Fr. Peter H. Kolvenbach, S.J. on the Difficulties of Dialogue with Islam

Giacomelli: Let’s go on to another frontline apostolate entrusted to you by the Pope: dialogue with non-Christian religions.  You’ve lived for twenty-fiver years in the Lebanon, you’ve had contact with Moslem believers.  Have you ever tried to hold a dialogue with the followers of Islam?  More Important still, is religious dialogue possible with Moslems?

Kolvenbach: Dialogue is possible, but clarity’s the think.  Dialogues begun by putting confidence in similarities accepted without much discernment can only lead to sentimental and superficial agreements.  If the dialogue is conducted without sincerity, there can be not true meeting of minds betweeen those taking part.  Manipulating Islam to make it a mirror-image of Christinaity impedes true contact and dialogue in depth with living, present-day Islam.  Moslems and Christians proclaim themselves to be children of Abraham, yet we are not in fact brothers in Abraham, but in Christ.  For Islam, Abraham is the first monotheist, while for Christians he is the father of the covenant between God and his people: and inconceivable thing for a Moslem.  Similarly, the Virgin Mary is venerated by Catholic believers and by Moslems.  Yet for Moslems she is only themiracle of God’s omnipotence: God can do anything, so why shouldn/t he be able to turn motherhood into virginity?  Whereas for Christians, Mary is the new creature who, through her free assent, was forechosen to be the Theotokos, the Mother of God.  thus Mary becomes the ikon of the Church, offering an ideal of consecrated virginity which is unthinkable in Islam.  To refuse, because of false sense of charity, to face up to Islam, with all the apparent, insuperble difficulties that acceptance of the truth entails, means taking the risk of depriving Moslems of the path to a true understanding of Christianity.

Giacomelli: We hear a lot about Islamic fundamentalism today, and religious and political agitation in the Arab world is attributed to it.  Should we lookon this fundamentalism as a passing phenomenon?

Kolvenbach: The intolerant and aggressive character of jihad has its source in a theological concept of the will of God.  Islam is faith in God and in his Book.  The Koran is not merely central to Islam: it is its essence.   For Christians, the Incarnate Word is the immediate Word of God, while the Bible is the mediated Word.  For Moslems, in contrast, the Koran as book is the immediate Word of God.  Christians wish the Bible to be translated into every language and spread throught the world; Islam find it hard to accept that the Koran, having been revealed in Arabic by God, can be prayed, read and written inay language other than the one in which god himself revealed it.   Now, the Koran, the essence of Islam, is a law.  Hence the ordinances found in it are divine and, since the explicity will of God are universally binding on everyone, everywhere.  the are definitive, having binding force to the end of time.  To take one example: the Ramadan fast hasn’t altered in thecourse of many hundreds of years.  the notion of renewal, of adaptation or revision, which in Christianty are the fruit of the Spirit, conflicts with the divine character of  every ordinance of Islam.

These points having been made, let me now give you an answer to your question.  What we call Islamic fundamentalism is not a passing phenomenon, nor is it the expression of some individual’s fanaticism: it is Islam as it’s supposed to be Hence the difficulty, for a Middle Eastern government, of opposing the will of God.  christians deeply believe that the Spirit guides the Church, by means of renewal, towards the whole, entire truth of god.  Islam has to follow an immutable datum, since that has been divinely revealed; hence its intolerant, fanatical and fundamentalist aspect, summed up in the unfortunate expression holy war. It’ clear I’m referring to the Islamic religion as sucn; I’m not passing judgement on the individual Moslem, nor on his faith in God, nor on his faithfulness to the Koran.

Source:

Peter H. Kolvenbach, S.J., Men of God: Meh for Others: The Jesuits, an Obedient Avant-Guard Confronting the Challenges of the Modern World, interviewed by Renzo Giacomelli, trans. by Alan Neame (Makati, St. Paul Publications, 1990), pp. 108-109.

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About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

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