Sunday, July 12, 2015


Editorial
Totally Present to the Other: The Dialogical Legacy of Paul Jackson
– Victor Edwin SJ
Islam, Peace, Justice and Dialogue – Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
In the Name of God – Paul Jackson SJ
Exploring the future of Christian Muslim relations (JAM Report)
– Victor Edwin SJ
Muslims and madrasas – Dr Mohammad Ghitreef (Shahbaz Nadwi)


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Editorial:

Two incidents: dance of ‘divisive communal ideology’
A 22-year-old MBA graduate, Zeeshan Ali Khan, applied for a marketing job with a Mumbai-based diamond export company. He got a reply: “Thanks for your application. We regret to inform you that we hire only non-Muslim candidates" (http://www.firstpost.com/mumbai/fir-against-diamond-export-firm-that-denied-job-to-muslim-mba-grad-2256142.html). A few days later, a 25-year-old Misbah Quadri, a media professional planned to move to a flat in Wadala after paying the required deposit. The night before she was moved in she was told that it was the builder's policy not to have Muslim tenants. Moreover, she was told if she insisted to move into the apartment she need to sign a "no-objection certificate" declaring that if she faced any harassment from her neighbours because of her religion, the builder, the owner and the broker "would not be legally responsible" (http://www.rediff.com/news/report/she-didnt-get-a-flat-in-mumbai-because-she-is-muslim/20150527.htm).

Both incidents occurred in the month of May 2015. Zeeshan Ali Khan and Misbah Quadri were discriminated against since they are Muslims. These two incidents indicate that prejudices against Muslims have reached alarming levels.  Under the present dispensation such intolerance is bound to rise. How do we respond as Indian citizens? In a learned essay “The Challenges of Hindutva to Minorities, Christians and Dalits”, Dr. Ambrose Pinto SJ argues that this ‘divisive communal ideology’ has to be faced with the ‘ideology of the Indian Constitution’ (See: Vidyajyoti Journal of Theology, Vol. 79, No. 5, p. 323-340). Dr Pinto has pointed out an important dimension of the struggle for the integrity of the nation and the honor of the peoples of India. Another dimension is help people to recognize and work for the eradication of prejudices and biases against one another. Recognizing, affirming, appreciating and celebrating differences will certainly stamp out prejudices and biases. 

Two beautiful models: inspiration for dialogue
We are fortunate to find several wonderful men and women work for better understanding between religions. We have much to learn from their dedicated lives. In this issue we meet two such individuals. They are Paul Jackson and Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. Jackson is known to all our readers. He does not need an introduction. However, for those who might read Salaam for the first time, we introduce Jackson. Jackson is a Jesuit since 1956. He studied Medieval Indian History, Urdu, and Persian and completed doctoral research into the life and teaching of Sharafuddin Maneri in 1980. Since then he has been translating Maneri’s writings, meeting Muslims, conducting courses on Islam, and playing an active role in the Islamic Studies Association that runs this journal. The second person is Maulana Wahiduddin Khan.  Maulana Khan is a noted Islamic scholar and peace activist. He has received, among others, the Demiurgus Peace International Award, under the patronage of the former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev; the Padma Bhushan,in January 2000 India's third highest civilian honour; the National Citizen’s Award, presented by Mother Teresa and the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award. He has translated the Quran in simple and contemporary English and wrote a commentary on the Qur’an. He gives lectures on ETV Urdu, Zee Salaam, Bridges TV, ITV, ARY Digital, QTV, Aaj TV, etc.

We learn a great deal from their dedicated lives. In the first article (Totally Present to the Other: The Dialogical Legacy of Paul Jackson) the present writer offers a reflection on the dialogical legacy of Jackson. Jackson has dedicated his life for Christian – Muslim dialogue in India.  The second article (Maulana Wahiduddin Khan on Islam, Peace, Justice, and Dialogue) is a 'religious conversation' between the members of Islamic Studies Association and the revered Maulana.  In this 'conversation' the Christian practitioners of dialogue seek clarifications and engage with Maulana Khan for better understanding and collaboration between all people of good will especially Christians and Muslims.  Father Jackson and Maulana Khan are beautiful examples of dialogue amidst us.

In the third article (In the name of God) Paul Jackson observes that: "dialogue essentially means an exchange between people of different religious backgrounds at the level of what they personally believe; their struggles to understand what their beliefs mean; and the doubts and difficulties they encounter in trying to live according to them. Genuine exchange implies that change takes place." Transformation is at the heart of dialogue. Knowledge and experience transform person to become better persons. Dialogue expands the vision of life and enriches one's as well as the life of the other.   
Two attitudes: Openness and Respect
The next article 'Exploring the future of Christian Muslim relations' is a report of the Jesuits Among Muslims (JAM 2015) Meeting held at Dakar, Senegal. Jesuits who work among Muslims meet every second year to exchange views and experiences. The Jesuits at this meeting affirmed that Plurality of religions and faith traditions is part of the real life condition of our world today.  For any one religion to claim sole hegemony would only produce many forms of resistance and conflict.  The next one is 'Madrasas should open their doors to new changes', in which a young scholar Mohammad Ghitreef Nadwi shares with Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikandar his views on a wide range of issues that confront Islam and Muslims in the 21st century India.  

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Totally Present to the Other
The Dialogical Legacy of Paul Jackson
Victor Edwin SJ

Introduction
I am pleased to be here at this conference presenting a paper on the dialogical legacy of Jesuit Father Paul Jackson. In this paper I would like to reflect on his dialogical method in the light of his course on Islam for the students of Regional theology Centre at Danapur and later in Khaspur. Jackson conducted this particular course for 26 years from 1983.

I propose to illustrate that totally present to the other is at the heart of the dialogical legacy of Paul Jackson. Jackson discovered this in his pilgrimage into the writings of Sufi Saint Sharafuddin Maneri, and into the lives of many theologically thinking and spiritually vibrant Muslim friends. He endeavoured to create an ambiance for his students to learn something similar to what he has learnt from the context of Muslims of Bihar.

In the first section of the essay I will highlight some of the graced moments of his life as the Lord steered him into the mission of dialogue with Muslims. In the second section I will relate how his students experienced a sort of transformation of heart that opened them to deeper dialogical relations with Muslims. When you are totally present to the other, your heart is transformed. The transformed heart opens one to discover the beliefs of the other without ever losing one's faith convictions. This experience leads the practitioners of dialogue to discover the Spirit of God at work in one another and thus motivates them to work for the dignity of all.  Thus this part will highlight how Jackson's module of 'Experience of Islam' contributed to the contextual theological formation of the students of RTC, Patna.

Section 1
A – Paul Jackson: the man and his mission
Paul Jackson is from Brisbane, Australia. He is now a naturalised Indian. He joined the Society of Jesus in Melbourne in 1956. At the end of 1960, he arrived in India. On arrival he was sent to work in St. Xavier’s English Medium School in Hazaribag. There he had to teach and also supervise 450 boys in various hostels. As an educator in St Xavier's, something hurt him badly as he was expected not to talk to the boys about Jesus. He wondered and asked himself: what was the whole purpose of coming to India? Was it not to tell people about Jesus?[1]

December 1963 was a turning point in his apostolic life. He listened to a lecture of Fr. Putz SJ, at St Xavier's College, Calcutta, who commented upon what Pope John XXIII had told the bishops gathered for Vatican II. The Pope considered the Church after the Council of Trent to be like a fortress on a hilltop defending itself. He went on to say that this was not his idea of the Church. It should open all its doors and windows and reach out to all groups of people. The lesson was that the Church, by its vocation, should reach out to all people in love and esteem. Jackson realised that in his Hazaribag Region no one was reaching out to – the Muslims. So he said to himself: “Let me reach out to Muslims!” That turned out to be the pivotal moment of his life.[2]

Doing something for Muslims
He began his preparatory studies in Indian History and Urdu. While studying history in Jamia Millia Islamia and Urdu in Delhi University, he was invited to attend an International Seminar in Delhi on Baba Farid, a famous early Chisti Sufi. During the seminar he met Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Sikh scholars who participated. He recognised that Sufis bring people together. He felt inspired to study the life and teachings of a Sufi. After consulting a number of scholars in the field he decided to study the life and teachings of Sufi saint Sharafuddin Maneri. Jackson learnt Persian and acquired needed skills to engage in this task. The fruit of his labour of love was his theis, The Life and Teaching of a Fourteenth-Century Sufi Saint: Sharafuddin Maneri. The thesis was examined by Annemarie Schimmel, a world-famous scholar of Sufism from Harvard University; K.A.Nizami, the leading Indian scholar of Sufism, from Aligarh Muslim University; and Syed Hasan Askari, the acknowledged expert of Sufism in Bihar.[3]

One cannot but appreciate the ways in which God guides one into the mission of His Son. Saint Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises likens God's guidance of a seeker to what a school teacher does in leading the students by hand. Just overlooking from the Vidyajyoti College into the Preparatory School of St Xavier's, one will often find school teachers leading little kids by hand! It is so much consoling to feel that God too deals with each one of us in such an affectionate and compassionate way!  Jackson's story of his pilgrimage into the spiritual alleys of Islam is one such beautiful narrative.

