A Letter to my Muslim Brothers & Sisters
Dear Muslim brothers and sisters:
You are journeying through the holy month of Ramadan. Roza (fasting) is one of the pillars of your faith, along with Iman, Namaz, Zakat and Haj. On these five pillars you build your personal and communitarian life. It is always impressive to see rows after rows of men bow before God in unison during namaz. Your bowing before God in namaz symbolically reminds all who worship One God that they should also bend their will to the Will of God according to one’s own religious traditions.
Through fasting, praying, and acts of charity you strive to please God. We, your Christian brothers and sisters, recognize the religious significance of this holy month for you. We accompany you spiritually. It is a great joy for us to be here with you in the presence of God, our Creator and our Judge.
We live in turbulent times. War and violence, hatred and suspicion, prejudices and ignorance endanger the lives of the many millions of peoples, especially the poor and the marginalized. A number of conflicts, especially in West Asia, have strong religious undercurrents. A religious angle intensifies many a political conflict.
All is not lost, though. We find men and women of good will everywhere, working for peace, justice, and reconciliation among peoples. They dream of, and strive to build, communities of peace, where people of different religious and cultural persuasions can live amicably with one another. At an audience held for diplomats to the Vatican on Friday, 22 March 2013 Pope Francis said: “It is not possible to build bridges between people with forgetting God. But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God while ignoring people. Hence it is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions, and I am thinking particularly of dialogue with Islam.”
In the introduction to the Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Huston Smith remarked: “During most of their history, Muslims and Christians have been at odds”. We recognize that it is necessary to overcome this long history of antagonism between these two remarkable faiths. I do not need to go in great lengths here to enumerate the prejudices Christians and Muslims have for each other. It is the burden of the past. We need to unburden ourselves. This is possible. We need to be alert to check the attitudes and experiences of the past that shape our present and our future. If we do that, we will be able to understand, respect, appreciate and celebrate the faith of one another. We will also be able to learn from one another and thus work together for peace, justice and reconciliation.
Dialogue will lose its sheen if it is not practised. In order to be practitioners of dialogue we need to:
Step 1: Reach out: Muslims and Christians need to reach out to one another. If we do this, we will be able to discover personally ‘Who is a Muslim?’ / ‘Who is a Christian?’ An occasion like this one is a simple and beautiful example.
Step 2: Each community be allowed to define itself: Often, we define the other through our lens. However, it does not help to understand the other as other.
Step 3: We meet fellow humans as pilgrims of faith: We are on a journey towards Truth. No one comprehends Truth in its totality. This helps us to share our spiritual riches with each other.
Step 4: Dialogue is meeting at our deepest levels of our faith: We do not bracket our faith in religious conversations with people of other faith traditions. Rather, we witness to what the Spirit of God has given us in dialogue. We share our riches, not to persuade but to share and learn from one another the experiences of the One who is Beyond.
Your brother in solidarity
Victor Edwin SJ
Lecturer – Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (Vidyajyoti College of Theology). Director – VIDIS (Vidyajyoti Institute of Islamic Studies)
Vidyajyoti, 23 Raj Niwas Marg, Delhi 110 054