Where Islam-Church Relations Are OK

Prelate Says World Can Learn From North Africa

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 6, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A bishop at the Africa synod is proposing that North Africans participate in the 2010 synod on the Middle East, since Muslim-Christian relations in the north of the African continent are different than in the sub-Saharan region.

This proposal was made today by Bishop Maroun Elias Lahham of Tunis, Tunisia. The Jordanian-born bishop was ordained a priest for Jerusalem and assigned to the Diocese of Tunis in 2005.

The prelate noted that the working document to prepare the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, which began Sunday in Rome, "talks about Islam in only one paragraph, in generic terms and only touching upon Islam in sub-Saharan Africa.”

“Now,” he said, “the vast majority on African Muslims live in North Africa, a geographic area completely absent in the ‘instrumentum laboris.’ Another point is that almost 80% of the 350 million Muslim Arabs live in Northern African countries.  “This is just to point out that Islamic-Christian relations in North Africa are different from those in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, and even from the Arab countries in the Middle East.”

The 61-year-old prelate contended that the “specificity of Islamic-Christian relations in the Churches of North Africa could enrich the experiences of dialogue lived elsewhere — in Europe or in sub-Saharan Africa — and defuse the reactions of fear and the rejection of Islam that we begin to experience in certain countries. We all know that fear is a bad counselor.”

Bishop Lahham, drew from the experience of his own nation, nestled between Algeria and Libya on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. And he went on to note certain specific characteristics of the Church in North Africa.

He explained: “Even if she [the Church] does not have the freedom she would hope for, she is not persecuted.  “It is a Church that lives in almost 100% Muslim countries, and where the overwhelming majority of faithful are made up of foreigners who only stay there for a few years, for the most part. […]   “It is a Church that rejoices in a large enough margin of freedom in the exercise of Christian worship for thousands of its faithful, in Tunis for example.  “It is a Church that lives in Muslim countries where there is the beginning of critical thinking with regards to rigorous and fanatical Islam.”

In this context, the Tunisian prelate concluded with two proposals: that the North African dioceses participate in the 2010 Middle East synod, “especially with regard to the Christian minorities and relations and dialogue with Islam” and that “discussion about Islam in Africa […] bears in mind the variety of African experiences, from Tunis to Johannesburg.”

The bishop was one of 16 synod fathers who offered interventions to the synod today.

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On ZENIT’s Web page:

Summary of Bishop Lahham’s address: www.zenit.org/article-27077?l=english

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