Friday, April 17, 2009
CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS NEED TO LISTEN WITH RESPECT: AN INTERVIEW
Canon Dr Andrew Wingate was involved in theological education for 25 years at the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, in Madurai, as Principal of the West Midlands Course at Queen's College Birmingham, and as Principal of the College of the Ascension at Selly Oak. He has been in Leicester since 2000, and is now Director of the St Philip’s Centre for Study and Engagement in a Multi Faith Society, Bishop's Adviser on Inter Faith Relations, and a Canon Theologian. In 2007 he was appointed Chaplain to The Queen.
In addition, he has been a member of the Network for Inter Faith Concerns (NIFCON) since its inception, is currently the Joint Chair of the Hindu-Christian National Forum, and English representative on the Churches’ Committee for Relations with Muslims in Europe. He is part of a range of local interfaith initiatives in Leicester, including the Council of Faiths, Faith Leaders Forum, and long standing dialogue groups between Christians and Muslims, Christians, Muslims and Jews, and Christians and Hindus respectively.
He has been appointed an Honorary Lecturer of Birmingham University, from where he did his Doctorate in the area of Inter Religious Conversion. The Centre has developed an MA/ Diploma/Certificate in Inter religious Relations. Accreditation is expected to be De Montfort University, Leicester, from September 2009. Author of many articles and eight books, his two most recent books, published by DLT, are Free to Be, and Celebrating Difference, Staying Faithful: how to live in a Multi Faith Society. He is the director of St Philip's Centre, Leicester. Victor Edwin SJ speaks to Andrew Wingate for Salaam.
How does St Philip’s Centre: Study and Engagement in a multi Faith Society serve Christians?
The St Philip’s Centre is rooted in the multi-faith context of Leicester and is a national ecumenical training centre under the Presence and Engagement initiative. It provides training for Christians, those of other faiths and civic partners. It enables Christians and churches to be a confident presence in a multi faith world, prepared to share their won faith and learn from others. Good working relationships and dialogue with peoples of other faiths serve to promote the common good. The Centre is developed by the Anglican Diocese of Leicester, St Philip’s Church, the Methodist, United Reformed, Roman Catholic and Baptist churches.
What do you mean by Present and Engagement Initiative?
This is a national programme of the Church of England and other churches, developed since 2005. It focuses on the need to be present, but also engaged, in all parishes of the country, including those with major other faith populations, such as St Philip’s, just 16% registered as Christians according to the 2001 census. Over 900 parishes are considered inter faith, but this is increasing all the time. The programme is about training and reflection and engagement. It is also about challenging the whole church to take the challenge of other faiths seriously and positively, while remaining faithful to the Christian calling.
How does the centre serve the multi religious population of this city?
The St Philip’s Centre offers learning opportunities and experiences at a variety of levels. We have courses for key groups in society such as police, local authorities, educational and medical groups, classes for lay people. The centre offers for students to work towards accredited certificates, diplomas and MA modules. The centre as a research institution offers research at PhD level in conjunction with academic partners. The people of other faith learn more about Christianity. They participate in interfaith dialogue sessions, and sporting and social occasions.
Education seems to be a key component in the training programs. Why so much emphasis on education?
Education is the key to enabling people of different faiths to understand one another better. There is an increased interest in interfaith issues as people meet others of diverse convictions at work, in education, on holiday and in the community. Moreover, since 9/11 there has been an upsurge in demand for interfaith education. There is a need to increase Christian understanding how to celebrate differences while remaining faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ.
Why Leicester is chosen to for establishing this centre?
Leicester is the most multi religious city outside London, with almost equal numbers of Muslims and Hindus, a large Sikh Community and groups of Jews, Jains, Buddhists and Bahais too live in this city. Leicester has a long history of successful engagement with other faiths and well established faith leaders and dialogue groups. The centre has well qualified resource practitioners from various ecumenical partners in the region and from other faiths. The centre has developed partnerships with the Markfield Islamic Foundation, and the Henry Martyn Institute (HMI) in Hyderabad, as well as De Montfort University.
Coming to the Common Word, what are the ways in which this letter reaches out to Christians?
Purpose of the letter is to engage Christians of different churches. If it is just based on the Muslim sources it may not have a profound impact on Christians. The letter is written in the frame work of Love of God and Love of neighbour which is very familiar to Christians. The basic frame work of the Letter inspires the Christian readers to carefully look at the document and respond to it engagingly. The Letter may be a shock to some of the Ulema, but the writers show that they are keen to carry forward dialogue with Christians.
Do you think the Letter misses out the South Asian voice?
I think this document needs a special response from India. Indian Christians and in Muslims are minorities. Especially in the south of India both Christians and Muslims have common interests. May be an Indian version of this document should be welcomed, should be very important.
The Letter uses Christian Scriptures. Is it an important step forward in Christian Muslim Relations?
In dialogue between Christians and Muslims both of us need to listen with respect to what both Quran (and Hadith) and Gospels say. I am pleased with this document that quotes Christian scriptures. Some times I have found Muslims tried to use the Gospel of Barnabas in the dialogue meetings. I have told them: sorry, friends. Christians do no consider Gospel of Barnabas as an authentic Gospel. We do not nourish our faith on the text of Barnabas. I am ready to listen from Quran, Hadith and Gospels in the interreligious meetings between Christians and Muslims. In this document Muslims have reached out to Christians by quoting from the Gospels which are authentic for Christians.
Is the Letter an ecumenical venture from Muslims? How does that add value to this document?
The Letter is undoubtedly ecumenical in nature. The signatories come from different schools of Islam. They come from different countries and they represent different institutions. However, it is not very sure how much influence they exercise among the Muslims of different towns and places they live and work. Still very few Muslims and Christians know about this document in our local areas.
What do you think about the Letter’s reflection on Love of God and Love of Neighbour?
Christian witness to love of neighbour is very strong. Every one who is in need is one’s neighbour. This document really does not bring about that in-depth understanding. Traditional the Muslim approach to neighbour seems to be confined mainly to Muslims. For an example: the Zakat funds are used for the poor who are Muslims. Now they say Islamic Relief influenced by Christian Aid seems to have included everyone who is in need. A beautiful example: Christians are around 2-3% in India, while17% of all educational and charity is done by Christians (these figures were given to me by an Indian Muslim). It is a great witness to Christ in India. The Muslims seem to take note of it.
Posted by Victor Edwin SJ at 1:05 PM