VATICAN CITY, APRIL 28, 2004 (Zenit.org).- After a short stay in Pakistan, a professor of history of philosophy at the Lateran University agreed to share with ZENIT her impressions on the reception of Christian thought in that country.
Angela Ales Bello had been invited by Bishop Anthony Lobo of the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi to explain to various sectors of Pakistani society that the West is interested in Muslim culture. About 96% of Pakistan’s 140 million people are Muslim.
Q: Why did you decide to leave the Lateran University for a time and go to lecture in Pakistan?
Ales Bello: I was invited by the bishop, Monsignor Lobo, who wished to establish contact with Muslim universities and give proof of the presence of European Christian thought in the territory of Pakistan.
In fact, we found that culture in Pakistan is quite linked to Western thought. Naturally there are some communities that are more strictly Muslim, but in Islamabad’s National University of Modern Languages and in Kinnairdr Women’s College, where I gave some lectures, Western thought is known.
Catholic schools offer studies linked to Western and American culture. Of course, I am also referring to elementary schools and high schools.
I did not see such a strong Muslim presence, although there is teaching of Islam.
It must be noted that the language of Pakistan is not Arabic but Urdu, and the people of the areas I visited were of Indian origin. Even the underlying culture is not Arabic; they know it because they have to study it. Islam was superimposed on a pre-existing culture.
The purpose of my trip was to have them see that a delegation had come from the West to engage in dialogue — I was traveling with van der Veken, a professor emeritus of Leuven — and that the European cultural realm is interested in the Muslim world.
Q: Are Muslim students of Pakistan interested in Christian philosophy?
Ales Bello: Yes, very much so. They are also interested in philosophy in general. Both the existing Catholic communities as well as the Muslim are very interested in questions of philosophic anthropology, ethics and pedagogy.
Q: Was it easy to speak about Jesus in front of Muslims?
Ales Bello: It was not easy. And when there was a Muslim presence, we tried to avoid it explicitly.
In a center dedicated to dialogue between Christians and Muslims, we had some difficulty because they accept Jesus only as a prophet. However, in regard to spiritual problems, the existence of God, openness to the religious dimension, there is consensus and agreement.
Q: You also spoke of Edith Stein and they seemed to be very interested. Do you think this confirms the universality of this philosopher’s thought?
Ales Bello: I mentioned her explicitly and implicitly to the Muslims, not as a saint, of course, but as a philosopher, and they were very interested. Not all of them knew about her: The Christians to a degree, the Muslims not at all. The young women were very interested.
Women in Pakistan have a degree of social integration, especially at the higher levels, and if their situation is not too disastrous. In the lower social spheres, the condition of women is difficult. In any case, there are professors, deans of university faculties and women in public offices.
Q: What must be done to exchange “culture” with Muslim countries?
Ales Bello: It is complicated to have them come here. It might be possible to go back, but it also depends on the political situation.
In our case, we were given a good reception at all levels. We have already sent the texts of our lectures and they can publish them, if they wish. At least, they have told us that this is their intention.