I was invited to attend a belated Eid celebration in a hall next to the Darwin Mosque on Saturday. Eid is a celebration at the end of Ramadan, a period of fasting by Muslims.
I attended the celebration and was asked to speak. As I sat there, I reflected on how far I had travelled in my own personal journey with regards to Islam.
I spent the first thirteen years of my life in Malta. Malta is in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea. Although European in culture, it has historically been on the frontier of Europe bordering the Muslim world. Malta has been solidly Christian for a very long time. The Muslims occupied Malta for about three centuries and left their influence on the language. They were in Spain for much longer, and in Sicily and Southern Italy and Malta for about three centuries until a Norman army pushed them back to North Africa.
I grew up with stories of Muslim pirates raiding Malta and capturing slaves, epic historical battles, especially the ‘great siege’ of 1564 which ended up with a Christian victory.
Certainly, as a boy I could not have imagined myself a Catholic Bishop sitting in a hall next to a Mosque addressing Muslims.
There are certainly some major differences of belief between Islam and Christianity.
Christians believe in the Blessed Trinity and the divinity of Christ; they do not. We believe that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of God’s promise for humanity, and that it is through Jesus that there is salvation for all.
Yet there are also some things that we hold in common. Muslims believe in One God. They see Abraham as an ancestor through his son Ishmael. We hold Abraham to be our father in faith. Muslims pray regularly to the One God, creator of the Universe. They believe in a moral code.
Yes, I realise that there are some major differences, and we do not want to ignore those differences. What we believe does matter, and there is no place for relativism, or that all religions have equal insights to the Mystery of God.
The revelation of Jesus is unique.
We do have to agree to disagree about some significant issues. Yet, I could see how respectful and good the people around me were.
We can keep on telling each other how wrong the other side is. We can increase tension in the world, or we can work together for peaceful coexistence.
Jesus made it clear that God loves all human beings. He was inclusive of the Samaritans (considered heretics by the Jews) without necessarily agreeing with their beliefs.
Jesus told us to be light of the world. It is by living the Gospel message that we proclaim the Gospel. Great charity and love for all is central to our Christian faith. Jesus called the Samaritans good neighbours even though he did not agree with all their beliefs.
I have had to overcome cultural and other blocks in my dealings with Muslim people as in many other areas of life.
I believe that with the Grace of God we can continue to grow in our acceptance and love of others. Some forms of media ‘rhetoric’ exacerbate division and rivalry. We need to keep reflecting on the Gospel as our guide in dealing with all people. We need to keep remembering God’s love for all, and that all are created in the image of God and have God-given dignity!o insert the text here for all that you want to say in this section.