5 March 2018

Fiftieth Anniversary of the Comunidade Islâmica de Lisboa

On the invitation of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) initiative, George E. Rupp contributed this reflection on the fiftieth anniversary of the Comunidade Islâmica de Lisboa. Dr. Rupp has served as President of Rice University and Columbia University (United States) as well as of the International Rescue Committee. His contribution launches a series of intellectual reflections on “unlearning intolerance” on the UNAI website in the context of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ focus on conflict prevention.

I am honored to salute the Comunidade Islâmica de Lisboa in celebration of its fiftieth anniversary.

The milestone of 50 years marks an accomplishment that is all the more significant because it embodies a goal toward which communities across the globe must aspire: to be faithful to the core values and commitments of a particular community even as that community participates constructively in a broader society that may include a range of other norms and expectations.

To preserve a particular identity that is respectful of different perspectives is especially significant and even urgent at a time when two further alternative orientations are very much in evidence. The first is a position that has been prominent in the West since the Enlightenment, even if it has at times been questioned quite vigorously. It is the presumption that modern secular liberalism and its affirmation of the individual will in due course prevail over all countervailing views. The other is that what is required is a return to the dominance of a traditional order that alone is true and therefore must be embraced.  In recent years, this position has become more vividly expressed even in Europe and America, where secular individualism had seemed to prevail.

Over against these two positions, it is imperative that communities embrace the particular commitments of their traditions. This embrace should include a critique of every effort to render each individual as the final and independent arbiter of value. At the same time, such particular communities should participate in larger social orders that welcomes diversity instead of accepting insistence on a single homogenous whole that does not allow for respectful disagreement.

Insofar as the Comunidade Islâmica de Lisboa exemplifies this position of affirmation of particular traditions combined with respect for alternative interpretations, I register my admiration and commendation and join in celebrating this fiftieth anniversary.