Is Pope Francis naive in pursuing dialogue with Muslims?

Amir Jajé, an Iraqi Dominican friar (pictured) is a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

He defends Pope Francis’ approach to the Muslim community from accusations of being “naïve” and holds that “dialogue is the only way if we are to be true to Christ.”

That the pope is extending a hand to the Muslim community is as naïve seen by some. Is this fair?

Amir Jajé: The pope’s actions are guided by the responsibilities associated with his spiritual authority.

It is in this capacity, and steered by the Gospel, that he decides the Church’s direction and invites us to follow.

By showing an openness to dialogue with Islam, he clearly demonstrates that the Church’s vocation is one of peace, not conflict.

The pope is fully aware that he is on slippery terrain, strewn with obstacles. He is not naïve but knows that dialogue is the only way if we are to be true to Christ.

How has the pope confronted the question of Christians in the East?

His outlook aims to help Christians in the East. We all witnessed the polemic caused by the interpretation of Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Lecture in 2006. His criticism of Islam had a direct impact on the lives of people living in majority Muslim countries.

It also caused the breakdown of relations between Al-Azhar, a prestigious Sunni spiritual and intellectual center and the Vatican. By seeking reconciliation through building a closer relationship with the Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, Pope Francis is trying to move past these tensions.

So dialogue with Islam is purely strategic?

This dialogue is in line with Pope Francis’ fundamental outlook.

It is not about simply showing a positive image but actually bringing about a change based on the principle of working towards harmony and agreement and overcoming religious and identity divisions.

When the pope brought back refugee families from Lesbos, some people were indignant, questioning why the pope didn’t choose to help Christians in need instead.

But through this act, the pope demonstrated that the Church is open to all humanity, not just those who are already part of it.

Pope Francis wanted to show his compassion for any human who is suffering, beyond religious divides.

When asked about Muslim expansion, the Pope has replied that Christianity was also founded on expansion and conquest. Similarly, he compares the violence enacted by Islam to the violence committed by Christians.

These comparisons have been received very negatively by some.

Islam is currently going through a serious crisis.

By pointing out the Church’s own wrongdoings, the pope is courageously acting in the service of truth and dialogue. Of course, comparisons have their limits.

It seems to me that by framing the situation this way, the Pope is both attempting to show that Muslims are not the sole perpetrators as well as trying to avoid reinforcing identarian positions.

Solutions to Islam’s problems have to come from within Islam. The Pope does not wish to impose answers or give moral lessons from the outside. But what he can do is to work with the Muslim community with good will.

Isn’t this approach risky?

Yes, having faith in trust isn’t without risks. The Pope is well aware that he may not get the outcomes he wants. At the community level, the situation is even more delicate.

In Iraq, where I come from, Christians are suffering as a direct consequence of this crisis in Islam.

In Christian families, children are always told to be wary of Muslims because sooner or later, they will betray you. And so, when the Pope makes a move towards reconciliation, they think he’s making a mistake, that he doesn’t really understand them.

Even within my Dominican community, it was not easy for some to understand my joining the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. These attitudes are understandable; they are human. But Pope Francis is showing us the way.

I think we need patience. History will show that the pope is right to act in support of dialogue.

LaCroix International

News category: Analysis and Comment.