Christian-Muslim dialogue depends upon knowledge and trust
[Dr. Rita George-Tvrtković is associate professor of theology at Benedictine University, where she specializes in medieval and contemporary Christian-Muslim relations. Recent books include A Christian Pilgrim in Medieval Iraq: Riccoldo da Montecroce’s Encounter with Islam, and the forthcoming Christians, Muslims, and Mary: A History (Paulist Press, 2018). She is former associate director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and currently lives in Chicago with her husband Zoran and their children, Luka and Anya Lucia. She spoke to Charles Camosy after participating in an interfaith discussion held Oct. 22 and 23 at Catholic University of America, which brought together five Christian and five Muslim scholars from around the United States.]
Camosy: How and why did you get involved in Catholic-Muslim dialogue more generally?
George-Tvrtković: I’ve been involved at the grassroots level in Chicago since 1997. From 1999-2002, including during the drama of 9/11, I was Associate Director of Archdiocese of Chicago’s Ecumenical & Interreligious office. Then I studied theology and medieval Catholic-Muslim relations at Notre Dame.
Now I’m associate professor of theology at Benedictine University in the suburbs of Chicago, where over 25 percent of our student body is Muslim. I’ve always combined scholarship and grassroots dialogue.
As a Catholic, I am exhorted by Nostra Aetate [the Vatican II document on the relation of the Church with non-Christian religions – Ed.] and other teachings to engage in dialogue with people of different religions. Furthermore, my institution, Benedictine University has a special calling to interreligious hospitality, which is rooted in Ch. 53 of the Rule of St. Benedict (On the Reception of Guests), which itself is rooted in Christ’s call to welcome the stranger.
There are several Catholic-Muslim dialogues happening already, both locally and nationally. What makes this one different?
All the scholars in the group are involved in a variety of dialogues: Local (with students, parishes), regional, and national (U.S. bishops’ conference). But as experts in the field and lovers of texts, we were longing to have a deeper dialogue.
The dialogue which took place at the Catholic University of America last week is the first of a series of semi-annual dialogues; we will alternate between CUA (fall) and John Carroll University in Cleveland (spring). We want membership to be consistent and build trust over time, but also be small so we can delve deep. Therefore, we began with five Muslims and five Catholics, and plan to expand perhaps to seven and seven, but no more than that.
The Scholars Dialogue was the brainchild of Pim Valkenberg and Sidney Griffith of CUA, and Zeki Saritoprak of John Carroll University. As Griffith reminded us, scholarly dialogues are not an invention of the 20th century; rather, Christians and Muslims have been talking theology with each other since the 7th century. Our dialogue is part of that long tradition.
CAN A MUSLIM AND A CHRISTIAN PRAY TOGETHER?
By Victor Edwin SJ
Can a Muslim and a Christian pray together? This is an important question that one has to deal with in his or her mission of Christian/Muslim relations. In the pluralistic world, one cannot completely avoid any level of participation in the worship of the Other. The immediate danger that many Catholic theologians apprehend in such participation is the danger of syncretism. This question becomes theologically nuanced when it has to deal with Christians and Muslims praying together. This article suggests that it is not only possible that Christians and Muslims can pray to one God together, but also, that the aforesaid praying together is essential and should be encouraged.
Christians and Muslims Believe in one God
Christians and Muslims should recognize that, first of all, they worship but one God. They address their prayers to one God in whom both Christians and Muslims place their faith and commit themselves to bend their own wills to the will of the one and the only God. Pope Paul VI affirmed that Muslims are true adorers of the one one God when he wrote: “Then to adorers of God, according to the conception of monotheism, the Muslim religion, especially, is deserving of our admiration for all that is true and good in its . . . worship of God” (Ecclesiam Suam 106).
The recognition of differences is an expression of mutual respect
Nevertheless, one should not forget the considerable differences between the Christian and Muslim confession of God’s unity. The unity of God as a common element between Christians and Muslims needs to be approached carefully for, when Christians talk about God, they talk about one who, “is known and worshiped as Father, Son and Spirit.” Muslims do not accept this Trinitarian understanding of God. Accordingly, the fundamental differences in their understanding of the Godhead should be recognized for the recognition of differences is an expression of mutual respect.
Christians and Muslims Pray to the Living God
If one relativizes differences, then the significance of the concept of difference will be undervalued. However, differences do not do away with the meaning that one can experience in depth in the encountering of one another. Christians should be aware that Muslim prayer is directed towards the living God, and that the Islamic faith has raised, over the centuries, true worshipers of the one God. Christians must also realize that the God of Muslims is not an idol, not a creature, not a lofty idea, but the God in whom Christians also believe.
A History of Christian -Muslim Dialogue
by Charles Kimball
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).
JOURNEY INTO INTERFAITH DIALOGUE – 1939-2011
Lucy Brydon OSB
Had Allah so willed He would surely have made you one single community.
Instead (He gave each of you a Law and a way of life)
in order to test you by what He gave you.
