Often, when we speak about religion in Albania, religious coexistence is always mentioned, making it in this respect unequivocally special. This religious coexistence has a tradition and history that extends over the centuries. For historical reasons in our country there are two religions – Islam e Christianity – and four major religious communities. There are many reasons, both historical, cultural and psychological, which have enabled the birth and development of this tradition. Belonging to the same nation, speaking the same language and having almost similar habits in the way of life, many mixed marriages, (which were encouraged during the rule of communist regime), and no radical changes in culture, (although we cannot exclude some differences that are inevitable between people of different beliefs), has helped the dialogue and made it easier.
This peaceful religious coexistence, not always an idyllic one, has been and it is a great treasure of our country. It is often said that perhaps this is one of few things we can export to the modern world at the cultural level. But, like everything, the coexistence is not static and as every asset it needs to be preserved, because nothing in this world is immune to changes, movements, increases and losses. It is not something given and cannot stand by itself. Previous generations laid the foundations and developed this tradition. It is the duty of our generation and those which will come after, to continue this tradition, to preserve and to strengthen it constantly and cautiously for the good of all. We have developed friendly relations among the leaders of religious communities and we have kept and developed further the tradition to attend all great religious celebrations of each other, bringing people together and strengthening their friendship. Interfaith cooperation and the maintenance and development of dialogue and understanding is indispensable for our country to preserve peace and unity.
After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, in the institutional, economic, and political collapse and the moral and spiritual vacuum that resulted from it, extremism found fertile ground. Different political groups attempted to use national and religious feelings to achieve their political goals, thus creating an immense whirlpool of hatred, confusion and suffering. The great hatred that characterized the struggle of the classes was replaced by other hatred: ethnic or religious. It is interesting to note that the ranks of extreme nationalists were filled in large measure by the same people that previously had instigated class hatred. Also, at times they attempted to give to their wars a religious character, although they had nothing to do with the religion, wanting to exploit the powerful emotions that are triggered when one believes that his religion is in danger. Many people in the Balkans ironically have dubbed these wars “the religious wars of the atheists.”
In recent years many voices have been raised against the use of religion in the ethnic conflicts of the Balkans. One of the strongest voices is that of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, whose motto has been that: “the oil of religion must never be used to flame the conflicts but to sooth hearts and heal wounds.” Also, the Declaration of Bosphorus, compiled and signed by most of the religious communities of the Balkans, Central Asia and Caucasus, specifically states that, "a crime committed in the name of religion is a crime against religion." We know that hatred does not come from God. Either be racial hatred, class hatred or religious hatred, is fed always by the demon of hatred.
Moreover, in a new open society, like ours, the influences of different groups from outside the country become greater, whether positive ones that can help the dialogue and the strengthening of the values, or the negative ones that can incite conflicts within the communities, hardening the dialogue and fragmenting the society and consequently, weakening coexistence and understanding. That is why our society needs to face these challenges and to find original and creative solutions, to preserve and develop interfaith dialogue.
Christian-Muslim relations have a complex history, sometimes marked by rivalry or war, but equally in many cases - though frequently forgotten - characterized by constructive living together. A striking feature of our historical memories has been the way in which conflicts overshadow the peaceful experiences. In the letter signed by 138 Muslim Scholars and Leaders from across the Muslim world and sent to Christian leaders in 2007 is written: “Islam and Christianity are the two largest religions and Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.” Another voice from the West, of the theologian H. Kung, says the same: “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions.” Dialogue is a necessity, needed to counter extremism and to promote justice and peace that befits our common faith in one God who is Lord of all humankind and of all creation. Already there are many efforts: there are established interfaith commissions in the local and global level, and the dialogue is becoming an integral part of life our communities. There are many meetings and conferences, all aimed at creating greater trust and understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths. But we cannot deny that the actual course of world events has created a growing tension between Muslims and Christian. Now, more than ever, the dialogue has become an imperative needed to defuse the misunderstanding and mistrust.
Christians and Muslims can work together to promote and preserve peace, social justice and moral values. Both faiths place a strong emphasis on justice and peace and on respect for human dignity. Both religions see human beings as stewards of God’s creation. We should, therefore, collaborate in addressing many common social concerns and ethical issues, always based on these common religious motives and values. We can work together to build better communities and cooperate in all areas where Muslims and Christians can cooperate. The dialogue must be done with respect and love, trying to understand the fundamental elements of the others and to avoid the tendency of polemic. In the meantime, we don’t have the right to underestimate the significance of the difficult problems, just to look polite, but must be righteous.
When we talk about the interreligious dialogue, we must keep in mind also the fact that a part of the people, which varies from country to country, does not want to be identified to any religion. Furthermore, when we speak about the members of a religion, we should remember that it does not consist only of the clergy and believers, with different levels of faith and experience, but also of many purely nominal. So, to keep peace, we must develop a sincere and substantial dialogue not only with the people of other religions, but with all the people that form the fabric of the society.
But dialogue is not just something that takes place on an official or academic level only – it is part of daily life during which different cultural and religious groups interact with each other directly, and where tensions between them are the most tangible. Dialogue is needed to maintain and to promote the understanding, cooperation and mutual respect needed for us to live together. But interfaith dialogue is not just words or talk. It includes human interaction and relationships. It can take place between individuals and communities on many levels. It can take place in both formal and informal settings. To have a dialogue it is not just only a conversation between two or more people, but listening to each other, to be open to the others, to change and to be changed by the others. Often, we think that we are doing a dialog, but non-rarely, we have just two monologues.
Dialogue is not an easy task, but now it is a necessity. The long history of misunderstanding, mistrust, and animosity continues to shape the attitudes of many people in both communities of faith. There can be misunderstandings and disagreements. A sincere dialogue seeks to increase mutual understanding, and good relations, to identify causes of tension in Christian Muslim relations. These are often economic, cultural, social or political rather than religious. It does not aim at coming to a common belief, or a way of converting the other. A sincere and honest dialogue should not be a space for arguing, attacking or disproving the beliefs of the other, because this will increase more the negative identity and will destroy the dialogue and the relations between people of different faiths.
Always there are two kinds of identity: positive and negative. The positive identity is when someone builds his identity into what he is. The negative is when someone builds it in what he is against. When Moses asked God for His Name, the answer was: I am who I am. This is positive identity – built into what he is. The etymology of the name Satan comes from the Hebrew word adversary, one who opposes. This is the negative identity - built in what he is against. Most of the people have a mixture of both identities. For this reason, it is very important to cultivate, as much as we can, the positive identity for us and for our people, through a substantial education and sincere dialogue, where each party remains true to their own faith and so creating an area where we can increase mutual understanding and trust. In the extremism, the negative identity has taken priority.
In our times, where lies and half-truths rule, the religious leaders must speak openly and clearly to all believers. It is necessary to raise awareness and to preach over and over how religion sees the human person and what attitude they must hold to others, so these issues do not remain only issues of close circles of theologians and texts. Often, we have been silent, or in a low voice, regarding the religious conflicts. We should have a strong voice, and, when we observe that among our people sick movements, motivated and fed by hatred, are taking place, we should diagnose the illness with discernment and love and must cure the illness with the appropriate medicine, without regard to the bitterness of it. The medicine is bitter, but the healing is sweet. The prophetic role is to say what God is saying.
Sometimes the true faith is fettered by fear, self-love, pride what the others will say, lukewarmness of faith, lack of true love for others, compromise, self-interest of different groups etc., - always loving the glory of man more than the glory of God. By not telling the truth to others, because it costs, we show that we don’t love them. Often the truth does not coincide with what we or people want to hear. We know from the Holy Scriptures how costly the phrase, “Thus says the Lord,” was for the prophets. All of them were persecuted and killed because they said, “Thus says the Lord.” The kings, rulers, priests, and people wanted the prophets to say only what they wanted to hear, but the prophets said what the Lord was saying. The prophetic voice is to say what God is saying. The Scriptures also tell us that there were men who prophesied only what the king and the people wanted to hear. These were the false prophets. Their words were applauded and welcomed for a while, but in the end their words were lost because the truth was not in them. We will be either prophets of the Most High, or false prophets. There is no middle way. The truth can be persecuted, but it will live. Its words are eternal because, “Thus says the Lord”.
As Christians, we always must to bear in mind what Church teaches us that every person is created according to God's image and everyone is close to everyone. God “has made from one blood every nation of men” (Acts 17:26) and all human beings are associated to each other because every person's divine origin is never lost, even if his or her religious conceptions and beliefs are mistaken (See the Parable of the Samaritan, Lk 10: 25-37). As Christians, we must emphasize, based on a Christian anthropology, that human unity is deeper, and divisions superficial and nonessential.
I would like to conclude with words of N. Berdyaev: “There have always been two races in the world; they exist today, and this division is more important than all other divisions. There are those who crucify and those who are crucified, those that oppress and those who are oppressed, those who hate and those who are hated, those who inflict suffering and those who suffer, those who persecute and those who are persecuted. It needs no explanation on whose side Christians should be”.