I went to a forum this week about "the primordial relationship between God and the human person in Catholicism and Islam" and it was certainly illuminating. A few quotes from different people that I think sum it up:
"You can't help but feel a little triumphalistic."
"If this man is supposed to be the Islamic intellectual equivalent of Cardinal Scola, we are in trouble."
"I never realized how Pelagian Islam is."
and on the other hand, a priest who had been involved in this all day:
"I can see why so many Christians are converting to Islam; It is so simple, direct, clear and easy."
The two presentations were emblematic of the two very different ways we understand the world. No matter how many times you want to stress similarities and acknowledge our common brotherhood, you also MUST acknowledge difference.
Scola's paper, which was provided to all participants, was a brilliant and sweeping synthesis of the Catholic understanding of God's relationship with humanity through Jesus Christ. After 2 years of studying just that, I still left with new thoughts to chew on. Professor Siddiqi, formerly the President of the Islamic Society of America, gave us a rough overview of what Muslims believe on the topic... and it was not much. It is simple; God created us. Adam and Eve sinned. (b.n. there is not a concept of original sin in Islam; rather, we all simply follow their example- we are born with a pure nature and are naturally able to know what Allah wants from us, so it's not clear at all why we would sin anyway, or why Allah would be merciful to such people) Human beings are called to surrender their will to Allah and turn to him. We both believe in a God who created the world and should be praised and obeyed. We both believe God's law is written on our hearts. But there was just too much left unsaid. At the end, Cardinal Scola said about 5 HUGE issues he would like to ask Siddiqi but did not want to make him answer, i.e. the relationship between freedom and truth, reason and faith, and the like. Scola started his lecture with the human heart, with the perennial human questions "Who am I?" "Why do I exist?" None of these seemed to be part of the understanding of Islam. If Siddiqi was truly listening, I think he would have had to object strongly to what was actually being said.
Scola: Jesus Christ is the center of the universe and of history.
Siddiqi: Jesus Christ is one of the 25 prophets we acknowledge and respect.
How are these two reconcilable? At least state that. Interreligious dialogue does not mean skimming over differences. It means seeking to understand the other as a person and their beliefs as what shapes them. It means somehow allowing the difference to be fruitful- like in man and woman.