An association helps open interreligious dialogue in schools between Christians and Muslims

An association helps open interreligious dialogue in schools between Christians and Muslims

Monday, 8:15 a.m. The doors of the La-Salle-Saint-Denis school group (Seine-Saint-Denis) open in the cold. After the required morning greetings, the twenty-four students of first B take over their classroom. Their class is one of five chosen to discuss with pairs of volunteers from the Together with Mary movement – ​​a Christian and a Muslim each time – in order to try their hand at interreligious dialogue. The initiative takes on particular relevance at a time when Islam arouses fear and controversy.

Special feature of this establishment: it welcomes almost 70% Muslim students. Created in 2014, the association has been working in private Catholic education since 2021. It carries out around 70 interventions per year from primary to final year, mainly in Île-de-France, but also in Tourcoing (Nord), Colmar (Haut-Rhin), Charleville-Mézières (Ardennes) or Cholet (Maine-et- Loire).

“We come here to talk to you about the importance of meeting, of dialogue, of fraternity,” announces Hassan, 34, on the board. At his side Geneviève, a young Catholic retiree, who is coming for the first time. The speakers specify that they speak “neither as experts nor representatives” of their faiths and that their comments are their own. “You may be a non-believer. You have the right to disagree with us,” Hassan reassures.

Together with Marie establishes a climate of trust

The discussion begins with a simple educational support: the projection of several photos representing an imam in a church, a nun in a mosque or a veiled woman in a church… Evocative enough to arouse curiosity. At the back of the class, Adem, 16, speaks: “I have never seen an imam give the call to prayer in a church. »

Geneviève responds: “You see, it’s quite an imam who wanted to come in and speak to God in this place. Does this surprise you? » Abdel, in the front row, raises his hand: “The weirdest thing is especially the photo with the nun in the mosque. Men and women are separated, usually. »

The discussion then begins on the figure of Mary in the two religions. “Why do you think we are referring to her?” » asks Geneviève. “Because she gave birth to the prophet Jesus,” Abdel answers without hesitation, “and because for Christians, Jesus is the son of God. So, it’s a common point. » Geneviève greets his response with a big smile.

Hassan adds that Mary is very venerated in Islam, “cited 34 times in the Koran, more even than in the Gospels”. Exchanges are fluid. The Muslim volunteer testifies: “For me, Mary is the model of obedience to God’s plan. Islam is often translated as “submission” when that is not quite that. The men did not necessarily believe Mary but she persevered, continued to place her trust in God. »

The one and three quarter hour intervention ends. “We are not going to pray together, because we do not all have the same religion, but we are together to pray,” explains Hassan before reciting Surah Al Fatiha, which opens the Koran. Geneviève continues with a Hail Mary. “I have never heard this prayer, it is very beautiful! » marvels Mariam, a young Muslim with blue eyes.

Interventions between laughter and prayers

In the next room, the students ask each other questions: why don’t Christians prostrate themselves when they pray while Jesus did? Are priests superior to other baptized people? What role does the Pope play? “He serves as head of the Church,” replies Gilles. “I thought that Jesus was the boss in your house,” retorts Safir. The Pope would rather be the deputy CEO, right? » Bursts of laughter in the room.

The Together with Marie volunteers came out enthusiastic about this long time of exchange. “It’s magnificent,” Geneviève says. I have confidence in these young people who are ready to think, to pray, to listen to each other. » Thierry Lexis, coordinator of these interventions, who accompanies the volunteers that Monday, sums up: “I am convinced that peace comes through meeting, dialogue. And current events confirm it: we cannot ignore religion if we want to build peace. »

Recipes for the success of the Together with Mary movement

  • Targeted training. Each new member of the association follows a morning of initiation and a day of training, provided by theologians and pastoral leaders.
  • Prepared land. Students are informed in advance of the progress of these interventions and made aware of the importance of interreligious dialogue.
  • A shared freedom. All proselytism is prohibited. Volunteers are not allowed to ask students’ religion. If a question concerns Islam, the Muslim volunteer provides the answer, and vice versa, if the question concerns the Christian faith.

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