Charles de Foucauld, Silent witness for Jesus, 'in the face of Islam'

Is this a case of religious 'inculturation'? Although the concept did not then exist, it could legitimately be seen as an example of unconscious inculturation, inspired by Charles' basic desire of 'imitating' Jesus in his 'Nazareth' life as 'one of us'. This motivation is undoubtedly there; Charles refers to it frequently. But the key point is that the mental movement is the exact opposite of that normally invoked for practising inculturation. Charles does not start from his Christian belief and practice, moving towards an appropriate Muslim adaptation; rather, he begins by reflecting on the truth and value of his Muslim experience (that profound experience which was at the origin of his discovery of an adult faith), and 'completes' that experience with the explicit content and centre of that faith: the living person of Jesus with his radiating Love, a content given in a still more profound experience. In other words, Islam is for him the way to Christ, who becomes its subjective 'fulfilment'. Charles does not consciously reflect on the meaning of this 'movement' in his life (unlike his disciple and successor Louis Massignon), but it seems to penetrate his 'spiritual unconscious' and so to influence all his concrete decisions and actions.

Charles' time in Beni Abbes, between two and three years, is usually seen as marked by his expressed desire to be, and to be seen as, the 'universal brother':

'I want to accustom everyone here, Christian, Muslim, Jew or pagan, to look on me as their brother, as the "universal brother"' (a brother to every one of them); and, 'The building is known as the Khaoua, the "fraternity"'.23
Charles has in mind two quite disparate sources: the French Republic, with its slogan 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity', and the Gospel words, 'You are all brothers' (in his letters, he frequently quotes both 'texts', often in the same passage). The intention, clearly, is to make an initial contact with a person, whoever they be, by respecting that person as an 'other' of 'equal' worth to one's own. As Charles found out, the practice of this 'brother to brother' approach was difficult! - all the more difficult in the colonial context in which both 'sides', the colonized and the colonizers, had strong hierarchical structures. But the interest for us is that this approach provides the 'secular', basis for any form of 'inter-faith' dialogue, while being open to the religious dimension (the notion of 'brotherhood' being common to Islam and Christianity, as indeed to most religions). Charles did not use the vocabulary of secularity (the term then had a connotation of 'a-religious', tending towards the 'ir-religious'), but talked simply of 'meeting' people - and later of 'living with' people - in the context of their everyday life and concerns. The word 'brother' is for him a summons to welcome the other who comes in their 'otherness' and concrete difference, while acknowledging what is 'common'; their humanity. It was, clearly, a solid 'foundation' on which to build a dialogue of minds and spirits: not a dialogue about one's faith (though this was not excluded), but a dialogue of life, starting from the 'bottom up', from the ordinary little things of a shared life.