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Interfaith Dialogue ( 22 Jan 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Christian-Muslim Relations in West Asia: Challenges and Opportunities

By Fr Edwin Rodrigues SJ, New Age Islam

22 January 2016

Interfaith Coalition for Peace (ICP), Islamic Studies Association (ISA) along with Henry Martyn Institute (HMI), Hyderabad organized a lecture by Prof. Joseph Edward Alam on the topic “Christian-Muslim Relations in West Asia: Challenges and Opportunities” on Monday, 18th Jan, 2016, at St. Xavier’s School, Raj Niwas Marg, Delhi at 6 p.m. Prof. Alam teaches philosophy at Notre Dame University, Lebanon. In his lecture, Prof. Alam presented the situation in Lebanon as a beacon of hope not only for West Asia, but for the entire world.

Prof. Alam began on a note of hope stating that Christian-Muslim Relations in Lebanon is not just a passing trend, but a field, which offers degrees to students and this field has produced vast amount of literature. He emphasized how Christianity and Islam are not only the largest religions in the world, but also have a common origin. That makes their relationship even more important.

In dialogue, he said that both partners must listen to one another.  “Christians and Muslims are not enemies”, he said and emphasized they are children of their spiritual father Abraham. Moreover, they are, indeed, children of the same God. He pointed towards the mystery of Abraham, Issac and Ishmael that connects Jews, Christians and Muslims. This mystery, he said, calls us to explore the bonds that unite us and live it out in joy and celebration.

While speaking about challenges and opportunities for Christian Muslim relations, he started with epistemological challenges focussing on the distinction between knowledge and information. It is of paramount importance to find truth-driven information in the midst of interest-driven information we are constantly bombarded with. He emphasized that face to face, personal dialogue between Christians and Muslims is a must in that it helps us to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic knowledge. 

While talking about the Lebanese situation as a model for Christian-Muslim relations, he mentioned how in spite of civil war, Lebanon did not completely collapse and how Lebanon has maintained its harmony in the midst of war raging in neighbouring Syria.

He spoke about the political system in Lebanon as confessional republic and the challenges and opportunities present in this system. According to him, this confessional system, though in need of reform, represents Lebanese society and maintains a certain balance.

He spoke about a unique initiative in Lebanon of declaring 25th March, the feast of Annunciation as a religious and legal holiday. This religious holiday honouring Mary is celebrated by both Muslims and Christians and displays the “unique secularity” of Lebanon. He pointed in and through such initiatives Lebanon provides a message of co-existence.

Ending on a personal existential note he cautioned the audience to resist the temptation of turning dialogue into dialogue industry. He nevertheless stressed the quality of perseverance and purity of heart which is required of the persons involved in dialogical endeavours. We may not accept each other’s opinions, but we can acknowledge them and respect them. Without compromising on one’s religious tenets, it is possible to enter into dialogue. This is a tremendous responsibility of each and every person of goodwill.

Finally, he underscored the importance of recognizing that Christians and Muslims were engaged in a common ‘jihad’, a common spiritual struggle over the all-important search for what it really means to be human.  Together, Christians and Muslims can resist the powerful tendencies prevalent in the modern world to reduce human beings to commodities and to ignore their great and noble destiny.

A good number of Vidyajyoti students and members of the faculty attended the program. Fathers Tom Kunnunkal SJ and Victor Edwin SJ made all arrangements.