By Victor Edwin SJ, Word for Peace
TheáIslamic Studies Associationá(Delhi) organised a lecture onáChristian Muslim Relations in the US ľ Some Recent Developmentsáat the Millennium Hall Annex, St Xavierĺs Sr Secondary School, Delhi. Prof Irfan A. Omar, Associate Professor of Theology at Marquette University, Wisconsin, US delivered the lecture. “Dialogue among religions is not only possible and important but also an essential part of faith formation in the Global village” was at the heart of his presentation.á
Prof. Irfan began his lecture quoting a recent essay with a reference toáPope Francis’ encyclicaláLaudatoáSiá (ôBe Praisedö) which cited a ninth century mystical Muslim poet Ali-al-Khawas while emphasizing the presence of God in this world.á Pope wrote that a Ĺmystical meaningĺ should be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dew drop, in a poor personĺs face.á
Prof Irfan noted that according to the author of the article, Fr. Ambrosio,O.P., Pope Francis quoted a passage on the concept of Ĺmystical meaningĺ from the Sufi Ali-al-Khawas. The Sufi Ali-al-Khawas stressed an intimate connection (or closeness) between Ĺevery creature of the world and the interior experience of Godĺ. Pope Francis cited him directly: ôThe initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted.ö
We need to make Pope Francis’ words as strong foundation for building up of platforms for sustaining the ongoing dialogue.
The professor shared a photo of Pope John Paul II, kissing the Holy Qurĺan. “It is a great statement without words”‘ noted Prof. Irfan. He further added ôThe action of kissing the holy of book of another religion does not diminish his holiness instead it increases his credibility as a religious head and a holy person.ö Few may know that many Muslims cried at the death of Pope John Paul II. The church declared him a saint. Both Francis quoting a Muslim saint and Saint John Paul II kissing the Qur’an are such solid sources of inspiration that can build and sustain dialogue. “We need toárecognize that such life giving sources are there in our own religious traditions. The major Muslim call for dialogue, ôA Common Wordádocument is an excellent example of a solid foundation for dialogue”, he noted.á
Drawing on his teaching experience at his university, the professor affirmed that we flourish when we work together. Isolation is a fertile field for prejudices, but engagement with one another will bring people together.áProf Irfan mentioned a few organisations with whom he works for interfaith learning and cooperation.áHe emphasized that these initiates helps in a very high level to address bigotry.áHe also mentioned some of his initiatives as a professor of theology at Marquette along with his teaching and guiding students in research.á
After his lecture we had a lively ‘engagement’ with him.á One of the participants said that he was very grateful to for his presence and for his words. He further said: “His words came from his heart; shaped by his faith and experience. We felt energized and enabled. His passion for peace and harmony inspire me”.á Fathers Tom V Kunnunkal SJ and Victor Edwin SJ made all the arrangements.
Victor Edwin SJ is Lecturer – Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (Vidyajyoti College of Theology), Director – VIDIS (Vidyajyoti Institute of Islamic Studies) and Secretary – CMRSA (Christian-Muslim Relations South Asia).