This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, which dealt with the relation of the church to non-Christian religions that transformed church doctrine about Jews and other faiths. Nostra Aetate originated from the realization of church reformers that the Roman Catholic Church’s anti-semitic teachings may have indirectly aided in the Holocaust. After a decades long effort to change these anti-semitic Church teachings, Nostra Aetate succeeded in changing the Church’s relationships with Jews as well as with Muslims, Buddhists and other religions. Now, with an increase in hostility towards Muslims, the spirit of Nostra Aetate has led the Roman Catholic Church to speak out against the growing Islamophobia in the United States and Europe.
Nostra Aetate stated the Roman Catholic Church’s relationship with Islam.
The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.
Pope Francis has done what he can to promote dialogue between Christians and Muslims. Pope Francis said after a trip to Turkey that automatically equating Islam with violence was wrong, while calling for a collaboration of Christians and Muslims in fighting Islamic extremism. During Pope Francis’s trip to the Holy Land in 2014, he visited mosques, visited Palestinians, and invited Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the Vatican to pray for peace. During his recent interfaith meeting in the 9/11 Memorial Musem in New York City, he invited Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and other religious leaders to pray for peace with him. Francis stated:
It is a source of great hope that in this place of sorrow and remembrance I can join with leaders representing the many religious traditions which enrich the life of this great city. I trust that our presence together will be a powerful sign of our shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice in this community and throughout the world. For all our differences and disagreements, we can live in a world of peace. In opposing every attempt to create a rigid uniformity, we can and must build unity on the basis of our diversity of languages, cultures and religions, and lift our voices against everything which would stand in the way of such unity. Together we are called to say “no” to every attempt to impose uniformity and “yes” to a diversity accepted and reconciled.
Pope Francis’s call for religious cooperation against terrorism is a welcome voice of reason amidst the shrill voices that seek to exploit people’s fears to fan fear of all Muslims. Many people in the far Right have questioned the loyalty of Muslim Americans in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a registry for all Muslim Americans.
Laila Lalami wrote an article that expressed the feelings of many Muslim Americans. She wrote:
…ISIS wants to eliminate coexistence between religions and to create a response from the West that will force Muslims to choose sides: either they ‘apostatize and adopt’ the infidel religion of the crusaders or ‘they perform hijrah to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.’ For ISIS to win, the gray zone must be eliminated.
Whose lives are gray? Mine, certainly. I was born in one nation (Morocco) speaking Arabic, came to my love of literature through a second language (French) and now live in a third country (America), where I write books and teach classes in yet another language (English). I have made my home in between all these cultures, all these languages, all these countries. And I have found it a glorious place to be. My friends are atheists and Muslims, Jews and Christians, believers and doubters. Each one makes my life richer.
This gray life of mine is not unique. I share it with millions of people around the world.
…Terrorist attacks affect all of us in the same way: We experience sorrow and anger at the loss of life. For Muslims, however, there is an additional layer of grief as we become subjects of suspicion. Muslims are called upon to condemn terrorism, but no matter how often or how loud or how clear the condemnations, the calls remain. Imagine if, after every mass shooting in a school or a movie theater in the United States, young white men in this country were told that they must publicly denounce gun violence. The reason this is not the case is that we presume each young white man to be solely responsible for his actions, whereas Muslims are held collectively responsible. To be a Muslim in the West is to be constantly on trial.
Haider Ali Hussein Mullick wrote an article about how Islamophobia only helps the Islamic extremists. Mullick wrote:
If we don’t want to play into the hands of Islamic State propaganda that America is at war with Islam, we must stand up against Islamophobia. We should separate the few extremists from the vast majority of law-abiding patriotic American Muslims by working with the moderates, not against them.
The Islamic State has little to no support in most Muslim-majority countries, according to a Pew Research Center poll after the Paris attacks. Instead, with more than 60 countries aligned against it, the Islamic State is banking on Western societies to alienate their Muslim populations to increase recruitment.
…Against the few Muslims who join a group like the Islamic State stand millions who reject extremism. A telling example is a community outreach program run by the Department of Justice, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Department of Homeland Security.
Around 2006, many Americans feared the entry of refugees from Somalia who were fleeing a war against Islamist fanatics. Instead of isolating these refugees because of fears of terrorists in their midst, however, Minneapolis law enforcement agencies worked closely with the community to develop trust.
With the F.B.I.’s community outreach program in force, Minneapolis has avoided attacks from the few Somali-Americans who have been inspired by the Shabab, a militant Islamist group. For this authorities credit the support of the local Muslim community, even during moments of controversy about intelligence gathering techniques.
A New York TImes editorial reemphasized Mullick’s point that law enforcement agencies benefit from the cooperation of Muslim American communities in fighting Islamic extremists. It stated:
Contrast these amateurs’ panic with the behavior of law-enforcement experts, like the counter-terrorism officials of the Los Angeles Police Department who met on Thursday with Muslim-American leaders to reassure them and the community at large that they are not alone and that they are facing this challenge together.
‘Muslim communities are our strength — not our weakness,’ Deputy Chief Michael Downing told The Times. “We can’t let this deteriorate our relationship or allow others to isolate or stigmatize the Muslim community.’
Chief Downing said law enforcement needs the trust and cooperation of the majority of Muslims in the mainstream, those who can raise the alarm about the radicalized few.
Marking the 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” Pope Francis said all believers of different religions should walk together and join efforts to fight poverty and help people live in dignity
Pope Francis welcomed an inter-religious group from Argentina made up of 15 Jews, 15 Muslims and 15 Christians in 2014. They were on their way back from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
On May 26, 2014, Pope Francis met with Muslim and Jewish representatives in the Holy Land
On November 2014, Pope Francis prayed for a few minutes at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, just as Benedict XVI did back in 2006
Pope Francis told Christian and Muslim leaders in Kenya on November 2015 that they have little choice but to engage in dialogue to guard against the “barbarous” Islamic extremist attacks that have struck the African country recently.
Pope Francis has concluded his mini-African tour with a highly-significant visit to the mosque in the heart of the Muslim quarter of the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui. The scene of religious unrest in the past, Pope Francis came bearing a message of mutual respect and tolerance, and appeared determined to stress decades of peaceful religious cohabitation.