Cardinal affirms British Muslims and a plural society
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has said that Christians should sympathise with oppressed Muslims in the face of extremist distortions of Islam. And he has called for reciprocal concern from British Muslims about the mistreatment of minorities in Muslim societies.
The Cardinal was speaking at the Palais des Congres in Lyon, France, during the 19th Annual Inter-faith Peace Gathering. He also declared that plural Europe needed to develop a new ëspiritual humanism' in the wake of the 7 July London bombings.
Among other issues, the Archbishop of Westminster (his alternate title) linked the defence of religious freedom to the effective assimilation of different cultural and ethnic groups in society, and added that 'the alienation' of Muslim youth needed to be urgently addressed.
The Cardinal hoped that British Christians would feel the plight of Bosnian Muslims, and that British Muslims would similarly have an active concern for the plight of Christians under certain interpretations of Sharia law in countries like Nigeria.
Talking of the 7 July bombers, Murphy-O'Connor said that in rejecting both their Asian and British identities, 'they fell vulnerable to a version of Arabic Islam which sees fit to interpret the Qur'an in isolation from the interpretative communities and legislative traditions of the faith.'
He continued: 'This ideology fuelled their fury at injustice and offered them a way of overcoming it - one that they were persuaded to believe could please God by sacrificing themselves and others in the process.'
Turning to broader social themes, the Cardinal argued that secularism and nationalism are no longer sufficient. A humanism that remains open to the spiritual is in keeping with the acknowledgement of both faith and non-faith in public life, he said.
The Cardinal declared: '[C]ontemporary Europe has shifted in its view, from seeing religion as incompatible with democratic pluralism to a realisation that there cannot be democratic pluralism without recognition of religion in the public square. We have now... the chance to build a spiritual humanism of peace in which all our religions can see the best of themselves reflected, yet which is also acceptable to those of no faith who see tolerance and respect for diversity as fundamental.'
Specifically addressing Christians in the West, the Cardinal said that they should 'challenge the ideology of the crucifier with the faith in the Crucified.'
Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesperson for the umbrella organisation the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), told BBC News yesterday: 'We warmly welcome the Cardinal's remarks, which are indicative of the humanity behind the man, but also the compassionate nature of the Christian faith itself.'
Last week Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor expressed concern that the new Iraqi constitution appears to open the door to Sharia law in the country.
He said that the 800,000 Christians and other minorities in Iraq were anxious that their freedoms were not explicitly enshrined in the constitution.