Victor Edwin SJ
Christian-Muslim Relations: Guidelines for Catholics in the Diocese of Parramatta was launched in Australia on 11 September 2008 in the presence of the Bishop of the diocese, Kevin Manning, who had asked Fr. Herman Roborgh SJ and Sr. Vivienne to write a small book that would help Catholics to develop good relations with Muslims in his diocese near Sydney, Australia. Fr Herman completed his PhD at Aligarh Muslim University (India) last year. He made an analysis of a commentary on the Holy Qur'an (tafsir) written by the Pakistani scholar Amin Ahsan Islahi (d. 1997) called Tadabbur-i-Qur'an. Fr. Herman has a long association with Muslims in South Asia. While living in Lahore, Pakistan, he attended Qur'an classes regularly together with Muslims. On returning to Australia, Herman felt that Christian-Muslim dialogue was perceived by many people as either too difficult and or simply futile. In response to such perceptions regarding Christian-Muslim dialogue, Herman wrote this little book which he hopes "may help to clear the way for the practice and experience of interreligious dialogue. It may remove some of the blocks and obstructions and some of the misunderstandings. I hope it may prepare the way for a deeper encounter."
He feels that the religions, including Islam, can make a contribution to our society. Christians need to know that other religions besides Christianity teach justice, freedom and love. By neglecting interreligious dialogue, he says, "we may become arrogant and think that we can solve the problems of the world by ourselves. We could even be unaware of the positive contribution that the religions could make to the issues facing our planet today."
He told the audience who were present during the book launch that there was much to be done. "We need to talk at a deeper level, a more personal level. But we will need greater trust in order to do this. More than ever, we need to learn to listen. It is not easy to move over to the other person's perspective. It means we will have to leave the safety of our own point of view – our well-formulated doctrines and established formulas. It means we will have to respond to questions."
For Herman, dialogue does not have any particular or hidden agenda. It simply means allowing oneself to be questioned and to be ready to delve more deeply into one's own experience of faith. He is convinced that interreligious dialogue requires a willingness to re-examine the foundations of one's own faith. Interreligious conversation should bring us back constantly to the basic inspiration of our own faith.
He insists that we need to do interreligious dialogue. "It is not enough to talk about it or to write articles about it or even to write a small book about it! It is only through the experience of the interreligious encounter that we will change. The experience itself changes us," he told his listeners.
He went on to say that interreligious dialogue can happen only among people who are confident without being arrogant, clear enough about their own position without feeling they have it all worked out and without giving the impression they have nothing more to learn. "As in any good conversation, interreligious dialogue does not seek to clarify my faith at the expense of the other. In good interreligious dialogue, the other person is affirmed in his or her faith as well", he added. “Why not rejoice if my Muslim partner grows in her perception of the beauty of Islam or in her self-esteem as a Muslim?" he asked. He said that his book is not really about Islam but rather about Inter-Faith relations and how to foster good relations between Christians and Muslims. It does not try to answer theological questions. He feels that Christians can discuss theological questions today only in the light of the reality in which we live, that is, by acknowledging and accepting the reality of other faiths, especially the reality of Islam in the world. "Gone are the days when Christians could do theology as if they were the only people who lived on earth. Today Christians must examine theological questions in the context of interreligious dialogue. The sacred Scriptures could not be contradicting one another. Christians who engage in theological discussions about God and about Christ should listen to the viewpoints of others who are not Christians, including the viewpoints of Muslims. Similarly, Muslims should try to understand the viewpoint of Christians, especially in their study of Christianity. This is the honest way to do theology and it is the only way that we can do theology in a useful way today" he said.