Introduction

At the request of the Conference of European Provincials, twenty-eight Jesuits from nineteen provinces gathered to discuss Christian Muslim relations. The meeting was a further step in the implementation of the decree of the 34th General Congregation on interreligious dialogue. We were directed in our deliberations by Fr. General who, in his message to the gathering, asked us to consider "what impact does the presence of Muslims have on our mission today as we seek to offer our world a service of faith that does justice in dialogue with cultures and people of other religions?"

We come from a variety of backgrounds. Our group included people who have worked many years in Muslim countries, Jesuits in studies who have been involved with immigrant groups, those who work in the social apostolate assisting immigrants and refugees, Jesuits from cultural centres, teachers, theologians and pastors. From this variety of backgrounds we want to offer some perspectives on Muslim-Christian dialogue across Europe and to suggest concrete steps for a way forward.

From the beginning, we want to say that we are very aware of the excellent and important work being done by others in the Church in the area of Muslim-Christian relations. We are called to play our part, to collaborate with them and to build on what is already being done. It is this spirit which underlies the suggestions we make here.

Europe is fast becoming a multi-cultural society and within that society the Muslim population is increasing steadily. We as Jesuits are invited to accompany Christians and others during this time of social transformation. In all of this, it is important to remember that just as Christianity is not monolithic, so too Islam is plural and complex.

A kairos, a time of opportunity

Our primary sense is of the rich possibilities that exist. There are many positive initiatives already occurring in Muslim-Christian dialogue in the Church and the Society of Jesus. These range from the work of Jesuits and our colleagues with migrants and immigrants to the work of theological reflection carried on at a variety of theology centres and universities.

Muslim believers can be an encouraging challenge to people of all faiths today. In the face of individualism, they witness to a sense of community; in increasingly secular societies, they claim a place for religious values; and in a society which lacks more and more a moral framework, they can help to search for one. Finally, dialogue with Muslims represents a privileged chance for us and for all Christians to deepen our own faith since we are called to live a real respect for others who are different from ourselves.

Our point of departure and methodology

The point of departure for our dialogue is our desire to live together in just and pluralist societies. This desire does not derive from purely theoretical considerations. The 34th General Congregation spoke of interreligious dialogue as an essential part of Jesuit mission. In Christian-Muslim relations, we recognise two extremes. On the one hand, there is the danger of a na´ve enthusiasm and of unrealistic expectations; on the other hand is a situation where Christians and Muslims never engage with each other and are in effect polarised. The way forward is that of a discerning dialogue. It means being aware of the challenges, problems and resistance of many to such dialogue and yet engaging, perhaps slowly and painstakingly, in a conversation based on mutual respect.

Concrete Steps

Dialogue with Islam has for long been seen as a specialisation for some. Now it touches Jesuits working in all areas. In fact, the individual initiatives that already exist are not enough. Regional coordination and projects at Province level are needed. To help with this, the members of the Ludwigshafen consultation have agreed to be available to act as a "core group" In addition, there is already a network of young Jesuits engaged in the study of Islam who can offer advice and expertise.

The following steps are proposed

Assistancy: Each assistancy is encouraged to consider the issue of Muslim-Christian relations and to develop appropriate responses. The members of the core group are available to offer support and advice for such a process.

Province coordination: There is room for further coordinating structures within and between provinces. Provinces with little experience in encounter with Muslims can draw on the experience, and learn from the mistakes, of provinces with a history of dialogue. Some provinces have, for example, organised successful study days on Islam; they can be a resource for other provinces which plan similar events. The annual province meeting could focus on the subject of Islam. Perhaps mission directors could be asked to be responsible for coordination in this area and to draw on the expertise offered by this network.

Jesuit communities are often unsure how to proceed with dialogue and need help and perhaps new skills. In this area too, this group is willing to offer assistance.

Ignatian Spirituality is a valuable resource to us in our dialogue with Islam and points us in a certain direction. It encourages us to find God in all things and in all religions, to put a good interpretation on the views of others and to contemplate the whole world and its needs. Furthermore, dialogue with Islam will help Ignatian spirituality itself to deepen and to grow.

Education: Jesuit schools, colleges, universities can be encouraged to offer courses on Islam. Again, the members of this group are willing to advise and help with such courses.

Formation: Novices, scholastics, tertians and other Jesuits can spend insertion times in Jesuit communities situated in a multireligious environment or in Muslim institutions or families. A dialogue mentor is important in accompanying them and especially in helping them to debrief afterwards. Formation directors can call upon the members of the core group to arrange contacts and assistance.

Communications: Our reviews and magazines can be a source of accurate information on Islam and, most importantly, can offer hospitality to Muslims to speak for themselves. This can be important in countering prejudicial stereotypes. A range of publications on Islam, not excluding those critical of Christianity, could made accessible in the reading rooms of communities. Jesuits should be aware of existing texts which explain Christianity to Muslims; further such texts can be developed.

Conclusion

As companions of Jesus, and at this critical juncture in European history, we are called to engage in this dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Moving forward in a deep faith, with a strong Christian conviction and a readiness to witness to our own deeply held beliefs, we commit ourselves to engage with the rich tradition represented by Islam and to help our societies to do the same. Together with other Christians we will discern the way forward in humility, recognizing our fears and our hesitancies but not being trapped by them.

Dialogue with those of other faith traditions is vital for the Society of Jesus. It helps us be Jesuits and transforms and renews our own identity. Authentic dialogue, just like any relationship, involves profound challenge and can demand painful change. This is also the case with Muslim-Christian dialogue. We need to be ready to face such challenges in a spirit of deep humility; we ask for the grace of a deep inner freedom to allow us embrace the necessary changes. Finally, our work for justice and human rights on behalf of all, whatever their faith as well as our insertion in Muslim communities, are what give most credibility to our invitation to dialogue.

The Participants
"Jesuits among Muslims in Europe"
Ludwigshafen, Germany, 26 March 2001


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