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IRAN
from issue no. 05 - 2008

ISLAM-CHRISTIANITY DIALOGUE

Faith, history and science go forward together


The President of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization of Tehran, Mahdi Mostafavi, speaks after the meeting of representatives of Shiite Islam with the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue


Interview with Mahdi Mostafavi by Giovanni Cubeddu


Mahdi Mostafavi is the President of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, the Iranian State body entrusted with inter-faith and cultural dialogue. He and the delegation he leads were granted a papal audience at the end of the meeting from 28 to 30 April last that brought together the Iranian scholars with the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue headed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.

Benedict XVI with Mahdi  Mostafavi, 30 April 2008

Benedict XVI with Mahdi Mostafavi, 30 April 2008

The subject of your talks was “Faith and reason in Christianity and in Islam.” A tribute to Pope Benedict?
MAHDI MOSTAFAVI: For years now, fortunately, we have enjoyed good relations with the Holy See, it’s well known, and this is already the sixth meeting in the Vatican between Shiites and Catholics. In fact the subject of “faith and reason” – of which we appreciate the importance – was not chosen by will of the Pope, but as interesting both parties, in line with a criterion already used. Discussing topics of mutual satisfaction is very useful because it helps one get to know the mentality of one’s counterpart and, moreover, by listening, we are getting increasingly close to the truth. The topics we have examined in the past were the Islamic and Christian vision of modernity, of pluralism and of the religious principles that govern peace. All interesting meetings and very fruitful, which have demonstrated the existence of a common vision in various fields, particularly when the spirit of convergence exists, and there is a willingness to understand one another.
And what, in short, is the Iranian point of view?
MOSTAFAVI: In today’s world there is a need to attend to reason, knowledge and spirituality. The debate focused on that, and both sides concluded that we cannot understand such large religious phenomena without thorough study: a good knowledge of the contents of faith is a requisite when it comes to major religions …
You also analyzed a problem of great moment: “Faith and reason faced with the phenomenon of violence”.
MOSTAFAVI: That enabled us to have a fervent discussion, after which we can say that the use of reason alone brings us closer to violence, but also the opposite: that if we also follow the faith without reason, we approach violence. Faith and reason must go together, without denying each other, since they live in need of each other. Both in Christianity and in Islam the importance of this complementarity has often been reiterated.
Iran is rarely in the international news today, if not for the nuclear issue. We would instead like to ask if there is a theological debate in your country on the subjects of this last meeting.
MOSTAFAVI: Yes, certainly there are different opinions and points of view among us believers. But today in Iran the majority of our faithful and intellectuals think the way we brought with us to Rome. There’s the same vision, both in our universities and in the religious schools of Qom. You’ll find several interesting publications on the matter.
In the final points on which you set out the agreement of both delegations the need is expressed for Christians and Muslims go beyond mere “tolerance”, and for account to be taken of the “diversity of historical contexts”. In short, there is a better exchange of views when history is respected.
MOSTAFAVI: In my opinion, if religions discuss knowledge and speak in a reasonable and sincere manner, they can come much closer. For us Iranians, if Judaism, Christianity and Islam come close, there will never be a problem. Those come rather from the followers of religions who exaggerate, or whose faith is insecure or who do not know how to use reason. The problem in the world today is secularization, whereby God and religion have been separated from society, and where there is no faith or good relations between faith and reason society becomes very rigid. The opposite is also possible, problems arise when there are religious extremists who have set aside both reason and faith. That is not, however, the way the prophets behave: they have always argued that reason and faith must proceed together. And if the faithful followed the precepts of the prophets, we would never have these problems. Wars have never been started by honest intellectuals.
How are joint initiatives between Catholics and Shiites to develop?
MOSTAFAVI: In the Vatican we discussed scientific, cultural and artistic initiatives, with a view to the next meeting, assessing several fertile areas on which to collaborate. We are trying to make the most of these possible convergences.


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