Moses MaimonidesOur Muslim Sisters and Brothers:
Some Thoughts and Hopes

by Joseph A. Gannon

Can Muslims, Christians and Jews live in peace? Today we wonder if it’s possible, but a look at the past and a story from the present may give us hope. right: statue of Moses Maimonides in Cordoba, Spain

In his “Medieval Essay” Christopher Dawson points to a period around 1000 AD when Muslim, Christians and Jews lived in a relationship that produced a flowering of civilization.

“The cosmopolitan character of the Mediterranean culture is to be seen at its best in the intellectual cooperation among Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars which bore fruit during this period in a great flowering of Arabic science and philosophy. This was essentially an international movement which extended from central Asia to Spain and North Africa. Although nominally Arabic, it was based on the tradition of the Greek culture transmitted by Syriac scholars and developed as a common activity of Muslims, Christians and Jews. Crusaders and Muslims in battle.

“It was the era of Muslim scholars like Avicenna, in scholasticism; Alhazen in science, Jewish scholars like Avencebrol in scholasticism and poetry --- all of whom wrote in Arabic though not all were Arabs. Avicenna was Persian, Avencebrol was Spanish and Alhazen came from Egypt. Later, the Jewish scholar Maimonides (1135-1204) provided foundations for Thomism.”

According to Dawson, Islam was the leader in this international age when philosophy and science flourished. The Muslim tradition, history teaches, should not be typed as essentially warlike or intolerant, just as the Jewish or Christian traditions cannot be labelled in those terms.

According to James Turner Johnson, in his article “Jihad and Just War” in the magazine First Things, the authentic concept of Jihad, invoked by terrorists today to justify violence, refers to the believer’s inner spiritual struggle to be righteous in relationship with others, not a call to war and violence:

“The classical Islamic conception of jihad in the sense of warfare comes, not from the Qur’an directly (where the term is used in reference to the believer’s inner struggle for righteousness), but from the jurists of the early Abbasid period (late 8th and 9th centuriesÖ”

GlassWhen we look at history and authentic Islamic spirituality, it challenges some of today’s intercultural antagonisms. We see a religious tradition that is creative, that calls for loving God, and loving our neighbour as we love ourselvesó captured in the phrase “God is Love.”

Certainly, history with its wars and crusades, influences our attitudes today. But we must emphasize the positive and remember the good that has been accomplished.

We have examples from today to give us hope. One is the story of the Trappist monks from the Monastery of Notre Dame de l’Atlas in Tibhirine, Algeria, a story told in John Kiser’s book The Monks of Tibhirine.Faith ,Love and Terror in Algeria ( New York 2002) In March 1996, members of one of Algeria’s most active Islamic groups, who were demanding a release of prisoners by the French government, kidnapped seven Trappist monks. Negotiations failed and the monks were killed in May, causing an outcry and a considerable loss of support from even the kidnappers’ backers.

At the June 2nd funeral in a packed Basilica were the last two elderly survivors of the Trappist community, the Pope’s representative, the entire diplomatic corps and ordinary Algerians who filled the Basilica to capacity.

Prayer rugAt the graveside the next Tuesday were neighbours from the area, the Sufis from Media and beyond, local imams and mayors who had come to say goodbye. The two old monks who were survivors had often attended the funerals of the villagers. It was now their turn to be consoled. The next day the women came to mourn.

In his account of the tragedy, Kiser cites an anonymous University of Algiers professor as saying, “One day, those seven monks will be considered saints by Moslems, Christians and Jews.”

As Abdurrahman Wahid wrote in the Wall Street Journal (12/30/05), to counter fundamentalists’ strategies,

“the combined weight of the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims and the non-Muslim world (must come to) bear in a coordinated global campaign whose goal is to resolve the crisis of misunderstanding that threatens to engulf the entire worldÖ(whose) goal must be to illuminate the hearts and minds of humanity and offer a compelling alternate vision of Islam.”

More than ever, we need to live in the spirit captured in the opening line of the famous prayer. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

Joseph A. Gannon writes from Levittown, New York

  in this issue

Interior of Dome
inside the Dome of the Rock

Detail, interior
detail from the Dome's interior

Dome exterior
The Dome seen from the Western Wall

Central Mosque, Glasgow