Last November 24, the world breathed a sigh of relief. In the course of an impassioned night in Geneva, Iran and the countries of the Group 5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain and Germany) reached an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran has committed itself to limit the enrichment of uranium within 5% and authorized the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its nuclear sites. In return, it received the assurance of the suspension of the sanctions for six months.
Of course, a negotiation of such importance is not exhausted with a, though significant, shaking of hands between Heads of State. However, the gesture and the signing of the Agreement already represents a step forward that removes the world from the disastrous hypothesis of aggression to Iran. Yet, up to a few months ago, distinguished analysts and political scientists upheld with certainty that a joint attack of the United States and Israel to the damage of Iran was an inevitable scenario, while describing the negotiations between Tehran and the Group 5 + 1 as “empty academic exercises of diplomacy.”
The facts have proven them wrong, demonstrating that dialogue can also smooth out crises that are apparently irresolvable and bring different cultures closer. The solid diplomatic relations that exist profitably between the Holy See and the Islamic Republic of Iran constitute a valid example in this sense, sublimated by the fact that the accredited Iranian diplomatic personnel beyond the Tiber is the second largest in terms of size.
ZENIT met in an exclusive interview with Ambassador Mohammad Taher Rabbani, who presented his Credential Letters last June. In the following interview we spoke with him about the Geneva Agreement and inter-religious dialogue.
Part 1 was published on Monday, December 23rd
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ZENIT: What is the situation of Christians in the Islamic Republic of Iran? What rights are recognized to them and, beyond the juridical aspect, what is their relation with the Muslim population?
Ambassador Rabbani: In Iran, peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians is an example for the whole of the Middle East. Testimony of this also is the ancient relation with the Holy See, which goes back to the 13th century and which was realized in the constant political and diplomatic encounters with Congregations such as the Carmelites and the Dominicans. It is part of the teachings of our religion, on the other hand, to maintain friendly relations with the three religions of the Book. This tradition of hospitality is present in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which defends the rights of religions of the Book and guarantees them representatives in the Parliament. In fine, President Rohani’s program reinforces this political line.
ZENIT: Every two years there are bilateral meetings between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Holy See to foster inter-religious dialogue. There was a meeting recently between the Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Archbishop Leo Boccardi, new Apostolic Nuncio in Iran. What common objectives were established?
Ambassador Rabbani: Underscored during that meeting was the fact that today, more than ever, the dialogue between Islam and Christianity is important. Shiites and Catholics must know one another better, in order to identify points they have in common. Because many misunderstanding are born in fact from reciprocal ignorance. Terrorism and extremism are our common enemies. However, it is our common objective, instead, to make a contribution to peace and to combat poverty, beyond the religious confession and nationality of the poor.
ZENIT: In your opinion, what other misunderstanding are there which sometimes impede a peaceful relationship between the Muslim world and the Christian world?
Ambassador Rabbani: We believe that all the prophets had the same objective. Therefore, if all the prophets were to live together there would be no problem among them. In the last years there has been no clash between Islam and Christianity. The oppositions we witness in some regions of the planet are of an ethnic character more than religious. Sometimes, in fact, there are conflicts between persons of the same religion.
However, unfortunately there are some obstacles. The main one is due to the prejudices that a great number of believers have in opposing followers of the other religions, by way of mistaken behavior toward the other on the part of some Muslim and Christian rulers in the course of history. These negative events have a religious covering only in appearance, but they have equally caused disputes between some believers of these two religions. I, as diplomat and religious, am convinced, however, that religious heads at the world level can have an important role in attaining peace as opposed to discriminations and apartheid. A recent example in this connection comes to us from Nelson Mandela who, although he was not a religious figure, had an important role for peace in South Africa.
In fine, I recall that all the monotheistic religions invite peoples to believe and practice the mercy of God in society.
ZENIT: What, instead, are the challenges that Islam and Christianity can address today side by side?
Ambassador Rabbani: We could draw up a long list. However, the most important challenge is the dialogue to promote a culture of peace that can oppose war. In the absence of dialogue, however, there cannot be any sustainable and definitive development. Violence and extremism are wounds that must be healed as soon as possible. The religious heads of Islam and Christianity can work together for this objective.
For instance, the appeals of Pope Francis (for whom we have great respect) to pray for peace, as well as the role he had to prevent the military attack in Syria and reinforce a coalition of peace in the world, together with the appeal for world peace of Iranian President Rohani during the 68th UN General Assembly , in my opinion can create a front for peace to oppose the front that wants war. This collaboration, if it continues with common programs, involving many religious heads active in the field of global peace and justice, can build a global front of the great religions for peace. My proposal is that it be the Holy See and the Islamic Republic of Iran that build this front. The occasion to take an important step in this direction could be the ninth inter-religious meeting between these two States, which will take place in Teheran in 2014. Moreover, Iran can use her political potential in regard to the guidance of the Movement of non-aligned countries — made up in greater part by Christian Catholic countries and Muslims – to create a Forum within it that welcomes the constructive collaboration of the Holy See.
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To read Part 1 of the interview, go to: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/iranian-ambassador-to-the-holy-see-hopes-for-peace-through-dialogue-part-1