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Jewish Christian Muslim "Trialogue": Some Considerations
What is dialogue between peoples of different faiths and what is its purpose? These questions need clear answers, otherwise hidden motives can be suspected and prevent the growth of trust. A useful description has been given by Bishop J.V. Taylor:
Dialogue is a sustained conversation between parties who are not saying the same thing and who recognise and respect the differences, the contradictions and the mutual exclusions between their various ways of thinking.
The object of this dialogue is understanding and appreciation leading to further reflection upon the implications for one's own position of the convictions and sensitivities of other traditions.
He points out that it takes a high degree of maturity to let opposites co-exist without pretending that they can be made compatible and to respect an opinion that conflicts with one's own without itching to bring about a premature and naive accommodation. This is indeed, he says "love of enemies". This attempt to listen and understand and honour convictions that deny one's own, through the opening of one's imagination is the function of inter-faith dialogue(1).
Nevertheless there are starting points, certain areas of common ground from which this dialogue can commence. Pope John Paul II referred to the fundamental unity of believers which provides the "divine horizon of interreligious dialogue"(2). One of the main purposes of interreligious dialogue is "peace", a peace which is not just absence from conflict but promotion of freedom, fellowship, tolerance, that is salvation. In this sense religions are able to be "redeemers", if they so choose.
Jews, Christians and Muslims have roots in common that should orient them towards a dialogue with each other. All three claim to be children of Abraham in some sense. For each of them Abraham is the model of that faith which is a "walking before God" in complete trust and obedience. Together they constitute the "Abrahamic family" even though conflict is already discernible even here. For Jews descent is through Isaac, Son of the Promise; for Muslims it is through Ishmael who is regarded as Son of the Promise. For Christians it is faith in Jesus "Son of Abraham, Son of David" (cf.Mt.1:1), which makes gentile Christians children of Abraham. Nevertheless Abraham is a real starting point for the dialogue. It is through Abraham that Judaism, Christianity and Islam inherit the revelation of God as One, the Creator, Transcendent, Loving, All-powerful, Judge and Redeemer, with whom a personal relationship is possible. Though there are important differences in understanding the Unity of God, Judaism, Christianity and Islam do constitute the "Monotheistic family of religions". The belief that God has created every human person in his/her own image and destined each one for eternal life, is the basis of a common understanding of the dignity of man and woman and their basic equality before God. The prophetic heritage which all share to some degree reveals history as having a goal for time is not only cyclic but linear. The God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is a just God who demands justice from everyone and social justice for all. Individuals and Communities will be judged on this criterion.
Purpose of Dialogue
From this common ground with regard to origin, purpose and ethics a relationship between these three religious communities can be forged. Dialogue can promote further understanding of each other's convictions, bring to light what is shared and where there are differences. Joint action in society as a response to God's will for social justice, which is so urgently needed if our world is to endure, can proceed. In the light of this, dialogue between Jews Christians and Muslims would appear to be a divine imperative today.
Obstacles and Difficulties
There are obstacles to this dialogue which need to be understood. Some of these arise from basic differences of belief and others arise from historical causes and conflicts.
For many the starting point for inter-faith dialogue is the conviction that God's revelation of him/herself is consistent for all and never partial. It is the responses to it that are different and this means that there can be openness to the limits of particular traditions and to new understandings from other responses. This calls for readiness to learn from the "other" under the guidance of God's Holy Spirit.
Historical memories can certainly inhibit dialogue and trust cannot be created until these have been addressed. It is necessary to know the history of mutual relations between religions and for each to humbly acknowledge the wrongs inflicted on the other. These include the painful parting of the ways of Judaism and Christianity in the first/second centuries, the bitter suffering of the Jewish people in Christian Europe, the effects of the dominance of Islam in certain centuries and of the Western Colonial power in more recent times. Jews and Christians have begun to face up to this past but there is still a long way to go. Jews and Muslims have experienced periods of peaceful co-existence but today the Middle East conflict calls for new responses and initiatives. It is not only Palestinians and Israelis who are affected by this situation but Jews and Muslims throughout the world and, indeed, peace of the whole world is threatened.
Even though Judaism, Christianity and Islam all originated in the Middle East and share a common heritage in the personalities and stories from the Bible, profound differences exist. Some of these arise from differences of language and culture, from ignorance, prejudices and inherited stereotypes. Listening to each other's beliefs and stories, observing each other's forms of worship and prayer, meeting together and discussion are indispensable for acquiring knowledge and gaining insight into their different identities and for the growth of trust.
Jewish, Christian and Muslim Communities exist side by side all over the world today. At various levels tentative attempts are being made to meet together. At the same time in many parts of the world racial tension, even hatred, increases. Can Jews Christians and Muslims rediscover the call to seek peace which is embedded in each of their traditions and come together in this peace to make peace in the world around them? The Abrahamic family would then indeed be a blessing for the world!
* Mary Kelly is a Sister of Sion and Editor of the English Edition of Sidic.
1. John V. Taylor, "The Theological Basis of Interfaith Dialogue" First Lambeth Interfaith Lecture, Lambeth Palace, 2 November 1977, Crucible Jan-Mar, 1978.
2. Michael Amaladoss SJ, "Assisi: Five Years Later", Catholic International, 15-30 November 1991, p. 988 cf. Hans Kung, "World Peace - A Challenge for Jews, Christians and Muslims", Lecture given at St. James's, Piccadilly, London, 25 March 1992, SCM Press Ltd., London N. 1.