Muslim Christian Dialogue Conference

4 May 2005

 

“What do we have in common?”

 

Sr. Giovanni Farquer

 

 

 

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, may I first of all say a few words about how I became involved in Interfaith Dialogue, specifically with Muslims.

 

Over thirty five years ago, as part of my first degree at Melbourne University, I chose a subject called Comparative Religions within a Department known at the time as Middle Eastern History. I chose this subject for a very practical reason, namely that it suited my schedule as a part time student.

 

My class companions were drawn from a wide variety of religions as well as the three religions of the Abrahamic tradition - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In my third year when the majority of students concentrated on a more intensive and objective study of their own religion I chose Islam, once again for reasons of expediency but also, as I explained to my superiors, I liked the lecturers, I got on well with the students and my appetite for more knowledge of the Muslim faith and culture had been whetted. Also, and by no means least, friendships based on mutual respect and admiration had been formed which have grown stronger over the years.

 

My choice was tolerated rather than actively supported. But who at that time in catholic education would have anticipated the rapidity of change in the social fabric of Australian society and the implications such changes were destined to have for Australian education. including catholic education?

 

I went on to complete a Masters in the same department the title of my thesis being Christology in the Quran and have recently completed a Ph D at Melbourne in the Department of Leadership Policy and Management where Lebanese Muslim students feature in the particular case study undertaken in that work.

 

Whilst in one sense I welcome the opportunity to be part of tonight's program, at the same time I am very conscious of my limitations, regardless of my academic opportunities it is critical that I am not perceived to presume an understanding of another world religion- Islam -in which, despite our common Abrahamic tradition, I, as a Catholic within the Christian tradition am not rooted and formed. However, unqualified openness and readiness for dialogue with other religions and deep roots in ones own religion are not mutually exclusive.

 

Dialogue works I believe when one knows who one is, when one acknowledges the other, when by frank and free exchange we discover and celebrate what we have in common and grow in respect of our differences.

 

So what do Islam and Christianity have in common?

 

The three great religions of Near Eastern origin, Judaism Christianity and Islam have far more in common than everything which separates them.

All three are religions of faith. They believe in the one God and Arab Christians also address God as Allah.

 

All three have an historical stamp: they do not think in cosmic cycles but in the light of God's creation and look towards a consummation of the world and of human life.

All three have been shaped by great prophetic figures:; they are not mystical religions but prophetic religions in the historical sense.

 

All three have set down their message in holy scripture

All three have a common basic ethic, great commandments for humankind which they feel to be the will of God himself. Might I suggest that Islam and Christianity do not merely tell of God’s love for humanity. They stand or fall on their fundamental claim that each human being is of ultimate and absolute value.

 

I don't think there is any doubt that true believers amongst Christians and Muslims long for reconciliation and harmony amongst humankind in our world today. Signs of such an attitude abound at all levels of Church and Society and seem to be clearer and more forceful in recent times. Pope John Paul I1 has been acclaimed for his unprecedented efforts to reach out to other faiths in pursuit of world peace and Benedict XV1 has indicated his intention to build on what has been initiated in the field of ecumenical and interfaith relations. Public appreciation of Pope John Paul's contribution to dialogue has been acknowledged by Muslim and Jewish leaders around the world as well as here in our own country, by representatives of many other Religions as well as by the Orthodox Churches and leaders of other Christian denominations.

 

 A little more than a week ago on the 90th anniversary of Anzac Day, at ceremonies all around the nation and at Gallipoli, the number of participants, including Muslims and Christians, the reflective mood and the respectful demeanor of the crowds embracing young and old, spoke eloquently of the growth in maturity which has occurred in our country over the last two decades or so. My recollection as a secondary Principal is that in the late seventies and eighties there was an apparent indifference to remembrance days, perhaps because, in that particular period of our history there was a fear and rejection of anything that could be construed as glorifying war and violence. I suggest we have arrived at another place. Our nation has not forgotten. Rather we remember with pride so many whose abhorrence of violence encouraged them to give their lives so that others might live together in peace.  We gather in strength on remembrance days with a sense of urgency and growing responsibility, not to glorify war but to discover together a way to end war and violence amongst humankind and to establish a true and lasting peace.  Wars above all are inhuman and this fact is borne out, over and over, when so many people gather, it seems to me, more and more frequently to remember innocent victims of savage atrocities, .of all races and religions. This, surely is a sign of hope.

We, all of us are part of the problem which confronts us today just as we can be part of the solution, which is not simple.

The eminent theologian Dr Hans Kung who this year was awarded the Niwaso Prize for his work in Interfaith dialogue describes his vision of hope for the future when he states:

There are people who believe that a clash of civilizations, between Muslim and western culture is inevitable. Such a view is superficial and overlooks what the civilizations have in common. However humankind must make a great effort to avoid such a clash. (Tracing the way. Hans Kung. Continuum. 2002 p.231)

 

Since the 1980s Kung has been campaigning for the program: No world peace without peace between religions and in 1992, 1994 and 1999 he spoke on this topic at United Nations Headquarters where there is a precise awareness that religions have an immense potential for conflict which is exploited by some who are religious and some who are not. But religions also have a by no means small potential for peace. Kung points out that:

It was men and women with religious motivations who, without violence or bloodshed, committed themselves to change, radical change in their countries- in Poland, East Germany, South Africa, Central and South America and in the Phillipines.

 

The conclusion Kung draws is that: a clash of civilizations and of religions can be avoided and will be avoided if sufficient people devote themselves to it for there will be no survival of humankind without peace among the nations but there will be no peace among the nations without dialogue between the religions. World religions can co-exist in peace if we work together for a global ethic.

 

Such an ethic would be rooted in the first and greatest commandment, enshrined in both the Christian gospel and in the Islamic Hadith In the words of Jesus–This is my commandment that you  love one another as I have loved you. (John 15 v12) In the words of Mahomet You are not a believer unless you love one another.

Such a global ethic can be lived out by people of all cultures and religions, believers and non believers alike.

       

It is important to be aware that each country has its own unique religious and cultural context for dialogue and reconciliation to take place. The age old hostilities of the past need not be perpetuated in Australia where relatively speaking, with the exception of the indigenous inhabitants of our land, we are all recent arrivals. Our contribution to peace and harmony begins in the marketplace of our own neighborhood. In the every day activities of life each of us can make a difference by respecting each other, relating to each other with humility and integrity.

 

In my understanding humility means honestly recognizing, embracing and diligently developing our gifts in service of God’s people while simultaneously doing the same for all others and their gifts. Integrity might be gauged in inverse proportion to the gap between what we say and what we do. The great stumbling block for us, Christians and Muslims is bridging the gap between the ideals enshrined in our religions and the translation of those ideals into the reality of everyday life.

 

We are challenged to be ever increasingly men and women of integrity living out authentically as children of Abraham the teachings of our Christian and Muslim faiths.

 

So with humility and with trust we together look to our God the almighty, the merciful to sustain us in our tireless efforts towards the attainment of personal integrity and towards the achievement of wholeness amongst all humankind and in all of creation.