Vie, then, with one another in good works.
Unto Allah is the return of all of you;
and He will then make you understand the truth
concerning the matters on which you disagreed.
(Holy Qur’an 5:48)
If God is infinite, nothing can be separate.
(Sir John Marks Templeton)
When I look back over my life I realise that I belonged to a “minority religion”. I was part of a fervent Roman Catholic family in a largely Protestant neighbourhood where ecumenism had hardly been heard of. My childhood was an experience of learning good neighbourliness and friendship with people of “other religions”, Anglicans, Methodists, and Baptists. It was an excellent preparation for the REAL interfaith dialogue that would take place in later years. Even though in those days we were not allowed to enter another church building, much less take part in “the services or prayers of a false religion” (Penny Catechism), yet we did relate to each other, play with each other, help each other out, and pray for each other—at least, we Catholics prayed for those not of the True Faith! We went to separate schools and churches, but somehow this did not matter so much when playing cowboys and Indians; or keeping house. I don’t remember fighting about religion, or even discussing it, but when we engaged in playful snow fights, it was “Cathy Cats” versus “Proddy Dogs”—all fairly good-natured.
Later, while still young, I remember being shocked to learn that some Christians actually blamed Jews for the death of Jesus. From my earliest days I had known that Jesus was a Jew and that we (sinners) were the ones who caused his suffering and death through our unfaithfulness to Him. My parents, though uneducated, must have had a very open and expansive understanding of who Jesus was for us.
After my primary school years, where I did have contacts at home with other Christians, I then attended a Roman Catholic direct grant Grammar School run by sisters. It had a boarding house for people like me who came from remote areas. From this time onwards, I had little contact with people of other Christian denominations, and none at all with people of other religions. After school I joined the religious community which had educated me, went to university as a young sister, and taught for many years in the same Roman Catholic school during its transformation (?) from direct grant Grammar School to Comprehensive School. There were some ecumenical contacts with other staff members and some parents, but I do not remember ever meeting anyone of another religion.
The Most Beautiful Names of God: Their Meaning for a Christian
by Michael L. Fitzgerald (Catholic priest)
Dialogue and Proclamation, a document produced in 1991 by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue together with the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, noted that interreligious dialogue can take on different forms. It distinguished four: the dialogue of life, the dialogue of action, the dialogue of theological exchange and the dialogue of religious experience.  It was in fact building on indications given in an earlier document, The Attitude of the Church toward the Followers of Other Religions. Reflection and Orientations on Dialogue and Mission, published in 1984 by the Secretariat for Non Christians (which was later re-named the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue). 
Dialogue and Proclamation gives the following description of the dialogue of religious experience: “where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute”.  The earlier document, Dialogue and Mission, underlined the scope and purpose of such exchanges: “This type of dialogue can be a (source of) mutual enrichment and fruitful cooperation for promoting and preserving the highest values and spiritual ideals. It leads naturally to each partner communicating to the other the reasons for his (or her) own faith. The sometimes profound differences between the faiths do not prevent this dialogue. Those differences, rather, must be referred back in humility and confidence to God who ‘is greater than our heart’ (1 Jn 3:20). In this way, also, the Christian has the opportunity of offering to the other the possibility of experimenting in an existential way with the values of the Gospel.” 
In order to prepare for this type of dialogue it may be necessary, or at least useful, to examine the riches to be found in another religious tradition, and to see what resonance they may have within one’s own spiritual tradition. This is the purpose of the essay offered here which attempts to see how the Islamic tradition of the Beautiful Names of God can provide inspiration for Christians. 
How I Rediscovered Christianity Through Islam
By Philip Clayton
I always thought that the way to believe more deeply was to surround myself with other Christians. After all, isn’t that the traditional tool for religious socialization? Send the child to Sunday School, surround her with Christian friends and teachers, make it a Christian high school and college if possible … and then her faith will hold for life. Teaching a child to be Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu, it was said, works much the same way.
Muslim-Christian Dialogue Defined
by Charles Kimball
from the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World
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.
Faith and the Possibility of Christian-Muslim-Jewish Trialogue
Patrick J. Ryan, S.J.
Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society
I have been privileged over several decades to study the scriptural sources and some of the subsequent theological development not only of the Jewish and Christian traditions, but also, at least since 1968, of the Islamic tradition. Here in America I have learned from Jews, and during many years in Africa I learned from Muslims. I have come to realize over the years that we use many of the same religious categories in ways that are in some sense the same and in some sense different. This evening I want to spell out some of the similarities and differences in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim understandings of faith, and to suggest why those similarities and differences can give us hope for a future of mutual understanding.
