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Memorial Lecture Explores Self-Identity In Islamic Thought

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A recent lecture programme to commemorate a 20th century Belgian Jesuit missionary who worked in Kolkata explored the selfhood and identity in Islamic thought. The fourth Victor Courtois Memorial Lecture was held at St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata on March 7.Islamologist Father Victor Courtois, a Catholic priest, who died in Kolkata in 1960 aged 53, is considered the pioneer of Christian-Muslim dialogue in Kolkata. The lecture entitled ‘Who am I? An Exploration of Selfhood and Identity in Islamic Thought’ was presented by Yusuf Jha, a researcher in Islamic Theology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom by a video link.
In his welcome address, university vice chancellor Jesuit Father Felix Raj highlighted the importance of interreligious understanding and the need for bringing people together in the present context of divisiveness and interreligious tensions. Jesuit Father Victor Edwin, the secretary of New Delhi-based Islamic Studies Association, said Father Courtois fostered relationships between Christians and Muslims, much before the Church realized the need of reaching out to other religions. According to Father Edwin, polemics and debates marked the history of Christian-Muslim relations in the past. Father Courtois ushered an era of relationship and respect in such an era. The Belgian missionary taught that Christians and Muslims are brethren since God is the father of all humans.Father Courtois encouraged that Christians and Muslims to not shy away in giving witness to one another’s faith.
The fundamental call of Islam is to affirm the oneness of God and worship the one God. Yusuf Khaaffirmed that the call to surrender to one God is a call to see the One even though we observe the ‘many’ in the phenomenal level. The speaker affirmed that God is the foundation of this oneness and diversity. God is the hidden treasure, noted the speaker. In order to be known, God out of love brings about creation. Drawing on the teachings of the Qur’an, Yusuf explained that God is known to creation through God’s beautiful names, which are attributes of God. The attributes are imprinted in the soul of every human person.
Therefore, the ultimate goal of every human person is to experience this Oneness of love with God, wherein the egoic sense of the separate seeker is annihilated (fana) and he remains through God (baqa) witnessing this Oneness. Drawing from the Sufi traditions, Yusuf noted that every seeker under guidance of his/her sheikh walks the Sufi path moving from one Station (maqamat) to the next consistently going through different ‘states’ (hal) patiently waiting for the movement of God’s grace.
(For details, see mattersindia.com)