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Religious Peace by Abraham?

 

From: Christ in der Gegenwart, 34/2008, P. 371 f.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    By "Abrahamitic religions" the lowest common denominator between Judaism, Christianity and Islam is described. But in every religion the view of the progenitor of faith is different.

 

Speaking about the "Abrahamitic religions" is still relatively new. The Second Vatican Council expressed in the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions "Nostra Aetate" its high esteem for "what in those religions is true and holy." With regard to Judaism the Council Fathers had inserted the reference to Abraham into the text. Christians are "spiritually connected with Abraham's tribe" because they are Abraham's sons and daughters "regarding faith" (Gal 3.7). And the reference to the Muslims? The text of "Nostra Aetate" does not explicitly mention the Aramaic ancestor of faith in the section on Islam. But in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church "Lumen Gentium" it says: "(God's) will of salvation includes however also the Muslims who profess their faith in Abraham's faith." Indeed, the Koran describes Abraham as a faithful and exemplary Muslim from whom all future Islam-believers are descended. In the Koran Mohammed and Abraham are regarded as related to each other as regards faith.

A look at the "Encyclopaedia of Theology and Church" shows in an exemplary way how recently the phrase 'Abrahamitic religions' gained in importance. When in 1993 the first volume with the entry "Abraham" was published a contribution on "Abrahamitic religions" was not to be found. Only the supplement volume 11 of 2001 had a - rather short - article. And in the Internet encyclopaedia "Wikipedia" it says, "The term 'Abrahamitic ecumenism' goes back to the Christian theologians Hans Küng and Karl-Josef Kuschel. They emphasize with it the need for a dialogue between the three monotheistic world religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam and summarize them under the generic term "Abrahamitic religions."

Only recently a conference of world religions in Madrid attended to the same question. The Spanish King Juan Carlos and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had invited to it. 200 experts from the three world religions assembled, among them also Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Michael Schneider, Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress and Ali Samman, Chairman of the Interreligious Council of the for Sunni Muslims leading Al-Azhar University in Cairo.

 

"Time of Unity"

Since 11 September 2001 among thoughtful representatives of the world religions the awareness has increased that greater efforts are needed in the field of [inter]religious discussions. Even Pope Benedict's XVI Regensburg lecture, strongly criticized by Muslims, and the subsequent Letter of 138 Muslim Leaders from all over the world gave fresh stimuli in particular to the Muslim-Christian dialogue. In the south-east-Turkish town Urfa businessmen, scientists and clergymen are committed to an Abraham Project, and for some months the European Parliament has been organizing seminars for parliamentarians and interested parties on the topic "Christian Europe and Islam."

Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina and one of the main representatives of a moderate European Islam, accordingly emphasized in a lecture in Munich, "Our time is a time of unity in diversity." There were no mono-causal solutions to the problems of humankind and no mono-religious supremacy for the needs of people. "The three Abrahamitic religions ... must accept the fact that they share the same idea of the beginning and end of the world; that they share the same place of the connection between heaven and earth: Jerusalem; that they share the commandments of the same God from Sinai: You shalt worship the one God, thou shalt do good to your parents, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal ..." Is after all a world ethos, recognized by many people, little by little emerging? And can Abraham be model and starting point for it?

The Catholic Academy in Bavaria and the Protestant Academy of Tutzing undertook together with 300 interested people the attempt more exactly to examine the situation: "The one progenitor Abraham? On the relationship of Jews, Christians and Muslims". Whether the Aramaic progenitor of faith is actually suited to integration was mainly seen sceptically by the speakers of the conference. Abraham, who are you? Even the historical findings are difficult. The experts do not agree on what is true of the stories told about Abraham in the chapters 11 to 25 of the Book Genesis of the Old Testament. Abraham is, in a simplifying way, regarded as progenitor of west-Semitic, stock breeding nomads in the 18th century BC. By a personal nameless deity he is led to the edge of the Palestinian cultivated area. At the latest there that deity of Abraham was equalled to the El gods revered in South Palestine.

The Middle East expert Michael Lüders from Berlin directed the attention to the present and pleaded for a sober and unreserved view of the three monotheistic religions. The "idea of Abrahamism" as a common basis for the dialogue of the religions was ambiguous. While monotheism - positively regarded - lifts the thinking about God to a higher level it retains also the danger of intolerance and dogmatism.

 


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In the clash of cultures the common reference to Abraham could nevertheless "immunize" against excessive demarcation, especially when the respective enemy is demonized. Abraham is for Lüders a rebellious figure, who criticized the existing conditions and has an eye for a better future. In this regard an Abraham piety could have a positive effect. For the new conception of God which is communicated in the Genesis stories does not need any heroes in the struggle for justice and salvation. It rather strengthens the weak. The Berlin journalist nevertheless judged, "The Abrahamitic dialogue is a minority project."

