“It was three times…” : when religions were reconciled

Jews and muslims pray side by side in the synagogue of Ghriba, on the island of Djerba in Tunisia.
© Manoël Pénicaud


Sometimes seen as a cause of division within the society, the religions can also be considered, conversely, as a factor of union and concord. Etymologically, “religion” is it not this that connects ? So far, this promise may be exercised within a pluralistic community composed of men and women who do not share all the same beliefs ? This question crosses the bold exhibition that just opened at the national Museum of the history of immigration (1).

“The question of religious identity is one of the most sensitive of the Twenty-first century : to each his God, his scriptures, his saints, it is believed. Yet, since their origins, the three monotheistic religions share beliefs, values, rituals, guardian-like figures and shrines, ” says the anthropologist, Dionigi Albera, to the origin of this exhibition with Manoël Pénicaud, another researcher of the CNRS.

Without yielding to a vision irénique neither erase the differences between the cults, the two men insist on the points of convergence between the three great traditions that are judaism, christianity, and islam. An approach that aims to “go beyond stereotypes, in which it encloses the real, to re-establish some of the facts and present a narrative based on scientific evidence,” says the historian Benjamin Stora, chairman of the Board of direction of the institution.

The possibility of a dialogue

In spite of the arguments theological, the movement of populations from one bank to the other of the Mediterranean have led to the expansion of the holy places in common. It is the evocation of these sites that form the basis of a shared heritage that attaches the route of exposure. The journey starts in Israel and in the palestinian territories as believers, anxious to overcome the tears that cross these geographical entities, have dubbed the ” holy Land “.

The starting point of this exhibition amazing is a circular theatre where “sockets” placed on the altars contain objects of worship evoking the main religions of the planet. One of them is empty. “To evoke the atheists “, smiled Dionigi Albera. Following a journey in the form of a path of initiation. From Jerusalem to Haifa, passing through Bethlehem, Dionigi Albera and Manoël Pénicaud make us discover the places invested by the three spiritualities as a prism again. There we learn that the tomb of the patriarchs in Hebron, adjacent to an oak millennium where three traditions place a founder event common : that of the visitation of Abraham by three characters, presented as angels.

Extract from a manual of pilgrim Persian in the Seventeenth century, telling the story of the visitation of Abraham by three angels. © DR

“This episode fundamental of the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an insists on the generosity and the hospitality of Abraham, since it welcomes in her tent these three strangers of whom he knows nothing,” recalls Manoël Pénicaud. The journey continues in the cave of Elijah, at the foot of mount Carmel in Haifa. “In this multicultural city where coexisting populations of jewish, muslim and druze, pilgrims of all faiths come to pray at the same place without it creating a problem,” says Dionigi Albera.

A comforting promise of peace

Composed of objects illustrating the religious practices of the cults mentioned, photographs and stories, the exhibition offers us the opportunity to point out the similarities which show that the wars of religion are not a fatality. By doing this, it suggests that a peaceful coexistence is possible. “Our exhibition is a modest contribution to the need for a public debate subsided and the questions that the return of the religious has been raised in the general public “, emits Helene Orain, director general of the museum home.

This possibility of dialogue is comforting. No wonder then that the museums around the world are snapping up this exhibition. After Marseille (where it was presented at the Mucem in 2015), it should be presented in Tunis, Thessaloniki, Marrakech and New York in 2018. “The returns are excellent, because we try every time to adapt its format to the places that we are proposing, but especially to the questions that cross the companies in which we address “, gliding Manoël Pénicaud. An exhibition of a public utility, we told you !

(1) ” It was three times… “, national Museum of the history of immigration. Palace of the golden gate. 293, avenue Daumesnil, Paris 12th. From Tuesday to Sunday. Until January 21, 2018. Price: 6 euros. Free for under 26 years of age.

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