After the first two tickets and after the conference organized by the IAM last Tuesday in the Centre-Sèvres entitled “Africa: Secularism and Freedom of Expression after January 11, 2015” during which we were able to meet against the backdrop of a common philosophy concerning the expression of our respective convictions – or our preventions – and our ability to live together despite everything, I personally feel a desire to continue exploring the components of this universe of religious pluralism to which we are invited to join each day more, wherever in the vast world!
Last week, a friend showed me a book published in French by Gallimard Jeunesse in April 2014, in the form of a very beautiful album: Encyclopedia of Religions, by Philip Wilkinson and Douglas Charing, 304 pages, a true introduction for teenagers to a first introduction to all the religions of humanity: she offered it to her ten-year-old son, a student of a Catholic school. We remember that from October 2012 to February 2013, a large public visited the exhibition Dieux : modes d’emploi at the Petit Palais de Paris, organized by Elie Barnavi and hosted by Bertrand Delanoë, Mayor of Paris: “By broadening our common horizon, it advances the collective knowledge of a human race carved in the greatest diversity. Only the knowledge of the other, however, makes it possible for him to be recognized – on which our most intimate humanity depends’.
Beyond the “instructions for use” of the divinity objectively identifiable according to the different religions, it is even more the spirit from which each of them makes us the proposal to be inspired that will make it possible for humans to communicate in some way with each other, through their differences. Today we propose to enter, after the Christian invitation to Christianity, the Muslim invitation to jihad.
Perhaps in these times of unrest in various regions of the world, particularly Muslims (Middle East, Africa, Asia) but also of singular terrorist acts as far as the heart of Western regions (in Paris and Copenhagen in January and February 2015), the mere use of the word “jihad” is already awakening in us, alone, a particularly heinous form of radical violence, armed and destructive to property and lives. However, we must be careful not to reduce the understanding of this word here to forms of threat and conquest of territories and lives at the tip of the sword! If the word “jihad” has, analogically, several particular meanings, even the most radical forms of violence, this ultimate meaning is neither the original nor the common sense, and there is no reason to believe that Mohammed the Prophet made it an article of the Faith and the Quran… of which he has not written a single line. It is the chance, which remains for religions, to be able to come back from the minds of the commentators who tried to write in memory of what they heard, of the Founders – Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed – who took great care not to write themselves the content of what was their inspiration: the Word is born from Silence !
And in these historical times, when it seems that many perceptions, knowledge, relationships and behaviours are being renewed in almost all human societies called upon to live more than ever in very close proximity – invited and eager to “communicate” with each other according to ever more surprising technologies – let us assume that the Muslim continent could be undergoing a metamorphosis as important as that which the Christian continent has experienced over the past two centuries: the distance between religion and power, spirituality and worldliness, the distinction between spiritual (plural) and civil society (common) societies, within a so-called “modern” urban civilization. For the Islamic world, the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001 is undoubtedly the major historical event in an initial process whose repercussions are still far from being completed: it will be the work and work of several generations, as it was for Christians – and still is for many of them!
The initiative of radical Muslims has given the world a terrorist image of their religion. But it was King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia – who had just passed away at the age of 90 at the head of the perhaps most conservative monarchy, guided by Wahhabism, the rigorist doctrine of Islam – who took the initiative to organize a conference on interfaith dialogue in Madrid in 2008, ending with a call for an “international agreement” to combat the “root causes” of terrorism: “Terrorism is a universal phenomenon that must be combated seriously, fairly and responsibly, through a common international effort,” says the conference’s final communiqué. King Abdullah himself had opened the conference, addressing some 200 people – including representatives of the Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Buddhist religions -, inviting them to a’constructive dialogue to open a new page of reconciliation after so many interfaith disputes’, and to find’ways to improve understanding and understanding between peoples, despite their differences in origin, colour or language… and reject extremism and terrorism’. The organizers of the forum also invited the United Nations to organize a “special session on dialogue”, which would “endorse the Madrid conclusions” and would make it possible to “promote dialogue among the followers of religions, civilizations and cultures”. Representatives of the Vatican and the World Jewish Congress had also participated in the debates, addressing topics such as restrictions on the wearing of the veil in some European countries, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the controversial cartoons of Mohammed… Theologians who participated called for greater equality between men and women, the latter having been too often forgotten and marginalized in religions. And Bishop Tauran (The Vatican) stressed that the conference had focused on “the main convictions we share”.
