Tag Archives: Muslims

The Catholic Church Changes Gears on Interfaith Relations

By Gabriel Weinstein

Last week a group of twenty cantors from the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) serenaded Catholic officials in Rome with rousing renditions of Adon Olam and other Jewish liturgical melodies.  The concert was a part of the Interfaith Information Center’s conference on Catholic-Jewish relations. Monsignor Renzo Giuliano, priest of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, said it was “very important to be here [at the concert] together and praising our god.”  While Jewish-Catholic relations have been steadily improving for decades, a new Catholic push to mend ties with Muslims is pushing the Church’s Jewish priority to second place.

For thousands of years Catholic Jewish relations were marked by antagonism and contempt. For centuries, central tenants of Catholic doctrine included Supercessionism, the belief God rejected Jews and anointed Christians as his chosen people, and Translated Responsibility, which holds Jews accountable for Jesus’ death. From the medieval era until the 19th century, the Catholic Church endorsed an array of discriminatory proposals against Jewish residents.

Catholics’ relations with their other monotheistic peer, Muslims, were marked by similar confrontational episodes. When Islam emerged in the eighth century, Catholic scholars were quick to pronounce the new doctrine as heresy. Catholics’ initial dismissal of Muslim doctrine foreshadowed the bloody Catholic crusades against Muslim rule of Palestine in the medieval era.

By the early 1960s the Vatican grew tired of having frayed relations with other religious groups and reformulated their millennia old interfaith policy. In 1965 the Church issued Nostra Aetate, their seminal document on interfaith relations. Nostra was the first time the Vatican advocated for interfaith dialogue between Catholics and other religions. One of the Vatican’s primary objectives with Nostra was to rekindle its relationship with Jews.  It is no coincidence that the section of Nostra discussing Jewish relations is the longest. Nostra renounced charges of Jewish deicide, acknowledged Jews’ covenant with God and decried anti-Semitism.  Some Church officials challenged Nostra’s detailed discussion of Jewish relations and were joined by Arab countries in protest. However, the Vatican’s insistence on redefining Catholic-Jewish relations cemented the section discussing Judaism.

Nostra also discusses relations with Muslims, acknowledging the frazzled history of Muslim-Christian relations, but noting that both view Jesus as a prophet and the Virgin Mary as a holy figure.  The Vatican pleaded in Nostra with “all [Muslims and Christians] to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding.”

In the 45 years since Nostra Aetate Catholic-Jewish relations have remained stable.  The Church has issued a series of documents on Jewish-Catholic relations ranging from 1975’s  Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (No. 4) to 1998’s We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah. Three popes have visited Israel since 1964, with Pope Benedict XVI making the most recent visit in May 2009.

But all that may be changing.  According to National Catholic Reporter John L. Allen Jr., dialogue with Muslims is now the Vatican’s most important interfaith priority, perhaps displacing the importance of the Jewish-Catholic relationships.  The bulging global Muslim population, increasing Catholic presence in Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East are some of the major factors fueling the detente.

One of the main priorities of the Catholic-Muslim interfaith effort is securing freedom of religion for Catholic minorities in Muslim dominated countries. The Vatican would like to see the religious freedom enjoyed by Muslims in the West extended to Catholic minorities in countries with large Muslim populations.  For example, Pope Benedict has maintained steadfast support for Asia Bibi, a jailed Pakistani Christian who faces death for criticizing the Islamic prophet Mohammed.

The prioritization of Muslim relations has ushered in a change in the Vatican’s demeanor towards its Jewish relations.  Whereas the Vatican consistently sought to apologize for past grievances against Jews when Jewish interfaith relations were the priority, now Catholics no longer worry about critiquing their Jewish peers or voicing their displeasure.  For example, Pope Benedict XVI’s recent praise of Pope Pius XII has upset Jewish Holocaust survivors, as many believe Pope Pius could have done more to rescue Jews from the Nazi regime.

But Allen states that the Vatican’s Muslim interfaith efforts are redefining its interfaith relationships in a broader way. Catholic interfaith efforts have moved from “interreligious dialogue” to “intercultural dialogue” which emphasizes shared understanding of cultural issues such as religion’s role in civic life and eliminating poverty.  Hopefully, the Church can avoid the trap of swapping out good Jewish relations for good Muslim relations by focusing on the important cultural and humanitarian issues important to all three monotheistic faiths.

