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"Clash of civilisations" not inevitable


Background brief:

pdf Background Brief on Muslims in Australia
Colour copies also available for purchase at $1.00 each + p&h. Download order form

Full text of talks:

text Fr Dan Madigan, Religion and politics

text Prof Abdullah Saeed, Religion and human freedom

text Frank Brennan SJ AO, Encountering the Other


audio ABC broadcast: 'Muslims and Christians: Where do they stand?'
Listen to ABC Radio National's The Spirit of Things with Rachael Kohn. [ra]*

* Require RealAudio (ra), for more information visit The Spirit of Things

Conclusion of the 2003 Jesuit Seminar Series, Muslims and Christians ... Where do we all stand?

“Muslims and Christians – Where Do We All Stand?” was the title of the recent national Jesuit seminar series. It was also the question posed by the two keynote speakers to audiences in mainland capital cities by Father Dan Madigan SJ and Melbourne Islamic academic, Abdullah Saeed.

Dan Madigan, an Australian Jesuit who is the director of the Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures at the Gregorian University in Rome, insisted that when asking this question we speak about Muslims and Christians – about people, about believers – rather than abstract ideological systems. Fr Madigan said that even though some Muslims are threatening world peace in the name of what they consider to be Islam, there was no inevitable “clash of civilisations” between the Christian West and the Islamic East. The witness of history is that major world conflicts have been between groups professing the same religion.

While not discounting the fact that major theological differences exist between Islam and Christianity, Fr Madigan said that we share much in common. “The most important common belief we share is that the Word of God has been spoken in our world. For the Muslim, God has spoken His word in Arabic in the Qur’ân. For Christians on the other hand, God’s word is spoken not primarily in words but in the flesh – in ‘body language’ as it were.”

Professor Abdullah Saeed who is Head of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne agreed that Christians and Muslims held a lot in common – the Jewish religious tradition, belief in one God, God’s revelation in Scripture, and acknowledgment of the importance of Jesus.

While believing it was important to emphasise these positives Professor Saeed said that the two different religious traditions of Christianity and Islam did not have to be identical. “But with so much common ground between them,” he added, “Muslims and Christians can talk to each other, and work together on issues such as social justice and human rights both here in Australia and elsewhere.”

Commenting on the negative impact that the events surrounding September 11 has had on Australian Muslims, Professor Saeed said, “Many Muslims are worried about the direction of the rhetoric of the so-called ‘war on terror’ and the legislative and regulative environment into which we are moving. Many also feel that in Australia, now, being visibly Muslim is a problem.”

Jesuit lawyer Frank Brennan SJ AO responded to the two keynote speakers saying that such exchange between Muslims and Christians helped “put a human face on the other, breaking down the barriers between ‘us’ and ‘them’.” Father Brennan noted that given Australia’s geographic isolation and history, the fear of the other was very deep-seated in the Australian psyche.

Father Brennan claimed that the response to the Afghan and Iraqi boat-people who had turned up on Australian shores, was excessively harsh because they were swarthy-skinned Muslims. He suggested that a more compassionate response would have been forthcoming from the Australian government and public had the asylum-seekers been white Christian Zimbabwe farmers.

Had inter-religious dialogue helped each of the presenters become either a better Christian or better Muslim? Both presenters agreed that such dialogue had challenged them to think more deeply about their own religion. They had to grapple with words and concepts in an effort to communicate. Dr Madigan said that his study of Islam had “taken him deeper into Christian theology and the world at large.”

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