Some dispositions and obstacles to Christian- Muslim Dialogue

Introduction

In a time whereby the world is becoming more and more globalized, people, cultures, ideologies and beliefs are in contact daily.  Dialogue and mutual acceptance consequently become core elements for a peaceful common living in a society. It is in this perspective that Christian-Muslim dialogue is important. Dialogue is, as Subhash Anand (2009:9) puts it, an anthropological imperative; ‘the call to dialogue is rooted in a deeper understanding of what it means to be human’. A certain number of dispositions is required when one engages in interreligious dialogue. Dialogue between Muslims and Christian, however faces some obstacles. This article aims at exploring some of those dispositions and obstacles.

1. Dispositions for a true Christian- Muslim dialogue

Several factors, need to be taken into consideration when it comes to the dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

 1.1. A balanced attitude

The first disposition for a genuine dialogue between Muslims and Christians is a balanced attitude. Paragraph 47 of DP stipulates that in the situation of dialogue, the believers of the two sides engaged in dialogue should develop a balanced attitude. This implies that ‘they should be neither ingenious nor overly critical’.  When engaging into dialogue Christians and Muslims should clear their minds of all sort of prejudices that could be a hindrance to the process. For example the picture that many Christians, sometimes, have of Muslims (especially in countries where Islam is not well known) is that of violent people who don’t want to mix with others and are against freedom and evolution. On the other hand Muslims see Christians as infidels and impure polytheists who should be avoided.

 A balanced attitude requires then mutual understanding, respect and acceptance of others and their beliefs. However, acceptance does not mean lack of challenge or criticism. ‘Ingenuousness is to be avoided’ (Fitzgerald & Borelli 2006:141); each faith tradition ought to stand its ground when it comes to challenge some aspect of the religious practices of other. Muslims do not agree with some aspects of Christianity as well as Christians do not agree with some aspects of Islam. This however should not prevent the dialogue.

1.2. Religious conviction

This second disposition reaffirms the identity of each Religion engaged in dialogue. Dialogue does not mean assimilation. Rather ‘the sincerity of interreligious dialogue requires that each enters into it with the integrity of his or her own faith’ (DP 48). The process of entering into dialogue should not lead into minimizing one’s faith.  Though some aspects and practices of the religion may be challenged, the fundamental beliefs should not be touched. For instance ‘Christian entering into dialogue with Muslims should not be afraid to give witness to their faith in Christ’ (Fitzgerald & Borelli 2006:141). Likewise Muslims should not be afraid to claim the prophethood of Mohamad.

1.3. Openness to truth

The openness to truth calls both Christians and Muslims to humility as far as claim to possess the truth is concerned. If we imagine a scenario whereby, and this has been the case for centuries, Christians hold fast to the belief that revelation attended it fullness in Christ and on the other hand Muslims strongly believe that Mohamed received the last revelation (Qur’an), there will be no room for dialogue. Therefore the claim to have the truth (of revelation) should be handled with humility. Dialogue and Proclamation, in paragraph 49, states that truth is not an unending process and invites Christians to ‘be prepared to learn and to receive from and through others the positive values of their traditions’ (DP49).

Muslims on their side ‘can develop a sense of superiority, based on their conviction that to them the final revelation has been given’ (Fitzgerald & Borelli 2006:141). However Muslim scholars also advocate, just like their Christian counterparts, for openness to truth. This is reiterated by Mahmoud Ayoub when he writes ‘We now know that no religion can claim an exclusive monopoly on salvation and truth’ (Ayoub 2007:60). To be opened to the truth from other religious tradition is therefore very important for dialogue.

2. Obstacle to Christian –Muslim Dialogue

Many difficulties arise when it comes to dialogue between Christians and Muslims. These difficulties are caused by various factors: socio-political, theological and intellectual.

2.1. The socio- political factors

The relationship between Muslim and Christians have experienced ups and downs trough centuries. Starting from the life time of Mohamad, the relationship between the two religions has known the periods of peaceful cohabitations and moments of violent confrontation.

The first socio-political factor that hinders the dialogue between Christians and Muslims is the majority-minority relations ((Fitzgerald & Borelli 2006:141). The majority-minority most of the time creates a defensive attitude in those in minority. They feel threatened and marginalized by the dominant community. This is the case of Muslims in most of western country and Christians in Middle East countries.

The second obstacle is the prejudices and stereotyping that comes from the lack of knowledge of other’s religion. There is a generalisation of the perception that Christians have of Muslims and vice versa.  This leads to stereotyping, such as all ‘Muslims are terrorists or support terrorists’ and ‘all Christians are decadent, immoral and unjust’ (Forde 2013: 19). In a context where these prejudices and generalisations are strongly promoted dialoguing would be very difficult and most of the time the relationship between Muslims and Christians deteriorate even to the point of physical violence.

In this same dynamic of generalization and stigmatization, there is a real problem nowadays that can really hinder any form of dialogue; even the dialogue of life that comes somehow naturally by the fact that Muslims and Christians share the same streets, the same neighbourhood and same work places. This problem is that of identifying Islam with terrorism and Christianity with the Western culture. This kind of thinking or prejudice creates mutual suspicion and blurs very possibility of dialogue. When there is suspicion, every Muslim is seen as a threat by the Christian and vice versa. This situation has been aggravated by the rise of terrorism and islamophobia in past decades.

As illustration of this we can mention the case of Boko Haram which started as a small group of radical Muslims reacting against European culture and education. Surprisingly the first targets of Boko Haram adepts were not European companies established in Nigeria. Their first targets were churches and other Christian places of worship in Maiduguri. Consequently Christians fought back by burning Mosques and killing Muslims. This shows clearly that when there is confusion between western culture and Christianity, there cannot be dialogue even among people of the same ethnic group as it was the case at the beginning of Boko Haram that has become a redoubtable terrorist group.

Another obstacle is the burden of the past.  History plays a very important role in the way Muslims and Christians interact. Thus ‘the relationship between and Christians covers a wide variety of approaches to explain various kind of contact, conflict and co-operation between the followers of the two faiths’ (Siddiqui: 1988:121). This situation has led to some atrocities perpetrated by both community. We can mention the case of Crusades, Jihad, and colonialism. Nowadays this history continues to haunt our relationship.

2.2. Theological and intellectual factors

A good number of theological and intellectual factors can also hinder the dialogue between Christians and Muslim.

The first factor is that most of the theological debates are held on the academic level and hardly reach the common of the believers. If the fruits these discussions held by the scholars do not reach the Muslims and Christians who live in contact on a daily basis, they are pointless. ‘The common men and women are supposed to be the principal beneficiaries of these initiatives because they are the first victims of religious misunderstanding’ (Mvumbi 2008:144). Unfortunately this is not the case. The conferences organized do not have a proper repercussion on the common believers. They remain purely academic and intellectual.  Thus some theological misunderstandings can lead to conflicts between the two communities.

Another difficulty in the dialogue between Christians and Muslims is that of accepting the fundamentals of each religion. While both Christians and Muslims agree that they have the same Abrahamic roots, Christians still struggle ‘to accept Islam as an authentic post-Christian religious tradition’ (Ayoub 2007:69). On the other hand Muslims are ‘unable to accept Christians and their faith in the triune God, the Church as source of guidance and the books of the New Testament as authentic scripture’ (Ayoub 2007:69). In such circumtance where the fundamentals of one’s faith (Prophethood of Mohamed, Trinity, Scriptures) are denied there cannot be a true dialogue. At least on a theological level. Each religion views the other on its own perspective. There is a kind of ‘inability to accept each other faiths on their own terms. Muslims have acknowledged and Islamised Christianity and Christians have often Christianised Islam’ (Ayoub 2007:69).

