Islam and Christianity: encounter/confrontation, but also conversion

Samir Khalil Samir

Beirut (AsiaNews) --  A few day ago, we commemorated the attack of September 11, 2001, against the Twin Towers in New York.  For many, this tragic occurrence marked the emergence of a clash between civilizations, between Islam and the West, between Islam and Christianity. 

War of civlizations 

Does a war of civilizations exist?  Is Islam waging a war against Christianity? Since Samuel Huntington wrote his book ("The Clash of Civilizations"), it seems that one can only be either for or against such a clash.  Clearly, the West has its civilization; the Islamic world also has its civilization.  I say that a clash of civilizations has always existed. The point is that, in the world of terrorism, the world "clash" has become a synonym of "war". Muslim fundamentalists define Westerns as "crusaders":  This word stems for its use in Saudi Arabia, where "Westerner" and "crusader" are synonyms. Up until 15 years ago, this term was used only in that country. 

Islamic fundamentalism depicts the clash of civilizations as a religious clash: Islam against Christians. But can we define the West as "Christian"?  I think not. First of all because the West refuses to define itself as such.  It is a product of Christianity, but currently Western society has distanced itself from it. Thus, the West's answer cannot be defined in terms of a war of Christianity against Islam.  Yet, nor can the West's answer be a war against Islam.  A war must be waged against terrorism, against Islamic fundamentalism, but not against Islam.  I can see the tendency in certain Italian and American groups of trying too easily to assimilate Islam as a counter-Christian civilization, and this is wrong. 

Encounter and confrontation 

What is needed instead is to strengthen a clash, a confrontation, a debate, a critique on Islam. In my view, there is a clash, just as there is a clash between all cultures: Islamic, Chinese, Indian...  But this confrontation can also transform itself into an encounter, in mutual enrichment. 

Throughout history, civilizations have always encountered and confronted each other.  There have always between both one and the other.  This is not tragic: alls groups take something and reject something when they encounter each other. This relationship, this encounter/confrontation, must take place in truth and clarity.  There can be no reticence when it comes to saying that in Islam there are the makings of violence in the Koran, alongside the makings of peace.  It must also be said in no uncertain terms that the makings of violence have been developed more than those of peace. 

Unfortunately, certain Catholic intellectuals, out of "respect" for Islam, hide this element and thus do a favour neither to Islam nor to the truth. Some might say: the makings of violence can also be found among Christians.  This is true but the violence expressed by Christians is not theorized in the Gospel.  In Islam instead it is the religion's founding book that presents these seeds. 

To purify the Koran's message, Muslims should distinguish between the original nucleus of the book (referring to Mecca) and the subsequent part (referring to Medina).  But to do this -- as we saw in the previous instalments of this series -- the Koran must be studied as a historical book and the Western distinction between laicity and religion, between modernity and faith, must be assimilated. 

A Westernized Islam 

I am certain that hope for the Islamic world can come only from an Islam that has been acculturated in the West, and specifically in Europe. The only way for Islam to have a place in the modern world is by assimilating modernity with its critical spirit and its distinction between religion and politics, reason and sentiment, etc, in a sense that it westernizes, without disavowing faith. 

There are many Muslims who westernize, but they only get so far.  They do not understand that faith needs to defended with an interior choice.  Unfortunately, if these Muslims are not able to synthesize Islam and modernity, as soon as a fundamentalist imam comes along, everyone will follow him. But which West can help Islam to modernize? 

A part of the West maintains an attitude of total closure toward the Muslim world.  In answer to Islamic violence in the world today, they close themselves off to any dialogue and Muslims are driven back into fundamentalism. 

Then there are Western atheists.  But if Muslims find help only among atheists, those who say that religion should not be a factor, they will refuse it. But if Muslims find Western Christians for whom religion is the fulcrum upon which modernity can be assimilated, then possibly they can be urged to find their own way of integration. 

A Christian who achieves harmony between modernity and faith can help a Mulsim achieve this same harmony. I would like to point out however that another path is not to be excluded.  If a Muslim is not able to achieve a synthesis between his faith and modernity, he could also decide to become Christian. 

In the encounter with Christians, Muslims discover that, due to the Incarnation, Christianity has united heaven and earth, the divine and the human, religious culture and scientific culture.  The Incarnation also suggests that there is no opposition between divine and human: there can be difficulty, but synthesis is possible. 

Conversion to Christianity 

Actually a young Muslim, today, will find himself alone in this dilemma: either be an atheist Westerner or be a Muslim who rejects the West.  Instead a third way is also possible: become Christian. 

A conversion to Christianity is something desirable, a choice which is worthy and full of value.  Unfortunately, I come across clergy figures and even some bishops who fear thinking of such a thing, counting it out as a possibility, in the name of a false religious respect.  It is as if priests and bishops did not understand that Christianity is the fullness of every religion's path.  But it is only respect for a person and love for his struggle to live his faith in the modern world that urges me to announce the Gospel to him. 

First of all, I will try to help a Muslim find a synthesis between modernity and faith, in his Islamic faith; but if this does not happen, if this is too difficult, I can also propose the Christian path.  There exists more than just the rejection of modernity in the name of religion, or the rejection of faith in the name of modernity: there is also the path of synthesis offered by Christianity and witnessed by Christians.