17 Nov 2015

“Allahu akbar” was never meant to be a call to kill, destroy, mame and cause untold havoc and terror".

 
The tragic, violent events of the past days in Beirut and Paris, as well as the recent downing of a Russian plane fill us all with rage, horror and fear and cause many of us to ask: ‘Is there still space for dialogue with Muslims?’. The answer is: yes, now more than ever.

When I returned to Canada in 1994 after having spent the final four years of my graduate studies in Sacred Scripture in Jerusalem, I was certain of one thing: Islam was becoming a growing, global concern and a great pastoral challenge for the Catholic church. Not many people believed me when I shared this with them! Though my biblical studies were at the French Dominican-run Ecole Biblique de Jérusalem and at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, I lived in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Many of my neighbors and friends were Muslims. I learned Arabic, studied the Koran, and delighted in the Middle Eastern hospitality that the Palestinian people offered so graciously.

In my visits and lecturing in the neighboring Arab lands of Palestine, Jordan, the Sinai and Egypt, I was very struck by the image of believers in Allah who, without caring about time or place, fell to their knees in prayer several times each day. I did not see such scenes in the great Christian cathedrals of Europe, which in many cases had become museums for throngs of paying tourists. I learned that Islam has a total organization of life that is completely different from the Catholic one: Islam embraces everything. The Muslim call to prayer: “Allahu akbar” was never meant to be a call to kill, destroy, mame and cause untold havoc and terror.
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