Thursday, August 28, 2008
[The most dramatic talk for me so far was given this morning by journalist Magdi Cristiano Allam. You may recall he is the former Muslim who was baptized by the Pope this past Easter. He travels with bodyguards as he remains under a death threat as an apostate to Islam. As I was listening to his courageous speech, I was reminded of my visit to the Solzhenitsyn exhibit yesterday, and found Allam a fine successor to the Russian writer in his unflinching commitment to truth. The journalist John Waters (notes to follow) shared the panel with Allam. The following are my notes from Allam's portion of the panel titled, "Christianity is not a doctrine but an encounter: two journalists tell their stories". Pictures to follow.]
Allam told the crowd that they are the protagonists with their certainty of truth in Christ, strong in a solidarity of values and determination to act. He expressed gratitude for CL which he called "my house of values". Within this house, I have met authentic witnesses of faith."
From the time Allam was first invited to the Meeting in 2003 until what he called the most wonderful joy of his life, his baptism on March 22nd by Pope Benedict XVI, in what seemed at first a chance encounter, providence gave this opportunity to him to take or leave.
When he was four years old, his mother was very poor and was a babysitter for a rich Italian family in Cairo. The family sent him to a Catholic school, which was the beginning of Allam's journey. He had the chance to learn of Christianity and to share life experiences with real witnesses of the faith, people devoted to Christ who lived their faith with good deeds, in a totalizing way that envelops our humanity. All this created in him the ethical awareness of life values as the center of existence with the person as the starting point. This ethical basis included the non-negotiable values of Pope Benedict XVI, universal legitimate values such as the sacredness of life and the dignity of the human being as the foundation of civil coexistence, respect for freedom, especially freedom of religion as the core. Along this journey, he was comforted and supported by many witnesses. Christianity is a matter of encounters and the witness of faith through good deeds.
On this journey, at one moment, he said, his spirituality corresponded perfectly with faith in Jesus. Pope Benedict XVI confirmed this in insisting faith and reason cannot be separated. He gave the challenge that everything at the level of reason corresponds to humanity and is perfectly valued even in the Christian religion, the religion of truth, freedom and life.
This is why he became convinced to side with the Pope on many issues, particularly after the Pope's address at Regensburg in 2006 on faith and reason, denouncing violence perpetrated in the name of God. That Islam was spread thorugh the sword is an historical fact supported by Islamic texts. This was traumatic for Allam. After the Pope said this, a brutal and general condemnation ensued with some requesting apologies, others removing ambassadors, and with extremists calling for a death sentence. The Pope was isolated by many critics in the Western media and even from Christian churches and Catholic prelates who found this speech undesirable. This made him ponder, and he recognized that today the West fears looking at the truth. It does not recognize one truth, and it is convinced the truth must stay hidden within ourselves. We are afraid to criticize others so think it is better not to express the truth. The root of this cowardly attitude is the ideological disease of relativism which deprives us of the use of reason. We want to put all religions, cultures, values and knowledge at the same level.
The West is victim of another ideology which is political correctness. In our approach with Islam, we cannot say or do anything to hurt sensibilities. Western culture has another ideological disease, goodism. As long as we give everybody rights and freedoms, everybody is happy. Goodism is the opposite of the common good which is based on rights and duties. Only then will it become good for all.
This led him to reflect on his 56 years of experience as a lay, moderate, liberal Muslim committed to faith and reason. He had worked with great passion and results he was proud of on recognizing fundamental rights, non-negotiables among Muslims. In 2004, he was involved in assembling a delegation of moderate Muslims to make a statement against terrorism. He was involved in affirming faith and reason and democracy. He was condemned to death by extreme Islamists.
This led him to reflect, and he was obliged to study and understand better the theological roots of Islam. Christianity is a religion of God become man incarnated in Jesus. Islam was a religion of text; the Koran was created by and with God and could not be subjected to reason and analysis. There are many verses in the Koran which legitimize the ideology of hatred and of death. Mohammed, by historical documents which are accepted also by Muslims, was a warrior who fought and killed. Some passages testify that he personally participated in crimes, including in the year 627 the decapitation of 700 male adult Jews at the gates of Medina. Muslims do not deny these facts. But he could not be indifferent to facts. His conclusion was of the incompatibility of values he believed and had fought for.
This led him to abandon Islam once and for all. He is condemning Islam as a religion, but he wants to distinguish between the religion and those people who follow it. Individual Muslims must be valued, respected, loved per se. And he finds affinity especially with those who respect human rights and common values. One must work together to build a common civilization. We must do this in the certainty of truth, disenfranchising ourselves from relativism. We should assert the dignity of Christianity and not jeopardize the solidity of our faith. The ability to share values is linked to our ability to be fully ourselves, protagonists of our life, recognizing the truth, that the certainty of the truth is one of the root values in us. Then we can become protagonists in personal and collective action for humanity.