“We have not waited until 2019 to discover that we are brothers,” Druel said. While people can find this frustrating because they have such high expectations, these meetings are nonetheless very important.
“It is great progress in itself that most Christian and Muslim leaders are willing to meet,” Druel said. “This level of dialogue is extremely important, extremely needed. But it only brings symbolic results. If you don’t accept this you feel extremely frustrated.”
Scholarly interaction also key
For Druel, academic dialogue between Christian and Muslim scholars is “an extremely important part of interreligious dialogue.” This dialogue is not very visible, but these scholars deal with specific topics and benefit from not needing to serve as representatives of their religion. This work is “extremely rich in terms of content,” but “invisible,” he noted.
These efforts aim to reach agreement on definitions and history. They seek to answer questions like “Can we describe together the same events? Can we talk, on an academic level, about the history of the Quran and the history of Mohammed?”
Druel lamented that some academics, especially in France, show “a very anti-religious tendency” and have reservations about religious or theological studies. Only private French universities have theology departments. The German academic situation is somewhat better, where some academies have Christian or Muslim specialties.
Another way to think about Christian-Muslim dialogue is how to undertake common endeavors such as Druel’s institute, which employs people of both religions.
“We have to run a library. We have to publish a journal,” he said. “We don’t talk of religion, because nobody is a specialist. It would be dangerous to deal with religious topics. But we have actions in common. We learn about one another through doing things.”
He referred to the young adult association in France called Coexister, dedicated to bringing Jews, Muslims, Christians, and atheists to take community action together. One of its principles is not to talk about religion.
“It seems paradoxical: They do things like help the poor, distribute food in the streets, talk about citizenship, you’d expect them to talk about religion,” said Druel.
Similarly, the Dominican institute’s Christian and Muslim employees never talk religion because, in Druel’s words, “they do not have the tools, the epistemology, the experience, and knowledge to deal with this topic peacefully.”
“Any discussions would devolve into sentiments like ‘we are right, you are wrong’,” he said.
Nonetheless, their collaboration helps Christians and Muslims get to know one another.
“We go to their festivities, they come to ours,” said the priest.
From his work, Druel has learned of the need to hire both Christians and Muslims, through practicing what he called “positive discrimination,” roughly equivalent to what Americans know as affirmative action. This practice is against his first instincts.
“As a Frenchman I’m very much against it,” he said, but in the context of Egypt “one would end up in a ghetto very quick” without being intentional about seeking out religiously diverse employees. If the center only asked its Christian employees for recommended candidates for a cook or a gatekeeper position, they would only recommend other Christians.
He suggested Christians can think about this in seeking to rent an apartment to someone.
“Are you expressly going to look for a Muslim or are you going to spontaneously rent to a Christian guy?” he asked.
“How willing am I to rent my flat to a Muslim family? How willing am I to hire a Muslim employee?” he asked, adding, “Muslims should ask themselves the same about Christians.”
He suggested that those who read his remarks to CNA introduce themselves to Muslim neighbors or seek out Muslims to befriend. They should go to a mosque themselves.
“But if they are not willing to do this, then there is no point in talking about Christian-Muslim dialogue, and criticizing it. There is no point, at all,” he said. “This is a very realistic expectation, very easy to do, and it’s very rewarding. You can’t be disappointed. You will have an experience, I promise.”
Marriage between Christians and Muslims is also an area for inter-religious dialogue, and a large focus of Catholic-Muslim dialogue in France.
“Interreligious marriage is beautiful and very rich and amazing, until you have children,” the priest said. “Then when you have children it explodes. Because you have to transmit something, you have to transmit your values.
“This is where most marriages would just explode, when children come,” he said. “Are they going to be Christian? Are they going to be Muslim?”
People should not reject a friend or family member’s fiancée for being Muslim, but they should be realistic with the engaged couple about the difficulties of religious differences about their children’s future, Druel advised. These engaged couples should know that “most of these marriages fail because of the children,” he said.
The priest warned against a “rather fake” concept of Christian-Muslim interaction, as when people claim to know about Islam because they live in an apartment or a neighborhood with Muslim neighbors.
“But you don’t talk to them. And then you draw conclusions,” he said. Whether Christians live in predominant Muslim countries or in predominantly Muslim suburbs of French cities, many claim to know Muslims and Islam and “believe they are specialists” but “they have no Muslim friends, they have never been to a mosque, they never talk to Muslims or work with them.”
Secularism and ignorance can be a barrier, too, according to Druel.
“In France we have a problem with religion, not with Islam. Because people are so ignorant of their own religion — Christians and Muslims alike, and atheists, too. There is an illiteracy about religion.”
He continued: “Everything becomes ‘identity.’ You have to dress as a Muslim, or as a Christian; it’s nothing related to faith, or understanding, or intention. People fight over crosses in school rooms or halal meat at school just for the sake of identity.”
Druel reiterated that simply visiting with Muslims is the best way to overcome obstacles and misunderstanding.
“I’ve been to mosques every week for years. I’ve been taking non-Muslim friends to mosques. They’ve been frightened, worrying that something will happen, but nothing happens,” he said. “We’ve always received very positive reactions.”