It's amazing how Christian missionaries who have spent substantial periods working in Muslim countries often come away with a greater degree of empathy and understanding for the shared heritage of the great Abrahamic faiths.
In Sydney, the Columban Mission Society runs an excellent Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations. Fr Patrick McInerney from the Centre spent many years as a missionary in a Columban mission in Lahore, Pakistan, and speaks fluent Urdu and Punjabi. He is active in interfaith work, and appeared as an expert witness on Islam and Christian-Muslim relations in the controversial religious vilification case involving the Catch The Fire Ministries and the Islamic Council of Victoria.
In the Netherlands, another long-time missionary has thought of a novel idea to improve relations between Christians and Muslims. Bishop Tiny Muskens of Breda has proposed that Dutch Catholics address their prayers to Allah.
Someone like me has prayed to Allah yang maha kuasa (Almighty God) for eight years in Indonesia and other priests for 20 or 30 years. In the heart of the Eucharist, God is called Allah over there, so why can't we start doing that together?
Bishop Muskens' words were reported on the Catholic News website on 15 August 2007. The website's report also noted that ...
In the Arab world God is called Allah. The long history of Christianity in the Arab world led to the development of a rich Christian-Islamic theological vocabulary, which makes God a normal equivalent to Allah. Both Muslims and Christians use the word in the Middle East.
Bishop Muskens worked in Indonesia as a missionary some 30 years ago. He predicts that within 100 years, Dutch churches would be using the name "Allah" to address God anyway. It's hard to tell whether his comment on this regard reflects the paranoid views of far-Right fruitcakes who claim Europe will become "Eurabia" or whether he just hopes Muslims and Christians will come to the realisation that they are both worshipping the same God.
The Bishop's comments follow a call by Geert Wilders, Dutch far-Right politician and former colleague of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that the Qur'an should be banned.
The Bishop's call hasn't been welcomed in quarters hostile to anything resembling Islam. One academic lawyer poked fun at the Bishop's name before making these remarks:
Muskens makes it sound as if the problems in Muslim–Catholic relations were merely silly arguments about semantics that distract from the truly important things on which we all agree. In fact, there is a serious, substantive problem dominating Christian–Muslim relations at the moment, the same problem that dominates Muslim–Jewish, Muslim–Buddhist, Muslim–Hindu, and Muslim–Orthodox relations, and that problem is that Muslim fanatics keep murdering innocents of all faiths, including their own, in terror attacks.
Using Robert Miller's reasoning, Muslims should cease all dialogue with Jews. After all, there are Jewish fanatics who keep murdering innocent Palestinians of various faiths. I guess Hindus and Muslims in South Asia should stop talking given that Hindu fanatics (be they BJP-linked religious extremists or the Tamil Tigers) continue to murder Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics and other groups.
And the whole world should stop talking to the United States, which seems to be ruled by a cabal of far-Right Republicans backed by evangelical Christians that love spreading freedom and democracy by invading countries and killing lots of people.
I'm so glad we don't live in a world ruled by this kind of logic. Because if we did, only God/Allah/G-d/Bhagwan could help us!
Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf
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