There could be no one fixed or stereotyped Christian response to the challenge of Islam in the multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-racial and multi-cultural situation prevalent in most of the advanced countries of the world, the Anglican Consultative Council, meeting in Panama, was told today, 18 October 1996. "There would be many and varied responses depending on the situation" said the Rt Rev Alexander Malik, Bishop of Lahore in the Church of Pakistan.
"The main point in this response", the Bishop added, "is that it has to be open, liberal and flexible. This openness and flexibility does not mean that we should accept the ideology of Islam without its critical evaluation, or reject it without reason, or compromise with it at the expense of Christian principles and 'kingdom values'. The presence of other religions or ideologies should not deter us from sharing our religion or faith with others; but it needs to be done with love and humility on the pattern of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
With estimates of about 1,000 million Muslims all over the world, Islam was the second biggest religion both in number and in spread. Islam was a political and economic force to be reckoned with and a religious and spiritual force that deserved attention and study, Bishop Alexander noted. Most Islamic countries were torn between modern, open, liberal, democratic government and the 'Islamic State' run on laws and principles on the pattern of the first four Chaliphs of Islamic history.
"Islam as such becomes an all encompassing philosophy of life", the Bishop said, "including religious, social, economic and political."
"Christians and their Churches are quite confused and puzzled as to how to respond to the growing challenge of Islam", explained Bishop Alexander. "They become quite nervous when they see mosques and Islamic centres being built in great numbers in the western countries. Thus their first response is usually negative."
Others responded more positively, continued the Bishop, based on a rationale that all have a right to subscribe to whatever faith or belief they wish, going out of their way to help, to be kind and considerate to the people of Islam. This diaconal response of service to challenge Islam, proclaiming faith through action, said the Bishop, was advocated both in the Western Churches where Muslims are in a minority and in Islamic countries where Christians are in a minority.
The third response was dialogue, though viewed by both Christians and Muslims with apprehension.
"In an ecumenical context, inter-religious dialogue is one of the significant ways of engaging in mission", said Bishop Alexander. "As the Church's mission is basically addressed to those who do not know Christ and his Gospel and God in Christ calls all peoples to himself, inter-religious dialogue becomes a means to proclaim and present Christ. In the light of the economy of salvation, the Church sees no conflict between proclaiming Christ and engaging in inter-religious dialogue."
Recognising the different situations in which Christian Churches find themselves, Bishop Alexander emphasised that there were two major responses Churches could make; by proclaiming their faith in Christ through acts of service and through dialogue. They should also take pride in their faith and boldly preach Christ, he added.