Before we get into what the interfaith dialogue entails, let me start by making it clear what interfaith dialogue is NOT about. Interfaith dialogue is not intended for converting people to your faith!
This is a question that so many people, Muslims, and people of other faiths have asked me when I invite them to be part of the interfaith dialogue in their communities. They sometimes ask, “how many people have you converted to Islam in your years of working on interfaith issues?
My answer surprises some while disappointing others. I have converted exactly zero people to Islam as an interfaith worker. I have very likely changed the perception of Islam and Muslims for thousands of people, but have not ‘converted’ anyone. Would you consider this a ‘failure’? I certainly don’t feel it that way, simply because that is not the objective of interfaith dialogue.
What else is interfaith dialogue NOT about?
- It is not about telling who is right and who is wrong.
- It is not about agreeing or accepting everything about the other faith traditions (but it does involve respecting others’ views despite the disagreements. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree but in a civil manner)
ERBIL: In order to overcome the murderous madness of the Islamic State, which has covered with blood a land already brutalised by years of wars and violence, it is necessary to start with “a plan of dialogue and outreach at the local level”, involving first of all children and young people, the new generations, “who will be tasked with building life together” beyond their respective religions.
Starting from such premises, Fr Samir Youssef, pastor of the diocese of Amadiya (Iraqi Kurdistan) who has long been on the frontline of the refugee emergency, is promoting a project to transform “young Muslims, Christians and Yazidis” into “seeds of dialogue ” to breathe new life into Mosul, the Nineveh plain, and Iraq as a whole.
Speaking to AsiaNews, the priest mentioned an initiative that is in its initial stage, but one that has already garnered “the enthusiastic participation” of some thirty of kids, aged 10 to 16, from various religious background. “We started with a group of about 30-35 kids,” Fr Samir said, “but we want to increase the numbers for the summer, involving young people from high school and university.”
The aim is to find youth “eager to talk, communicate, and bear witness” that living together is possible and that from this, a model can emerge applicable across the country, and beyond.
“We have already started to meet,” he added, “although getting the first results will take some time. At the moment, the first group, the base on which to start working, has been found. It includes a dozen Christians, eight Muslims and seven Yazidis. There are also Sabians and Turkmen.”
As parish priest in the diocese of Zakho and Amadiya (Kurdistan), Fr Samir is responsible for about 3,500 Christian, Muslim, and Yazidi refugee families who fled their homes and property in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain to escape Jihadis. Since the summer of 2014 and the start of the emergency, the clergyman has played a key role. Working with him and Iraqi bishops, AsiaNews has recently renewed its Adopt a Christian of Mosul campaign to provide refugees with kerosene, shoes, clothing, and school material for children.
The video shows a real vicar – Rev Gary Bradley from Parish of Little Venice – with an imam played by Zubeir Hassam, the principal of the Muslim School Oadby in Leicester. The pair enjoy a drink together before ordering each other knee pads using Amazon’s service.
Bradley told Christian Today the ad had “a very important message, particularly at this time of year”. He said in his parish “we have people of all faiths sharing the area and it is important that we understand and relate to each other”.
He added: “For the last 15 years people of different faiths have come together, with their faith leaders, to celebrate united worship before Christmas, worship which focuses on peace and the need to strive for unity.”
he two plan to meet regularly after filming together. Bradley said it was a particular pleasure “to consolidate the pastoral and theological concerns which bind us together”.
Simon Morris, director of advertising at Amazon, said it was an “authentic and charming story” adding he had consulted the Church of England, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Christian Muslim Forum before filming.
The Vatican has announced it will send a representative to Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque on Sunday ahead of an official resumption of dialogue between the Catholic Church’s governing body and the most prestigious learning center in Sunni Islam.
Al-Azhar broke off talks with the Vatican five years ago after comments from then-Pope Benedict XVI. But relations have improved significantly under Pope Francis, who earlier this year held talks with the grand imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, considered the highest authority in Sunni Islam.
