Interreligious Dialogue for Iftar

By   /  16 June 2018   

Dehradun. A weekend course on interfaith dialogue proved a close encounter with Islam for a group of junior sisters of a Franciscan order. The highlight of the program was an invitation from a prominent Islamic scholar to an iftar party at his residence in Dehradun, capital of Uttarakhand state in northern India. It all began with the superiors of Clarist Franciscan Missionaries of the Most Blessed Sacrament requesting Jesuit Father Victor Edwin to conduct a weekend program on interfaith dialogue for their 18 junior sisters. The Catholic priest, who teaches Islam, Christian-Muslim Relations, and Interreligious Dialogue at Vidyajyoti College of Theology in Delhi, sought the help of S Farooq, chairperson of Tasmia Society for religious conversation.

The Islamic scholar, not only invited the Catholic group to his house, but suggested they join him and his family for iftar. When the Catholic group went to Farooq’s house on June 8 evening, he along with his sons and grandchildren welcomed them with love and respect, Father Edwin told Matters India on June 14. Farooq then invited the group to a Qur’an museum in his house that Father Edwin found spiritually and culturally “a veritable treasure.” The museum displayed the Qur’an written on date palm leaves, leather, and stone slates. The Catholic groups also found many ancient copies of the holy book written by hand in artistic calligraphy.

“One exquisitely hand written copy of the Qur’an was identified as one that was the hand work of Aurangzeb, the last Mughal emperor. The Catholic nuns then went to an upper room and met with the women members of the family. After iftar and a grand dinner, the nuns asked Farooq about violence. The Islamic scholar said that Islam condemns violence and extremists do not follow Islam though they call themselves Muslims.

Asked about Islam’s attitude toward other religions, Farooq said his religion respects the religious faith of others. In support, he quoted a well-known Quranic verse that says, “Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion (Q. 109.6). Such discussions set the tone for the June 9-10 sessions on interreligious dialogue at the nuns’ place, Father Edwin said. “We reflected on our experience. One sister said the conversations the previous evening convinced her that both Christians and Muslims acknowledge each other as unique and religiously significant,” he added.

Another participant noted that the nuns and the Farooq family were at home with each other. Farooq’s hospitality reminded a young nun the hospitality of Abraham to the strangers as mentioned in Genesis (18.2) and Hebrews (Heb 13.2). The nuns agreed that the bonhomie they felt reminded them of their responsibility to collaborate with others for common interests. They also realized the need for deepening their relations with people of different faiths as it will be one of the significant elements of giving witness to our faith.

“I was amazed at the deep observations of simple looking junior sisters,” said Father Edwin, who takes his students regularly to meet with Muslim schools, both men and women, to their homes and mosques. The priest explained that there is no restriction on people of other religion visiting a mosque. “Only restriction in South Asia is that women and men do not pray together,” he added.

Final Note by Fr. Victor Edwin SJ, Vidyajyoti College of Theology, New Delhi.

One of the participants in the interfaith program asked me: “Is the Qur’an the word of God?” It is a theologically weighty question, I replied. I mentioned that the Qur’an leads Muslims to a relationship with God. I recalled the words of Paul Jackson, the forerunner of interreligious dialogue between Christians and Muslims in India: “The Qur’an has raised millions of true worshippers of God over the centuries.” Then I explained that the relationship that the Qur’an establishes between the worshippers and God is one of abd (master-servant relationship) not a filial one, since the Qur’an does not share the view of the eternal sonship of Christ and the merciful fatherhood of God. So we realized that we need to recognize the common elements as well as the profound differences. The response of the person amazed me, as she said: “However, we should never forget we both Christians and Muslims adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth.” (NA.3)

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