Christian-Muslim Relations: Challenges and Prospects
By Edwin Rodrigues SJ, New Age Islam
In early January, the New Delhi-based Interfaith Coalition for Peace (ICP) organized a lecture by Prof. Ataullah Siddiqui of theMarkfield Institute of Higher Education, Leicestershire, United Kingdom, on the topic “Christian-Muslim Relations: Challenges and Prospects”.
In his hour-long lecture, Prof. Siddiqui stressed that Christian-Muslim dialogue is not only possible but also essential. He touched upon various issues, problems and possibilities in establishing and maintaining such dialogue. He provided a historical overview of Christian-Muslim relations in the West. When Muslim migrants arrived in Europe after the World War II, many different Churches arranged for the education and places for worship for their newly-arrived neighbors. The Churches mediated between the civil authorities and Muslims in their neighborhoods to help them. In the following decades, many Churches began to reflect on themes like ‘family’ and ‘community’ in the light of the presence of Muslim communities among them. Prof. Siddiqui mentioned many of the initiatives taken by European Council of Churches in establishing relations with Muslims amidst their midst. He also said that issues that emerged from West Asia and local issues between Christians and Muslims in shared neighborhoods often impacted negatively on relations between Christians and Muslims in the West.
Prof. Siddiqui pointed out that at times, well intended approaches for building relations between Christians and Muslims did not yield expected results. By way of example, he said that certain Christian phrases in dialogue literature, like ‘reciprocity’ and ‘hospitality’ are indeed well-meaning but have inherent shortcomings. Though these terms show respect for Muslims, still they divide the larger community as ‘us’ and ‘they’. He also stressed that some Muslim theological categories, such as zimmi, jizya, dar ul-islam and dar ul-harb, are irrelevant and such terms and ideologies connected with them have to be abandoned. The equal citizenship of every individual should be taken seriously, he maintained. Moreover, he affirmed that ‘the dignity of the human person’ should be the measure for all, and all dialogical efforts should focus on human dignity.
Prof. Siddiqui stressed that honesty and trust are two essential features of dialogue, he said. He added that we need to bring our core values to the arena of dialogue. He noted that mercy, forgiveness, justice and ihsan are core values of Islam and that they should be brought into dialogue. He also noted that dawa’ (inviting others to Islam) and ‘mission’ (giving witness to one’s Christian faith) are at the heart of Islam and Christianity respectively. At the same time, both Muslims and Christians should know their ‘boundaries’. “They must know when their invitation becomes coercion”, he said. He called upon his listen
Years to explore how Christians and Muslims could co-witness to their faith. He said it is possible when both Muslims and Christians bring their core values and enter into action on areas of common concern. This point helps one understand that dialogue is not only possible but also essential, said one of the participants.
Edwin Rodrigues SJ is a lecturer of Sacred Scriptures at Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi.