Beloved fellow participants
We would like to thank the honorable Government of Austria, and especially Her Excellency Ursula Plassnik, the Federal Foreign Minister of Austria, as well as the Austrian Organization for the Middle East for inviting us to participate in this International Conference on "Islam in a pluralistic world". We thank you even more for offering us the floor to express our thoughts on this topic, especially from the point of view on "cultures in conflict and dialogue".
Such gatherings prepare the way for the peaceful cooperation of the peoples; bring cultures to proximity toward one another and the faithful of the various religions to a convincing communication, that all human beings as individuals face the same problems in life, and that they ought to help, instead of instigating and persecuting one another. We need to emphasize the important role of the dialogue among religions and civilizations as the only mean to arrive to a peaceful coexistence. Our contribution at this final session on "cultures in conflict and dialogue" will try to emphasize this need for a sincere and open dialogue between the two religions.
The interreligious dialogue extracts the people who have different religious beliefs than the majority from their isolation and it prepares them for mutual respect, understanding and acceptance of one another.
We have expressed ourselves many times for the dialogue and the possibility of the coexistence of the peoples who come from different cultural traditions. We are glad that once again an opportunity is given to us to repeat in the presence of so many select personalities our unswerving conviction that if we so desire, if our hearts accept it, we can coexist in peace and profitable cooperation, despite the difference of our faiths.
We wholeheartedly greet the prominent Muslim brothers who participate in this meeting, some of whom we have met in other similar conferences, during which all together, them and us, try to infuse the world with the spirit of reconciliation and peaceful coexistence among all. And we believe that the two cultures, namely the Christian and the Islamic, about whom we converse mostly these three days, have within them strong the elements of peaceful coexistence.
It is well known that the Koran, the Sacred Book of Islam, defines explicitly that the Christians and the believers of Judaism, the so-called monotheists, must not be forced to become Muslims. In general it says that religion is not enforced. Furthermore, it describes the Gospel as an "illuminating book" (Ch. 3, verse 184), and it recognizes that the Christians are those who are mostly disposed to love the faithful (Ch. 5, verse 82). Therefore, there is no religious reason according to the faith of Islam for disputes and conflicts between Christians and Muslims. There are of course differences in faith and conviction, but Islam does not exalt them to reasons for conflict.
The conflicts between Christians and Muslims that are mentioned in history have their roots in politics and not in religion. Every time religion has been used for inciting enmity and misfortunes, it has been a case of taking advantage of the ignorance of the masses and misleading them into actions of intolerance and fanaticism. If we examine these cases with a clear and healthy mind we see that they are unjustifiable.
There are no religious reasons that would justify a violent conflict of the Christian and Muslim cultures. Regarding the opinion that had been expressed, publicized, and become known to the entire world on the theory of the clash of civilizations we say that it is not valid, inasmuch as it refers to religion as reason for such a supposedly expected and supposedly unavoidable conflict. If the aspirations of the nations and the geopolitical correlations lead to isolated or generalized conflicts of the Muslim and Christian peoples, or of some of them; and if the politicians mobilize religions for the reinforcement of the idea of otherness and of the hostile attitudes of one nation against the other is a totally different issue and irrelevant to the true nature of religion. Christians and Muslims lived together in the same areas in the context of the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empire, with the consent or the assistance of the political and the religious authorities of the two monotheistic religions. The example as well of the coexistence of the three monotheistic religions in the Middle Ages Andalusia in Spain, as was already mentioned, shows the possibilities offered even today. Despite the occasional explosions of phenomena of religious intolerance and fanaticism, the contemporary interreligious dialogue between Christianity and Islam rightly seeks in the previously mentioned historical models the criteria for the necessity of the dialogue, as well as for the founding of suggestions for peaceful coexistence of peoples and nations in the contemporary globalized and pluralistic world.
We see then that there are no religious reasons for the realization of the aforementioned prophesized conflict. But even if there were reasons for such a conflict, then it is our duty, as religious leaders of both religions to try and prevent such an outcome. A fundamental way of settling any national, economic, ideological, or other differences of every other nature is the development of a serious and fair dialogue between the parties involved.
Dialogue resolves superstitions and biases, contributes to the mutual understanding and paves the way for finding a peaceful solution to all problems. Fear and suspiciousness are ill advisors, and can only be ostracized by getting to know people better on a deeper level and by cultivating good and truly friendly relations. Deep and meaningful relations will either affirm the honesty, or possibly the dishonesty of one's colloquist.
