Catholics, Muslims Affirm Shared Mission

Say Religion a Source of Harmony, Not Conflict

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 6, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Catholics and Muslims agree that youth must be formed in their own religious traditions and correctly educated about other religions, to give witness to transcendent values in a secular society.

The recently established Catholic-Muslim Forum affirmed this in a joint declaration released today, the result of their first seminar, which began Tuesday. The forum is comprised of 29 members of each religion and was formed by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and representatives of the 138 Muslim leaders who sent an open letter to Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders in October 2007.

The theme of the three-day seminar was “Love of God, Love of Neighbor,” with a specific focus on two areas: “Theological and Spiritual Foundations” and “Human Dignity and Mutual Respect.”

The final statement of the forum reflected many points of similarity between the two creeds as well as resolutions for positive action to build solidarity and peace between the two.

Foundation of love

The forum recognized the specific focus of Christian love: “The source and example of love of God and neighbor is the love of Christ for his Father, for humanity and for each person. God is Love and God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God’s love is placed in the human heart through the Holy Spirit. It is God who first loves us thereby enabling us to love him in return.”

They continued with a summary of how love for one’s neighbor in word and deed follows necessarily from the Christian’s love for God. This love imitates Christ’s sacrificial love, and includes every human person, even enemies.

Turning to the Muslim perspective on love, the declaration affirmed: “Love is a timeless transcendent power which guides and transforms human mutual regard. This love, as indicated by the holy and beloved Prophet Muhammad, is prior to the human love for the one true God. […] God’s loving compassion for humanity is even greater than that of a mother for her child; it therefore exists before and independently of the human response to the One who is ‘The Loving,'”

In regard to love of neighbor, the statement added some Muslim beliefs similar to those of Christians: “Those that believe, and do good works, the Merciful shall engender love among them. […] Not one of you has faith until he loves for his neighbor what he loves for himself.”

Given these common foundations of love for God and neighbor, participants in the seminar recognized the gift of human life and the need to protect it. They asserted the belief that human dignity is based on each person’s creation “by a loving God out of love.” Thus every person deserves recognition of “his or her identity and freedom by individuals, communities and governments, supported by civil legislation that assures equal rights and full citizenship.”

The declaration acknowledged God’s creation of human personas as male and female, and noted the commitment of the forum to ensure “that human dignity and respect are extended on an equal basis to both men and women.”

Religious differences

Members of the forum wrote that love of neighbor includes respect for each person’s choices regarding religion. They affirmed that religious minorities are to be respected and that sacred figures, symbols and places should not be ridiculed.

They acknowledged: “As Catholic and Muslim believers, we are aware of the summons and imperative to bear witness to the transcendent dimension of life, through a spirituality nourished by prayer, in a world which is becoming more and more secularized and materialistic. […]

“We are convinced that Catholics and Muslims have the duty to provide a sound education in human, civic, religious and moral values for their respective members and to promote accurate information about each other’s religions.”

A source of peace

Seminar participants recognized that plurality in God’s creation is a richness and should not be a source of conflict. They professed the belief that “Catholics and Muslims are called to be instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole, renouncing any oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism, especially that committed in the name of religion, and upholding the principle of justice for all.”

They challenged individuals from any religion to come together to help the needy, and to work toward upstanding financial systems that will consider the needs of the poor and relieve individual or national suffering.

Forward looking

The joint declaration recorded the conviction that young people are the future of the religious communities as well as societies. It asserted the necessity of forming youth, in their own religions as well as in the understanding of other cultures and religions.

The statement closed with a plan to hold a second seminar in two years, in a Muslim-majority country. Benedict XVI received the members of the forum in an audience, and participants ended the seminar by expressing gratitude to God for the fruitful dialogue among them.

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