B – Jackson: the scholar
Jackson, as an eminent scholar on South Asian Sufism, has made a huge contribution to Christian-Muslim relations in India as the President of Islamic Studies Association (ISA) and editor of Salaam, the journal of ISA. He has written widely on Sufism particularly on the spirituality of Sufi saint Sharafuddin Maneri in a number of academic and spiritual journals. His translation of Maneri's letters: 'The Hundred Letters and Notes' was published by SPCK, London within the series 'The Classics of Western Spirituality'. The volume 'The Muslims of India: Beliefs and Practices' that he edited is a valuable and precious hand book for generation of students in the many seminaries in Asia and elsewhere.

Father Mark Raper SJ, a former provincial of the Society of Jesus in Australia formally praised Jackson's commitment to the mission of understanding and communicating the core message of Sufi spirituality, his readiness to enter into the heart of the spirituality of Sufi saint Sharafuddin Maneri and for bringing the treasures of this great personality to a wider audience through the translations of his works, his efforts to open up the spirit of Islam to the whole world, his effectively using discernment as an apostolic instrument and applying it to everyday encounters between Muslims and Christians, his engagement with Muslims and Christians both at intellectual level and at the level of the heart and for inspiring the younger generation to take up the mission of interreligious dialogue.[4]




Section II – Paul Jackson's Experience of Islam
Methodological considerations

The methodology of doing theology at Regional Theology Centre is eminently contextual. The religious texts are studied through the optic of the poor, the marginalised and the minorities. Thus the struggles and aspirations of the poor provide the framework for doing theology. These contextual reflections are remarkably theological since peoples' issues are analysed and understood from the optic of God. Both the optic of God and the optic of the poor determine doing theology in this regional theology centre.

Jackson's course on 'Experience of Islam' is unique for its methodological considerations. He designed his module to help students to understand, appreciate, and respect Muslims and their beliefs. He inspired his students while they take this module to experience (Muslim life), explore (commonalities and differences) and thus dialogue (for mutual understanding and for working together for common good) with Muslims.

This module is aimed at helping Christian students to gently dispose themselves to Muslims and learn from them by being fully present to them. Such gentle disposition towards Muslims has brought about a new way of looking and dealing with Muslims. This experience-based learning challenged the prevailing prejudices against Muslims in the minds of students and opened their hearts and minds to enter into dialogical journey with Muslims as co-pilgrims. In this journey students learned to appreciate theological differences and discover common grounds for further dialogical efforts. 

Moreover, Jackson's method is contextual since his method is firmly based on the principle and foundation: know Islam by knowing Muslims. The students of RTC became familiar with the beliefs and practices of Indian Muslims from their interaction with Muslims of different walks of life. Their conversations with Muslims in the religious schools and in the Muslim shrines touched and transformed their heart and opened their minds to know Muslims in profound ways much beyond the run of the mill stories that are often fed by the media. Their experience was personal and deep. In the light of their experiences they read and deepened the teachings of the Catholic Church that are found especially in the Vatican II documents Nostra Aetate (NA., no. 2), Ad Gentes (AG - 9), Gaudium et Spes (GS - 16) and Lumen Gentium (LG - 8). Thus their learning was theologically contextual and contextually theological. In other words, context shapes their theology and theology impacts their way of understanding the context. 

Preparation of the course
In 1983 when the Patna Jesuits established their Regional Theology Centre (RTC) at Danapur, the Dean asked him to give a course in Islam to the first year theology students. He was given a mandate that the course should be based on an exposure program.  The students were sent to different towns with important Muslim population and institutions. Over the years students have been sent to Bihar Sharif, Patna City, Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, Siwan, Ara, Munger, Bhagalpur, Nawada, Masaurhi, Aurangabad, Gaya, and Phulwari Sharif. He writes:

Preparation from my side involved visiting the town where the students were due to be sent. [...] My task has been to go to these towns and, first of all, secure accommodation for the students. Normally they stay at the parish. This helps as a means of involving the priests.  [...] The ideal is for the students to meet people from various classes of Muslim society. Hence the first call is made to any important madrasas in the town.  All the towns chosen have madrasas.  I ask to speak to the Principal.  When we meet I introduce myself. Am a Christian priest and belong to a religious order called the Society of Jesus.  The next step is to tell them about my years of research at the Khuda Bakhsh Library in Patna on Bihar's greatest Muslim saint, Sharafuddin Maneri. While some people have heard of me, all have heard of Maneri, popularly known as 'Makhdum Sahib'. After a brief discussion I then inquire if it would be possible to send two young men who are studying to become Christian priests in order to learn about Islam. After seeking some clarifications they agree. I then tell them when they are coming, usually in a week or two's time. It is worth stressing that my work on Maneri is like a key that opens Muslim doors in Bihar.[5]



Seek Clarification ... No Arguments
Then Jackson would meet students who are doing the course with him and have a session with them for instructions with regard to the program. These instructions were: first, practical guidelines to reach the town where they are missioned, where do they stay, whom to meet; secondly, general instructions about Muslim etiquettes and meeting Muslims; and thirdly, possible questions that they could ask Muslims as they start their conversation. The students were instructed that after meeting people Jackson had arranged, they should meet a few more Muslims and have conversations. The students should write down every detail of their conversation with Muslims they met. The students should ask questions, seek clarification, agree or disagree with what has been said; but NO ARGUMENTS.[6] 

Sharing after fruitful interaction
Students go off to destined towns on Monday and return on Wednesday the following week. It gave them at least eight days of fruitful interaction with Muslims. On their return they are invited to share their experience, the knowledge gained as well as their reflections on their experience. After individual sharing the whole group reflect together on what they have learned from this program.  Then Jackson deals with some issues and questions that have emerged during the sessions. The students write a short paper on their experience and reflections. These discussions are done in the light of the teachings of the Catholic Church on Muslims that are found in the documents of the Vatican Council II and the field experience of the students. Their reflections have been published in Salaam (the Journal of Islamic Studies Association) over the years.[7]

Most students do feel certain trepidation while they set out to meet Muslims. Some students who have good experience with Muslims do not have any hang-ups to meet Muslims. When they return, their overriding emotion is one of achievement. The hospitality they received at Muslim homes and Muslim institutions lift up their spirit in joy. They joyfully acknowledge the changed learning curve that the exposure brought in their life.

Over 250 students have been involved in these exposure programs over the years. Their information seeking sessions often turned into dialogue sessions. Among numerous testaments of witnesses, here one student explains his transformative experience.

It is a common belief that experiential knowledge leaves a more lasting impression on the human mind than knowledge gained through books or lectures. Experience, by influencing first the heart and only then the mind, changes one's attitude.

At my home in Mangalore, until I was sixteen years of age, I had had no direct experience of a Muslim community.  Brought up on an orthodox Mangalorian Catholic family I was indoctrinated by my parents, relatives and neighbours – practically all Christians – in the traditional approach to other religions.  I was give the impression that Muslim were cruel – only Muslims slaughtered cows in Mangalore – and that they cheat in business and are therefore not to be trusted.  The stories of Tipu Sultan's persecution of Christians and the cunningness and cruelty of some of the Muslim rulers in India –at least the way we were taught, - supported my belief imbibed from my elders at home.

Whether I acquired a lot of knowledge of Islam was not the result that I was   looking for, but I felt close to a community which earlier had hardly any place in my life. This attitudinal change was possible only by this lived experience with Muslims.  I can certainly say that today I can trust Muslim and relate to them as a friend.  Even the arch conservative Maulanas are open to friendship and dialogue.[8]

First, he theoretically acknowledges the transformative power of experience. Secondly, he admits the predominant prejudices that he picked up from others in his early upbringing.  Thirdly, he shares the fruit of his transformative experience. Experience is at the heart of learning and the door that opens up new vistas for much deep dialogue with Muslims.

A number of things should be observed in this methodology. First, the title indicates that 'experience' has a decisive role in this course. A student is exposed to the reality of Islam through the followers of that faith. This experience calls for transformation. As a result what would they say about Islam or Muslims would be from what they have experienced themselves. Experience is an anti-dote to prejudice. Prejudice and bias flourish when ignorance reigns. Learning based on personal experience will remain authentic as well as deep-rooted and convincing. This also opens us new vistas for faith-based reflections with a critical bend of mind. Students learn new ways of relating with Muslims as priests and religious sent by the Church. Secondly, in this 'exposure' the local church has a vital role to play.   The priests, sisters and lay people 'help' the students to meet Muslims in their localities by making initial contacts.