Christian-Muslim Dialogue: Goals and Obstacles
Seeking Muslim, Christian and Jewish Wisdom in the Fifteenth, Twenty-first and Fifty-eighth centuries:
A Muscat Manifesto
David F. Ford
On Monday 20th April 2009
Growing Ecologies of Peace, Compassion and Blessing: A Muslim Response to ‘A Muscat Manifesto’
byAref Ali Nayed
Lecture at the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme, Faculty of Divinity
University of Cambridge
Wednesday 21st October 2009
In the Name of God, Compassionate, Kind. Blessings upon the Prophets of God
In the welcoming setting of Oman’s distinguished theological faculty, and the
sublime beauty of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Professor David Ford of the Cambridge Faculty of Divinity offered Muslim scholars a gift. He named the gift ‘A Muscat Manifesto’, and distilled in it the wisdom of decades of deep theological work and experience.1 The gift consisted of good advice on the features of good theology, the characteristics of good religious leadership, and guidelines for inter-faith relations.
Professor Ford, of course, spoke from the depths of his own Christian wisdom tradition, but his advice, coming from a sincere and loving heart, did transcend inter-faith boundaries, and touched the hearts of many Muslim scholars.2 What comes from the heart enters hearts. I pray that I can respond to ‘A Muscat Manifesto’ from the heart. Of course, the best heart-felt response to a gift is gratitude. So, it is my honour to publicly thank Professor Ford for his wonderful gift, and to elaborate the ‘thank you’ theologically, as best as I can.
‘A Muscat Manifesto’ provides the features or ‘key elements’ for ‘wise theology’. It also provides the characteristics for a more engaging religious leadership. It then goes on to provide guidelines for inter-faith relations. Let us start with the features of a wise theology.
Professor Ford offers four such features:
1. Wise theology is based on wise interpretation and understanding of scripture and tradition.
2. Wise theology is doubly engaged, in the present: with God (in prayer); and with our changing world (in living).
3. Wise theology is intelligent and creative in its understanding of things, divine and worldly.
4. Wise theology communicates itself to others effectively.
A Common Word
Last year (2008) a group of prominent international Muslim leaders issued an appeal for dialogue with Christian communities world wide. Below is a summation of what they called “A Common Word Between Us and You” followed by one of many responses from Christian communities, in this case the response of the National Council of Churches of Christ (USA).
For a full copy of the statement along with responses and discussion please visit A Common Word website.
In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
A Common Word between Us and You
(Summary and Abridgement)
Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population.
Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no
meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between
Muslims and Christians.
Response from ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hansen
On October 11, (2007) a copy of a letter was delivered to me from Muslim scholars and religious leaders addressed to Christian religious leaders around the world. As presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and president of the Lutheran World Federation, I receive this letter in the sincere expression of faithfulness intended by its drafters, and with the hopeful expectation for peace that calls to us from the origins of our sacred texts and professions of faith. I encourage prayer and planning for communities of justice, peace, and security where Muslims, Jews, and Christians draw from these origins as from essential wells of living water.
The letter attests to both the love of God and our shared heritage of true hospitality to one’s neighbor. These commandments convey prophetic witness for mutual and vital co-existence that Christians and Muslims must embrace in one another. The letter further references how the commands to love God and neighbor are linked ‘between the Qur’an, the Torah and the New Testament.’ I encourage everyone everywhere to read the beauty of these passages found in the sacred texts of the Abrahamic faiths, which signify God’s vision for how and whom we love in a broken world. This common vision for Jews, Muslims, and Christians signifies fidelity and fellowship in a world where conflict offends our common heritage as children of God.
In 2005 I, along with an LWF delegation that included General Secretary Ishmael Noko, met with His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi, personal envoy and special advisor to King Abdullah II of Jordan. Our delegation was grateful for the sincere hospitality and friendship that were so freely displayed in our conversation. The delegation spoke at length with Prince Ghazi about the origins of the Abrahamic faiths in that region of the world. In another meeting, Akel Biltaji, advisor to His Majesty the King, stated, “We are honored to be servants and custodians of the Holy sites.”
I acknowledge this letter in gratitude and recognition of the need for its further study and consideration. I likewise accept it in the belief that Jews, Muslims, and Christians are called to one another as to a holy site, where God’s living revelation in the world is received in reverence among the faithful and not in fear of our neighbors.
I pray for God’s continued blessings among Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike, and thank God for such displays of wisdom and humility from their leaders.”
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
President, The Lutheran World Federation
An Ecumenical Response to
“A Common Word Between Us and You”
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
(Luke 10:25-28, NRSV)
Introduction: An Affirmation of Christian-Muslim Engagement
The churches that comprise the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA welcome with gratitude “A Common Word Between Us and You.” Addressed to leaders of Christian churches around the world, your letter expresses an intent to engage seriously with Christians in dialogue that is grounded in the authentic religious convictions of our respective communities. Based upon the love of God and the love of neighbor – the two great commandments central to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism – your letter invites Christians to join with Muslims to forge ties of peace. This is a bold and timely invitation. Out of Christian faithfulness, and with respect for Islam, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, whose member churches’ common Christian witness leads them to seek unity with one another and peace with justice for all people, offers this ecumenical response to you, our Muslim friends, as an acceptance of your invitation.