The Church is very passionate about peace in the world and healthy relationship with people of other religions. To this reason, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID) has a special Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (CRRM). The President is Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, Vice president, Bishop Miguel ÀngelAyuso Guizot, M.C.C.I and the Secretary is Monsignor Khaled Akasheh. Eight Consultors are chosen from different continents of the world. On 11 March 2006, Pope Benedict XVIplaced the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue under the leadership of the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture but given the importance of dialogue in the world today, Pope Benedict XVI gave autonomy to the Council by appointing a President for PCID in 2007.
The CRRM engages in studies on different aspects of Christian-Muslim relations. From 2013-2017, the Commission worked on the theme of “HOPE” with reports from the different countries and continents of the world as follows: Fr. Amir Jaje Op, Iraq, Egypt and the Middle East; Fr. Prof. Andrea Pacini, Italy and Europe; Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua, Nigeria and Africa; Fr. Prof. Felix Korner SJ, Rome; Prof. Lamin Saneh, United States of America (USA) and Canada; Prof. Rotraud Wielandt, Germany and German Speaking Countries; Prof. Ian Richard Netton, United Kingdom (UK) and new trends in Islamic studies and Romana Bashir, Pakistan and South Asia. In the meeting of February 7-9, 2017,Dr.AbdellahRedouane, Secretary General of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Italy was invited to speak on “Christians and Muslims: Bearers of Hope” from a Muslim perspective. Fr. Indunil Janakaratne Kodithuwakku Kankanmalage, Under-Secretary PCID presented the same topic from a Christian Perspective.
At 10.00am of February 9, 2017, the Commission had audience with Pope Francis in Pilazzo dei Papi. Cardinal Tauran, presented the members of the Commission to the Holy Father. In response, Pope Francis thanked the members of the commission for the work that has lasted for a tenure of five years. He acknowledged the difficulties and challenges of the commission with particular reference to the terrorists’ activities in the world. While the commission and the world keep hoping that the relationship between Christians and Muslims would soon produce the desired fruits of religious harmony and peaceful co-existence, there still exist religious persecution and religious terrorism that has claimed the lives of many innocent people, destroyed valuable properties and displaced people from their homes. The Holy Father prayed that the work of the Commission may not be in vain.
Hopefully, the next Commission would study the THEOLOGY OF ISLAM. In the Commission that just ended its tenure, the résumé of HOPE is the existence of Christian and Muslim structures in the different parts of the world. Despite the insurgencies and terrorism indifferent parts of the world, Christians and Muslims still live together with conscious or unconscious practice of dialogue of life, religious experience, friendship, encounter, social engagements, presence and theological exchange. It is obvious that mutual suspicion is still deep in the hearts of many people especially victims of violence in many parts of the world. It is also true that many of these victims are yearning for reprisal and revenge. Many are prepared to defend themselves. Some are calling for a theology of self-defence to justify their urge for vengeance. Yet no one can imagine the level of damage this urge for reprisal could cause to humanity if there were no form of relationship between Christians and Muslims. If not for the relationship that still exist between some Christians and Muslims in the midst of the unfortunate violence that has ravaged the world, it could have been worse. Just imagine the endemic fear of those who believe that the main target and aim of the terrorists is to cause religious war and make the world only one religion. We must believe that this is not the will of God hence the enemies of life will fail.
The suspicion on the side of some Christians that there is an Islamic agenda to make Nigeria an Islamic State is deep and strong. This is heating up the polity of the nation. Some Christians keep using Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and countries in the Middle East that were once 90% Christians and have now become 99% Muslims as case studies to buttress their fears and agitations. Just take a look at Gambia! On December 12, 2015, “Gambian President Yahya Jammeh declared his Muslim-majority country an Islamic republic, saying the move marks a break with colonial past” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35082343). To promote and restore peace and unity among Muslims and Christians, President Adama Barrow, the new President changed this executive order and declared that Gambia would no longer be called an Islamic republic as signed into law on December 11, 2015.
According to President Barrow, the Gambia, despite having a 90 per-cent Muslim population, with the rest Christian and animist, was a republic "not the Islamic republic”. He made this known at his first news conference since returning to take office on Thursday, January 26, 2017(https://www.naij.com/1085177-adama-barrow-removes-islamic-gambias-name.html). This indeed is a loud music of hope for Gambia. If every African Political and Religious leader promote the constitution of the Country and allow the Ecclesiastical and Sharia laws to be practised in the private domain, no extremist would have any basis to destroy the unity of the nation. In Nigeria, it appears that the members of the House of Representatives and Senate are trying in this regard but the citizens would be happier if the issues of religion are balanced in the constitution.
One of the fallout of the crisis in the world today is the strong suspicion that the terrorists who claim to be Muslims still use the verses of the Quran that calls for fight and war after so many years of the revelation of these verses. Some Muslims often refer to similar passages of the Holy Bible that call for war. The Christians do not deny the existence of these verses in the Old Testament. The difference is that with the advent of Jesus Christ, the verses of the Old Testament that call for war has become anachronistic to the human beings in our modern world. Jesus the author of Christianity did not carry out any war in form of Crusade that anybody could reference to support his or her terrorist operations. The Christians need to be united to build up enough capacity to engage people of other religions especially Muslims in dialogue. This is possible because some Muslimsaffirm that the verses of the Quran that call for war are historically bond and that those verses cannot be referenced today to kill innocent people. Moreover, I have heard some Muslims say that to kill somebody in the name of Allah has nothing to do with Islam. Some Muslims condemn this as inspiration from Satan.
To make the world a peaceful place to live in, the Christians and Muslims still need to study properly the exegesis and interpretations of their Holy books in context. The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue remain resolute that there is no option to dialogue. This optimism remains valid even though many people are suffering from the effects of religious motivated violence and terrorism. The Church enjoins on all Christians and Muslims to avoid hate speeches and pave the way of peace in accordance with the mind of Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace. Vendetta cannot heal the wounds that are deep in the heart. Only mercy, love, forgiveness, reconciliation and friendship can heal the trauma of the heart.
Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue in the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (firstname.lastname@example.org)