Bridge Building Between Christians and Muslims

This is a lengthier, more involved article than usually appears on these pages, but well worth reading for those who wish to hear a Muslim perspective on Christian-Muslim dialogue.  Dialogue is by its very nature a two-way street.  Knowing each other’s perspective is a crucial part of that.  

This is a piece by Jamal Badawi appearing on Islamicity:

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.

timthumb1. MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE

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.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ISLAMICITY

Christian Muslim Dialogue

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. 

muslim

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.

Historical Background.

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.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE OXFORD ISLAMIC STUDIES 

 

 

Bridge Building Between Christians and Muslims

timthumbWith 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.

1. MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE

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.

2. MEANING OF “ISLAM”

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.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ISLAMICITY.ORG

A Framework for Christian-Muslim Relations

HistoryChristianity and Islam are the two dominant religious groups in our world. According to the Pew Research Center Report, the number of Muslims worldwide will be “nearly as numerous as Christians” by 2050. The study also points to the interesting statistic that for the first time in history, the number of Christians and Muslims will be 2.9 billion and 2.8 billion respectively. In view of this, interfaith relations assume an added significance. Christians and Muslims have a duty to work toward peace and betterment of humanity through a shared framework. It is imperative that the mainstream leadership take an active role in promoting positive relations that are based on the universal principles of these two world religions.

The extremely heinous acts committed by “Muslim” terrorist groups like ISIS are a betrayal of Islamic teachings, in the same way the genocide of Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR) by “Christian” terrorists is a betrayal of Christian teachings; or the violence against Christians and Muslims in India by “Hindu” terrorists is a betrayal of Hinduism; or the violence against the Rohingiya Muslims in Burma by “Buddhist” terrorists is a betrayal of Buddhism. These horrendous acts should not be allowed to deflate the desire and passion among mainstream followers of all religions to continue to build relationships toward making this world safe for our future generations.

As I noted in my earlier blog, the Christian-Muslim Dialogue sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Churches and the Islamic Center of Minnesota recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Dr. Jay Rock and Dr. Jamal Badawi were the keynote speakers at this celebration. Dr. Badawi’s framework for Muslim-Christian relations from a Muslim perspective was quite compelling. I would like to summarize that framework, quoting from his world renowned research paper, which is considered a mainstream thesis.

1. Faith in One Universal God (Allah in Arabic language):  Islam is founded on the belief that there is only one God, who is the universal Creator, Sustainer and Cherisher of all. Being the sole creator of all humankind precludes any notion of multiple, competing creators, each marshalling his creation against the other “gods” and their creation. Allah is One and is impartial toward His creation. He provides for all, including those who reject faith in Him, or even those who defy Him. He cares for the well being of all and gives them ample opportunity to repent to Him and end the state of separateness suffered by those who reject Him or are unmindful of Him. This belief implies that all humans are equal before Allah in terms of their humanity, irrespective of their particular beliefs. Only Allah is the ultimate judge of any person’s “theological correctness.” No human should be oppressed or mistreated by other fellow humans because of a perceived “theological incorrectness.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE 

Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell in Christian and Islamic Perspectives

heavenThe Catholic University of St. Thomas hosts a Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center.  Their website includes good summations of contrasting Christian and Islamic views on various topics, including key theological concepts.  Here is one of their postings in this case contrasting the Muslm and Christian views on death, heaven and hell. The article begins with the Christian perspective followed by the Muslim perspective.  Makes for interesting reading.

Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell: A Christian Perspective

In Christian tradition, death is the end of individual life on earth, but not the end of personal consciousness, which survives the death of the body as the soul.  Death, then, is the separation of the soul from the earthly body. However, the whole Christian tradition hopes for reunification of the soul with a resurrected and transformed body at the end of history, so the soul will, once again, be embodied in the resurrection.

The process of death is difficult for most people. Not only does it entail pain, but increased dependence on others. Consequently, many people hope for a quick and painless death. But in Christian tradition, a sudden and unexpected death is not a good death. This is because Christians believe that at death one comes into the presence of God, and therefore of judgment. For this one needs to be prepared. Jesus teaches that we must repent (Mark 1:14), learn to love one another (Matthew 22:36-40) and forgive those who have wronged us, otherwise we ourselves will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:14-15). The time of dying therefore is an extremely important period in which to forgive others, say goodbye to loved ones, settle one’s material affairs, and most importantly make one’s peace with God. Death is the end of our earthly journey, but is the beginning of the much longer journey in the afterlife. In Christian teaching, this afterlife journey can be a beautiful and fulfilling experience or it can be traumatic (see Matthew 5; 25: 31-46).

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS WEBSITE 

French imams, Vatican: ‘Without freedom of expression, the world is in danger’

.- French imams visiting the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue released Thursday a joint communique condemning the attack on Charlie Hebdo and calling for freedom of expression.

“Without freedom of expression, the world is in danger,” the Jan 8. statement reads.

It also asked that the media provide information which is “respectful of religions.”

Signed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the release comes at the end of a two-day visit to the Vatican of a delegation of French imams, accompanied by representatives of the French bishops conference.

Cardinal Tauran and the imams write they are “shocked” by the attack on Charlie Hebdo, and back Pope Francis’ words, underscoring their “closeness and human and spiritual solidarity to the victims and their families.”

Considering the impact of media on public opinion, the Vatican and the  imams also invited “responsible media to provide information that is respectful of religions, of their followers and of their practices, thus fostering a culture of encounter.”

The release also asked religious leaders to “always promote a culture of peace and hope, able to win over fear and to build bridges among men,” and stressed that interreligious dialogue “is the only path to walk together in order to dissipate prejudices.”

Before the meeting at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the four imams launched the idea of a mobilization of all religions in France to testify that “no religion is violent.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE 

Christians and Muslims have co-existed peacefully before and must do so again

Mosque's minaret and cathedral's crossesToday I’ll be the first Muslim to address the General Synod of the Church of England. It is a blessing and an honour, and I am humbled by this historic opportunity. But the journey from Noor mosque in my native Mombasa, Kenya, to Church House has been a long and meandering one – full of trials and adventure, but ultimately worth it.

A couple of days ago, Humera, my wife of more than 25 years, asked what would make me consider my life a success. Recovering from a long bout of debilitating illness, I was trying to figure out what would be the best way to pursue the new lease of life that had been granted to me.

“If I can, somehow be involved in reconciling hearts and people. That would make me happy,” I replied.

Many moons spent in NHS wards, surrounded by diversity, suffering and death, not escaping to a zawiyah (monastery) retreat, made me spiritually mature and responsive. With plenty of time on my hands I embarked on a journey of rediscovering my faith and what it meant for our times.

Among the jewels I came across was a hadith (narration) of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, peace and blessings be upon him, which simply said: “Shall I not inform you of a better act than fasting, alms and prayers? Making peace between one another: enmity and malice tear up heavenly rewards by the roots.”

It is a message that all members of the synod would be familiar with, for it echoes Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE GUARDIAN (LONDON)