- On May 12, 2015
By Cornelis van der Kooi
It seems an unfavorable time to be discussing interfaith dialogue and mission. Throughout the world we encounter unrest about the situation in the Middle East, where the announcement of a caliphate has captured the hearts and imaginations of many of the younger generation in the region. The prospects for the Christian community in the Middle East are dim, due to the fact that militant forms of Islam have enlarged their basis of power. The overthrow of old dictatorial regimes did not pave the way for modern forms of democracy, but rather created a power vacuum within which radical Islamic groups have multiplied. The modern call to jihad even attracts youngsters from different western countries.
What is it that attracts and fascinates them? One of the major draws is a compelling “grand narrative.” This is an attractive vision of a caliphate, and it centers on devotion to Allah and a pure life according to the sharia. Such a vision gives form and meaning to life. This narrative offered by the caliphate awakens memories of a powerful Islamic empire that dominated much of the world. For Christians in the Middle East, this all has devastating consequences as many of the Christian communities that have existed for centuries in the region are facing near extinction.
The Middle East is not the only place where the prospects for interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians seem poor. Stories of Boko Haram in Nigeria and reports from Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia also point to the endangered situation of many Christians. What does this all mean for Christian mission and interfaith dialogue? In order to explore this question I would like to focus on the grand narrative that we live from and from which we draw our hope. Taking this narrative approach affords a way into the larger religious imaginations that differentiate Muslims, Liberals, and Christians.
The Context of the Netherlands
The reports of a growing militant Islam have ripple effects on numerous social and political contexts. In my country, the Netherlands, official institutions try to keep a sharp eye on the young men who have served as soldiers and warriors in the jihad. Due to these war experiences, their training, and the possibility of being traumatized, these men are regarded as a risk factor to society. Their existence fueled the anxiety, unrest and turmoil that found its fevered pitch in the public debate over the murder of Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist in 2004. In the days following the murder, my country found itself wrestling with serious questions: How should society react to this religious radicalism? What can a modern secularist society offer those who belong to such groups?