Nzapalainga Dieudonne cardinal 11

In the article Christians - Muslims dialogue in the light of Nostra Aetate, we gave a historical presentation of the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate. In this article, we highlight the salient points that emerge from the document, points that must be the

foundation of our commitment

to enter into dialogue with men and women of other religious denominations.

Nostra Aetate brought about a renewal in the manner in which dialogue between Christians and Muslims takes place. Indeed, Nostra Aetate is addressed to people, and not to religion. The Declaration has taken the direction of relationships between members of the same human community of God, and not the relationships between religious doctrines. With this in mind, Nostra Aetate avoids using terms like “Christianity” and “Islam”. These terms suggest doctrines and result in distracting from the relationship between Christians and Muslims, resulting in a loss of value for the other person, who should take priority in a relationship, and instead honouring a doctrine which, in all its mystery, is often not well understood.

The Declaration’s language uses the terms Christians and Muslims. The redundancies of these terms are as follows:

The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims . . . many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims.1

Alongside these concrete uses, the personal pronoun they is also used instead of Christians and Muslims. These terms clearly characterize the human nature of dialogue. What is most important in this dialogue is the human condition created by God. The Declaration does not want relationships to crumble due to doctrines that structure religions, rather it wants humankind to benefit.

It is therefore incumbent upon Christians, despite persecutions, to accept to live and to collaborate and to show Christ to all.

In fact, it is with hope that the Church asks Christians to live in dialogue, because these days there are many difficulties that undermine Christian-Muslim relations. We no longer count how many armed attacks are committed by certain Islamist groups against Christians in some of the countries of the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. These attacks can give Christians a utopian nature to the dialogue. This utopian character can be strengthened by the attitude of violence held by certain Islamic groups in the society in general.

However, Christians must constantly try to fulfil the mission of being the salt and the light for the world in the manner of Christ on the way to his Passion. This is the message that Pope Benedict XVI gave to the Africans in his Apostolic Exhortation Africae munus. The Pope strongly encouraged African Christians to follow the mission path of the Church. In this voice of the mission, he reminded all about the necessity and the urgency for inter-religious dialogue.

In speaking of inter-religious dialogue as being a part of the mission of the Church, the Pope only needed to give a reminder of what Pope John Paul II said in Redemptoris Missio. In this encyclical, Pope John Paul II made inter-religious dialogue imperative for the evangelizing mission of the Church. The Holy Father explained that

inter-religious dialogue is a part of the Church’s evangelizing mission. Understood as a method and means of mutual knowledge and enrichment, dialogue is not in opposition to the mission ad gentes; indeed, it has special links with that mission and is one of its expressions.2

Dialogue makes up a part of the Church’s missionary activity, with the same level of dignity as all other paths of mission, even the path that requires more attention and interest in these days. Dialogue could be considered as a manifestation of true faith, solid and pure, evidence of hope and proof of brotherly love.

Indeed, pertaining to fraternal love, Nostra Aetate teaches the following:

we cannot truly pray to God, the Father of all, if we treat any people as other than sisters and brothers, for all are created in God’s image. People’s relation to God the Father and their relation to other women and men are so dependent on each other that the Scripture says, ‘they who do not love, do not know God’ (1 Jn 4:8).3

Through dialogue, the Church invites the Christian to be a model and instigator for the banishment of all forms of discrimination toward others.

Ultimately, the dialogue that the Christian must have in the context of his mission must be a dialogue of hope for a world that is better through Christ, of faith in Jesus Christ and in humanity as a whole and of unfailing love for one’s neighbour. Redemptoris Missio bases dialogue upon hope and love: Dialogue is based upon hope and love, and will bear fruit in the Spirit.4

Indeed, for dialogue between Christians and Muslims to be possible and fruitful, there must also be a long process of encounter, patience and love.5

Dialogue, in its true sense, responds to the value of religious freedom. This must take root with an awareness of religious otherness. From both sides, Christians and Muslims must come to accept each other as they are in their varying religious identities and excluding all political ideologies. To this extent, the practice of dialogue must be founded, built and lived upon the foundation of religious liberty, while recognizing others as they are. This is a dialogue that Christians and Muslims must enter into with the integrity of their faith. Regarding religious freedom, Vatican II explains thatWhat must prevail for the Christian in such a dialogue is the building of the human community with values that characterize his religion, while at the same time sharing with unequivocal respect the values of others, in particular those of Muslims. In this way, before all of humanity the Christian will be able to respond to this child of God and be an edifying model.

This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion . . . in such a way that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs…6

This conception of religious freedom at the heart of the Church strips away the dialogue of prejudice that it is given, with these prejudices being the search for the conversion of others. In fact, dialogue is not intended to lead the other person to practice the same religion as oneself. The Council emphasized that

truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of . . . communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for the truth.7

The religious freedom that the Church advocates through dialogue invites us to put aside pride in our faith so that we can be open to listening to the faith of others, which can also bear of truth. In order for dialogue to be realized between Christians and Muslims, one must dare to go meet the other and try to understand him: Listen to him talk about what is most dear to him in the entire world: his faith.8

However, in the context of conversion, dialogue should lead one or the other party to an interior transformation, a genuine search to live according to community-building values. Thus, dialogue becomes a means for the Christian and the Muslim to live together with each other, sharing religious and moral values that come from both parties, values that can serve to promote genuine development in Africa and throughout the entire world and offer durable and stable peace in an environment of justice and love.


Notes de bas de page

1. VATICAN II, Nostra Aetate, 1967, N°3.  ?

2. JEAN-PAUL II, Redemptoris Missio, 1990, N°55. ?

3. VATICAN II, Nostra Aetate, 1967, N°5. ?

4. JEAN-PAUL II, Redemptoris Missio, 1990, N°55. ?

5. Paul QUILLET, Dialogue with Member of other Religions and the Mission in Towards Understanding islam , Bulletin N°88, December 1992, p. 56. ?

6. VATICAN II, Dignitatis Humanae, 1967, N°2. ?

7. Ibidem N°3. ?

8. Abd El MASSIH Au seuil de l'islam, Yaoundé, Clé, 1968, p.6. ?