Unless both religions adjust their views on each other, dialogue between them would always be somehow handicapped and limited. The point is not to be convinced or to embrace the other’s faith, but to accept and respect them. ‘What we need today is a confidence-building and peace-making Christian theology of Islam and, correspondingly, an analogous Islamic theology of Christianity’ (Bauschke 1988:144). This means that Christian and Muslim debate need to be at the same theological eye level for a genuine dialogue. Ideas generated from intellectual and theological can have, when wrongly interpreted, a disastrous effect on the life of the two religious tradition communities. Well-formed religious leaders are an imperative for a genuine dialogue between Islam and Christianity.

 

Hermann KASSI

 

 

 

 

References

Anand, S 2009. Dialogue with people of other Faiths. Indian theological studies 46 (September), 9-28.

 

Armour, R 2002. Islam, Christianity and the West: A troubled history. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books (Faith meets faith series)

 

Ayoub, M 2007. A Muslim view of Christianity: essays on dialogue. Edited by Irfan A. Omar. Maryknoll, New York : Orbis Books (Faith meets faith series).

 

Bauschke, M 2007. A Christian view of Islam in Llyod Rigeon and Perry Scmidt-Leukel. Islam and Inter-faith relation 137-155. London: SCM Press

 

Burrows, W R 1993. Redemption and dialogue: reading Redemptoris Missio and dialogue and proclamation. New York: Orbis books

 

Fitzgerald, M L & Borelli, J 2006. Interfaith dialogue: a Catholic view. London: SPCK

 

Forde, G 2013. A journey together. Muslims and Christians in Ireland: building mutual respect, understanding and cooperation. [Online pdf], Wilton: Cois Tine. Available from < https://www.pobal.ie/Publications/Documents/A%20Journey%20Together%20-%20Cois%20Tine%20-%202013.pdf> [accessed 15 march 2016].

 

Mvumbi, N F 2008. Journey into Islam: an attempt to awaken Christians in Africa.  Nairobi: Paulines Publication Africa.

 

Pontifical council for inter-religious dialogue, 1991. Dialogue and proclamation: Reflection And Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. [online webpage].Available <http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_19051991_dialogue-and-proclamatio_en.html>[accessed  March 13, 2016]

 

Siddiqui, A 2007. A Muslim view of Christianity in Llyod Rigeon and Perry Scmidt-Leukel. Islam and Inter-faith relation 112-136. London: SCM Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Is Islam Growing Rapidly?

Islam can be seen as the fastest growing world religion in the 21st century, something that has never happened in history. Such a sudden growth of Islam in many parts of the world today comes as a wakeup call as well as a challenge to Christians to be able to take an active role in interreligious dialogue as well as venturing into Islamic faith with openness rather than prejudice. In Africa, Islam is surely taking over some traditional Catholic territories.  

In South Africa, one may notice the rise of Islam by simply taking a quick glance at the mushrooming number of Mosques in many parts of the country.  Although religious conflict is not an issue in South Africa, it is vital that the challenge of the Islamic faith and its growth and the vitality of dialogue between Christians and Muslims needs to be acknowledged and emphasised. Moreover, most parts of sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa are slowly becoming Islamic states; these include countries such as Tunisia, Niger, Morocco, Libya, Guinea, Gambia, Algeria and Egypt. 

Based on the current growth rate of the Islamic religion, it might seem convincing to assert that by 2060 the number of Muslims is likely to supersede Christian followers by more than 8 percent, which makes it more fundamental for Christians to be concerned about this fastest growing religion. There are many reasons which contribute to the growth of Islam. Firstly, our age is sceptical, where most people are looking for absolute and clear truths based on unshaken reality or truths such as those asserted by Islam. To some people, Islam is also easy to join and the teachings make sense with a simpler profession of faith (Shahada), rather than the complicated Catholic’s Apostolic Creed. Moreover, scandals in the Church, leadership struggles, and many other challenges surely contribute to the conversion of people from Christianity to Islam. Christian religion is also of a western-type where it is modern to have only two or three children which is not the case with the Islamic way where there seems to be a high birth-rate which contributes to the growth of the Islamic faith and religion.

