OTTAWA (CCN) — Canada’s Catholic bishops have released a pamphlet to promote understanding and dialogue with Muslims meant to coincide with Eid al-Fitr, the July 18 feast marking the end of Ramadan.
Published by The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) through its Episcopal Commission for Christian Unity, Religious Relations with the Jews, and Interfaith Dialogue, the eight-page document provides a thumbnail sketch of Islam’s history, a comparison of Catholic and Muslim beliefs, and a look at international and Canadian efforts at dialogue.
“The pamphlet is meant to help Canadian Catholics better understand their Muslim neighbours,” said CCCB president Gatineau Archbishop Paul-André Durocher in a July 8 introductory letter.
Durocher pointed out how Christianity and Islam are the world’s most populous religions. He stressed the importance for the good of all that they live in harmony and the role Canada can place in a “harmonious relationship.”
The CCCB president acknowledged that the document does not explore doctrinal differences in depth nor does it comment on “the present state of geopolitics.” It does, he says, form an “important step” in responding to St. Paul’s invitation: “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building” (Rm 14:19).
Taking its cue from St. Paul, the document highlights the positive aspects of Islam’s history, painting a picture of Muhammad as someone who “earned people’s respect and trust” and promoted the worship of one deity instead of many. The thumbnail history describes the importance of Mecca and Medina in Muhammad’s life history, including the importance of the cube-shaped structure the Kaaba, in Mecca, that was once believed to house more than 360 deities but is now the main pilgrimage site of Muslims.
The document then sketches the basics of Islamic teachings — it’s belief in one “merciful, almighty” God, creator of heaven and earth, and that human persons are “called to submit to God’s will.”
It explains the Five Pillars of Islam: The Shahadah or confession of belief, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet”; ritual prayer five times a day facing toward Mecca; acts of charity, including a 2.5 per cent tax on one’s wealth to help the poor; the month-long fast of Ramadan to mark Muhammad’s migration from Mecca to Medina; and The Haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca adult Muslims are expected to make once in their lifetime, if possible.
The document also outlines some of the divisions among Muslims, such as Sunnism, Shiism, which is dominant in Iran, and Sufism.
Among the shared beliefs of Catholics and Muslims are the worship of one God, the belief that God “has spoken to humankind, although our understanding of revelation is not the same,” a belief in a Day of Judgment, and the resurrection of the dead. “We try to live lives that are morally upright,” the document says. “We pray, give alms and fast.”
The longer section on the differences in beliefs shows Muslims do not accept the belief in the Trinity, or in Jesus as the son of God. Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet, but do not believe in the incarnation, Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, or in the resurrection.
“In Islam, God makes his will known,” the document says. “In Christianity, God not only gives his will, he gives himself.”
“It is important to caution against what dialogue experts refer to as ‘the word trap,’ ” it says. “Christians and Muslims may use the same term or speak of the same person, but their understandings of these terms may differ significantly.” Not only are understandings of Abraham, Moses and Jesus different, but also those concerning prayer, almsgiving and pilgrimage, it says.
The document also traces some of the ongoing efforts on Catholic-Muslim dialogue, beginning with the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, that inspired the Canadian bishops’ commitment.
The only reference to challenges in the dialogue concerns the plight of Christians in the Middle East that the document says “continues to be a serious concern.”
“The lack of protection of fundamental human rights, such as freedom of religion and freedom from fear and want, continues to threaten the very existence of Christians in this region,” it says. It notes that Muslims in some instances have tried to protect Christians from extremists. “Both Muslims and Christians suffer much at the hands of those who unconsciously choose to use religion as a justification for violence.”
The CCCB is represented on the National Muslim Christian Liaison Committee (NMCLC), formed 15 years ago, the document says. This group has developed various projects such as Families Meeting Families, pairing Christian and Muslim families so they can get to know each other. They also have a Recognition Dinner in which a Christian and a Muslim are honoured for their contribution to “furthering understanding.” The NMCLC also hosted a March 2015 event on end-of-life care from Christian and Muslim perspectives.