Address at the 40th Anniversary Commemoration of Nostra Aetate
Posted Nov 19, 2005

Peace unto you, and God’s Blessings and Infinite Mercy

It is a privilege and an honor for me to represent the Muslim community at the 40th anniversary commemoration of Nostra Aetate, the seminal document of its time. This proclamation by the Catholic Chuch ushered in a new era of inter-religious cooperation, goodwill and harmony and offered hope of a time of global peace through social equity and justice. Notwitstanding its tremendous impetus in promoting a better world, 40 years later, instead of having come together as a community of Believers under God, our world has been fractured by increased misunderstanding,intolerance, disinformation and radicalism. 

Nothing has done more to fragment humanity than the tragic events of September 11,2001, a watershed in our recent history. On that fateful day a cult of heretical Muslims with a littany of grievances against the current world order brought tragedy into the lives of thousands who lost their loved ones, tarnished the image of the religion they claimed to espouse, and demonized over a billion of its adherents.

As terrible as the event was, the greater tragedy was the failure to recognize it for what it was - the insane behavior of a handful ( according to the 911 Commission Report Al Qaeda numbered in the hundreds at the time of the atrocity), of deviant fanatics who destroyed innocent lives in total contravention of the fundamental beliefs of Islam. The terrorists ultimate goal was not just to maim and kill, but to provoke discord into, if not destabilize the existing world order. Regretably, by magnifying the threat and the power of a containable band of deviant nomads, by sending deliberately ambiguous signals about the ‘real’ enemy in the so-called ‘war on terror’, and through a blunderbuss foreign policy, we have fulfilled the terrorists’ wildest expectations, a confrontation against the Muslim world -a confronation in which every action by the West is portrayed as a crusade, demanding an obligatory reaction by a Muslim to defend his faith. In effect we walked into a crusader-jihadi trap set up by the terrorist-provocateurs.

In the immediate aftermath of 911, as Muslims in this country and throughout the world began to suffer from the backlash of this unconsciounable act, ( some would say that the anti-Muslim bigotry was waiting for the excuse that 911 provided) the infrastructure placed into effect by Nosta Aetate became a manifest reality for Muslims. A long time champion of the underdogs, a protagonist for justice , and a friend to Muslims, Pope John Paul 11 immediately used his authority and influence to distinguish the acts of a few deviant Muslims from the guiding principles of the religion itself. The ripple effect of this was apparent all over, and here in Boston, Muslims were especially fortunate that Cardinal Law spearheaded the efforts of the Archdiocese to provide reassurance and support . And since then despite the remorseless efforts of special interest -  religious, political and media cabals to exploit the tragedy of 911 to advance their own agendas at the expense of Muslims, the Catholic Church has remained steadfastly on the side, and at the side of Muslims.

However, such has been the mesmerizing impact of 911 on our collective psyche,that we have become virtually oblivious to the other pressing imperatives implicit in Nostra Aetate , and so close to the heart of the Late Pope John Paul - the imperatives of confronting global poverty, diseases, famine and starvation, of disenfranchisement, illiteracy, oppression, of the asynchronous development and unfettered materialism, and of the vacuum in spirituality. The quest for global equity and justice must not be jettisoned even as we prioritize our agenda to deal with the ideology of terrorism.

In this regard, eradicating the scourge of terrorism cannot be achieved by Muslims alone. Nor can it succeed by declaring war on other so-called Muslim countries, or by demonizing Islam, of by trying to proselytize hapless Muslims.It can only be achieved by the collective efforts of all peoples of goodwill, by promoting a proper understanding of Islam, by helping the beleagured Muslims struggling to amputate the heresy within Islam, and by reaching out to them as they strive to rejoin the communty of nations as equal partners.

We have no doubt that the Catholic Church will take the lead in such an approach. This is what Nostra Aetate is all about ! 

In a strange twist of history,over a millennium ago, it was Muslims who were providentially placed to provide sanctuary and support to the oppressed Jews. Today it is the Catholic Church that is placed in such a favored position. God does indeed work in ways that are mysterious to man! .  If I may conclude with a Quranic verse that speaks to the issue of our religious diversity and echoes the sentiments expressed in Nostra Aetate,

To each community among you, we have prescribed a Law and a way of life. If God had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but His plan is to test you in what He has given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you differ” (Qur’an 5:48). 
Abdul Cader Asmal 11/1 7 /05