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Coming Together as Brothers and Sisters in the Faith of Abraham

by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M. Is it possible to take a break from all the death and interreligious discord we experience in our world today, especially in Iraq, the Middle East and similar places of conflict? Yes, I believe it is possible and much needed! "uch a break recently took place at the #atican on $anuary %&, in the form of a '(oncert for )econciliation*' +he concert, which was a real sign of hope, brought together (hristians, Muslims and $ews in an atmosphere of peace, harmony and mutual respect, with performers and spectators from the three faiths* ,ilbert -evine conducted the .ittsburgh "ymphony /rchestra and a massive chorus with participants from .ittsburgh0 -ondon0 1nkara, +urkey0 and 2rakow, .oland* +he program started off with the world premiere of '1braham,' a motet commissioned for the occasion* "eated on either side of .ope $ohn .aul II were a prominent rabbi and an imam, both of )ome* 1lso present from various foreign nations were other leaders and representatives of the three faiths* 1t the end of the concert, $ohn .aul II urged that all of us who trace our faith back to 1braham 'must find within ourselves the courage for peace****$ews, (hristians and Muslims,' the pope added, 'cannot accept that the earth be afflicted by hatred, 3or4 that humanity would remain involved in wars without end****+oday one feels a pressing need for a sincere reconciliation among believers in one ,od* ' +he pope also said to those present5 '+he hope we express is that people will be purified of the hatred and evil that continually threaten peace and that they will learn to reach out to each other with hands that know no violence but are ready to offer aid and comfort to those in need*'

A Change of Attitude Toward Other Religions
+his was by no means the pope6s first time to recogni7e the family8like bonds that exist among Muslims and (hristians and $ews* 1lready in %9:; the pope was in the habit of saying, at gatherings of (hristians and Muslims and $ews, that 'Your ,od and ours is one and the same, and we are brothers and sisters in the faith of 1braham*' "ome <= years earlier, the pope >?ishop 2arol @oAtyla thenB was an active participant in the "econd #atican (ouncil >%9C<8%9C;B, which was teaching new, more open and respectful attitudes toward other religions* +his new outlook was especially expressed in the (ouncil6s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Reli ions !Nostra "etate#* 'Dpon the Muslims, too,' this document affirmed, 'the (hurch looks with great esteem* +hey adore one ,od, living and enduring, merciful and all8powerful, Maker of heaven and earth and "peaker to all men* +hey strive to submit whole8heartedly even to Eis inscrutable decrees, Aust as did 1braham, with whom the Islamic faith is pleased to associate itself' >Nostra "etate FGB* 1 similarly open and respectful approach was taken toward $udaism and other world religions* +he world would be a better place if people of all faiths and persuasions could grow in this spirit of mutual respect, understanding and tolerance* It is important, for example, to reali7e that the form of Islam >known as @ahhabismB which fuels and funds terrorists like /sama bin -aden and the al8Haeda network is a very extreme expression of Islam* It does not represent the broader, more tolerant world of Islam* (ertainly, the Muslims participating in the '(oncert of )econciliation' sponsored by the #atican would not be extremists or terrorists* )ather, they would be widely considered as the more authentic representatives of the religion of Islam*

A Truer Expression of Islam
In %99;, I was with a small group of Aournalists traveling through $ordan and Israel* /utside the Iome of the )ock in $erusalem, one of world6s great Muslim shrines, I happened to enter a conversation with 1li "alamin, a .alestinian Muslim born in the @est ?ank* 1 teacher of Islam, he knew the religion well, had visited Mecca at least three times and lived in "audi 1rabia for over %= years* Ee held Muslim prayer beads as we talked* I asked him if the ,od, revealed in the 2oran, was a ,od who wants peace or a ,od who wants war* Ee responded that, according to the 2oran, ,od wants 'people to seek peace and harmony and to understand each other and to have good relationships* Even when we have disagreements with others,' he said, 'we must have respect for them and seek peaceful relations*' Ee also explained that, according to Islam, human beings have a right to defend themselves if attacked and to fight for their rights and Austice, but no one may ever take innocent life, he added* '+o kill innocent people whether they be (hristian, $ew or Muslim or anyone is against the spirit of the 2oran and is condemned by the 2oran*' Ee also contended that terrorist acts like suicide bombings that destroy innocent people go against the true teachings of the 2oran* Ee suggested that Muslims who promote terrorism are not true Muslims* 'Jot everyone who claims to follow Islam is necessarily following ,od6s will and the authentic "pirit of the 2oran,' he said*

cannot give! . I read about a well known (hristian +# evangelist who called Islam 'a very wicked and evil religion*' "uch statements do not convey a . fear. hatred.Building a More ea!eful "orld $ust as there are Muslim extremists who do not represent their religion well. if the haste and 7eal with which our national leaders sent our sons and daughters on a military mission into Iraq had been replaced by a similar haste and 7eal to work for interreligious and international understanding. lead us to that peace and reconciliation which the world. so also there are (hristians who do not represent (hristianity well* 1mong these are (hristian extremists who make false. whom so many of us revere and love. of itself. arrogance. pride.od of 1braham. greed. as (atholic writers like +homas Merton and Eenri Jouwen have pointed out* Evil is also something we all have to struggle with and try to eliminate in our own hearts* Evil is present in our common human capacity for violence. biased and unenlightened statements against Islam* 1 year or two ago. intolerance. Aealousy* +hese are the common enemies we all struggle with inside our hearts* In my opinion.od8like compassion or the kind of love and respect $esus showed to other believers* Jor do they contribute to the building of a more peaceful world* (ombating one form of extremism with another only leads to an endless cycle of warfare* Evil isn6t Aust something 'out there' in the enemy. the world would be better off today* May the .