The Regensburg dogmatist Wolfgang Beinert took up the historical findings and called Abraham a "half-mythical figure to a large extent veiled by the mists of a distant past." Unlike the Christian ecumenical discussion which clearly aims at the unity of Christians, in the interreligious dialogue a "whatsoever kind of unity of religions" is, objectively seen, out of the question. The Christian conception of God, for instance, or Jesus Christ as Messiah could not be shared by the representatives of Islam and Judaism. Besides, the speech that all three religions "believed anyway in the same God" was extremely superficial. There were so many conceptions of God as people.

But what does Abraham then mean? Beinert pointed to the not uniformly portrayed figure in the Koran. While in the Suras handed down from Mecca Abraham holds rather the position of the fighter against polytheism, the Suras from Muhammad's time in Medina give more attention to the progenitor of Islam. With the Jews, on the other hand, rather Jacob was the progenitor of faith and Moses the actual founder of Judaism. In all three religions, so Beinert, Abraham was functionalized and instrumentalized in favour of one's own fundamental convictions - a "wrong track" for the interreligious dialogue.

 

A Figure of Division

Michael Wolffsohn similarly cautiously gives his view: "Abraham was not totally kosher." The Professor of Modern History at the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich, who as a Jew is committed to the interreligious dialogue, first examines the Jews' role in the Koran. "The Islamic history is anything but friendly to Jews." Islam did not regard Abraham as progenitor of the Jews but as the first follower of the Muslim faith and as founder of the Kaaba, the holy shrine in Mecca. With reference to the Tübingen Judaist Matthias Morgenstern Wolffsohn emphasized that the Muslim dissociation from Judaism was intended. For the Koran sees itself as a correction, as reform of the Jewish tradition. Abraham is therefore no consensus figure but rather one of division.

Also for the Christian-Jewish relationship problems arise. The Aramaic progenitor is admittedly still mentioned in Matthew and Luke in the family trees of Jesus. But in the Gospel of John the "Abrahamitic tablecloth" was already cut, said Wolffsohn. Here Abraham's children are called children of Satan, which implies that the followers of Jesus are not children of Abraham: "Before Abraham was, I am," says the Jesus of John's Gospel (8, 58) and differentiates himself via Abraham from Judaism. Michael Wolffsohn concluded from his findings: Abraham is unfit as bridge for all three religions. It collapsed "before we tread on it.

The Pakistan-born Islamic scholar Jamal Malik, who since 1999 has been teaching at the University of Erfurt, dealt with the difficult trend in interreligious dialogues to overstress ritual and theological common ground to the debit of real differences. The theology of history in the Koran held the view that the Jews had left the religion of the progenitor Abraham and so broken their covenant with God. Mohammed had therefore interpreted Islam as renewal of the originally purely monotheistic religion of Abraham and had relativized Christianity as well as Judaism as "distorted versions of the revelation".

 

A Hero of Awakening

But what can the dialogue between the monotheistic religions bring about when it cannot even be fastened to a common identification figure Abraham? Wolfgang Beinert referred to the "eschatological responsibility" that each of the religions has. With regard to the survival of mankind all three had in themselves the impulse that God wants the welfare and salvation of all people. That the human power of the religions had to take up. For Michael Wolffsohn the Ten Commandments of Judaism are a "human-transcendent foundation". He asked to bear in mind that at the meeting only few Jews and Muslims were present. "As representatives of the interreligious dialogue we have hardly the appropriate divisions in our ranks." At best those who are committed to it will meet "friendly disinterest" on the part of the majority of Jews and Muslims. In view of the "return of religion" Jamal Malik pleaded for a "de-dramatization of religion" (Heiner Bielefeldt), that is, in the public debates and decisions more importance is to be attached to what people at the spot are occupied with, for example in the political discourse to the issue of integration, also - but not exclusively - to the religious identity. to the search for a home.

How an ecumenism of religions can nevertheless be oriented towards Abraham was expounded by the Munich exegete of the Old Testament Manfred Görg. He pointed out that it was imperative to overcome the growing disinterest in one's own ranks. Görg, who is also chairman of the Munich "Society of Friends of Abraham", was the only one among the speakers who took up the cudgels on behalf of the Abrahamitic dialogue: according to him Abraham stands less for contents of teaching authorities but for the basic attitude of faith in the Absolute. The Hebrew verbs "go" and "see" in the book of Genesis showed the leitmotifs of his prophetic existence. To believe in the sense of Abraham meant to develop a visionary strength for the future and to leave behind the conventional things. And that attitude could, in spite of the different paths of faiths, bring people closer to each other.

 

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