“The name of Abraham must still be able to bring us together, Christians, Jews and Muslims”

“The name of Abraham must still be able to bring us together, Christians, Jews and Muslims”

“The current climate in the Middle East constitutes a test for interreligious dialogue,” wrote Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran in October 2015 in The cross. The one who was then president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue spoke in a very heavy context: the hopes created by the Arab Spring were dashed in Syria, Libya, Yemen when, in a Europe frightened by waves of migration, the attacks Parisians came to remind Westerners that conflicts across the Mediterranean were the origin of the deadliest storms.

However, faced with the bloody autumn which has just fallen on the Middle East, this sad observation is still current, and remains very alarming. In this gigantic Middle Eastern melee, our Christian eyes are passionately drawn to the fate of our brothers from the East, all too regular victims of centuries-old conflicts: in Upper Kabarakh, a century after the massacre of the Armenians by the Ottoman armies; in Syria, in Iraq, crushed by antagonisms which often take place behind religious banners. Winter would never have ended in this part of the world where the epicenters of crisis seem as numerous as oil wells and religious sanctuaries.

Among the latter, Jerusalem, which, however, bears the name of peace, too often remains the symbol of religious disagreement, walls of identity and impossible dialogue. Faced with this situation in the form of an impasse, how can we maintain the course of dialogue to which the Christian faith obliges us (2)? Faced with the Islamophobia and anti-Semitism caused by Middle Eastern tragedies, what words can we keep? Contemporary history shows that, from impasses to crossroads, different actors have been able to play with the seasons of dialogue.

Dialogue with Islam

Thus the spring of decolonization, which quickly turned into autumn for religious and cultural plurality in the Middle East. At the end of the Second World War, countries like Lebanon and Egypt showed real dynamism in terms of interreligious encounters. But the Egypt of the Orientalists masks profound changes in the face of the rising tide of modernity: in reaction, for example, emerges the Society of the Muslim Brotherhood, which quickly establishes itself in Palestine. And, in the Nasserist nationalist fight, if Arabness unites, Abrahamism is put to the test.

In 1956, during the Suez Crisis, the definition of the Arab nation became clearer at the expense of its Jewish dimension, confused with the Israeli enemy. On the Catholic side, the Abrahamic tendency aims for a rapprochement with Muslims. Far from the anti-Semitic version developed by Hanna Zakarias, the young Dominicans of Cairo nevertheless resist the rants of Louis Massignon. From this missiological renewal, marked in addition by the Shoah, the Catholic Church defined a new look at other religions on the occasion of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

However, the conflict in the Middle East weighs very heavily here. In order not to reduce interreligious dialogue to a rapprochement with Israel, the bishops of the Arab East are pushing the Church to go beyond the initial horizon of Judaism and to also address Muslims who, “professing to have the faith of Abraham, worship with us the one God” (Lumen gentium, § 16). Putting into perspective the relations between the Church and all the believers of the world, the adoption of the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate thus constitutes a considerable turning point and encourages supporters of dialogue to adopt tripartite approaches.

In Parisian literary circles, the Brotherhood of Abraham was created in 1967 in order to “to deepen mutual understanding” (1). The post-conciliar euphoria was, however, short-lived. Starting with the Six-Day War, religious radicalism gradually flooded the Middle Eastern scene. And the supporters of dialogue are quickly overtaken by armed conflicts and heavy ambiguities: how can we speak of dialogue when, in 1982, in the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila, Christian militias supported by Israel massacred Muslims?

To get out of the impasse and find the horizon of peace, the Church is taking other paths. In the 1980s, Tibhirine, Mar Mousa and Assisi illuminated new paths of dialogue, while the popular neighborhoods of European cities became promising areas. But the tremors in the Middle East each time move the fight against racism a little further away from the resistance to anti-Semitism. Calls for justice are no longer unanimous, and community identities are closed off, sometimes killed. The temptation is great to transform Islamo-Christian or Judeo-Christian dialogue into a common front. Faced with the ill winds which, at the turn of the century, augured “clash of civilizations”, Marseille is home to the Rencontres d’Averroès.

Later, from 2009, believing citizens found themselves in a “Children of Abraham” collective around exhibition projects. Today, the name of Abraham must still be able to bring us together: not in the form of economic agreements that would build the prosperity of a few on the backs of the humiliated, but to meet the high demands of hospitality; not to defend common roots, but to embark on the shared roads of faith. However, in Marseille as in the Middle East, there are signs which do not fail to remind us of this very Abrahamic confidence: like these almond trees which, according to the reminders of Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, bloom in the heart of winter ( 3). Cardinal Tauran did not say anything else when he wrote in 2015 that “in the midst of darkness, there is also light!” »

(1) Cf. Christians of the Mediterranean, Peace in the Middle East: what implications do Christians have?Publications Chemins de dialogue, Marseille, 2024, to be published.

(3) Jean-Marc Aveline, “The prophet and the almond tree”, Hello Marseille!, Paths of dialogue, Marseille, 2019, p. 23


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