Christian - Muslim Dialogue

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Greg Sinclair reflects on the recent CRC delegation to Egypt.

After entering the ornate offices of Al Azhar University and Mosque, our delegation from the Christian Reformed Church of North America was seated in the reception room and offered tea and Turkish coffee. Everywhere we went we experienced Egyptian hospitality that was warm and welcoming. After a period of sipping strong coffee, we were led into a large conference room. We were expecting a quick meet and greet, but to our surprise we were invited to sit down with the Grand Sheik, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, and speak with this religious leader who has great influence over the world of Sunni Islam. Dr. Al-Tayeb said some important things to us. He said that neither the religions of Christianity nor Islam promote injustice or terror. Extremists seek political gains rather than religious gains and that unfaithful religious leaders abuse their religion when they promote terror. He criticized religious leaders of falling short in delivering their true faith and that this is the reason for animosity rather than collaboration among the different faiths.

He admitted that no one should be forced to convert against their will, and that in inter-religious dialogue there will be areas that we will not agree on or we will “destroy religion.” He counseled us to focus not on doctrine but rather on ethics and values that we hold in common (for example, members of both faiths are concerned about the rise of secularism in our societies). He stated that “religion and ethics are two sides of the same coin.” When he was asked what we in North America could do to encourage dialogue between Christians and Muslims, he encouraged us to focus on a common shared ethic in our dialogue. He also challenged us to combat secularism and godlessness in our own society.

Meeting the Grand Sheik impressed upon me a novel idea, that there are Muslims whom we should be in prayer for, Muslims who can influence the dialogue between religious believers towards moderation and understanding. Extremists are never happy with such moderation, and so individuals such as the Grand Sheik, who are willing to speak out in this way, need our prayers. We also met with Christian leaders who were interested in inter-religious dialogue. We were privileged to meet with the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, who is committed to ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.

As the CRCNA undertakes more of an active role in inter-religious dialogue in North America, we can learn a lot from our Christian and Muslim friends in Egypt. Egypt has a long history of Christian-Muslim interaction, and in the end, most Egyptians, whether Muslim or Christian, see themselves as Egyptians first. That is why the sectarian violence that broke out at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo was so surprising. What didn’t make the western press was the march by Muslims several days later protesting the government’s lack of response to the violence against Christians.

As we pursue inter-religious dialogue in our communities, let us look to the Grand Sheik, the Coptic Patriarch, and other Egyptian church leaders, to guide us in starting dialogues that encourage peace between Muslim and Christian communities in North America. Let us be proactive and live out Jesus’ command to love our neighbors by engaging them in friendly, peace-building and enlightening dialogue.


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Participant

Appreciate your posting, reflections and observations. Just to share my wife Germaine and my experience in Dakar Senegal with Muslim families our common subject conversations began and ended with the elder fathers pointing upward and saying in Arabic, Wolof and English "There is but one God."

Meaningless words from the Grand Sheik, unless the muslims will follow his guidence.

Greg,

How I would love to share your enthusiasm for the meeting you had with the Grand Sheik, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb! I have lived, worked and done business in Egypt. I have had food and fellowship in the homes of both Muslims and Christians there. I love the people but I have learned to be very wary of what I'm told. Egyptian Muslims will tell you what they believe you want to hear. It has happened to me repeatedly in business and social situations when there was no intention of following through as was promised. Many see this as simply being "clever". It is true as you say that Christian-Muslim interaction has a long history but it has not been between two equals!

My converted Muslim friends tell me that the Quran says both that Muslims should live peaceably with Christians and that Muslims should kill the infidel.  A knowledgable Muslim will quote you either of these verses as may be convenient for the current situation. Scholars of the Quran agree, however, that whenever there exists a conflict between Quranic verses the one most recently written by Mohammed abrogates (nullifies) the earlier written verse. "Kill the infidel" nullifies the earlier "live peaceably" verse. Thankfully there are many nominal Muslims that don't understand this. They, in particular, are ripe for the gospel of Jesus. I agree to the idea of dialog but be wise as serpects and gentle as doves.

Rich Smits

There is no conversation or dialogue that leads to peace between Muslims and Christians because Muslims do not desire peace between Muslims and anyone. They desire everyone to be Muslim by any and all means necessary. Christians who believe otherwise are being played for fools. Islam is a missionary faith and the Mecca based (later) writings of the prophet Mohammad make it quite clear that anything goes so far as it advances the dominance of Islam worldwide. We do not have a shared ethic with Islam because our standard begins and ends with Jesus, the Christ of God. They are devoted to the moon god Allah. 

