A statement on belief and reason recently signed by a group of Catholic and Shiite scholars evokes some skepticism, even in circles close to the Vatican, reports Rudolf Zewell in the German Catholic newspaper Rheinischer Merkur (May 8).
Following the sixth meeting in Rome (April 28–30) between representatives of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Iranian scholars from the Tehranbased Centre for Interreligious Dialogue, a statement was signed, according to which faith and reason do not contradict each other and should not be used for promoting violence; moreover, both Christians and Muslims should accept their differences, while being tolerant toward each other.
Several scholars—such as KarlJosef Kuschel (professor at the University of Tubingen, Germany) and Salim Abdullah (Islam-Archiv in Soest, Germany)—regret that such a document was signed only with Shiites, i.e. a minority among Muslims (of which 90 percent are Sunnis). Moreover, several points in the documents are susceptible to various interpretations. Kuschel suggests that the document should mainly be seen as part of an effort by Shiite scholars to counter the image of Islam as a religion prone to violence and by the Vatican to show its openness toward dialogue and peace promotion, after some observers felt that the current Pope was reluctant to engage in dialogue with Islam.
The issue of the relation between faith and reason in Islam had indeed been a key issue since the controversial September 2006 speech by Pope Benedict XVI in Regensburg. It should also be noted here that there have been in recent times a growing number of initiatives both from the Muslim and Christian sides to launch dialogue initiatives. One of the most significant instances has been the statement A Common Word between Us and You, signed in 2007 by 138 Muslim scholars and addressed to Christian leaders— originally also as a development of reaction after the Regensburg speech.
Several Christian church authorities have acknowledged or answered the document, most recently the Archbishop of Canterbury, who on July 14 gave a detailed reply. Regarding Shiites, the specificity of their brand of Islam (clergy and hierarchical structure) and other considerations (including political ones) seem to make them especially eager to enter into dialogue with hierarchical Christian Churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. Regular Islam–Orthodoxy dialogue sessions have taken place between Iranian scholars and the Moscow Patriarchate since 1997, the sixth one in July in Moscow.
Issues raised go beyond theological discussion; for instance, the participants at the July session stressed that “each nation should have a right to carry out its original historical mission” and “to adequately present and protect its interests” (Interfax, July 18).
(Rheinischer Merkur, http://www.rheinischer-merkur.de; Interfax Religion, http://www. interfax-religion.com; A Common Word, http://www.acommonword.com)