Signs of despair (and hope) in Christian-Muslim relations
- “Where disagreement becomes a death sentence” – Zenit news interviews Shaheryar Gill, a Pakistani-born lawyer providing “an insider’s look” at Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws. On December 3rd, a hardline, pro-Taliban Pakistani Muslim cleric on Friday offered a reward for anyone who kills a Christian woman sentenced to death by a court on charges of insulting Islam.
- Meanwhile, in Iraq, an elderly Christian couple was killed in their home Sunday night in Baghdad, days before they were to finalize the transaction on their house and join an exodus of Christians fleeing to the safety of the North.
Earlier this month, a young Syrian Orthodox engineer was abducted from his shop and murdered, provoking the representatives of the Christian communities to withdraw in protest from the conference on Social Coexistence and Tolerance, organized by the Iraqi Ministry for Human Rights.
Muslim leaders are also sounding the alarm, calling on the Baghdad government and U.S. forces to provide safety for the Christian community.
- In Iran, Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor of a church of about 400 people, was convicted of apostasy and has been sentenced to death for allegedly renouncing his Muslim faith. According to CNN, In the southern city of Shiraz, another Christian pastor, Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, 35, is facing a possible indictment for apostasy.
In his book-length interview Light of the World, Pope Benedict emphasized that, with respect to Muslims:
“The important thing here is to remain in close contact with all the current within Islam that are open to, and capable of dialogue, so as to give a change of mentality a chance to happen even where Islamism still couples a claim to truth with violence.”
Earlier in November, he renewed his call for religious freedom in Muslim countries:
“All the same, dialogue would not prove fruitful unless it included authentic respect for each person and the ability of all freely to practise their religion,” he said.
“Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres,” he said, adding that this had to include the right to profess religion “privately and publicly and (for) freedom of conscience to be effectively guaranteed to all believers”.
As my colleague at American Catholic, Tim Shipe expressed in a post earlier this year, “reciprocity is key” to the Christian-Muslim dialogue, and to our relations with Islam in general.
While the recent headlines give cause to despair, there is also hope. In November, Christian and Muslim leaders gathered in Geneva for a four-day conference, “Transforming Communities: Christians and Muslims Building a Common Future,” inspired by the historic 2007 letter by 138 Muslim scholars called, “A Common Word”
Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan noted that while Muslims and Christians do not share the same theology, they are “all in the same boat.” The prince, who serves as personal envoy and special adviser to King Abdullah II or Jordan, said people of faith face the same problems and opportunities. He highlighted, as in the “Common Word” document, that Christians and Muslims share the common commitment to love God and love one’s neighbor.
In his address Monday, Prince Ghazi said “for both our religions harming religious minorities among us is evil, is absolutely forbidden and is ultimately a rejection of God’s love and a crime against God Himself.”