Thank you, Greg, for this account and challenge. I really appreciate the first-person perspective as a refreshing change from sweeping stereotypes. 

In thinking about our call to participate in dialogue I found this CRC statement on inter-faith dialogue really helpful, including the quote, "Inter-religious conversations must take place, first of all, as a way for us to understand each other, remove false stereotypes, and learn to see our neighbors as persons rather than as representatives of a religious tradition or ideology."

Participant

Naive, no. Guarded maybe, open to being civil, yes. As Christians we are charged by the Great Commission to evangelized to the entire world. It is difficult to do so with hostile hearts. To non-Christians, sinners, Muslims, Buddists, Hindu's or any person who needs to hear the Gospel, the Good News of the Love of Jesus Christ.

Community Builder

Thank you for your comments to date. I understand the concerns about Muslim-Christian interaction. Having just read a book I picked up in Egypt, "The Coptic Papacy in Islamic Egypt 641-1517," I am aware of the negative cycles in Muslim-Christian relations there and that we do need to be wise in our interactions. I also want to point out that throughout this period there were saints and sinners on both sides. My point is that we are called to be peace makers first, despite how the other party reacts. Whether they are trustworthy or not or is less of an issue to me and is, in fact, a rather judgmental way to begin a conversation.

Participant

The photo of a red wall with a Christian cross and Muslim moon in equal halves of a cupula is a curious choice for a graphic to accompany this article. Maybe something had to be placed there that would represent both Christians and Muslims, because that’s what you're writing about. Or, maybe it's a section of some local wall painting in Egypt that fit the open space needed for a visual in this article. However, as someone who spent almost 20 years as a graphic designer before graduating from seminary, this graphic speaks the words, “different faiths, equal religions.”

Now, because of my previous training and vocation, I can be rightly accused of reading waaayyy too much into this graphic. However, I wonder what would happen if we repaint the wall with the cross on top of the moon? Would the interfaith dialogue have gone as smoothly? Would changing the painting in that way offend someone? As one who has been redeemed from the false religion of Islam by Jesus’ work on that cross, I suggest that a symbol representing the mode of true redemption has no businesss sharing a separate-but-equal space with an icon of deception.

Like I said, maybe I'm reading too much into the graphic. But, if the essence of the interfaith talks would be lost by painting the cross over the moon (a position of superiority, or even "victory"), then the dialogue may have already sacrificed the glory of Christ for something much less redemptive. I pray that this is only an instance of my over-active imagination reading an unintended message.

Michael,

First thanks for noticing the image. We add images to enhance the blogs and draw in the readers to read them. It's nice to know that the images are noticed.  

In order to be the good stewards of ministry shares nearly all of the images we add come from Creative Commons images on Flickr. Here is a link to the original image on Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nedtrifle/6442505197/

For this particular blog I wanted to focus on symbols that represent both Christians and Muslims faiths, because of the topic of the blog.

Thank you again for your comment.

Community Builder

Thanks again everyone for posting comments on this important issue. Thanks also to Marie for pointing out the CRC statement on inter-faith dialogue by the ecumenical and inter-faith committee. It is well worth reading. It is important to remember that in these types of dialogues we do not wish to compromise our faith. We remain deeply committed to Jesus Christ and the historic creeds and confessions and seek to share the grace we have experienced as followers of Jesus. I am sure a passionate commitment to their faith would also be true for those we share dialogue with. I would hope so. The goal then becomes increased understanding and peace between our communities.

 

[quote=j.gregsinclair]

I am sure a passionate commitment to their faith would also be true for those we share dialogue with.

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Unfortunately, they act out their passionate commitment very differently than we do.

Thanks for sharing your experience. Just because it's related and because I think you and certain readers might like it, here's a link to 'Halal Monk', an interfaith webproject that collects the conversations of a Christian theologian with influential spiritual leaders and important artists of the Muslim world.

"Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus"  by Nabeel Quereshi is a very good book written by a former Muslim who came to Christ in his twenties.  The theological, cultural, family and philosophical struggles he had to go through are well explained and narrated in an easy to read story format.  Even the intellectual knowledge about the poverty of the koran, the contradictions of the prophet Mohammed, and the truth of Jesus, could not initially overcome his reluctance to accept it.  This reluctance was mostly because of the cost... the cost of family relationships, and  the built in fear of eternal death for believing in Jesus as God.  It is a very interesting and revealing book.  

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