Affirming the invaluable contribution to the intellectual, academic and dialogical formation at RTC, Patna, Jackson's formal provincial Joy Karayampuram wrote "for introducing younger Jesuits into the process of interfaith dialogue, the lived-in experience among Muslims is a much appreciated program for the RTC students at Danapur. It helps us to open our eyes to a great reality of the lives of the ordinary Muslims of the state. I myself benefited from such experience".[9]

Theological consideration
Many Christians and Muslims ask: Is serious theological dialogue possible between Christians and Muslims? This question on the heart and lips of many appear to affirm, however, implicitly the impossibility of such dialogue. They seem to hold this position since the followers of both religions differ in many aspects of their faith at the normative and doctrinal level and hence dialogical exchange on theological level is not possible. It would be good to remind one that the Catholic Church encourages her sons and daughters to engage with the people of other religions, especially with Muslims. She advocates a fourfold dialogue with people of other faiths. These four-fold dimensions are as follows: first, 'The dialogue of life', where people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations, secondly, 'The dialogue of action in which Christians and others collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people. Thirdly, dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their own spiritual experiences. Finally, 'dialogue of theological exchange, wherein specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other.  The students of RTC who have gone through 'Experience of Islam' would vouch for an experience of dialogical learning to varied degrees within the framework of Dialogue proposed by the Church. Their dialogical efforts are not something of a hobby of an individual, but it is thinking and feeling with the Church in the given context of Muslims of Bihar.

Moreover, as student of Christian theology and a student of Islamic Studies with some experience of interacting with Muslims in the field of Christian – Muslim dialogue I quite certainly recognise that to be present to the other fully or disposing oneself gently towards other or listening to the with a discerned love for him/her, in this case to Muslims, we are in small ways reflecting the love that flows within the Holy Trinity.  We give witness to such abundant love in a little yet concrete ways. In the whole process students learn to listen to their Muslim brothers and sisters as the disciples of Christ.  In listening they give witness to their faith. They share their faith by witnessing to the Spirit of God at work among Muslims in and through their spirituality.

Once I had an opportunity to listen to Prof Michel Bevans SVD. I do not remember where I heard him. But I remember vividly the point he was making. He said that the Mission is to recognize where the Spirit of God is at work and join her in the mission of God that we have come to know historically in the incarnation of the Word.  In other words, dialogue with Muslims of Bihar is an invitation to recognise the Good News in the garb of Islamic Spirituality that was unfolded in and through the life and message of Sufi Saint Maneri.  His life and message impacts the lives of large number of Muslims in Bihar and elsewhere.

Andrei Rublev depicted, in one of his paintings, with rare beauty, the story narrated in Genesis 18:1-15 in his famous icon often referred as "The Hospitality of Abraham". The three angelic figures sit in gentle repose and communion around the table. Their faces are turned in tender loving deference to one another. Many consider that this icon depict the holy Trinity, the divine community of the three coequal divine persons of the Trinity. In another level of interpretation, it could also be pointed out that the divine persons totally present to one another.[10] Rublev's icon is a great source of inspiration for dialogue with others. This demands total attention to the other with a total concern for the other. This total attention and total concern for Muslims is at the heart of the dialogical method of Jackson.

It is fully appropriate to let Jackson say the final words on his journey with the RTC students. His following words fittingly gather all the fruits in a most suitable way:

It is abundantly clear that this whole process of dialogue requires deep Christian faith, for it is more directly focussed on receiving than on giving. It seems to be the very antithesis of the why and wherefore of the whole thrust of the life of a Christian missionary – to share one's faith experience of Jesus Christ with other.  This is not so.  In actual fact, it is an incredibly liberative experience. It liberates us from the delusion of thinking that ultimately words, of themselves, can produce faith in another person.  Even more startling is the realization that this also applies to our deeds, no matter how noble they may be in themselves, for words and deeds can, in the ultimate analysis, be instruments by which we try to control another person.  In dialogue our focus is on the other person and we strive to be as fully open and present to that person as possible. This conscious effort to be enriched by God as experienced by this other person means that we are looking up to the [that] person as Christ looked up to His Father.  Surely it is the Holy Spirit who produces and sustains such an attitude of heart and mind and fully incorporates it into God's loving, providential plan for the welfare of all?[11]  
Conclusion
In conclusion it should be said Jackson's contextual methodology of introducing Islam and Muslims to his students, is first and foremost concerned about the transformation of the heart of the seeker/student. Apostolic success – success NOT in the worldly terms – is the fruit of the men and women whose hearts are touched and transformed in mission. Their labour of love produces fruits for mission of the Church. Such formation happens fruitfully in a context among real people. RTC Patna opened up for her students a wonderful opportunity, through the concern and expertise of Paul Jackson, to recognise the Spirit of God in the lives of Muslims of Bihar whose lives are in turn touched and transformed by the spirituality of Maneri!


[1] P. Jackson, “The Dialogue of Religious Experience” [Lecture, Jesuits Among Muslims Meeting, Delhi, April 5, 2013].
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] M. Raper, “Foreword 2” in Journeying Together in Faith: A Collection Of Inner Pilgrimages in Honour of Jesuit Father Paul Jackson eds. V. Edwin and E. Daly [Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 2008], 17.
[5] P. Jackson, interview by author, March 14, 2013.
[6] P. Jackson, "Patna' Exposure to Islam Program," Salaam 27:3:  [October 2006]: 139.
[7] P. Jackson, "Patna' Exposure to Islam Program," Salaam 27:3:  [October 2006]: 140.


[8] E. Mendonca, "Five Days with Muslims," Salaam 10:2:  [October 2006]: 69-70.


[9] J. Karayampuram, Journeying Together in Faith: A Collection Of Inner Pilgrimages in Honour of Jesuit Father Paul Jackson, 12.
[10] A. Hunt, Trinity [Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2005], 5.
[11] P. Jackson, "Christian-Muslim Dialogue in Patna: Past and Present," Salaam 17: 3 [July 1996]: 107. The emphasis is added by the present writer.



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Maulana Wahiduddin Khan on Islam, Peace, Justice and Dialogue

In a conversation with a group of Christians who are members of Islamic Studies Association (ISA), Delhi Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's tells about his understanding of Islam, Peace, Justice and Dialogue. 


Q: You give great importance to peace. Can you share some of your insights on this issue?

A: I am a born pacifist. Peace is an issue that is very dear to me. After long years of study, I discovered that in Islam, peace has the status of the highest good or the summum bonum. Many people in the West think that freedom is the summum bonum, but I don’t agree. It is peace that is the summum bonum, the highest good. Why, you might ask? The answer is that because without peace, there is no progress. You can’t engage in any normal activity, whether religious or secular, if there’s no peace.

That said, it is very unfortunate that Muslims don’t know the importance of peace. They know only the work of jihad—in the sense of confrontation with others. Some of them are actively engaged in fighting others, while some are engaged in the same thing but passively. Yet, according to my study, peace is Islam’s greatest concern, as it should be of every person, no matter what her or his religion, who sincerely wants to bring about real and meaningful change in the world.

Q: In a society characterized by injustice and conflict, how do you think peace can be established?

A: That’s a very good question. We all want peace, and so we need to be clear as to the right way or method through which peace can be established.

There is a widespread belief that peace cannot be established without justice. People who advocate this approach argue that, first of all justice must be established and then only can you have peace. And so, they talk of a ‘just peace’.

This is precisely what Muslims everywhere argue—in Palestine, in Pakistan, in Iran or wherever. They say, “Give us justice, and only then will there be peace. Only then will we agree to lay down arms and enter into a peace agreement.”

This type of thinking, however, is completely wrong. According to my understanding, justice is not part of peace. Peace should not be bracketed with justice, or with anything else. If you try to do so, it will only prolong conflict and war, and then peace will become impossible. It is putting the cart before the horse.

This is my experience.

The proper approach in this regard is to accept peace for its own sake, and not to link it with anything—with human rights or justice or whatever. Once there is peace in society, peace between former opponents, existing opportunities can be availed of. After that, gradually, justice may also be established.

This principle is exemplified in the life of the Prophet Muhammad. He and many of his companions were proceeding towards Makkah in order to perform the ‘minor pilgrimage’, when they were stopped by their Makkan opponents at a place called Hudaibiya. The Makkans did not let the Muslims proceed to Makkah. At this time, the Prophet entered into a peace treaty with them, which included conditions that were clearly weighed heavily in favour of the Makkans. Yet, the Prophet accepted this peace treaty.

Some of the Prophet’s companions wanted to first solve the problems that existed at that time between the Makkans and the Muslims, instead of first accepting peace. The Prophet did not agree with this approach. Instead, he unilaterally accepted the conditions of the Makkans. The Hudaibiya peace treaty thus became possible only because the Prophet accepted all the conditions of the other party and did not insist on justice.

This shows the importance of peace for its own sake in Islam, not linking it to, or predicating it on, justice or human rights. This is expressed in a phrase that appears in the Quran (4:128): As-sulh khair, which means ‘reconciliation is best’. 

Peace at any cost is, thus, a key principle. After long study, I have discovered that peace is the basis of all kinds of positive, constructive activities—educational, economic, social, cultural religious, and so on. And the only way to establish peace is to adopt the formula of ‘Peace for the sake of peace’, without attaching any conditions to it.

This formula, I must stress, is not my invention. Rather, it is taught by Islam.

Q: The Prophet’s attitude, as reflected in the example of the treaty you mentioned, reflects a deeply spiritual approach, accepting all the conditions of his opponents for the sake of peace. It certainly isn’t easy.

A: The choice is actually always between peace without any conditions, and no peace at all. There is no third alternative, such as peace with justice or a ‘just peace’, that some people, including many Muslims, insist on.

This is my experience.

I can’t think of any society that has been able to establish real peace if justice is insisted on as a necessary condition for it. This sort of condition only leads to the prolongation of conflict, and only further hampers prospects for establishing genuine, sustainable peace.

