Sanā’ al- Sa‘īd interviews Pope Shenouda to discuss the principles of dialogue among civilizations and religions.
Despite Pope Shenouda’s many concerns over the New Year’s ceremonies, he agreed to devote part of his time to al-Muṣawwar’s annual interview. The questions directed to Pope Shenouda were not limited to Christian issues and conditions only. On the contrary, they expanded to include the public concerns that matter all Egyptian, Muslims and Christians alike.
Q. Which is more effective: dialogue among civilizations or dialogue among religions?
A. If we said dialogue among religions, then we would target the common space between religions so as not to tackle differences in beliefs for discussing such differences would lead to unnecessary disputes. Dialogue should target civilizations because cultures compliment each other. Each civilization is built on the preceding one in various fields of science and art.
Q. So, why are there differences and disputes?
A. Disputes arise from ethics. Eastern ethics are known to be more conservative that those in the West. Freedom given to the West has added a dimension of looseness to its ethics and many of its values.
Q. Should dialogue be based on the presence of two equal sides so that the stronger side would not overpower the weaker one?
A. Instead of saying split the power equally between the two sides, we should say that dialogue should be between two sides that are ready to understand and accept each other so that they can reach a common ground.
Q. Should there be basic axis around which dialogue should focus on so that it does not discuss controversial issues?
A. We all agree, I mean both Muslims and Christians, that dialogue should tackle issues of common interests.
Q. Sometimes, a feeling that one side is trying to cancel the other one overpowers the dialogue process. What do you believe?
A. At that time, dialogue would become a struggle. Dialogue means exchanging ideas and experiences.
Q. Within the rule that "There is no compulsion in religion," [Chapter of al-Baqarah [The Cow], verse 256 ‘The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’ān’ by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall,], I wonder what the Christian punishment for those who convert to other religions is?
A. Christianity does not punish. However, it tries to talk to the person so as to return to Christianity without pressure, as pressure would lead the person to pretend, and thereby would not be sincere in applying his religious teachings. Besides, religion is the relationship between man and God, not between man and other people.
Q. When would hatred be legitimate?
A. It is legitimate when we hate evil itself, not the villains. If we despise evil, we will not commit acts of evil. We despise the actions, not the person.
Q. Talking about evil and hatred leads us to the opposite, mercy. What does mercy mean in Christianity?
A. The concept of ‘mercy’ should be understood in a wider range. People would ask whether mercy should be applied on the villain or on society as a whole. I think that mercy applied to society as a whole would require punishing the villain. At that time, the concept of mercy becomes relative.