By Andrea Gagliarducci
Nov 8, 2016
Pope Francis meets with the grand imam Sheik Ahmed Muhammad Al-Tayyib at the Vatican May 23, 2016. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.
There is a roadmap for dialogue with Islam, and its three landmarks are peace, justice and education, says a leading bishop on the subject.
Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, explained: “on a theological level, differences still remain, and they are known. Beyond any theological difference, however, we take each other’s hand, to build together the common good.”
There is a “diverse and rich dialogue with many Islamic institutions,” the bishop told CNA Nov. 4.
Bishop Ayuso discussed how the dialogue with Islamic institutions is progressing. He gave special mention to the restoration of relations between the Holy See and the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, which, along with its companion university, is the most prominent institution of Sunni Islam.
Al-Azhar had broken relations with the Holy See back in 2011, when the Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb labelled Pope Benedict XVI’s reaction to Christmas attacks on Alexandria churches as “interference” in Egyptian internal affairs.
Only this year has the Holy See succeeded in restoring dialogue with this institution. Bishop Ayuso made a first visit to Al-Azhar on Feb. 16 and met with the Mosque’s deputy imam, Abbas Shuman.
Then the Grand Imam el Tayeb came to visit Pope Francis in the Vatican on May 23. There, he decried Islamic extremist attacks against both Christians and Muslims.
Bishop Ayuso made follow-up visits to Al-Azhar July 13 and Oct. 23.
The aim of these frequent visits is to prepare a meeting in Rome to mark the official restoration of dialogue between the Holy See and Al-Azhar. This meeting should take place in April 2017, though no official date has been set.
“The dialogue we are entertaining with Al-Azhar,” Bishop Ayuso stressed, “is aimed at organizing joint initiatives to promote peace.”
This is the first landmark of the map for dialogue, the bishop said. He added that “in our initiatives, we will focus on a revision of the religious discourse and on how this religious discourse is renewed within our communities, both Muslim and Christian.” This is the commitment for peace, as “a new narrative would be able to prevent many dark paths recently taken in the name of religions.”
Justice, which is “the twin sister of peace,” is the second landmark on the roadmap, said Bishop Ayuso. This means that “we have to insist on much in relations among religions, so that these good relations will lead everyone to have the sacrosanct right to citizenship for everyone.”
“Members of every religion,” Bishop Ayuso underscored, “must all feel citizenship in their country, so that they can take part in building the common good and the social good.”
This is why Al-Azhar and the Holy See are called “to work together on the issue of religious freedom,” the bishop said.
The third landmark of this roadmap is education. The bishop said ignorance is the reason for many evils, adding “we always experience how great religious ignorance is.”
Religious leaders “are called to undertake again within their community the commitment to give a sound religious education,” the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue maintained.
“This education should be founded on the respect for the other person, as well as giving information on the other person that can enrich personal identity,” since “identity must always be preserved and valued.”
Bishop Ayuso spoke with CNA amid an international symposium sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the International Dialogue Centre, and the Lebanon-based Adyan Foundation.
The symposium, titled “Mercy as a Universal Value,” took place Nov. 3-4 at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Pope Francis delivered opening remarks to the representatives of different religions gathered there. He decried acts of violence, kidnappings, and terrorism, especially in the name of religion.
Bishop Ayuso stressed that the effort aimed to provide a place to share different religious views on mercy so that religious communities can “collaborate together to serve humanity.”