http://www.timesonl tol/comment/ faith/article414 8115.ece

From Times Online
June 16, 2008


Islam is stuck in the Middle Ages, says leading interfaith expert

Islam’s problems with the modern world are because it has never undergone “a
serious religious reformation” claims German theologian

Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

Islam is stuck in its own version of the “Middle Ages” which is contributing
to a global crisis, one of the leading experts on Islam, Judaism and
Christianity argues today.

Professor Hans Kung, a leading Roman Catholic and theologian from Germany,
warns in a lecture of a “deadly threat” to all humankind unless new efforts
are made to build bridges with Islam. He says in London that Islam has
“special problems” with modernity because, unike Christianity and Judaism,
it has never undergone a “serious religious reformation” . He questions
whether Islam is even capable of adapting to a post-modern world in the way
that Christianity and Judaism have done. But he also outlines why he is
hopeful that the present problems around radicalisation within Islam can be
resolved, and how the other two Abrahamic faiths are subject to some of the
same problems on their extremist edges. Violence has been practicised in the
sign of the crescent, but also in the sign of the cross, he warns. In his
lecture, seen by The Times, Professor Kung says: “The options have become
clear: either rivalry of the religions, clash of civilizations, war of the
nations – or dialogue of civilizations and peace between the nations as a
presupposition for peace between the nations.

“In the face of the deadly threat to all humankind, instead of building new
dams of hatred, revenge and enmity, we should tear down the walls of
prejudice stone by stone and thus build bridges of dialogue, bridges
particularly towards Islam.” Professor Kung, author of Islam: Past, Present
and Future, published last year and one of the most authoritative works on
the subject, is speaking on “Challenges to Islam, Christianity and Judaism”
in a lecture organised by the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust and Sky Arts.
It will be broadcast on Sky Arts later this month. He describes how liberal
Jews, Christians and Muslims often get on better with each other than they
do with fellow Jews, Christians and Muslims from the traditionalist wings of
those religions. A Roman Catholic “imprisoned in the Middle Ages” will find
himself closer to the “medieval element” of Islam and Judaism than with
liberal Catholic believers. Professor Kung says that one of the main causes
of conflicts between religions is the persistence of out-dated ways of
thinking. Islam and Christianity regard the actual Middle Ages as the “great
time” for their religions. But modernity has forced all three religions of
the book onto the “defensive”, and they all face challenges over how they
react to their own “Middle Ages”. He argues today that Christianity and
Judaism have moved on, but not Islam. “It remains an open question if the
ecumenical paradigm of post-modernity will develop also in Islam.”

Professor Kung, who aged 80 is a contemporary of the Pope and worked with
him as a theological adviser to the Second Vatican Council in the early
1960’s, was influential at the council in persuading the Roman Catholic
Church to adopt a more positive attitude to Judaism and religious freedom.
He has also spoken out constantly in favour of the official recognition of
the State of Israel by the Vatican and for a two-state-solution for Israelis
and Palestinians.

Professor Kung, whose own liberal views cost him his official Catholic
teaching licence in the last century, says that the essence of all three
religions must be preserved, but those who want peace and reconciliation
will not be able to avoid criticism. They must engage in self-criticism to
enable their faiths to adapt to modernity. Referring to Christianity, for
example, he says: “Jesus Christ as a basic model is a constant, but the law
of celibacy is a variable.” He argues: “After the Reformation Christianity
had to undergo another paradigm shift, that of the Enlightenment. Judaism
after the French Revolution and Napoleon experienced the Enlightenment
first, and as a consequence, at least in Reform Judaism, it experienced also
a religious reformation. Islam, however, has not undergone a serious
religious reformation and so to the present day has quite special problems
also with modernity and its core components, freedom of conscience and
religion, human rights, tolerance, democracy.”

He also sets out what the three religions have in common, such as
injunctions against murder, respect for life, and he will explain how must
Muslims do not take the extremist view. “They do not recognize themselves in
our picture of Islam, because they want to be loyal citizens of the Islamic
religion,” says, calling for fairness in the condemnations by the West.
“Those who make Islam responsible for kidnappings, suicide attacks, car
bombs and beheadings carried out by a few blind extremists ought at the same
time to condemn Christianity or Judaism for the barbarous maltreatment of
prisoners, the air strikes and tank attacks carried out by the US Army –
several 10,000 civilians have been murdered in Iraq alone – and the
terrorism of the Israeli army of occupation in Palestine.”

Professor Kung’s lecture will be broadcast on Sky Arts, channel 267, on June
at 7.15pm The Sky Arts accompanying series on the art and architecture
of religious buildings, called Art of Faith, can be seen on Sunday nights at


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