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Progress between Christians and Muslims but problems in Saudi Arabia, says Cardinal Tauran

ICC Note

Saudi Arabia has continued to deny Christians to build places of worship in its territory. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia uses its petrodollar to construct mosques and spread radical Islam throughout the world.

By Bernardo Cervellera

06/22/2009 Islam (AsiaNews) – Card Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said an “atmosphere of great trust” is emerging in the ongoing Christian-Muslim dialogue despite the fact that in some countries the right to change religion is not guaranteed and that in Saudi Arabia there is no opening in relation to the right to have a place of worship in that country.

The cardinal’s lecture was titled “Should we be afraid of Islam?” In it he stressed the importance of John Paul II and Benedict XVI for whom the dialogue with other religion, Islam in particular, was and is important.

“Serious problems” do remain however. “Even the most open-minded Muslim leaders are unable to get their fellow Muslims to accept that people have a right to change religion in accordance with their conscience,” said the cardinal.

In many a Muslim country conversion to Christianity from Islam still entails the death penalty or social exclusion.

The second foremost problem is Saudi Arabia . “There have been no positive sign [. . .] when it comes to the possibility of getting a place to celebrate Mass for the country’s two million residents.”

Hence, we must be vigilant, warns Cardinal Tauran, when it comes to religious freedom. And yet, despite everything, we “must still meet to listen, understand and make real but modest suggestions as to what can be done.”

The presentation by Malika Zeghal, from the University of Chicago (US), was one of the most interesting. She spoke about the evolution of Islam in the United States, noting that 9/11 terrorist attack against New York’s Twin towers pushed many Muslims to open up to the broader society in order to explain their traditions and lifestyles so that the latter would not be confused with terrorism.

At the same time she suggested that contact with Western society has led Muslims to criticise those who would keep Islam frozen in time and limit the Qur’anic scriptures to a literal interpretation. Instead these same Muslims are open to the equality of men and women even if they continue to insist on preserving the spiritual values of their traditions.

The same thing is happening in France , according to Prof Azzedine Gaci. A professor of chemistry in Lyon (France) and president of the local Regional Council of the Muslim Faith, he argues that Islam and Qur’anic exegesis are already less monolithic than one might think. De facto, he explained, an Islam à la française is already emerging at a political, financial and intellectual level.

The third speaker was John Milibank, from the University of Nottingham ( United Kingdom ) said that in his country 90 per cent of young Muslims are extremist.

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