Another reason to be noted for Islamic growth is immigration: where Muslims are always moving into new ventures, and surely, their new mission is sweeping across Africa and many other parts of the world, rather than its previous association with Arabs in the East. Thus, in order to face the challenge of the rise of Islam, Christians might have to understand the basic teachings of Islam and its ideology, so that they can defend their faith, foster the process of dialogue and thus bickering of faith. Such openness might also prevent one from taking it for granted that the Holy and Apostolic church will stand firm and indestructible forever, but rather take an active role in standing firm to safeguard its endurance.

Isaac Mutelo

Experience at the Second Islamic Congress: Islamic Civilisation in Southern Africa

The Second Islamic Congress on Islamic Civilisation in Southern Africa was jointly organised by the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA), the National Awqaf Foundation of South Africa (AwqafSA), University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the International Peace College South Africa (IPSA). The congress was held for three days (4-6 March 2016), at Westville UKZN Campus, in Durban, South Africa. There were 22 Scholars/speakers from Turkey, USA, India, Uganda, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and South Africa. The themes explored included politics, socio-economic development, the spread of Islam in southern Africa and co-existence and cultural diversity.

The congress created a forum where true understanding of Islamic culture in Southern Africa took place; it instilled the need for the religious and cultural heritage of Southern African Muslims to be better understood by themselves as well by communities inside and outside the Islamic religion. Various presentations demonstrated that Islam as a religion and as a group of cultures has had a major influence in Africa since its introduction to the region. The need to promote better understanding and dialogue amongst Muslim people and people of other faiths and cultural communities was emphasized. The question of what constitutes Islamic civilisation cannot be avoided. Is there Islamic civilisation in Southern Africa? Can one talk of Islamic civilisation in Southern Africa without talking about Western civilisation? Should Muslims accept western democracy?

At times, when some Muslims talk about Islamic civilisation, they perceive it as something opposed to Western civilisation. It became clear that although some Muslims appreciate Western democracy and its culture, they prefer to learn from it to develop a modern Islamic civilisation based on the Quran and Sharia law. They prefer integration which safeguards their Islamic identity and culture rather than assimilation. How can Muslims in a country like South Africa where Muslims are a minority (2%) foster the revival of Islamic civilisation? It was highlighted that despite challenges such as Islamophobia, extremism, isolation and integration, Muslims have greatly contributed to the historical and present situation of Southern African society.

In Southern Africa, there has been a reciprocal influence between Islam, Bantu cultures and African traditional religion which shows that Islam is in dialogue with different cultures. An example was given of the Muslim community in Zimbabwe and their relationship to the Barambah people. A cordial relationship between Islam and the local cultures has always co-existed – early Muslims by no means shunned African cultures. Often, similarities between Islamic practices or beliefs and a particular culture are a starting points for harmony and dialogue and serve the purpose of spreading the Islamic faith. Regarding media, while it is a source of liberation for some Muslims, to others it is seen as a challenge, even the most fundamental Muslims have been affected by new media to improve their state of life. There was also discussion on the role and impact of Muslim media such as Voice of the Cape FM and Muslim Views Newspaper on the general public.

By the end of the Congress, it became clear that the concept of “Islamic civilisation” is somewhat complex and problematic. How can one demarcate in a world which is intertwined, interconnected and globalized? Even the idea of western civilisation is also considered problematic because there are large numbers of Muslims living in typical Western countries. Consensus was that Islamic civilisation needed to start with the study of Islamic materials, literature and history partly through the establishment of research and study centres.  Further, the need for cooperation to prevent the fragmentation of the Islamic community in Southern Africa was reaffirmed.

By Isaac Mutelo