Dialogue among religions is not only possible and important, but also an essential part of faith formation in the Global village” was at the heart of Prof. Irfan’s presentation.
By Midhun J F Kochukallan SJ
The Delhi-based Islamic Studies Association, a group of Catholics engaged in the study of Islam and dialogue with Muslims, recently organised a lecture on “Christian Muslim Relations in the US”Some Recent Developments” by Prof. Irfan A. Omar, Associate Professor of Theology at Marquette University, Wisconsin, USA. “Dialogue among religions is not only possible and important, but also an essential part of faith formation in the Global village” was at the heart of Prof. Irfan’s presentation.
Prof. Irfan began his lecture quoting a recent essay that referred to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si (“Be Praised”), which cites a ninth century Sufi Muslim poet Ali al-Khawas while emphasizing the presence of God in this world. Ali al-Khawas stressed an intimate connection (or closeness) between ‘every creature of the world and the interior experience of God’. Pope Francis cited him directly: “The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted.”
We need to make Pope Francis’ words a strong foundation for building up of platforms for sustaining ongoing inter-religious dialogue. Prof. Irfan shared with the audience a photo of Pope John Paul II kissing the holy Qur’an. “It is a great statement without words”‘ he noted. He further added: “The action of kissing the holy of book of another religion does not diminish his holiness. Instead, it increases his credibility as a religious head and a holy person.”
Both Pope Francis quoting a Muslim saint and Pope John Paul II kissing the Qur’an are solid sources of inspiration that can build and sustain dialogue. “We need to recognize that such life giving sources are there in our own religious traditions,” Prof Irfan noted.
Drawing on his teaching experience at his university, the professor affirmed that we flourish when we work together. Isolation is a fertile field for prejudices, while engagement with one another will bring people together. Prof Irfan mentioned a few organisations with whom he works for interfaith learning and cooperation. He emphasized that these initiatives help address bigotry.
(Midhun J F Kochukallan is a Jesuit student at Vidyajyoti College of Theology, a leading Catholic centre based in Delhi)