All religions readily say that “the main convictions we have in common” are simply the Love of God and of Men. To love: this is what their inner energies consist of, inspiring all the outer forms by which this Love hears, aspires, claims to say to itself. And if this spirit is expressed in Christianity in the Christian spiritual continent, it is jihad that is the most important in the Muslim spiritual continent, the foundation and completion of the Ummah, Islam and all Islamism. Jihad means the effort by which man achieves his excellence, holiness, and becomes caliph (or vicar) of God on earth – as it is the image and son in the Judeo-Christian world. As jihad takes the most extreme forms of combat and war against what hinders this development of Man, it is necessary to distinguish between major (ordinary) forms – against his inner, personal and collective passions – and so-called minor (exceptional) forms – against his external enemies. The essential jihad is concentrated in Muslim mysticism (Sufism) concerned with the field of inner practices, mainly the rules guiding the behaviour of the mind and heart, and their submission to divine laws. Tarek Oubrou, the great imam of Bordeaux, while conceding that Sufism “concerns only a Muslim elite in search of holiness”, emphasizes that it is the most precious spirit of it, which awakens the human being to his “awareness of not being the measure of all things, that its world does not constitute the whole world, nor its history the whole history of the universe… but contributes to the advent of an awareness of the links that unite the elements of a complex world, to what it claims to explore and exploit indefinitely. The Koran recalls this human condition: “You have acquired only a tiny part of the knowledge”. This passage can be combined with the present and the future. Indeed, knowledge is only a means of making us discover our ignorances. The ignorant man doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. (cf Values of Islam – Koran: Reading Keys, 2015).
In Islam’s relations with the outside world (jihad minor), King Abdullah took the initiative to establish the International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in November 2012, a global platform for dialogue among the followers of various religions and cultures. The headquarters is in Vienna with the support of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Spain and Austria, which form the Council of Parties (the Vatican is a founder-observer); it is governed by a Governing Council composed of representatives of the world’s major religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism) and cultures. And it organizes conferences and training programs, inviting people to come together to discuss changes in the field of intercultural and interreligious affairs. In 2013, KAICIID launched this programme in Europe/Mediterranean, Africa (on 26 August, in Addis Ababa, in partnership with the Commission of the African Union and United Religions – Africa Initiative), Asia and the Americas. At the end of November, at its headquarters in Vienna, five hundred experts, political decision-makers and religious leaders from 90 countries working in the fields of education and religion, media and the Internet participated in the KAICIID World Forum on the Image of the Other. This multi-year programme aims to explore how “others” are valued and, through four regional workshops, to highlight the importance of intercultural and interreligious education in promoting mutual understanding in a spirit of dialogue. (See on the Internet: kaiciid.org).
The Muslim spiritual continent is aware of the unrest that is stirring it and is driving its evolution both in Europe and in Tunisia, Egypt, Arabia… and everywhere else. If its most extreme violence requires the critical attention of all, a workshop on religious pluralism can be the most fruitful, but it should focus more specifically on the best of its spirit. In the appendix is proposed the reflection of Abdennour Bidar, a French Muslim, member of the French Observatory of Secularism, who calls with all his heart for the evolution of his Dear Muslim World, and of his immense forces ready to contribute to the global effort to find a spiritual life for the 21st century !
Do you wish to continue the reflection with the IAM, anxious to contribute to the emergence of African civilization in the contemporary world, and to contribute to the work of the “Religious Pluralism” workshop ? Contact us here.