The Arabs, for instance, seem to believe in this principle of peace-with-justice, and that’s why they seem to be perpetually fighting. And because of this, they keep failing, losing everything and not gaining anything at all. This is because this formula of peace-with-justice is simply unworkable in the real world. It might seem alluring or attractive to some, but it is actually completely impracticable.

Q: Ignoring justice in order to establish peace gives the impression that one is indifferent to the injustices that prevail in this world. What do you have to say about this?

A: According to my experience, it is simply impossible to have ideal peace or ideal justice in this world. This has never happened. I believe in workable peace and workable justice, not ideal peace or ideal justice, in this world.

As I mentioned earlier, many people bracket peace and justice, but I disagree with this approach completely. Peace for the sake of peace is workable, but not peace for the sake of justice. This does not mean that I am indifferent to justice. My point is that once there is peace, one can avail of existing opportunities and engage in constructive and positive activities, and then you may be able to secure justice.

Consider the Indian case, for instance. I enjoy perfect peace in India, although there are many Indian Muslims who are negative about India. They say that they are oppressed, that they face discrimination. They talk of communal riots. And so, they are not living in peace. Instead, they are ridden with tension, anger, and hate, and with the desire for revenge.

But take me—I live with complete peace of mind. It is because I am not hankering after ideal justice. I am content with workable justice. Not complaining about this and that has given me the mental peace I need to avail of the many opportunities that abound in India.

Because I was not agitated, demanding ideal justice and protesting against this and that, and because I was content with workable justice, I was able to discover these opportunities and avail of them. This approach led me to be grateful for the many opportunities that exist here.

I think India is a unique country. The Hindus are the only people who believe in the concept of the many-ness of reality. This is a unique concept. The Hindus believe that all religions are true, that I am true and so are you. All other people believe ‘I am true and you are wrong’. They believe in the oneness of reality, that there is only one truth, while the Hindus believe in the many-ness of realty. This concept gave me a wonderful opportunity, to work for my religion, and my work is deeply appreciated by many Hindus, too. This kind of opportunity is absent in other countries.

So, to reiterate a point I made earlier, I always live with peace of mind, because I never claim that justice has been denied to me. When I know that only workable justice is possible in this world, why should I demand or expect ideal justice and complain that it doesn’t exist? If I enjoy workable justice, why clamour for something that doesn’t and cannot exist in this world?

Q: But what about justice? Ignoring it for the sake of peace might mean legitimizing injustice, isn’t it?

A: If you think in terms of ideal justice, you may feel that I might be denying the importance of justice. The fact, however, is that ideal justice is simply impossible in this world. Only workable justice is possible here. To be at peace, you need to recognize this and accept it as a fact of life, as a reality. But if you don’t, and if you keep chasing the elusive dream of establishing ideal justice, you will only harm yourself, and others also. You will destroy your peace of mind, and that of other people, too.

In every country, one can enjoy workable justice. And if you cheerfully accept this as a fact of life and live peacefully, you can, as I said, discover and avail of the many opportunities that exist to progress—in both the religious and secular spheres. This will help promote justice, too—but this happens gradually and indirectly, and not by demanding and insisting on justice along with peace.

My point is that according to my definition of justice, only workable justice is achievable in this world, not ideal justice. Workable justice is achievable in any and every country. So, no one can live with the claim that he was denied justice, because workable justice is available everywhere.

Q: But there is so much discrimination, which leads to injustice. What does ‘workable justice’ mean in this context?

A: The term ‘justice’ itself needs greater clarity. It needs to be more clearly defined. For example, many Muslims complain that in India they are denied justice, that during communal violence, the police acts against them. And so on. 

According to my knowledge, however, Muslims are to be blamed. They are paying the price for their stupid policies.

Q: If ideal justice doesn’t exist in this world, and only workable justice does, should we then just forget about ideal justice? Or, should we make efforts to transform workable justice into ideal justice?

A: As I indicated earlier, establishing ideal justice in this world is simply impossible. According to Islam, and also according to Christianity, we have been put in this world as a test. Man is born free, because without freedom, there is no test. God has made us as free creatures, creatures with free-will. And because we are free, we are free to misuse our freedom, too, and this leads to injustice. Since some people are bound to misuse their God-given freedom, this makes it impossible to establish ideal justice in this world.

In fact, ideal justice in this world is not in the Creation Plan of God. Islam accepts this point. In the Quran, there is no verse that says that we have to establish ideal justice. This fanciful notion of establishing ideal justice in this world, through force if necessary, is only the product of some fertile imaginations—as for instance, the Egyptian Islamist ideologue, Sayyid Qutb, who wrote a thick volume on this thesis, titled Social Justice in Islam, wherein he insisted that Muslims must establish a system of ideal justice on earth.

This approach, however, is not Islamic. It isn’t practical either.

Q: If ideal justice is not achievable in this world, does it mean we should stop talking about it?

A: I would say that ideal justice in this world is not only not achievable, but that it is also not good for human beings.

Why, you are bound to ask?

This is because if there is ideal justice, there will be no challenge, no competition, no differences, and this will stop the process of intellectual development. Inequalities and absence of ideal justice work as such a challenge. Establishing ideal peace or ideal justice is tantamount to abolishing such challenges. And that, in turn, is tantamount to putting a break in human progress.

You might have heard of the British historian Arnold Toynbee. He wrote a 12-volume treatise, titled The Study of History. There, he talked about a basic law of nature based on the challenge-response mechanism. Challenges, he pointed out, lead to responses, and this leads to human progress.

I fully agree with this thesis. If you are able to establish ideal peace or ideal justice, it means that you have put an end to challenges, and, hence, to human progress. This type of peace or justice has no value really, because challenges are necessary for all kinds of progress, in both the secular as well as religious fields.

Q: What do you think is the role of forgiveness in establishing peace? I think it is something that is important.

A: You may be right, but my aim is quite different. I use the term ‘avoidance’, rather than ‘forgiveness’. By ‘avoidance’ I mean avoidance of clash or confrontation with others.

Avoidance of clash or confrontation is a general principle. When you are driving a vehicle, you have to avoid crashing into another vehicle if you want to be safe and happy. So, too, in society. You need to learn to avoid stepping on other people’s toes if you want to be happy and achieve your goals.

Forgiveness is, of course, good, but with regard to peace, I would particularly stress the importance of avoiding confrontation with others.

Q: So, if there is peace, it brings about a conversion of hearts, which then might bring about justice?

A: Yes. That’s true. That said, I want to reiterate that the concept of justice is not well-defined. People often use it in a very vague way. For instance, I feel that in India, I enjoy justice in the complete sense of the term. But some other Muslims claim that they do not enjoy justice here. So, ‘justice’ and ‘injustice’ are not well-defined terms. It is your perception that determines if you think you are living with justice or with injustice.

I have never complained that in India I am denied, or have been denied, justice. I believe that I have got justice in India. I also believe that I have more justice in India than Muslims do in the almost 60 Muslim-majority countries that exist. I have visited some of these countries, and so I know this as a fact. I speak from personal experience. India is better than all these countries on the basis of my definition of justice. In Muslim countries, I don’t hope to find justice, because in every one of them there is extremism and there’s no openness, while in India there is tolerance, there is acceptance, there is openness. According to my definition of justice, I am enjoying justice in India and I have no complaints at all.

Q: I think dialogue between Muslims and Christians is very important. But when I advocate this sort of dialogue, some of my fellow Christians bring up the question of the law against apostasy from Islam in certain Muslim countries. According to this law, if someone abandons Islam, he should be killed. This law, which its advocates say is sanctioned in Islam, doesn’t help Christian-Muslim dialogue. In fact, is a major obstacle to such dialogue.

Catholics have now accepted the right of people to choose to follow their conscience. And so, if a Catholic converts to some other religion, he won’t be killed. His right to follow his conscience will be respected.

What are your views about the apostasy law in some Muslim countries?

A:  The true Islamic position on apostasy is reflected in this verse of the Quran (2:217):

Whoever of you turns back from his faith and dies as a denier of the truth will have his deeds come to nothing in this world and the Hereafter, and he will be an inhabitant of the Fire, to abide therein forever.

This verse refers to someone who abandons Islam and dies. It mentions that after he dies, God punishes Him in the Hereafter. This indicates that such a person dies a natural death, and is not killed for apostasy. So, this verse clearly shows that capital punishment for apostasy from Islam is not sanctioned by the Quran.

It was only later, maybe two hundred years after the Prophet, that Muslim fuqaha or jurisprudents, devised this law that apostates from Islam should be killed. These fuqaha emerged in the Abbasid period, in the period of Muslim empires. This law that they devised has no sanction in the Quran. It was formulated by the fuqaha, and I don’t believe in the fuqaha on this matter.

There is total religious freedom in Islam.​ I’ve written a book in Urdu on this subject of the law of apostas​y​. In that book, I have shown that the punishment of death that is prescribed by fuqaha for apostasy is not Islamic. 

Q: You have contacts with Christian leaders who are interested in Muslim-Christian dialogue. What do you see as the common grounds that Muslims and Christians have to work which can form a basis for them to work together for peace?