Now, it has been announced that the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, will set off to Cairo to meet a delegation with Al-Azhar. The meeting is intended to lay the groundwork for a further encounter in Rome in April 2017, reports the Catholic News Agency which describes it as a seismic step in Catholic-Muslim relations.
The relationship first became strained after a speech by the since-retired Benedict in 2006 when he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor’s unfavorable views of Islam’s founder.
“The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war,” the Pope said. “He said, I quote, ‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.'”
In 2011, Egypt recalled its Vatican envoy after Benedict called on world leaders to protect Copts – the largest Christian denomination in Egypt – following a church bombing in the country that killed 21 people.
This is a more scholarly article than usually appears here, laying out the nature of a phenomenon which is often highlighted in this page – Christian-Muslim dialogue. This gives the history and nature of that dialogue stressing its critical importance as a means of of countering the impact of dis and mis-information on neighborly relations between people of different faiths.
Intentional, structured encounters between Muslims and Christians are generally termed “Muslim-Christian dialogue.” Interfaith dialogue is a conversation in which two or more parties seek to express their views accurately and to listen respectfully to their counterparts. Since the second half of the twentieth century, organized dialogue meetings have proliferated at the local, regional, and international levels. The meetings vary significantly in their organization, focus, and venue, as well as in the composition of participants.
Several motives have propelled the contemporary dialogue movement. These include desires to foster understanding, to stimulate communication, to correct stereotypes, to work on specific problems of mutual concern, to explore similarities and differences, and to facilitate means of witness and cooperation. The pragmatic need for better understanding and cooperation among adherents in the world’s two largest communities of faith—Christianity and Islam—is particularly acute. Together Christians and Muslims comprise almost half the world’s population, so the way in which they relate is bound to have profound consequences for both communities and for the world.
The dynamics of interfaiThencounter between Muslims and Hindus, Muslims and Jews, and Muslims and Christians differ. Their historic relationships as well as their major theological, social, and political concerns vary markedly. Contemporary initiatives in Muslim-Christian dialogue can be understood best in the larger context which can be established by a brief overview of dominant themes in Muslim-Christian encounter.
Muslim-Christian dialogue dates back to the rise of Islam in the seventh century. Rooted as both traditions are in the monotheism of the patriarch Abraham, Muslims and Christians share a common heritage. For more than fourteen centuries these communities of faith have been linked by their theological understandings and by geographical proximity. The history of Muslim-Christian interaction includes periods of great tension, hostility, and open war as well as times of uneasy toleration, peaceful coexistence, and cooperation.
Islamic self-understanding incorporates an awareness of and direct link with the biblical tradition. Muḥammad, his companions, and subsequent generations of Muslims have been guided by the Qurʿān, which they have understood as a continuation and completion of God’s revelations to humankind. The Qurʿān speaks of many prophets (anbiyāʿ, singular nabī) and messengers (rusul, sg. rasūl) who functioned as agents of God’s revelation. Particular emphasis is laid on the revelations through Moses (the Torah) and Jesus (the Gospel) and their respective communities of faith or “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitāb). See PEOPLE OF THE BOOK.
The Qurʿān includes positive affirmations for the People of the Book, including the promise that Jews and Christians who have faith, trust in God and the Last Day, and do what is righteous “shall have their reward” (2:62 and 5:69). The different religious communities are explained as a part of God’s plan; if God had so willed, the Qurʿān asserts, humankind would be one community. Diversity among the communities provides a test for people of faith: “Compete with one another in good works. To God you shall all return and He will tell you (the truth) about that which you have been disputing” (5:48).
The Qurʿān states that “there shall be no compulsion in religious matters” (2:256). Peaceful coexistence is affirmed (106:1–6). At the same time, the People of the Book are urged to “come to a common word” on the understanding of the unity of God (tawhīd) and proper worship (e.g.,3:64, 4:171, 5:82, and 29:46). Christians, in particular, are chided for having distorted the revelation of God. Traditional Christian doctrines of the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity are depicted as compromising the unity and transcendence of God (e.g., 5:72–75, 5:117, and 112:3). There are also verses urging Muslims to fight, under certain circumstances, those who have been given a book but “practice not the religion of truth” (9:29).
