It is becoming more difficult for the churches to remain at the forefront of dialogue with Islam in the West, according to a recent, unpublished report. From May 18 to May 21, the 25th meeting of the “Journées d’Arras” took place in Moscow.
The name “Journées d’Arras” refers to a French town in which a group originally gathered upon invitation of the local French catholic bishop 25 years ago. The unofficial group (participants come on their own, not as delegates of any church) deals with Muslim-Christian relations in Europe. A copy of the unpublished report (in French) of the May 2005 meeting made available to RW observes an increasing polarization at several levels around Islam in Europe.
This polarization also occurs within the Muslim community. There are Muslims who would like to reproduce Islam in Europe as it is found in their home countries; Muslims who would like to see a type of Euro-Islam (often “Arabized”); and Muslims who reject Europe and its values. The time does not yet seem ripe for Muslims in European countries to accept being represented by one single body.
Where there is an “official Islam” (for instance, in Austria, where Islam has been recognized as a religion for a century), it has to compete with a variety of other Muslim groups not under its control. European societies and churches are growing increasingly impatient toward very conservative imams and a lack of self-critical evaluation. But the report emphasizes that established mosques only represent a minority of Muslims in Europe. According to data gathered in several European countries, most Muslims do not visit mosques frequently.
A growing number of Muslims seem more interested in engaging in a dialogue with “the West” rather than with Christianity. Civil authorities are increasingly playing a key role in dialogue with Muslims, while the role of churches is becoming less significant. However, the report also sees interest in sustaining and intensifying dialogue as religious communities are all challenged by a secularized environment. Multi-religious” facilities are being established in public buildings (jails, hospitals…) that require a coordination between different religious bodies.
Tensions and controversies also offer new opportunities for dialogue. For instance, in the Netherlands, following the murder of Theo Van Gogh and the heated debate on Islam which it generated, one could see the creation of new groups for dialogue and visits of Christian parishes to local mosques. All this indicates that religious bodies can contribute to deflecting interfaith tensions.
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religioscope.com)