Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Christians and Muslims Seeking Peace


Christians and Muslims Seeking Peace
by Hajj Muhammad Legenhausen

first published in:
Mennonite Central Committee
Peace Office Publication
January–March 2006
Vol 36, No. 1


The fundamental call for peace over many
centuries in both the Christian and Muslim
worlds has been a call for unity to fight
against a common enemy. Historians have
suggested that the very idea of Europe as a
cultural and political entity is grounded in
the perceived need to unite against the common
Muslim foe. Muslims have also sought
to mollify sectarian strife by calling attention
to the need to unite against the attacks of
Christians. There are numerous other examples
in which people come together and
define their own identities through their
opposition to a common enemy. In 1952,
the term third world was coined by economist
Alfred Sauvy in an article in the French
magazine L’Observateur. The meaning
changed from Sauvy’s analogy with the
tiers état, as it was taken up enthusiastically
during the Cold War to describe countries
that were neither members of NATO or the
Warsaw Pact. So, NATO came to define the
West, the First World, against the communist
menace and the “underdeveloped” rest
over whose resources the Western and Eastern
blocs competed. In all of this, we find
that the inspiration to seek peace and
alliance is coupled with opposition to a
presumably hostile other.
What motivates peace, in such circumstances,
is inseparable from what motivates
enmity toward the other, because it is the
perceived need to confront the enemy with
a common front that makes local peace
among opposing factions possible. Peace
is sought as a means of procuring security
from an external enemy. This implies that
loss of the external enemy might be felt as a
threat to internal security. Without the fear
of the hostile other, factional fighting among
those allied against it might break out.
Crusading Peace: Christendom, the Muslim World, and Western Political Order

In his Crusading Peace: Christendom, the
Muslim World, and Western Political Order
(Berkeley: University of California Press,
2002) Tomaz Mastnak has documented
the historical development of the European
peace movement through the centuries of
the crusades. Crusades were not seen as a
form of war, but as a sacred blood sacrifice.
Those who sought peace in Europe were
exclusively opposed to the spilling of Christian
blood by Christians. Although mysticism
in all the world’s religions is usually
associated with love of all creatures and
non-violence, there have been notable
exceptions. Mastnak ends his book with
a discussion of St. Catherine of Siena.
125_Catherine_GregoryXI.jpg - 65315 Bytes
In the 1370s Catherine promoted the return
of the Pope to Rome from Avignon, peace
among Christians, and a revival of the crusades
to culminate in the Church’s victorious
march to Jerusalem. She viewed the crusade
as a mystery of blood: “Just as Christ had
shed his blood for the salvation of men, so
Christians now had to shed their blood for
Christ to free his patrimony from impious
hands.” (Mastnak, 341) She described the
crusade as a wedding feast. When Pope Gregory
XI held an audience with Catherine,
he explained to her that he wanted to make
peace among the Christians so that he could
then call them to a crusade. Catherine
responded that there was no better way to
make peace among Christians than by ordering
a crusade. She believed that the result of
the crusade would be the conversion of the
Muslims, whom she described as “wicked
unbelieving dogs”.
Image:Giovanni di Paolo The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena,.jpg
The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena
by Giovanni di Paolo, ca. 1460 ( Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Mastnak continues: “The greatest minds
of the Medieval Western world . . . as well
as mystics and visionaries, all bent their
heads and their knees before the spirit of the
crusade. They all subscribed—rarely with
silence, often with admirable eloquence—to
the declaration that it was necessary to eliminate
those who had been named infidels
and declared enemies. This made the greatest
minds at one with the mindless. . . .”
(Mastnak, 345–346) The profound understanding
of the Middle Ages with all its subtlety
and mystical insight was unable to
imagine that there could be anything wrong
with the most rapacious campaigns against
the infidels.

Enmity or Love
The idea that enmity is what legitimizes the
state as a political institution was rigorously
defended by the Nazi political theorist Carl
Schmitt (1888-1985).
Carl Schmitt
Schmitt argues that
there is no political identity without enemies
and the potential for war with them.1 At the
same time, Schmitt seeks to blunt religious
opposition to war by interpreting the phrase,
“Love your enemies,”2 as referring only to
personal enemies (Latin, inimicus) and not
national enemies (Latin, hostis). He writes
approvingly: “Never in the thousand-year
struggle between Christians and Moslems did
it occur to a Christian to surrender rather
than defend Europe out of love toward the
Saracens or Turks.” (Schmitt, 29). There has
been a revival of interest in Schmitt’s thought
among American neo-conservatives because
of his critique of liberalism. In works such as
his Politische Theologie, Schmitt drew upon
Catholic traditionalists to argue that the individualism
and pluralism inherent in liberalism
debilitate the state.3
Today, simultaneous with the atrocities committed
by Muslims and Christians against
one another and too often blasphemously
justified by appeal to religious loyalties,
unprecedented steps are also being taken to
promote understanding and dialogue. I am
proud to have some small part in the facilitation
of these steps, as a result of which there
are on-going projects for cooperation and
communication between Mennonites and
Shi’ites in Toronto and Qom, and between
Catholics and Shi’ites in England, Austria,
the United States, and Iran. The most visible
signs of dialogue are conferences that have
been held and are being planned. However,
no one should imagine that the point of dialogue
is to have conferences! The conferences
help us to focus attention on one another, to
explain ourselves to others, to seek common
elements in faith, feelings and practice, and
to attempt to expand upon them. Some of
the seminary students in Qom, for example,
who observed the last Mennonite-Shi’ite
symposium there, have expressed an interest
in devoting their careers to the deepening of
such mutual understanding.
As Muslims, we take part in dialogue
because it is a religious obligation. We are
called upon to follow the example of the
Apostle of God, Muhammad (s) and the
Imams (‘a) in seeking “a common word”
between ourselves and “People of the
Book”. We hope and pray that through the
friendships that we have found in dialogue,
we may prepare the ground for further
friendship and mutual understanding, and
that with the expansion of this work we may
help to move closer toward the lofty ideals
of peace and justice. Through dialogue
we hope to equip ourselves with the understanding
necessary to effectively change attitudes
among others with whom we engage
when such attitudes result from misperceptions,
bias, and unfamiliarity.
Some may judge the attempt to be folly. A
follower of Carl Schmitt might say that the
promotion of such sympathy with the enemy
(for he defines enemies as those with whom
our nation is potentially at war) can only
weaken the state and make its citizens vulnerable
to those who have no inclination toward
mutual understanding at all. In diametric
opposition to this line of thought, we offer
ideals of cosmopolitanism that can be found
in both Western and Islamic traditions.
According to these ways of looking at citizenship,
we are to see ourselves as belonging
to a polis that includes the entire world. The
enemy we face is not defined by territory,
religion, race, or ideology, but by strife and
oppression themselves. If it is inevitable that
we must define our own identities in opposition
to an enemy, then let us heed the Qur’an
when in it we are told that Satan is indeed
our manifest enemy. Let us attempt, through
dialogue and understanding, to find a place
for one another in the Kingdom of God.


1 See Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
2 Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27).
3 See A. James Reimer, Paul Tillich: Theologian of
Nature, Culture and Politics (München: Lit Verlag,
2004), 25–28.


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