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The 1st Forum 'From Islam-Christian Dialogue to the Abrahamic Family' extols coexistence and pluralism

Participants highlight common ground between the three religions, such as the figure of the Prophet Abraham, revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians
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The First Forum 'From Islam-Christian Dialogue to the Abrahamic Family', organised by the Foundation for Islamic Culture & Religious Tolerance (FICRT), held its third session at Casa Árabe in Cordoba, following the line based on understanding and tolerance between religions.

This round table of experts was attended by Susana Brauner, professor and researcher at the University of Tres de Febrero (Argentina); Tijani Boulaouali, specialist in Arab and Islamic studies and inter-religious and intercultural dialogue and professor at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium); and Muhammad Najib, doctor in Political Science and ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia in Spain. The session was chaired by Pilar Garrido Clemente, Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Murcia.

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Susana Brauner, the only speaker from Latin America at the forum and an expert on Jewish migration from the Arab world, highlighted inter-religious dialogue in Argentina. The American country is a special case, as it is home to the largest Jewish community in the region. On the other hand, Argentina also has a large number of Muslims. The former president Carlos Menem, who is of Syrian origin, stands out in this regard.

Although Argentina is a model of coexistence, there have also been difficult times, such as the attacks on the Jewish community in 1992 and 1994. Nevertheless, these attacks encouraged inter-religious dialogue.

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As Brauner explained, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, migration from southern Europe began, mostly Catholics, although there were also Muslims from the Middle East and Morocco. The situation was not like it is today. The Catholic heritage was a major component of the national identity, while the non-Catholic population was discriminated against.

However, the picture changed in the 1960s. Catholicism lost followers and was no longer part of the Argentine identity. This is still the case today, since, according to a 2014 survey, 69% of Catholics in the country that year were Catholics, a much lower figure than in previous decades.

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Within the non-Catholic population, Brauner notes that the Jewish community began to arrive in Argentina in the late 19th century and the 1950s. Migrants came mostly from Eastern Europe and the Arab world. The Muslim population, on the other hand, also arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This community has had less public visibility than the Jewish community, although the latter increased in the 1980s and 1990s.

There was a need for understanding between all religions. For this reason, a Christian-Jewish dialogue was promoted. This process was carried out by the most progressive sectors of both currents. Furthermore, in the 1990s, Carlos Menem became president and maintained good relations with the Jewish community. However, after the attacks on the Jewish population, criticism associated with his Syrian origin and prejudice within Argentine society increased.

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Within this dialogue, Brauner highlights the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue (IDI), created in 2002 by Cardinal Bergoglio, the current Pope. Its work to promote tolerance continues today, which has created a model of coexistence in the country. We have an 'Argentine treasure', Brauner said.

"There is nothing that connects us more than Abraham"

Later, Tijani Boulaouali extolled the figure of the prophet Abraham and cultural pluralism. "We, the tolerant, are confronted with religious extremism and populist extremism. We are caught in the crossfire. The path of dialogue is arduous", the expert began by acknowledging.ficrt

However, he stresses the symbolism of Abraham. "There is nothing that connects us more," he said. The prophet is the common denominator of the three monotheistic religions from a genealogical point of view, but he has also been a meeting point, whether in situations of war or peace. "Abraham is always among us". In this sense, he also underlined the figure of Mary, a character equally present in all three religions. 

Another point highlighted by Boulaouali was the coexistence of Muslims, Jews and Christians in the past, when "they came together as we are today". These encounters gave rise to a scientific heritage that continues to this day. In this respect, the professor mentioned such important figures of the time as Averroes and Avempace.

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And, returning to the present, Boulaouali alluded to the current conflict in Jerusalem, pointing out that, despite the war, "minarets and bell towers embrace each other". "The call to prayer intermingles with the bells of the churches," he said, noting that within this war "we see these glimmers of tolerance, the possibility of coexistence". Something that is also happening in Europe, "despite the extreme right and populism". This scourge presents a great challenge for understanding, as it spreads fear and hatred. 

In this line, Boulaouali praised pluralism, assuring that it does not harm us, as some say, but rather enriches contemporary societies. However, this pluralism is not only present on the European continent, but can also be felt in countries such as Morocco, where Muslims, Christians and Jews have been living together for some time, or Egypt, where Muslims and Copts attend the same schools and universities.

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On the other hand, the professor highlighted the rapid evolution of the Gulf countries from monocultural to multicultural states, recalling that even in the United Arab Emirates there is a Ministry of Tolerance, something that does not occur in other European nations.

The third session was brought to a close by Muhammad Najib, Indonesian Ambassador to Spain, who explained aspects of his country, from politics to religion, including nature. Najib pointed out that diversity is "the essence of the identity" of the nation, which he considers to be a cultural "melting pot".

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Of Indonesia's 200 million people, the majority are Muslims, but there are also Christians, Buddhists and people of other faiths. This makes Indonesia a centre of coexistence and coexistence. Jakarta is an example. In the capital, the mosque and the main cathedral are so close that worshippers share a car park. In addition, a corridor has recently been built between the two temples, which is "an example of tolerance".