Urgent need for interfaith dialogue based on mutual trust


RITE AND REASON:The active promotion of good interfaith relations is essential for the successful integration of people of other faiths into Irish society

IRELAND HAS rapidly become a multicultural and multiracial society. It means there is now an urgent need for sound interfaith relations based on reasonable and solid foundations. Religious leaders have an urgent and important mission to fulfil. They must discuss activities aimed at creating and maintaining strong interfaith relations.

The appointment to the Catholic Church's College of Cardinals of Archbishop Seán Brady of Armagh, renowned for his great personal kindness, integrity and extending the hand of friendship across the communities, could provide an opportunity in this context. Visits by religious leaders to people of other faiths can play a vital role in interfaith relations.

They can have a profound impact on theologians as well as on lay people. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, by visiting the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland at Clonskeagh in Dublin, set an example of how this new type of visit can serve the process of strengthening interfaith relations.

He has also suggested organising mutual visits to schools. Such organised visits would be seen as offering mutual support and be another important way of strengthening interfaith relations. Ireland is currently witnessing the extraordinary phenomenon of the setting up of a multi-faith school in Co Kildare.

There a child will be able to study his/her religion under a collective umbrella. In the near future it will provide this young generation of Muslims with inclusiveness of a kind unique to them.

They will be able to use that most inclusive word "we" when referring to their common identity, ie Irishness.

Interfaith relations could also be encouraged by more frequently inviting leaders and people of various faiths to attend events of local and national significance. This would reflect more accurately the plurality of Irish society. Such events would also provide an opportunity for mutual gatherings where gaps could be narrowed through regular close contact. Building trust is of major importance.

It would be very naive to pretend that all religions are the same. We should recognise and acknowledge their diversity. But this should not lead us to deny what we have in common. Recognising diversity and what is in common would grow out of what we learn about each other. But we are entitled to agree and disagree and no one should try to convert differences into conflict.

Members of all faiths should also acknowledge that as a result of challenges all the faithful face when adhering to their faith, some will fall short of their own ideals.

Further, we should condemn all stereotyping. A crime is a crime whether perpetrated by a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew. It should be recognised that what is needed above all is knowledge of one another. Dialogue is a significant way of gaining such knowledge. But people can only gain from dialogue if it is based on mutual respect, openness and trust. In other words, people of all faiths should be entitled to live their faith with integrity while allowing others do likewise. Interfaith dialogue should be conducted with compassion and a generosity of spirit. Religious fanaticism would be uprooted by such dialogue.

Such dialogue should focus on what is held in common. One of the fundamental beliefs held in common by all faiths, and usually overlooked, is a belief in the brotherhood and sisterhood of all humanity. All religions make it an obligation to treat one's neighbour well. All religions say "Love your neighbour".

Meanwhile co-operation with people of different faiths can take place on issues of mutual public concern. Such issues need not necessarily be local. They can be international, eg human rights, world poverty, global peace and the environment. The support for just causes by people of different faiths can create harmony and warm friendship between them. It also highlights social conscience, which is another major common ground.

Good interfaith relations are the cornerstone of positive integration and contribution. In their common interest, people of the various faiths in Ireland need to come together on friendly ground which is entirely transparent, based on mutual respect, equality and that freedom guaranteed by Irish law.

Ali Selim is a Muslim theologian and secretary to Imam Hussein Halawa of the Islamic Cultural Centre at Clonskeagh, in Dublin