A: There is a great common ground in Jesus Christ’s commandment to love one’s enemies. The Quran (41:34) gives the same teaching, in these words:

Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend […]

This Quranic verse indicates that your enemy is your potential friend.

I love the formula ‘Love your enemy’. It’s the only formula that can give you positivity. If you love your enemy, it means actually that no one is your enemy, and that you can live in positive thinking. This is really very important in life. Negative thinking is the greatest evil, and positive thinking is the greatest good. And this formula, of loving your enemy, is the only workable formula for positive thinking and positive living.

Q: Christians and Muslims both talk of striving to do God’s will. This seems to be major common ground between the two. What do you say?

A: Yes, this can serve as common ground, but there’s a problem here, because the concept of doing God’s will is differently understood by Christians and Muslims. This is related to their different understandings of God, because of which God’s will is also interpreted differently. Stressing this as common ground, then, might create contradictions between the two while engaging in dialogue. And that is something that we must stay away from. Unfortunately, Muslims generally don’t do that. Instead, when dialoguing with others, they try to impose or establish their point of view. Because of this, they simply aren’t competent to engage in such dialogue.

In contrast to this, the approach I advocate steers clear from contradictions and controversies, and this facilitates, rather than hinders, dialogue and understanding between people of different faiths.

Q: I guess many Christians suffer from the same sense of superiority. They, too, want to prove that they are right and others are wrong.

A: But I, for one, don’t do that, I can confidently say. I don’t believe in any such superiority or inferiority. I never use these terms. The Quran doesn’t say that Islam is a superior religion. This sort of claim is alien to the Quran. The Quran (2:285) tells us that all the many messengers of God are equal and that we should not make any distinction between them. None is superior to the others.

Q: Christianity gives great stress on love. I’ve read the translation of the Quran, but I’ve never seen the word ‘love’ there. So, is it possible to talk of love as encouraged by the Quran, or is it something else that replaces love and that is central to Islam?

A: The word ‘love’ doesn’t appear in the Quran, but in its place the Quran uses another word—nush or nasih (For example, 7:62, 7:68). It denotes well-wishing. It is used in the same sense as love is used in the Bible.

Christianity says that we should love our neighbour, and Islam says that you should be your neighbour’s well-wisher. Both mean the same thing really. In fact, you should love all and be a well-wisher of all. 

The importance Islam places on love or well-wishing for one’s neighbour is indicated, for instance, in this beautiful saying, attributed to the Prophet of Islam:

Gabriel counselled me so persistently about the rights of the neighbour that I felt he was going to declare him an heir.

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In the Name of God
Paul Jackson, S.J.

A lady who wandered into a Catholic church watched a man wearing a long, white robe making the Sign of the Cross and listened to the words being recited:  “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” She went up to the man, a priest, and inquired if she could ask him a question. He told her to go ahead. She asked him what it all meant. He replied that it was a Catholic sign and prayer signifying the beginning of a religious act and expressing the fundamental belief of Catholics. She inquired if this meant that Catholics believed in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. “Exactly,” replied the priest. She reflected for a moment, and then said: “So Catholics believe in three gods?” The priest hastily corrected her and told her they believe in only one God. She wanted to know how this could be so when they prayed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – three gods! The priest had a hard time explaining that Catholics believe in only one God.

The lady in question happened to be a Muslim. When the priest said, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” she had thought, “Ah! It’s true! Christians believe in three gods!” Belief in three gods is, of course, anathema to Muslims. Curiously, the trinity that is explicitly rejected in the Quran consists of God the Father, Mary, and Jesus. This version falls into the category of god, consort and offspring, so widely found in different cultures, including that of the Arabs at the time of Muhammad. We read about the goddesses al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat as the “daughters of Allah.” Muhammad completely rejects their reality: “They are but names which you and your forefathers have invented!”

On another occasion, she entered a nearby church and listened to a priest saying, “In the name of God,” and then, while making the sign of the cross, adding, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” “That’s interesting,” the lady said to the priest. “You believe in only One God, but God is somehow Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” “Yes, that is correct. Moreover, the two formal expressions of Christian Faith, the Nicene Creed and the shorter Apostles Creed, begin respectively ‘In the name of one God, the Father Almighty’ and ‘In the name of God, the Father Almighty.’ They then elaborate our belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and our belief in the Holy Spirit. This is known as the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. It is a mystery, because it is beyond our understanding. We believe it on the basis of our Christian faith. Moreover, the Gloria begins ‘Glory to God in the highest,’ and the Te Deum begins ‘We praise You, O God.’” The lady thoughtfully remarked, “I must admit that what you say is interesting and quite intriguing.”
The lady felt at ease when she heard the priest say, “In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” because she was used to reciting “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” Her spontaneous comment was, “Ah! Christians believe in One God, just as we do!” She went on to say: “Just as we Muslims believe that God is Merciful and Compassionate, so you Christians believe that God is somehow Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” After some further reflecting, she added: “I don’t know what it means to call God ‘Son’, because we believe that God ‘Does not beget, nor is He begotten’; but we also have the Spirit in our Quran, ruh, even called ruh ul-qudus (Holy Spirit) and ruhullah (Spirit of God); and we also believe that God is full of fatherly care for us. In fact, we call Him parwardigar in our Urdu translation of the Quran. This means someone who brings up, looks after, takes care of – exactly what a good father does! This makes sense.”

“So, your real difficulty is with Jesus as the Son of God,” the priest said. “It is a tricky thing, and Christians down the centuries have struggled to understand what it means.” The lady smiled and said, “So it is not surprising that Muslims find it difficult to understand, is it?” The priest reflected for a moment, and then said: “Let me put it like this. For you, as a Muslim, the Quran is the Word of God. For me, as a Christian, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh – ‘the Word became flesh’ as we read in the beginning of the Gospel according to John. So for you, God speaks to us through a book, while for me, God speaks to us through a person, but we all believe that God is actually communicating with us, don’t we?”

The lady reflected on the priest’s words, and then agreed with him and added: “If I believe that God is speaking to me through the Quran, and you believe that He is speaking to you through Jesus, then we both have an obligation to listen carefully to what He is saying to us, don’t we?” The priest replied: “I could not agree more, but how do we ‘listen carefully’?”

They had a very interesting discussion about it for some time. The priest was actually pleasantly surprised to hear that the lady knew so much about her religion. When he mentioned this, she smiled and said: “Although there are some Muslim men who try to keep us women ignorant, there are others who encourage us to study. I was very fortunate to have such a father. He helped and encouraged me.”

At the end of their discussion, they agreed that there were basically two ways of listening to God’s words. The simplest is to read the text slowly, a little at a time, pausing frequently and letting the text ‘speak’ to us. The other way is to study the text and commentaries in order to understand it more accurately and thus grasp more clearly its divine message. Both categories imply a faith-oriented approach. It was time for the lady to go, so she left, thanking the priest for his time and his concern.

While reflecting on this encounter, the priest realized that some people would probably criticise the wording, “In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” as being a copycat expression of the Muslim formula, “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” As far as the form of the prayer goes, this observation would be perfectly correct, but would not be the primary reason for using it. This actually involves a possibly unintended, yet clear product of genuine dialogue. This would not be possible if dialogue were simply an exchange of lists of respective beliefs. This is because nothing personal is contained in such an exchange. For example, some years ago students could opt to study the Gospel of Mark as a subject and Hindu boys regularly scored higher marks than their Christian counterparts.

Dialogue essentially means an exchange between people of different religious backgrounds at the level of what they personally believe; their struggles to understand what their beliefs mean; and the doubts and difficulties they encounter in trying to live according to them. Genuine exchange implies that change takes place. For example, gaining an insight into what it means for this particular Muslim to believe in the Quran as the Word of God and how this shapes his or her life. Similarly, it could lead to what it means and entails for a Christian to say that Jesus is, for him or her, the pinnacle of God’s revelatory Word to mankind.
We can easily imagine that such insights into the lived faith of other people should occur, granted the normal lack of previous knowledge about them and their faith. What might greatly surprise us, however, would be new insights into our own faith. For example, a Catholic could conceivably realize that the alternative wording of the Sign of the Cross suggested above was a more apt expression of his or her faith.

This is where it becomes really interesting. Catholics – even Catholic scholars of Islam – routinely make the Sign of the Cross while saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” How could they so unquestioningly and unhesitatingly do so, without referring to God? The short answer to this is that they automatically interpret the wording in the context of their unquestioned belief in one God. There is no need for them to express it explicitly.

As our Muslim lady’s reactions indicate, Muslims interpret these words in the context of their own beliefs about God. It is like a collision of two icebergs. The portion above the water level is the verbal expression of beliefs, but the greater part of the iceberg – seven-eighths, in fact – lies beneath the water. This represents the cumulative effect of all the factors involved in shaping a particular person’s world view, whether the person is a Christian or a Muslim. This constitutes personal experience, and is the proper domain of dialogue. 

In this situation, even an inkling of the reality referred to in the basic Christian formula, combined with a knowledge of the formula Muslims use to express their most fundamental religious experience, could trigger an insight into a more apt Christian formula, such as “In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” This would be an unexpected yet genuine fruit of dialogue.

