Are there Hindus and Muslims in the Vatican

What can Muslims learn from the Nostra Aetate?

Before we answer the questions: What can Muslims learn, answer, or try to answer from Nostra Aetate, it is helpful to ask two introductory questions:

  • What is wrong with - and in - the Muslim world that it could learn from others?
  • What can Muslims learn from the Nostra Aetate?

The two questions are related:

On the one hand, a third of the 1.6 billion Muslims, around 600 million of them, live in countries where Islam is not the majority religion. On the other hand, 2.2 billion Christians in the Third World (Africa and Asia) live in countries where Islam is the majority religion. This physical networking already implies the need for mutual recognition, respect and cooperation between religious groups. The most important basis for this is mutual understanding. Nostra Aetate is a good source of mutual understanding, as I'll show later.

To be honest, I have to admit, yes, there is something wrong with the Muslim world.

This world is very rich in natural resources, yet its people are very poor and its future uncertain.

The largest group of refugees and displaced persons worldwide are Muslims.

Tensions between the various Muslim denomination groups (Sunnis & Shiites) and between Muslims and non-Muslims are high.

  • Muslims and Hindus in India and Sri Lanka.
  • Muslims and Buddhists in China, Thailand and Myanmar.
  • Muslims and Orthodox Christians in Russia.
  • Muslims and Catholic Christians in Europe.
  • Muslims and Evangelical Christians in the U.S.A.
  • Muslims and Jews and Israel and beyond.
  • Muslims and other religious groups (especially the Yazidis in Iraq).

All these negative aspects require a courageous discussion and assessment of the current situation in the Muslim world. The process of argument needs first of all recognition, even admission, that there is a big problem. That it is true that others are responsible for this problem, and that Muslims are responsible for it themselves. That it is not helpful to avoid self-criticism and seek protection under a "foreign conspiracy theory against Islam". But first and foremost, to blame ourselves, as Muslims, for it.

We, Muslims, have to admit that we are facing a real and existential problem. The correct definition of this problem (or any other problem) is already half of the solution to the problem, as the English sociologist W. Hacksly [PB1] recognized decades ago.

The question now arises, who has the legitimate authority to define the problem? And who has the knowledge to sketch a solution? And who has the courage to recognize that Muslims should learn from other constructive experiences like the Nostra Aetate?

Before I talk about what and how we can learn from the Nostra Aetate, let me tell you a brief story about a great man who made history. His name is Angelo Roncali. Angelo was a soldier in the Italian Army during World War II. On the battlefield, he saw millions killed by every possible means, including poison gas. He was shocked and got sick. After the war he became a clergyman of the Catholic Church and sifted through spiritual refuge. He became ambassador to the Vatican, first in Greece, then in Bulgarian. There he got to know Orthodox Christianity. Then he went to Ankara, where he met Muslims. After World War II, he became bishop and ambassador to the Vatican in France, where communism, secularism and left movements were particularly dominant at the time.

Angelo Roncali was elected Pope on October 28, 1958. He got the name John XXIII. Pope John XXIII brought his experiences from war and times of peace to his term in office. On January 25, 1959 [PB2], he was the first Pope in the history of the Vatican to address the United Nations directly. He said:

Peace on earth is an object of deep human desire.

In his message he reflected on four principles in order to achieve peace for humanity: truth, justice, solidarity and freedom.

At the time, the Catholic Church viewed communism as anti-Christian (Pope Pius XII). But Pope John XXIII mediated the Cuban Missile Crisis by means of a letter between the Catholic John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. [PB3]

This is the short story of the Pope who convened the Second Vatican Council but died two years before its conclusion. The second Vatican Council, attended by 2,450 bishops from all over the world, culminated on December 18, 1965 in the Nostra Aetate.

Nostra Aetate marked a departure by the Roman Catholic Church from its previous laws and claims against the bishops of Constantinople, which in 1054 had led to the great split between the two churches in Rome and Istanbul.

Nostra Aetate reconciled the Catholic Church with the Protestant and Orthodox Church and opened up ecumenical dialogue.

Nostra Aetate opened the doors of the Catholic Church to secular Christians and invited them to take part in the activities of the Church. Now Pope Francis is opening even more doors.

Nostra Aetate reversed the verdict that all Jews condemned Jesus for crucifixion until the end of time.

Nostra Aetate stated that Muslims believe in one God and that Muslims respect Jesus and his mother the Virgin Mary. That even if you don't see Jesus as God's Son, believe in Him as a prophet. And that Muslims believe in the day when God will judge all people. That they worship God through prayer, donation and fasting.

After the Second Vatican Council and on the basis of these new Christian principles proclaimed through the Nostra Aetate, Pope John XI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke of Muslims as brothers.

These are the lessons from Nostra Aetate that Muslims must learn from in the 21st century.

But we can't learn anything if we don't realize that we have to learn something. And we can't realize that we have to learn something if we don't realize that sometimes we are wrong. And we cannot have a sense of what is wrong if we are not brave enough to be self-critical. After this self-criticism, we should be especially brave to admit that we need to learn from other experiences, especially if that other is an outsider in our spiritual system.

Before I talk about how we can learn, let me underline the following point:

In contrast to the actions of extremists such as IS in the Middle East, Christians are described in the Koran as believers in God and are close to Muslims. His clergy are recognized in the Quran for being humble. Where in principle there is no clergy in Islam, as the Prophet Mohammed clearly expresses. As a result, a religious state in Islam, led by a clergy that should not even exist, is a contradiction.

Now to us Muslims. To follow the example of the Second Vatican Council, we need a religious leader with the qualifications of Pope John XXIII. He believed in humanity as a family that respects all religions and believes in all religions. I am sure we have many such leaders because that is what Islam teaches. After all, to be a Muslim means to believe in all of God's messages and in all of His messengers, those mentioned in the Holy Qur'an, but also those who are not mentioned. Believing in Islam also means believing in plurality and human differences as a sign of God's greatness. To my humble knowledge, however, I cannot imagine anyone who has the moral and religious authority in the Muslim world to bring together 2,450 Islamic scholars and imams from around the world and persuade them to continue their meetings and discussions for so long, until they come to a coherent interpretation of Islamic principles for the 21st century that can cope with current human challenges.

This is not intended to underestimate the many bold approaches that have already been taken.

  • The four documents of the Al-Azhar institutions in Egypt on human freedom and the nation state.
  • The Makah Principles against Extremism and Terror. [PB4]
  • The Beirut Declaration of Religious Freedom.

Just to name a few initiatives that I was part of as a KAICIID member. The question is how these scattered initiatives can be brought together to form a snowball big enough to start something bigger rolling.

The fight against extremism and terrorism (carried out in the name of Islam) is an Islamic fight because it has been a problem of Islam from the beginning. There are many fighters who courageously speak out against strange ideas and misinterpretations of Islamic doctrines. They know it will be a long and costly fight that cannot be won by military means alone. But at the same time as many Christians are waiting for the return of Jesus, many Muslims are just waiting for the return of al-Mahdi. Others dream of a caliphate that should be like a city on a hill.

I am more humble. I am waiting for a Muslim Angelo Roncalo.