The Malta Independent 23 August 2019, Friday

Gozo Bishop calls for dialogue to combat misinformation, prejudice against Islam

Sunday, 2 June 2019, 08:00 Last update: about 4 months ago

Gozo Bishop Mario Grech yesterday called for a better dialogue to combat misinformation and prejudices against Islam.

Bishop Grech made his comments on yesterday’s occasion of the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Mary in an Open Letter to Christians and Muslims on the occasion of the Marian Year.

“When one considers the lack of accurate knowledge about Islam and the prejudice against it, one sees the need to dialogue with the Muslim world without denying anything of our Christian identity,” Bishop Grech said in his letter.


He observes, “As time goes by we are progressively seeing an ever increasing number of foreigners living and working among us. It would be really silly of us to think of them as a threat or as a purely economic resource. It is a real pity that there are those among us who are tempted to regard them as some kind of inferior class of people and so they despise them even with violent acts or they take advantage of their vulnerability. This is the case when they are exploited by being made to work for a pittance without the benefit of social security as required by law, or when they are offered shelter at rental rates far higher than is normally the case.

“Their presence among us does not constitute simply a social and cultural challenge, but it has also a religious dimension. Indeed among these foreigners there is a sizeable presence of Muslims, both those coming from African countries and those from Eastern Europe.”

He referred to the June 1219 meeting during the Fifth Crusade between St Francis of Assisi and the Sultan of Egypt, Malek al-Kamel.

“This meeting took place in the port of Damietta and it had several positive results. It had an effect on Franciscan mysticism and language, so much so that the 99 titles which Muslims attribute to God, served as inspiration for the praise which Francis offers to God on high. On that occasion Christians and Muslims met with the idea of “converting” each other to their respective faiths: instead Francis and the Sultan were impressed with the strength of each other’s faith!

“Free from prejudice, they recognised each other not only as God’s creatures but also as men of faith. They were both spiritual and intelligent men but it was the language of the Spirit which prevailed in their meetings. And as a result of this dialogue, carried out with a profound sense of reciprocal respect, the Franciscan fathers are still active in the Holy Land today.

“A few months ago a similar meeting took place in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, between Pope Francis and Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Great Imam of Al-Azhar (one of the most authoritative centres of Islam). There they signed a declaration on ‘Human Fraternity for world peace and living together’. After asserting that ‘faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved. Through faith in God, who has created the universe, creatures and all human beings (equal on account of his mercy), believers are called to express this human fraternity by safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need’.

“They continue by saying that this ‘is a text that has been given honest and serious thought so as to be a joint declaration of good and heartfelt aspirations. It is a document that invites all persons who have faith in God and faith in human fraternity to unite and work together so that it may serve as a guide for future generations to advance a culture of mutual respect in the awareness of the great divine grace that makes all human beings brothers and sisters’.

“These extracts are enough to show us the benefits accruing if we were to engage in this dialogue, not so much between religious ‘institutions’ but among us believers: a dialogue not between Christianity and Islam but between us Christians and Muslims, we who mix together in our streets, in shops, at work, at school, in hospital and in so many other contexts.”

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