About the book "History of Interreligious Dialogue" authored by Prof. Genti Kruja

About the book "History of Interreligious Dialogue" authored by Prof. Genti Kruja

by Dr. Anthony George Frendo[1]

I am deeply honored that my friend Prof. Genti Kruja asked me to write the foreword to this very interesting book, the result of numerous research efforts, which reflects the open spirit of my friend towards interreligious dialogue. In fact, the reader will surely be surprised to see how a Muslim professor references extensively documents of the Catholic Church. And this fact adds a layer of credibility to the author's work.

In the Introduction, the author mentions that after September 11, 2001 (the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York), some unfortunately classified Islam as a religion that promotes terrorism. As the author states, “No religion has ever been based on conflict... On the contrary, these religions (Judaism, Christianity, or Islam) are resolutely against chaos, betrayal, conflict, and oppression.” On October 11, 2001, at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, Cardinal Ruini, the Pope's Vicar, led a commemoration of the tragedy that had occurred a month earlier. Representatives of various Muslim and Christian communities attended this commemoration. In Life Devoted, a magazine published at that time, I wrote: “Terrorists justify their actions in the name of Allah, thus caricaturing the Muslim religion, which is entirely different from religion that promotes war and hatred.”

Once again, in the Introduction, the author expresses his conviction that “Interreligious dialogue is not only desirable but is a necessary process.” These words echo almost verbatim the words of Pope Benedict XVI ten years ago. And the author continues to show that it is not about synchronizing religions. In fact, when he says (I.1.), “the first step in establishing [interreligious dialogue] is to move away from polemical arguments” (I would add: “and from any kind of proselytism”) and “emphasize common points,” in other words, he is saying that: first, we must understand and accept that we are different, and let's preserve our identity. Secondly, we must discover, defend, proclaim, and promote common values. The author mentions several of these common values of which the world is in need the most today.

The author rightly asserts that “religion... is an essential spiritual force that inspires millions of people today. The last decades of the twentieth century showed a religious revival in many parts of the world, notably in the Eastern European countries, including the Balkans, following the fall of communism” (I.5.1.). I have often had the opportunity to mention the singular role of religions: our mission does not reach to change the structures of society - that is the role of politics; our role is to change hearts - where politics cannot reach. And later, the author provides some concrete examples showing that only religions can declare and defend moral values in society today: “Religion insists on the integrity of marriage, on the sin of same-gender relationships, on the unacceptability of artificial deprivation of human life, whether abortion, euthanasia, etc.” (ibid).

A point that is of great importance to the custodians of religion, in my opinion, is the author's words: “Religions must be vigilant not to identify with political authorities, in order to work freely towards justice and peace” (I.3.). Christ expressed this sentiment when he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's” (Mk. 12, 17). It is very easy for a religion to be manipulated by politicians or for a it to be identified with politics. But this way, religion loses its freedom. But when a religion defends the poor and laborers, denounces corruption and injustice, this is not political intervention but the exercise of its mission in favor of justice and peace. So, the author continues by showing human rights that need to be declared and protected.

I found particularly intriguing those sections where interreligious tolerance in Islam is discussed with many quotations from the Quran (II.1.) and the right to personal choice of faith, “You have your religion, I have my religion” (II.2.). More examples of this tolerance and interreligious coexistence are found in other parts of Chapter II. Chapter III, titled Muslim-Christian Relations Throughout History, is exceptionally interesting. These two chapters have personally aided me in understanding how the Islamic faith influences harmonious interreligious relations. I understand, therefore, why my friend, H. Bujar Spahiu, immediately after being elected Head of the Muslim Community in Albania, expressed that, among other priorities in this position, he would promote good interreligious relations. But as a Catholic myself, I liked very much reading those parts where the author skillfully shows how relations between Catholics and Muslims have grown and strengthened since the Second Vatican Council until today. I also appreciated the author's reference to Thomas Michel as “an example of dialogue.” Michel (a Jesuit priest, like Pope Francis), who has visited Albania and has lectured precisely on Christian-Muslim dialogue, is the author of many writings on the Islamic faith.

Throughout the book, the sincerity of the author impressed me, particularly where he discusses relations between Muslims and Christians. The author writes: “In confirming the common principles of religion, justice, and reconciliation, the parties to local conflicts are assisted in freeing Islam and Christianity from the responsibility of selfish interpretations and local interests” (III.11.). He then refers to articles published in 1999, in the Dawn magazine, in Pakistan, by Eqbal Ahmad, who harshly criticized the “distortions of Islam by the absolutists and tyrants of majority Muslim countries, whose obsession with regulating personal behavior creates 'an Islam turned into a penal code, stripped of its humanism, aesthetics, intellectual pursuits, and spiritual devotion. “Undoubtedly, all religions have had some dark pages in their histories. The author is very realistic when he asserts that in the past, religions have been “factors of unity but also division” and “factors of freedom but also inhibition of human freedoms” (III, 12.).

Especially today, there should be no room for religious wars between Islam and Christianity. The common struggle today is against a world that, by denying the Creator God, is creating false gods and values, such as racism, pornography, domestic violence, sexual assault, drugs, etc. The author rightfully writes: “Recognition of the sanctity of human existence and respect for its dignity facilitate cooperation between religious communities and international organizations dealing with human rights issues.” But we must not forget the vertical dimension of faith, because “man is always in a relation with and is open to another dimension of reality, which could be called transcendental, holy, divine” (III.12.2.).

Under the title “Western Civilization and Islam” (III.13.), the author reminds us of the great contribution of the Arab world to world culture. I remember when, many years ago, our professor of the history of philosophy told us how, compared to the great developments in the Arab world, Europe of the 9th-12th centuries was still far behind. The author mentions the works of Aristotle, who was still completely unknown to Europe until two Dominican theologians, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, arrived (even the latter utilized the philosophy of Muslim scholars al-Farabi and Avicenna).

And I fully agree with his opinion when he says:

“It may happen that people show a spirit of tolerance in everyday life, but that does not mean that their mission ends here... Clearly, every kind of barrier to cooperation, whether mental or psychological, must be overcome, and people should make more efforts to understand each other.”

And we need to seek new ways of interreligious cooperation, especially in the fields of justice, peace, and the defense of the poor and laborers.

[1] Head of the Interreligious Council of Albania (2020) and at the same time President of the Episcopal Conference in Albania until 2022.

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