While the Qurʿān provides a framework for Muslims’ understanding of Christians and Christianity, particular political, economic, and social considerations have shaped the encounter in each setting. Circumstances and relationships between Muslims and Christians in Egypt, for example, cannot be equated casually with those in Lebanon over the same centuries. Relationships in Egypt, a religious and intellectual center of the Islamic world, were subject to distinctive dynamics not found elsewhere. Cairo, known as the “city of a thousand minarets,” is home to al-Azhar, the mosque and university, which has been a bastion of Sunnī orthodoxy through much of Islamic history. The Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt comprise the largest Christian community in the Arabic speaking world. As an Oriental Orthodox church, the Copts have been completely independent of both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern (Greek, Russian, and Serbian) Orthodox churches since the middle of the fifth century.
By contrast, the mountains of Lebanon provided safe haven for a wide range of religious groups—numerous Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians, various Sunnī and Shīʿī Muslims, and the Druze—for more than a thousand years. As minority communities threatened by Christian crusaders or Muslim conquerors or more recent colonial powers, inhabitants of Lebanon have coexisted, cooperated and clashed, in many ways. An examination of Muslim-Christian relations in Spain or the former Yugoslavia or contemporary Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, further illustrates the need for careful, contextual analysis.
With nearly one billion followers each, Islam and Christianity are major religions that influence the thinking and values of over 40 percent of the World population. While there are theological differences, some of which might be significant, there are nonetheless other important areas of belief that are shared by both communities: belief in Allah, or God; belief in revelation, in prophets, in the Holy Books of Allah; in the life hereafter and in a divinely inspired moral code organizing and regulating human life during our earthly journey to eternity.
For the Muslim, constructive dialogue is not only permitted, it is commendable. In the Qur’an we read, ‘Say, ‘O people of the book’ (a term which particularly refers to Jews and Christians) ‘come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him (in His powers and divine attributes); that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than Allah.’ If then they turn back say you ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims.’ (Bowing) to the will of God.” (al-i-Imran;3:64)
The methodology of that dialogue is also explained in the Qur’an; “Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful exhortation, and argue with them in ways that are best.’ (al-Nahl; 16,125) A prerequisite for any constructive dialogue is that both communities should not learn about each other through sources that are unsympathetic, critical, or even hostile: they should rather try to formulate an honest idea as to how the other faith is seen in its own authentic scriptures and as practiced by those who are truly committed to it. This need is even more significant in the case of the Muslim-Christian dialogue. The average Christian has heard of or has read about Islam mostly through writers who have had colonial or missionary motives, which might have given a certain slant to their interpretation of Islam to the western mind. While I admit that my own practice of Islam is far from perfect, I at least speak from the vantage point of someone who wants to think of himself as a committed, practicing Muslim. Now I’d like to share with you five basic areas, consideration of which is imperative in any Christian-Muslim understanding: the meaning of the term “Islam”; the meaning of the term “Allah”; the nature of the human; the relationship between the human and Allah; the question of accountability, and finally, some conclusions pertaining to bridgebudding between Muslims and Christians.
Taking the term “Islam,” it is important to emphasize that it is not derived from the name of any particular person, race, or locality. A Muslim considers the term used by some writers, “Mohammedanism,” to be an offensive violation of the very spirit of Islamic teaching. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is not worshipped, nor is he regarded as either the founder of Islam or the author of its Holy Book, the Qur’an. The term “Islam” is given in more than one place in the Qur’an itself. It is derived from the Arabic root (SLM) which connotes “peace” or “submission.” Indeed, the proper meaning of “Islam” is the attainment of peace, both inner and outer peace, by submission of oneself to the will of Allah. And when we say submit, we are talking about conscious, loving and trusting submission to the will of Allah, the acceptance of His grace and the following of His path. In that sense the Muslim regards the term Islam, not as an innovation that came in the 7th Century, Christian era, with the advent of the Prophet Muhammad, but as the basic mission of all the prophets throughout history. That universal mission was finally culminated and perfected in the last of these prophets, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them all.