The Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies (RIIFS), founded in Amman in 1994 under the patronage of the Prince El Hassan bin Talal, offers, an academic level contribution to eliminate the tensions between religions and cultures, for the promotion of peace. Given the geo-political and cultural humus out of which it was born and the current seriousness of the problem, the main focus of RIIFS is the study of the relationship between Islam and Christianity.
The Institute is also engaged in what has been called the ‘Promotion of the Amman Message’ project, the speech delivered by Sheikh Izz-Eddine Al-Khatib Al-Tamimi, Chief Justice of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, November 9, 2004: a declaration of commitment to dialogue by the Jordanian Muslim world.
This was the context in which Prof. Amer Al Hafi, Associate Director and Head of the Research Committee of the RIIFS, called on the President of the Focolare, Maria Voce, these days in Jordan, to consult a qualified group of institutional representatives to present the contribution that the Movement brings to interreligious dialogue, with particular attention to relations with Islam.
The meeting was held at the Arab Thought Forum in the presence of about seventy guests. Dr. Kamel Abu Jamer, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, opened the evening by presenting Maria Voce as a friend “of our country, the only nation in the region where, in accordance with the true spirit of Islam that is a spirit of peace, all religions are free to practice.”
The intervention of Maria Voce was focused on the experience of dialogue that was born thanks to the charismatic figure of Chiara Lubich, noting that Jordan is a “country where Muslims and Christians have lived side by side for hundreds of years, offering a great testimony of positive coexistence.” She also expressed appreciation for “the many initiatives promoted by His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn Al-Hussein to strengthen co-existence, including the initiative that has been welcomed by the UN, to hold an annual week dedicated to the harmony among people of different faiths.”
Then, tracking the development of the contribution of the Focolare to dialogue and pointing to love as its typical methodology based on what Chiara Lubich had defined as the art of love, Voce mentioned some significant experiences of Muslim-Christian dialogue in which the Focolare has played a part in recent decades. She referred to the relationship begun in Europe with many Muslims who arrived on that continent because of migration flows; the experience of Tlemcen in Algeria; one in the U.S. with the followers of Imam WD Mohammad and others in the context of the Near East. She said: “Often interreligious dialogue requires overcoming past misunderstandings in order to rediscover that we are brothers and sisters […]. Working together based on love and mercy brings numerous benefits. We often find that the Christian becomes a better Christian, the Muslim becomes a better Muslim, and that the society, which is the fruit of this collaboration, also improves.”
“Thank you for this heart to heart talk,” said Dr. Sadeq As AlFapiq, Secretary General of the Arab Thought Forum. “We have lost the courage, but this Movement was born in a discouraging moment of war. In moments of tragedy new hope is always born. “
“Sacrifice is a method of loving that is able to bring people together,” Prof. Amer Al Hafi reflected, “and your presence here makes us feel that Christ is still alive and sends signs in people who love.”
“What we have all experienced this evening is something real, concrete and alive,” added Dr. Azmy Shaheen. “This change begins from oneself. The point is how are we to transform this into concrete models of peace and be missionaries of life and not only of words.”
Comments were also made concerning this particular moment in Islam and its critical view of the West which it views as anything but positive. Maria Voce addressed these comments as well at the conclusion of the evening, thanking everyone for their honest analysis that expressed the problems and the pain. “I’m Western and I come from the West and if I could do something to repair the injustice that has been done by that part of the world towards your lands I would wholeheartedly do it.”
By Roberto Catalano