It is possible to smile and quip, “Much ado about nothing,” but this is not at all what is happening. People like Freud and Jung have opened up the reality of what might loosely be called our “pre-conceptual consciousness.” Psychoanalysis seeks to probe this aspect of our being, especially if we are abnormally troubled. It is handy to link this to the seven-eighths submerged portion of the iceberg, the portion that supports and sustains the eighth above water. It does not even occur to us to question any verbal formula which is consonant with the inner, pre-conceptual dimension of our being.

This explains why the simple knowledge of a verbal expression, juxtaposed against a similar, yet different expression, can be unquestioningly accepted. If enlightenment along the lines suggested in this article actually occurs, however, it is proof that a personal interaction has taken place. In other words, dialogue has occurred and the experience has opened up hearts and minds – the aim of all genuine dialogue!


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Exploring the future of Christian Muslim relations – 
Jesuits Among Muslims discuss their life and mission
Victor Edwin SJ

Father Heru Prakosa SJ (Indonesia) convened the third Jesuit-Among-Muslims (JAM) Conference at Senegal (West Africa) in the Easter Week of 2015. Father Norbert Litiong SJ (West African Province) was the local organiser. This Conference brought 13 Jesuits, missioned among Muslims, from different parts of the world for spiritual, intellectual and pastoral exchanges with one another. They met at the guest house of the Abbaye de Keur Moussa which is ideally situated in a garden, close to the monastery. The monastery and the guest house are surrounded by the majesty of the natural world. The aesthetic beauty of simple houses provided an idyllic place for deeper analysis, reflection and sharing on Jesuit apostolate among Muslims.

At the very outset Professor Abdul Azziz Kebe and Professor Babacar Samb both from the department of Arabic Studies, Cheikh Anta Diop University made presentation on “Islam in Africa and particularly in Senegal” and Radical Islam in Africa (al-Shabbab and Boko Haram) respectively.  They said that Muslims entered the shores of Africa in the 7th CE century itself.  In the 11th century CE Islam reached sub-Saharan Africa. Islam spread easily as they are several common elements between Islam and African traditional religions. These common elements also help believers of different religious tradition to live in harmony.  An interesting element pointed out by the speakers was that when slave trade flourished, Muslims challenged the local rulers who cooperated with slave masters since Islam considered all people equal. There was also armed resistance in the 17th century against slave traders on behalf of people whose dignity was trampled upon. The rejection of colonial venture does not amount to the rejection of Christianity, said Professor Kebe and added that though 95% Senegalese are Muslims and Christians a small minority (5%) yet they maintain good relations between them.  Most Muslims in Senegal are members of one of the Sufi brotherhoods. The ‘sufiness’ has inculcated in the Senegalese population respect for the faith of Christians and traditional African religions. The speakers also noted that the Sufi brotherhood at times holding on to certain privileges and try to emerge as a new form of aristocracy. This not good for Senegal, they said. We should be watchful of Wahhabism, they cautioned. 

While Senegal's peaceful cultural and religious pluralism gave a perfect backdrop for the Conference, the deadly blow of al-Shabaab on the hapless mostly Christian students in Kenya and the intensification of Shia – Sunni conflict in the desert kingdom of Yemen reminded the Jesuits in this ministry of the stark reality of Christian-Muslim relations, the challenges of their ministry and their responsibility towards the mission entrusted to them.  The participants made presentations on their work with analyses and reflection.

Narrations and Reflections from participants
A series of political crises often in the religious grab overwhelm the Central African Republic (CAR), said Father Médard Sena. Fr Sena is from Burkina Foso but works in CAR.  He explained that Muslim rebels seized power in March 2013 by overthrowing President Francois Bozize – who had been in power for a decade.  President Michel Djotodia who replaced Bozize , was accused of failing to prevent his forces from raping, torturing and killing civilians – particularly among the country’s Christian majority. When Mr Djotodia’s government fell in January, Christian militia fighters began attacking Muslim civilians in retaliation. Thousands have been killed since the conflict began and tens of thousands more have fled the country. The UN says that about 1.3 million people – a quarter of the population – are in need of aid. Fr Sena is mediating between the predominantly Christian anti-Balaka militia and Muslim Seleka rebels.

CAR is thinly populated, just having less than 5 million people among whom 80% are Christians, 10% Muslims and 10% belonging to African traditional religions.   The Archbishop is very dynamic and engages actively in peace building, said Fr Sena. Archbishop Dieudonnè Nzapalainga holds regular meetings with the Imam of the city to discuss issues that affect both communities. 'Together we build peace' is at the heart of his efforts. The archbishop and the imam coming together for 'common good' is the first sign of reconciliation, said Fr Medard.

The peace building effort of the archbishop is an inspiration for Medard. He, as the chaplain in the university, motivates students to think of peace and work for peace. He trains them in the process of peacemaking. This training for peace is based on five modules: creating conditions for peace, working for social cohesion, prevention of conflicts, resolving crises, and training volunteers for peace. He has trained, to be precise, 439 peace activists, both Muslims and Christians. Medard is also involved in UN initiative for establishing peace in CAR. 

Norbert Litiong read a paper on interfaith faith marriages between Muslims and Christians and the pastoral opportunities that arise for guiding interfaith couples. He suggested that the Senegalese Catholic Church should provide more help for such couples to better understand each other's religion and the importance of living their life commitment to their faith and family.

Father Etienne Mborong is involved in an education project: Foi et Joie (Faith and Joy) for Muslims in Chad. The vision of Jesuit intervention is, he said: 'we believe in human persons'. They grow and change. Their growth and change for better is an expression of their FAITH. In growth and transformation they experience JOY. He affirmed that thus they speak about faith in the Muslim context. He further added that their mission is helping them to deepen their faith and experience joy in their lives in and through education. Thus the vision is enfleshed in mission and brings fruits for the Church, not in numbers, but in the quality of relationships that are developed between Jesuits and Muslims. Moreover, he added that in this mission journey we ourselves experience deepening of our own faith and experience the joy of the Gospel.  In our ministry, person is at the centre of our every concern".

Christophe Ravanel living in Algeria for twelve years, said that he and his Jesuit companions have experienced 'hospitality' and 'friendship' of many Muslim friends. In living with Muslims the Jesuits have certainly experienced unity and togetherness with one another. This thought is expressed beautifully by the Muslim mystic Jalaluddin Rumi, who said: "if you truly bow down in prayer ... you cannot rise in your old self". 

Besides shared humanity, Christophe and his companions prepare sessions that facilitate Muslims and Christians to reflect on a number of themes that have resonance in both Christian and Muslim spiritualities.  Christophe emphasised both Christians and Muslims learn to listen to life in the hearts of the other while they share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences and thus learn to be fully present to the Other in their Otherness

Tobias Specker, professor of Islam and Christian Muslim Relations at the Jesuit theologate in Frankfurt, is the first Catholic theologian who was trained in 'Muslim theology' from the recently established 'department of Muslim theology' in Frankfurt University. He informed his listeners that four state universities in Germany, on the similar line of departments of Catholic theology, have established Muslim theology departments. Interreligious orientation, understanding plurality and methodological questions are the focus of these departments with slight variation of emphases: either towards Qur'anic interpretation or Hadith marks the curriculum of these departments.

Speaking on Christian Muslim relations in Germany, Specker said that there is a 'feeling of the loss of tradition' by both the Turkish immigrants who are naturalised Germans and by the native German population.  While for Turkish people it is a new world altogether, it is a 'not the same world we are born in' for the native Germans. In this context for the Turkish-Germans the outward 'identity' gets strengthened while the spiritual dimension of Islam gets consistently weakened.  Such developments do not help social cohesion, said Specker. He informed that Catholic and Muslim theologians meet regularly and work together in order to lead their respective communities towards a great appreciation of diversity in unity as Germans and unity in diversity as people of varied faith commitments. He emphasised that 'role of reason' and 'role of history' are pivotal points for those discussions.

Laurent Basanese, professor of Islamology and the director of the Gregorian Centre for Interreligious Studies in Rome, in his presentation focused his attention on 'fundamentalism' and 'mindless violence' unleashed by ISIS and their affiliates in West Asia. He said intolerance and violence have their roots in Wahhabism (The core of their teaching centre on theological doctrine of divine unity [tawḥīd) that consists of three elements of belief and action: the unity of lordship [tawḥīd al-rubūbiyya], the unity of godship [tawḥīd al-ulūhiyya], and the unity of divine names and attributes [tawḥīd al-asmā wa-l-ṣifāt]. According to this associating any being or any power with God or directing worship towards anything other than God constitutes unbelief), Political Islam (that emphasises the establishment of Islamic State based on Shari'a) and Revolutionary Salafism (Salafis adhere to a literalist theology. They reject allegorical interpretations of the Qur'an and reason based arguments to understand and interpret Islamic faith. They claim to be faithful to the teachings of Hanbalis and ahl al-hadith.  They insist that their faith is identical to those of the first three generations of Muslims). He argued that these are the sources that feed Islamic fundamentalism and if these sources are not purified, then fundamentalism will continue for a long time to come.  He was appreciative of all Muslims who condemn violence in the name of Islam. However, he felt that is not enough. Stopping at 'condemnation of violence' does not reach the roots. He stressed that it is not enough to declare that true Islam do not support violence. "What about the Qur'anic and Hadith references to violence?" he asked.  He further added dialogue between Christians and Muslims should not leave out such critical challenges. The university ambience should encourage both Christians and Muslims to be open for intellectual challenges that come from both sides seeking clarification. If issues are not clarified at their roots (sources), then dialogue will remain superficial and thus will turn into an empty exercise without any real fruits of mutual fecundation. 

