This week Ramadan comes to an end with the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, an opportunity for family feasts and celebrations. For the past number of years the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in the Vatican has written to Muslims throughout the world, sending them greetings for the festival and reflecting on a common theme. There is a letter for this year but this one is significantly different in that it comes directly from Pope Francis himself as " an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims, especially those who are religious leaders". The theme of the letter is promoting mutual respect through education. Warmth, respect, kindness shine through - all attitudes which we have come to know and love in this new Pope.
The letter states how important it is to bring young people up to "think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers, and to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices". And this respect is to be shown, not only in the presence of someone from another faith "but always and everywhere, avoiding unfair criticism or defamation", says the Pope. "Families, schools, religious teaching and all forms of media have a role to play in achieving this goal". Diana Eck once said that people of every religious tradition depend upon one another to interpret one another fairly and accurately. "We are the keepers of one another’s image …. This is a sacred trust". Religious people have not always done this and there is plenty to criticise in religion but it is important to avoid comparing the best in one's own religion with the worst in another. This would also be the case for non-religious people who sometimes only see the bad in religion but only the good in their particular secular stance and vice versa, of course, for religious people who see no good in secular views. There is wisdom to be found everywhere if we but look for it. But no matter how sinful the followers of religion are, no matter how much religion is abused and misused it has been a genuine path towards meaning, well-being, holiness, service and even heroism for many many people. It is to be respected and the world would be a better place if those of us who are religious truly saw ourselves as the keepers of one another's image, if we took seriously this as a sacred trust and at all times and in all places spoke kindly of one another's faith. I am heartened by the letter from Pope Francis and his call to do just that.