Dialogue between Muslims and Protestants: looking at future generations

The Florence meeting of Muslim and Protestant representatives marks the beginning of a new course

Pawel Gajewski, Daniele Garrone, Nibras Breigheche (foto: Agenzia NEV)

Rome (NEV), 23 April 2018 – What is the sense of having a dialogue? With whom, how and where? These are the questions that have marked the works of the meeting “Protestantism and Islam: routes of dialogue”, promoted by the Study-Dialogue-Integration Commission (COSDI) of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI). Representatives of the main Islamic traditions in Italy, participated to the meeting held in Florence last April 16th.

Pastor Luca Maria Negro, FCEI president, in his greetings to the assembly, underlined how, as Protestants, children of a Reformation whose meaning in Italy has been distorted and misunderstood for centuries, it is necessary to react against current stereotypes about Islam and to promote a correct knowledge about it. Protestants, who recently conquered religious freedom thanks to the stipulation of agreements with the State, must continue to fight for the freedom of all faith communities.

Paolo Naso (COSDI-FCEI and coordinator of the Council for the relations with Italian Islam set up by the Ministry of the Interior), spoke of the evident discrimination Islam still suffers in Italy: only in Rome 5 mosques have been closed, in the last few months. In this regard, Valdo Spini, Waldensian, former Minister of the Republic, reiterated the urgency of a law on religious freedom to guarantee the rights of all expressions of faith in the Country. Addressing the Muslims present at the meeting, however, he advised not to longer hesitate to make a joint agreement with the State, despite the various currents within Italian Islam.

Numerous points emerged during the day, among which we recall the position of women; the theological implications of dialogue with other traditions of faith; the lack of legal recognition of Islam; the relationship with the institutions; the struggle against prejudices and Islamophobia through an incessant effort of knowledge and training. All this without forgetting the broader framework within which this dialogue takes place: the Italian society, where there is a substantial religious illiteracy. In short, everyone agreed that physical places, appropriate structures, initiatives, to facilitate and promote dialogue, are mostly needed.

One of the “tracks of dialogue” was that of the common commitment in favor of inter-religious cooperation. On this front, from the Protestant side, came a concrete request: why not thinking of a common work for the integration in Italy of those who arrive with the ecumenical project of the “humanitarian corridors”? Four out of five refugees coming from Lebanon through this safe and legal passage, are in fact Muslims.

Among those present at the Gould Institute of the Tuscan chief town, also: Izzedin Elzir, president of the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy (UCOII) and imam of the Florence mosque; Aisha Lazzerini, representative of the Legal Affairs Commission of the Italian Islamic Religious Community (COREIS); Massimo Cozzolino of the Italian Islamic Confederation; Iranian Shahrzad Houshmand, professor of Islamic studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome; Nibras Breigheche, member of the board of the Italian Islamic Association of Imams and religious guides, and Abdellah Redouane of the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy of the Great Mosque of Rome, who was very clear: “we have no choice, but dialogue”.

For the Protestant part participated the Waldensian theologians Letizia Tomassone and Daniele Garrone. To represent the Catholic Church, don Cristiano Bettega, director of the Office for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of the Italian Bishop’s Conference (CEI), who emphasized “experiential dialogue”: “dialogue with the institutions is certainly important, but it is not enough. We need dialogue in everyday life, in everyday practical reality”.

Satisfaction for the outcome of the initiative was expressed by the Waldensian pastor Pawel Gajewski, moderator of COSDI’s Dialogue Section: “We have started a journey. The discussion certainly does not end here. We will promote other meetings, involving not only theologians, but also sociologists, political and mass media experts and, especially, young people”.