Victor Edwin, who teaches Islam and Christian Muslim relations at Vidyajyoti, Jesuit school of theology in India’s capital Delhi, in his presentation noted that the observers of Indian Islam caution that there is an increasing radicalisation of Indian Muslims about which they, the Muslims, themselves are wary of. One should remember that Indian Muslims are largely associated with Barelvi tradition. This Sufi flavoured tradition co-exists with Deoband Theological School that is influenced by wahhabi ideology. Wahhabism, a revivalist movement initiated by Abd al Wahhab [d. 1792], draws inspiration from a medieval theologian Ibn Taimiya and an early jurist Ibn Hanbal.  Their co-existence, many sociologists and thinkers affirm, made Indian Islam dynamic and syncretic.  However, the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 by Sangh Parivar right-wing radicals radicalised both Hindus and Muslims.

Many groups of Indian Muslims argue that this radicalisation should be confronted and resolved within the democratic setup and the secular ethos of India. Some others, also committed to the secular nature of India, feel that Indian state is not sincere about her Muslim citizens. They seek political action through civil societies and groups.  There are other Muslims: sections of clerics, people of revivalist schools and some sections of western educated Muslims, who not only doubt the capacity of the Indian state to resolve the problems of Muslims in India but suggest that practice of pure Islam can redeem Muslims and thus Islam.  It is said that among this third group Wahhabi tendencies take roots. 

Focusing his attention on Islam in India, Edwin said that this religion has taken roots in soil of India for the last few centuries and absorbed a number of elements that are 'Indian' in nature and thus Islam has taken myriad forms of Islamic expression that are both loyal to the context and the text. He emphasised that it is by preserving this plurality and diversity within Islam that one can successfully stem any radicalisation.

Father Joseph Kalathil’s beautiful faith-based narrative is the story of an initiative to build Social Capital to bond the peoples of Pakistan and India with the aim to bring union of minds and hearts among the people. He told his listeners that he gained clarity that ‘people to people contact’ will help mitigate and slowly remove prejudices from our minds and hearts and that will help us to get closer to one another. With such an insight, the following programmes were drawn up, which were launched in Lahore in collaboration with the Apostolic Carmel Sisters (ACs), the Jesuits, the youth and with some of the priests and Faithful of Lahore Archdiocese with tacit approval of the Bishop of Lahore. In such a short time of 11 days of which 4 were holidays, he addressed over 800 senior students of 7 schools, over 40 teachers and 100 catechists all of whom showed their very encouraging and tremendous enthusiasm for building friendship and peace between Pakistan and India and they assured him of their full support. He further said:  “When I went to Lahore, I took with me 35 letters from the students of four schools and I brought 90 letters from the students of Lahore. The Bishop Sebastian Shaw and the Vicar General Fr. Andrew Ansari of Lahore Archdiocese, knowing what it means to build friendship between Pakistan and India, were very happy to welcome me with such a noble mission, assuring me of their full support. I also met a few NGOs and a couple of trade unions and the Director of Caritas Pakistan. All of them were very happy to hear about the move to build friendship and peace between Pakistan and India. I realise that children are the hope and joy and I am sure they will initiate peace”.

Heru Prakosa in his presentation he noted that the idea of monism is at the heart of Javanese culture.  He said that this monism attracted many Muslims. These Muslims are generally oriented towards the thoughts of either al-Ghazali or al-Hallaj or Ibn al-Arabi. All these three great Muslims are Sufis in their own way. Philosophical monism was the gate way for Islam to take deep roots in the Indonesia soil. Thus Javanese culture and Islam enrich one another mutually and gave raise to plural expression of Islamic faith in Indonesia. This plurality is under attack, said Prakosa and added that Indonesia is not insulated from the onslaught of Wahhabi brand of Islam that comes from Saudi Arabia. He is of the opinion that Indonesian Muslims can confront Wahhabism from their rootedness in Indonesian soil.
Towards concluding: fruit gathering

First, the participants analyzing events and different trends within Islamic schools and Muslim communities and their interaction with people of other religious traditions suggested that Islam is in crisis.  In the tide of time every social-religious groups has to realize the changes that come with changing times. If someone tries to insulate from the present and try makes an effort to return to the past, it will bring about crisis upon oneself and deepen it. Christianity faced such crisis and affirmed the dignity of person by opening herself to religious freedom for every individual. Islam seems to struggle to grapple with that issue. It appears that at the root of this crisis is lack of openness from the part of Muslims to raise serious questions with regard to the reinterpretation of Muslim scriptures and other sacred sources.


Secondly, Christian Islamicists from the West often seem to ignore another dimension of Islam: that is the way in which it has rooted in the African and Asian soil. It has taken roots in a harmonious way. This element needed to be acknowledged, affirmed and appreciated.   Christians need to work with Muslims to preserve pluralism within Islam.  This demands that Christians make efforts to reach out to Muslims and stand with them in their joys and sorrows. The participants thus stressed that dialogue has take into account both the intellectual as well as spiritual dimensions of interacting with Muslims. Mere intellectual dimension may reduce dialogue to debate and mere spiritual effort may become naïve without any serious consequences.

Thirdly, it was noted that theologically thinking Muslims and Christians clearly see the danger of the narrow exclusive brand of Islam that emerges from the desert soil of Saudi Arabia. It was also recognized in discussions during the conference that while the political dimension of Islam has gained force and potency in the last few decades the spiritual dimension has weakened. This political dimension spurns other faiths and their way of life paves way to disharmony. Plurality of religions and faith traditions is part of the real life condition of our world today.  For any one religion to claim sole hegemony would only produce many forms of resistance and conflict.

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Muslims and madrasas

Dr Mohammad Ghitreef (Shahbaz Nadwi), a versatile Islamic scholar, Madrasa alumnus,editor, author and director of Foundation for Islamic Studies in a conversation with Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander on his early life, madrasa studentship, Islam, Ijtihad, terrorism and need for reforms in Madrasas.


Tell us something about your early life?
I was born in 1972 at a village of Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh.Having committed the Quran to heart, I started Arabic learning at Jamiatur Rashad Azam Garh, then one year taught by my father Allama Shabbeer Ahmad Azhar Meeruthi who had invented his own unique method of teaching Arabic sciences, that was very short as well as a sharp one. I earned my Alim certificate equal to 10+2 from a Delhi based seminary Jamia Islamia Sanabil, run by Abul Kalam Azad Islamic Awakening Center. Then I did my Fazeelat degree from Jamiatul Falah of Azamgarh in 1993 but I am regretted to say, that there wasn’t scholarly atmosphere at Jamiatul Falah, instead they relied only on Maulana Farahi's writings and on the literature of Jamaat e Islami. To a great extent I was not influenced by my teachers of these seminaries, that is why I am basically a self made person yet my father's unparalleled erudition had a lasting impact on me. In the beginning I started my readings, along with the books of curriculum into writings of  Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi, the founder of Jamaat e Islami (JeI) and extended it to the historical novels of Naseem Hijazi, Sadiq Sardhnwi, Inayatullha Eltamish and others and then shifted to serious reading of Muslim thinkers and scholars, ranging from the traditional Ulama especially Ulama of Deoband school of thought, to modern day jurists like Mohd Abu Zuhra, Yosuf Alqarzawi, revivalists like Syed Qutub, Mohammad Qutub, Muslim writers and scholars like Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Allama Iqbal, Shibli Numani, Syed Sulaiman Nadwi, Waheeduddin Khan, Najatullah Siddiqi, Dr Mohammad Hamidullah, Mahmood Ahmad Ghazi, my late father Allama Shabbeer Ahmad Azhar Meeruthi, Rashid Shaz to name a few.  After that I started to read most of the important figures of Islamic history such as Alghzali and Ibn Tammiyah and others. I tried to learn a bit of English when I was studying in Jamia Islamia Sanabil Delhi and increased my English knowledge when I was in Jamiatul Falah. Meanwhile the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December, 1992, led to communal riots and destruction of numerous shrines and mosques in Ayodhya by the Hindu mobs. Hence I volunteered for relief work in Ayodhya.

Later on I was part of the Student Islamic Welfare Society (SIWS), a movement based in Lucknow, working for the intellectual development of students of Arabic madrasas. For field survey and research once I was sent on a tour to visit the great Islamic seminaries and madarsas in different parts of India to study the Arabic Madrasas closely and witness their functioning. I could witness that South Indian Madrasas were very good and doing well, they were quite in contrast to the North Indian madrasas. SIWS was going to establish a unique center of Islamic thought, which was named as مركزاعداد الدعاة basically to train Madrasa students introducing them to new world and its challenges. At this center based on survey, vast readings and study, we prepared a questionnaire and report and sent it to hundreds of madrasas and many prominent and leading scholars for their observations and reactions. But out of hundreds only two scholars gave their feed back. Alas! this center could not be materialized. Though the said rejoinder depicted the apathy of madrasas people and how they were in slumber regarding the happenings around them. They couldn’t be influenced because they have caged themselves behind the four walls of madrasas and were happy in their cozy cocoons. Frankly speaking their plight is pathetic. Growing disillusioned with this state of affairs, I continued my higher studies and earned specialization in Arabic language and literature from Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow in 1996. In 1999 I did my Masters in Arabic from Lucknow University and after that I earned my PhD in 2006 from Jamia Millia Islamia .  


