self-representations, which have been up to the present time a great obstacle for a mutual understanding and dialogue between Islam and other religions.
The theological thought
Theological thought too should become a field of encounter, in spite of the acrimonious controversies of the past. Serious reflection on one’s own and others’ faith, in the light of sound reasoning, should point out the many common issues believers of all creeds and faiths have to face and that dogmatic formulations indicate but do not solve.
Here again, a more scientific approach to theological reflection should free minds from the idolatry of theological formulae. Of course, no one denies the importance of theological formulations in the expression of one’s own faith; however, these should never be taken as perfect definitions of God’s Mystery.
Theological formulations deal with basic issues that are far from being solved at the rational level. One may think, for instance, of the question concerning unity and plurality in God. Such an issue is present in Christian thought in the dogma of the Trinity, but also in the Islamic discussions about the multiplicity of divine attributes and their relationship to the unique and simple Divine Essence. In spite of the long and heated discussions of the past and the different theological formulations put forward by great scholars, such an issue is far from having found a satisfactory solution.
Theologians can only indicate a Mystery that is always above and beyond any rational formula, a Mystery that actually will be revealed in full only at the end of time, in the ‘face to face’ vision. One may also think of the mystery of human freedom in its relationship to the divine science and omnipotence. Such an issue too has caused rivers of ink to flow from all sides without any clear definitive solution ever being found. Issues such as these should make all opposing parties realize the limits of human reason and language.The recognition of such common human limits should make each partner of dialogue more humble, freeing him of vain and arrogant dogmatism, which has been a permanent source of disputations and fanatic attitudes. Each one should be ready to humbly accept the light that may come from the other, admitting that the other too can bring some help in solving common issues which seem to be insoluble at a rational level. One has to acknowledge too that this aspect has not been much developed in the past, and that overcoming the spirit of controversy and disputation still remains a difficult task. There are still many people from all faiths who still see in such openness to the ‘other’ a danger of losing one’s own identity and of betraying one’s own truth. The real reason for such fear may lie, in our view, in an insufficient opening towards the total truth of God, preferring the security of one’s own ‘religious tribalism’. Now, however, thanks also to the development of religious sciences, it should be easier for everyone to look beyond one’s own familiar boundaries and tribal fences, opening oneself to new dimensions of encounter and understanding with the ‘other’, to what is different from our perused customs.
The spiritual and mystic experience
At this point we enter into a field that lies beyond all logical and rational formulations. The question here is about personal and existential experience, in which the human person comes into a direct contact with the divine Mystery. In such a meeting, as the testimony of mystics of all religions clearly shows, things happen ‘that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined’, (1 Cor. 2 : 9). Mystics who have come into a real encounter with God have experienced the breaking up of all limits in which our human existence is immersed and chained. Here, “only the Spirit is the law”, says Saint John of the Cross (d.1591), and here “the human being is adorned with Divine attributes”, say Muslim mystics.
In any case, mystics speak a language which only those who have gone through their experience can understand. At this point, the arrogance of human reason should stop, leaving space for the intuitions of the heart. Here, one should have the honesty and courage to let one’s own heart speak out, without fearing that ‘the head of the mystic may fall under the pen of some judge’, as Sufis, taught by many tragic historical happenings, have declared. At this point, mystics should be allowed to meet together, in freedom and spontaneity, ‘heart to heart’. They will surely find means of mutual encounter and understanding beyond the ways of reason.
Dialogue at all levels seems to be the only true and realistic answer to the challenges of the present time. But dialogue implies a deep and profound change of mentality, a historical turning point and conversion. All religions are called, now in particular, to be the leaders of such a historical turning point. It has been said many a time and by many sides that there cannot possibly be peace among peoples and cultures, if there is not first peace among religions. This is our present, most urgent and vital challenge and task.