Many people have such strong convictions that they would rather sacrifice their own life than change them. Now, the following question is raised: Do we, by mentioning this, introduce instability and variability of one's faith? No, we do not introduce any such concept. We introduce only a closer examination, a continuously deeper permeation of the truth. Those who examine truth closer, come to the conclusion that many times ideas, which up to a point seemed contradictable and ruled one another out, are in fact harmonized.
Let us give an example. It is written in the Gospel that "whoever desires to save his life will lose it" (Mt 16:25). It's as if the person who wants to save his or her own life, must accept to sacrifice it, for life is only won when it is sacrificed, and not when it is preserved from danger with petty feelings and fear of loss.
Hesiodus in ancient Greece said that night and day is one and the same. If it is so, then why isn't Jew and Greek, slave and freeman, male and female, human being and human being of any race, language and religion one and the same thing?
Ancient Greeks distinguished themselves for their ability to take knowledge and ideas from their fellow people and to develop them without the fear that by doing so, they would actually downgrade or undervalue their own convictions. The rapid and inspired development of the ancient Greek spirit during the classic age is due also to their character. It was their character that allowed them to intercross their ideas with the ideas of other peoples and civilizations, and with great discernment to take on and reform all that was good outside of Hellenism into a new composition.
This freedom of spirit is found in the foundation of every spiritual progress. We believe that wherever there is the Spirit of God there is also freedom. The danger that lies within spiritual freedom is not worth taking into account if compared to all the good that this freedom has to offer. Unfortunately though, as we have already mentioned, many of our fellow people construct a spiritual and ideological stronghold, and shut themselves inside its walls to safeguard their spiritual wholeness and integrity.
We have to clarify that a closer and deeper examination of the truth does not necessarily imply a change of religious affiliation.
In the ecclesiastical language we use the word "μετάνοια", which literally means the shift of the mind, of our mentality, and therefore according to the Church Fathers this is necessary even to those without sin. It is this shift of mentality that the dialogue helps realize, and that is why we hope that due to the repeating dialogues we will succeed in the better, closer and deeper examination of those truths, which facilitate the peaceful coexistence of the people.
During these three days we had the beautiful opportunity to talk with one another peacefully, and to listen to the distinguished speakers developing their positions on important issues that are created by the coexistence or cooperation of Christians and Muslims. What should be highlighted is the development of the issues regarding the position of the Christians in the Muslim countries, and the position of the Muslims in the Christian countries. It seems that the position of the Christians in certain Muslim countries is susceptible and needs important improvement, so that the Christians as well as the other minorities will be able to enjoy in them the equivalent rights and possibilities as the Muslims in Christian countries do.
It was only a week ago that we had in Istanbul the second Conference on the topic of "Peace and Tolerance", which declared among other things the respect for life by the proverbial expression "Live and let live", the respect for human rights, especially the rights of Minorities, and for religious tolerance, and it also condemned terrorism and violence. Furthermore, it also pointed out the Christian saying "blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Children of God", as well as the Muslim saying" Allah summoneth to the abode of Peace". We finally expressed our gratitude to God, for He gave us the opportunity to verify our decision to cooperate for the increase of peace, justice and human dignity.
It is therefore necessary that we move towards that direction, beyond the disabilities of the past. The impartial and incorruptible history has of course registered behaviors of Christian nations and Governments that are incompatible to the Gospel, as well as behaviors of Islamic nations and Governments that are incompatible to the Koran. The time has come to act for God. We shall both converge to what the will of God commands for all.
Once again we would like to express on behalf of all participants the warm thanks and congratulations to the Federal Government of Austria for the initiative and for the organization of this very important Conference. We have to mention particularly that it was organized at the right time and at the right place. Austria has always been a hospitable country with an open perspective to the acceptance of the other. The organization of this conference before taking over the presidency of the European Union manifests the sincere interest for questions of our multicultural and pluralistic world.
Those who have opened their hearts to God feel that the merciful and loving God is not pleased by bloodshed, but by peace, which is the ultimate good and divine present. Christians and Muslims greet one another using the word peace. And it is with this greeting and with this wish that we will end our speech.
Peace be unto you. Peace be unto the world.