Being a product of Madrasa education, when did you decide to enroll for the ‘mainstream secular’ education?
It was the result of my self study. I never confined myself with the study of course books only, but read whatever stuff I could lay my hands on. This type of study opened new vistas and horizons before me; hence I was not content with madrasa education only.



What were the influences that prompted you to write?
My father Allama Shabir Azhar Meerathi was the biggest influence and inspiration for me as a writer. He was himself a great scholar, writer and exegesist of Quran. Also I was influenced by the writings of other men of letters and scholars. At a tender age of fourteen I began to write and in my early phase of writing I wrote in Urdu on a lot of issues. So far I have penned down 6 books, translated half a dozen from different languages particularly Arabic into Urdu and I have been editor of monthly journal Afkaar e Milli for eight years, besides being associated with Institute of Objective Studies (IOS) and Islamic Fiqah Academy( India) in various capacities. Now I write profusely on contemporary Islam, Muslim world, and on various academic as well as current political and social issues facing the third world, especially Muslim world. Focusing in particular, on unity among Muslims, political Islam, Islamic militancy, Palestinian problem, Muslim non Muslim relations, inter-faith and intra-faith dialogue, coexistence among civilizations, reforms in madras system education etc. I contribute regularly in Urdu dailies, weeklies, periodicals on above said and several other socio-political issues. And nowadays I am writing in English also.

And so far I have Visited several countries including the US, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan and Nepal and participated in national and international seminars and symposia and presented many papers.

You are also the Founder Director of Foundation for Islamic Studies. What was the need for establishing it and what are its objectives?
During my brief lifetime till now I observed, experienced and witnessed many things, related to Muslim organizations and their cadres. I found the blind following (Taqlid) and its grave consequences, there is hero worship everywhere. If some people think out of box or have different views they are immediately sidelined within the organization and the group. This has happened even with Jamaat e Islami (JeI), wherein with the demise of Mawlana Mawdudi the thinking process has stopped, though reading and writing still continues. Maulana Mawdudi was against the blind following or Taqlid but now within JeI Mawdudi has assumed the status of a  hero who is being blindly followed. My father had a vast and deep knowledge of theQuran and Hadith, hence he wasn’t easily influenced by the new scholars. He wrote the exegesis of Quran that was at various points in variance to many exegesis’s of past and present. This and many other things written by him,  found no publication house  ready to publish them. Hence I felt the need of publishing the books and writings of him after his death, and in the year 2003 I established The Foundation for Islamic Studies, with the primary aim of publishing what my father has left behind.

Another aim of establishing the institute was to write about the new issues and challenges baffling Muslims as well as the whole humanity that need to be seriously addressed and debated.

So how do you raise funds for publishing books?
Ours is a little publishing house, with my own funds I publish the books and most of the books are being received well, hence I raise the funds for other publications, but still our marketing strategy isn’t good. There are several titles with us, prepared to be sent to press but due to shortage of funds they remain yet to be published.  

As you stated earlier how your father was sidelined by the Ulama, so what do you think are the reasons as to why the Ulama are afraid of new thinking or what in Islamic parlance is known as Ijtihaad. Why are they afraid of opening the doors of Ijtihad?
The apathy of the ulama is that they are Hero Worshippers. They believe in Akabir Parasti, as if it is a tenet of Islam! Since last many centuries they have self imposed this censorship on themselves.

Still what are their fears of being afraid of Ijtihad?
This fear is due to the changed times. There is a lot of difference between old and new times. In olden days Ulama were being followed by the common people, but now it is mobocracy. The mob wants the Ulama to follow them, and the Ulama too don’t have the leadership capacity and qualities to channelize the mob energy into something fruitful, hence they are facing a dilemma. Now the Ulama want to say what people want them to say! They have lost their indigenous status. If any emotional issue arises the Muslim Ulama will give it legitimacy. The fear of Hindutva and being a vulnerable minority also reinforces their decision of not indulging in Ijtihad.
To add as a matter of fact most of the Ulama aren’t aware of their times and trends, because they don’t take interest in new issues and challenges, as they have no interest in reading. Among Muslim Ulama there aren’t many who take a delight in reading and writing.

Why are the Muslim Ulama not reading?
It has many reasons. The biggest reason being the curriculum of Madrasas known as theDars e Nizamiyyah. It was formulated a few centuries ago and since then the times have changed, that oblige it must be changed too. But after Deoband adopted it, they haven’t changed it till now, and others are also following their trend. This curriculum is an obstruction towards approaching Quran and Sunnah directly. Hence the ulama can’t engage with the issues and find solutions to them in Quran and Sunnah.

Also the pedagogical practices in madrasas and colleges differ. In colleges there is freedom of debate, questioning the teacher and expressing oneself, and in madrasas it is vice versa. Hence the spirit of creativity and query is killed, with the result that much depends on rote learning and cramming of curricula books. This type of teaching inculcates no love of books and real knowledge among students, hence on completion they have no desire to engage with various issues and challenges baffling Muslims. They are misfits for offering any solution to the contemporary problems.

So do you suggest change is needed in madrasas?
Absolutely. We are lagging centuries behind and we need to fill this gap. New curriculum needs to be introduced along with new pedagogical practices, though in some madrasas now they ushering in a good change in this respect.

About the change in curriculum, most Ulama are apprehensive and say that they can’t teach English and Social Sciences in madrasas as it will hamper the study of Islam and dilute the faith of madrasa students?
With the spread of British colonialism, their missionaries began to come to India, and the Ulama were genuinely fearful about their nefarious designs. When the Aligarh Movement started this fear was looming around, though this time the fear was based on assumption only. Today the interpretation of Islam throughout the world is done mostly by those people who haven’t studied or being trained in madrasas. So this fear of dilution of faith of madrasa students is baseless, otherwise the modern interpreters of Islam would all have turnedastray.

But what about the apprehension of Quran and Hadith being curtailed in madrasa curriculum due to the introduction of other secular subjects?
Keep only the obligatory and necessary books and remove others like Logic, detailed complicated grammar and Greek Philosophy. Useless things need to be taken out of the curricula. Instead, social sciences need to be taught then you need not to curtail the Quran and Hadith portion of the curriculum.

Why don’t the madrasas introduce English as a primary language, as Urdu isn’t an elite language anymore?
The madrasa people, with some exceptions, don’t have any skills in other languages except in Urdu. Professionalism isn’t found there. They don’t have any vision, hence are ignorant about the importance of English. To your astonishment, our Ulama have no common sense to the extent that not only in India and Pakistan, but in US and UK  too they built madarsas wherein they  teach in Urdu. Also the minority psyche of considering Urdu a sacred thing is one of the reasons for their apathy towards English to reinforce it. Still this is an example of hypocrisy of Ulama in sending their own children to English medium not to madrasas, it also depicts their dichotomy. They are well aware of the fact that English is related to economy and worldly gain, hence choose it for their children while keeping the madrasa students ignorant of the same, and expect them to be vanguards of Urdu language.

What is your take on the State and Central Madrasa Boards?
In Bihar, West Bengal and certain other southern states it has been introduced and madrasas are being controlled by the same. It is feared that the government will take over, disturb the curriculum and the product will be wrong. To me it is just an over reaction by the Ulama, because they consider madrasas to be full proof castles where winds of change must never blow. But I think regarding the Muslim mind we have to change only certain things and change them gradually, so that the students can find place in universities. The State Madrasa Board shouldn’t completely comprise of government officials but Ulama must also be its members.

Being a product of madrasa yourself. Do you think Indian Madrasas are involved in terrorism?

There are many allegations, but no madrasas are involved in terrorism in India. The Pakistani madrasas are different. The one flaw with madrasas is that audit and accountability are missing in them, except Deoband and Nadwatul Ulama and some other big madrasas. Audit and Transparency must be there. A huge amount of petro- dollars in the name of madrasas has been siphoned off by various people related to madrasas. Few have been arrested too. To overcome this grave flaw there should be regular audit and administration of madrasas mustn’t be hereditary but should run on the Prophetic Practice of Shura (mutual consultation).

2 comments:

loreun jeny said...

Our Holy Islam teach us lesson of love and kind to each other. Quran is our holy and last book of religious Islam. Quran teach us to spend our life according to Allah,s orders and Muhammad (PBUH), orders. I am doing my duty to teach the Quran to my Islamic brothers. We should must teach and learn Islamic Classes to understand the Islam and Allah and his Last prophet of Allah Muhammad (PBUH).

Melina Mia said...

I really liked this part of the article, with a nice and interesting topics have helped a lot of people who do not challenge things people should know... you need more publicize this so many people who know about it are rare for people to know this......
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