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Christians and Muslims

Posted: April 9, 2011 - 8:05pm

It amazes me that this fall we will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Like many people, I recall how the day unfolded. At that time I was serving in Washington, D.C. and I could see from my office window smoke rising from the attack at the Pentagon. Since that day, our outlook on travel, world politics and religion have changed.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Pope John Paul II called for peace between Christians and Muslims.

“I wish to make an earnest call to everyone, Christians and the followers of other religions, to work together to build a world without violence, a world that loves life and that grows in justice and solidarity,” he said. “We must not let what has happened lead to a deepening of divisions. Religion must never be used as a reason for conflict.

“I invite both Christians and Muslims to raise an intense prayer to the One, Almighty God whose children we all are, that the supreme good of peace may reign in the world. May people everywhere, strengthened by divine wisdom, work for a civilization of love, in which there is no room for hatred, discrimination or violence. With all my heart I beg God to keep the world in peace.”

If, as Pope John Paul asserted, we are to build a civilization of love, then there is no room for hatred, discrimination or violence. There is no room for the provocative and hateful burning of the Koran by a Christian pastor in Florida. Or for the violent responses by angry Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan that left scores of people dead or injured. There is no room for laws in our country that discriminate against Muslim practices, beliefs or law or for laws and policies that in some Muslim countries restrict or even prohibit Christian and Jewish worship.

As difficult as it can be sometimes, especially when caught up in the heat of anger or fear, we must not attribute to Christians or Muslims or any religious or ethnic group the beliefs and motives of their most fanatical and violent members.

For some Americans, their first encounter with Islam came from associations made by learning more about the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and the people involved. For a number of citizens, the religion of Islam has become an object of suspicion and hostility.

In the 1960s, the Catholic Church took into consideration Islam and Muslim believers at the Second Vatican Council. The Council documents state: “The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men [and women]. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his Virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting.

“Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men [and women], let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.”

For the past 40 years representatives from the Catholic Church have been in formal dialogue with respected and mainstream Muslim religious leaders and theological scholars. We have sought to understand each other better in a context of mutual respect. While remaining faithful to our deeply held religious convictions, these dialogues have helped us to find and acknowledge the common values and practices that we cherish, and to resolve misunderstandings and misconceptions about each other.

It is my hope and prayer that as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 we will work in building a civilization based on love and respect, and not turn toward hatred, discrimination or violence.

• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

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