Muslim writer says Mary may help bring religions together -03/07/06
In a move which may surprise people of all faiths and none, an Egyptian Muslim who is also a senior figure on a prominent Italian newspaper has suggested that Mary, the mother of Jesus, could be a figure to bring Christians and Muslims closer together. Magdi Allam of Il Corriere della Sera has appealed to fellow Muslims through the pages of the national daily – suggesting that they should visit Marian shrines (something that many Protestants would struggle to do).Explains Allam: “Mary is a figure present in the Holy Qur’an, which dedicates an entire chapter to her and mentions her some thirty times. In Muslim countries there are Marian shrines that are the object of veneration and pilgrimage by Christian and Muslim faithful alike.”He continues: [I]f this happens in Muslim countries, why can it not happen in a Christian country, especially in this historical phase in which we need to define symbols, values and figures that unite religions, spiritualities and cultures?”In Mr Allam's opinion, “the Marian pilgrimage of Loreto – Italy’s National Shrine - could represent a moment of meeting and spiritual gathering between Muslims and Catholics, around Mary, a religious figure that is venerated by both religions.”While Islam rejects the Christian beliefs in Jesus’ unique filial relation to God, the crucifixion, and the Trinity (which it sees as undermining monotheism), it holds Jesus in high regard as a prophet, shares different versions of many biblical texts which are foundational in Christianity, and has respect for Mary.Just under two years ago [September 2004, at al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo], Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams delivered a widely praised paper to Muslim scholars in Egypt, giving an account of basic Christian beliefs and seeking to correct misunderstandings about them – not least over Trinitarian thought. Ironically, there is perhaps a greater difference between some Christians about Mary (who Catholics and Orthodox see as ‘the mother of God’ and strong Protestants as simply a human agent) than between some Catholics and Muslims. Inter-faith practitioners often recommend religious communities visiting each other’s holy sites, while continuing to recognise the real differences (as well as common ground) between their beliefs.But there are strong forces within all faith communities who are suspicious or hostile towards attempts to build such understanding, fearing that it will lead to ‘syncretism’ and a dilution of their own messages and identities.But key figures such as Hans Kung, the dissenting Catholic theologian who has worked with world leaders on global ethics, says that “without peace among the religions, there can be no peace among the nations” and that inter-religious cooperation and conversation is an ethical imperative.The World Council of Churches has argued that there is no barrier between open-ended dialogue and ‘authentic witness’, pointing out that they are mutually required. In order to give an account of ourselves we need to speak the truth as we understand it, and to hear what the other says in response. This is how bridges are built and good news shared, say WCC sponsored guidelines on inter-faith dialogue.