The Pope believes that dialogue with Islam is crucial

Copies of Light of the World in a bookshop in Rome (Photo: PA)

When I wrote my recent blog about Islam and violence I had yet to read the Holy Father’s most recent thoughts on the subject, spoken to Peter Seewald for his book Light of the World. Here is a synopsis for those who have not yet had an opportunity to read the book for themselves.

Commenting on the extreme reaction to his Regensburg address, the Pope says:

“These events ultimately turned out to have a positive impact. During my visit to Turkey, I was able to show that I respect Islam, that I acknowledge it as a great religious reality with which we must be in dialogue. And so this controversy led to the development of a truly vigorous dialogue. It became evident that Islam needs to clarify two questions in regard to public dialogue, that is, the questions concerning its relation to violence and its relation to reason. It was an important first step that now there was within Islam itself a realisation of the duty and the need to clarify these questions, which has since led to an internal reflection among Muslim scholars, a reflection that has in turn become a theme of dialogue with the Church.”

The Pope then referred to the initiative of 138 Islamic scholars who wrote to him with “an explicit invitation to dialogue and an interpretation of Islam that immediately placed it in dialogue with Christianity… At issue are questions such as: What is tolerance? How are truth and tolerance related? In this context, the question of whether tolerance includes the right to change religions also emerges. It is hard for the Islamic partners to accept this… At any rate we have entered into an extensive and vigorous relation of dialogue that is bringing us closer and teaching us to understand one another better.”

After examining the different ways Islam is lived out in Muslim countries, some more tolerant towards Christians, others less so, the Holy Father concludes:

“The important thing here is to remain in close contact with all the current within Islam that are open to, and capable of dialogue, so as to give a change of mentality a chance to happen even where Islamism still couples a claim to truth with violence.”

What interests me about these remarks is that Pope Benedict uses the word “dialogue” eight times in the space of a few paragraphs. Some of the posts following my earlier blog on this subject called into question the whole idea of a dialogue with Islam. They seemed to infer that a monologue would be more appropriate: we explain that we have the whole Truth about the Trinitarian nature of God and the Incarnation of His Son; Islam listens (respectfully?) and then we all go home.

But “dialogue” does not mean we water down what we know to be the truth; it means that, guided by the Holy Spirit, we first of all enter into a relationship of charity towards Muslims and treat them as our brothers and sisters, men and women made in the image and likeness of God, rather than as our antagonists. Of course, Muslims do not always treat Christians thus; but as ours is the religion of love par excellence it is we who have to show them that this is the better path.

Churchill once said, in his usual idiosyncratic fashion: “Better jaw jaw than war war”. He was right – though I don’t expect Churchill was on the Pope’s mind when, in his gentler, more scholarly manner, he appeals to Islam to enter into serious debate.