When Good Intentions Meet Reality

By Symi Rom-Rymer

In a recent posting on the Washington Post’s OnFaith blog, a Rabbi and law professor recount their experience on a joint US Jewish-Muslim trip to the concentration camps of Germany and Poland.  According to the authors’ account, “the Muslim leaders were visibly shaken by what they saw” and even those who had previously expressed skepticism about the Holocaust were moved and encouraged those with similar doubts to visit the camps for themselves.

Upon their return, the participating imams issued as statement saying in part, “We condemn any attempts to deny this historical reality and declare such denials or any justification of this tragedy as against the Islamic code of ethics…We have a shared responsibility to continue to work together with leaders of all faiths and their communities to fight the dehumanization of all peoples based on their religion, race or ethnicity. With the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred, rhetoric and bigotry, now more than ever, people of faith must stand together for truth. Together, we pledge to make real the commitment of ‘never again’ and to stand united against injustice wherever it may be found in the world today.” Continue reading

Fabulous, Feel-good, and Fatwa-Free

By Symi Rom-Rymer

When a Muslim and a Jew walk into a bar, it’s a joke.  When a Muslim discovers he was born Jewish, it’s a movie.  The Infidel, shown as part of the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, is the story of Mahmud Nasir (Omid Djalili), a middle-aged Muslim man from London’s East End, who discovers after his mother’s death that he was adopted as a baby.  Not only was he adopted, but his birth parents were Jews.  Jews who named him Solomon (Solly) Shimshillewitz, or as his new friend Leonard Goldberg (Richard Schiff) suggests: Jewy-Jew-JewJewawtiz.

While Nasir is trying to cope with his new identity, he also must deal with the impending marriage of his son to the stepdaughter of one of Egypt’s most radical imams, Arshad El Masri (Yigal Naor).  The movie takes off when Nasir discovers that his alleged birth father is dying in a nursing home, but can’t see him until Nasir learns what it means to be Jewish.  (For the Rabbi is guarding the door, this means Nasir must know how to say the names of the five books of the Torah in Yiddish or recite the Shema).   Desperate, he turns to his caustic neighbor Goldberg who instead, teaches him the truly important aspects of Judaism: how to say “oy” with the right inflection and knowing how to dance the Kazatsky (certainly a critical skill in my family!). Continue reading

A Double Standard?

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Michael Kimmelman’s recent article, “When Fear Turns Graphic,” offered a peek into the process behind making political art, with the recent Swiss pro-minaret ban ads as his focal point.  Unfortunately, for me, whatever insights he hoped to share were overshadowed by a surprising naïveté when addressing anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe and his condescending tone towards Americans—his readers.

First of all, Kimmelman airily dismissed concerns over Switzerland’s latent racism: “Much predictable tut-tutting ensued about Swiss xenophobia, even though surveys showed similar plebiscites would get pretty much the same results elsewhere.”

Then, he insulted our intelligence by equating the German and Muslim immigrant experience in Switzerland.  “A 46-year-old German (yes, an immigrant himself in Switzerland), he is the father of two adopted children from North Africa although he declined to talk about his personal life.”

Finally, he patronized us by asserting that “it may be hard for Americans to grasp the role [political ads] can play“ in Europe.  “In the subways and streets in America, billboards and posters…are basically background noise.  By contrast, they’re treated more seriously here, as news, at least.” Continue reading

The man to unite the Jews, Christians, and Muslims- At least in cartoon form

By Marista Lane

Homer Simpson

While most people are waiting to see what will happen on their favorite television shows at the end of this season, the producers of “The Simpsons” already have a show planned for next season. It will take Homer Simpson to the Holy Land, where the Simpsons have never been before, according to Al Jean, the show’s executive producer.

From Independent Television News:

“I think we’re going to do one next year where they go to the Holy Land as we haven’t been there yet. The premise will be that the Christians, the Jews and Muslims are united in that they all get mad at Homer. It’s the only thing they can agree on,” [Jean] said.

The details for the show aren’t fully worked out, but we’re already a little excited.


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