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SYMPOSIUM: Christian-Muslim Relations in a Year of Mercy
“The Quality of Mercy is not Strain’d”
Thursday March 3rd, 2016, a Christian-Muslim symposium was held by St. Michael’s College, Dominican Institute of Toronto and Intercultural Dialogue Institute(IDI). The timely theme of the evening was Mercy within the Qur’an and the Bible, as well as in the larger Christian and Muslim literature and communities—accounting for variances among different communities within their larger faith groups.
The opening address was given by Dr. Andrew Bennett, Ambassador of the Religious Freedom Office. He spoke of the “crying need for mercy in our world” and addressed the increasing discrimination of religions and religious minorities around the world. “Recognizing the inherent human dignity in one another is a crucial step to achieving peaceful, thriving, pluralistic societies,” Dr. Bennett stressed. From a deliberate recognition of a shared history and human dignity mercy flows.
The focus of the panel was Finding Mercy in Encounters of Islam and Christianity. The Moderator, Richard Chambers of the Multi-Faith Centre, introduced the speakers.
Michael Swan, Associate Editor of the Catholic Register, began from an interpersonal approach. He explained that the way to talk about Christian and Muslim dialogue is to talk about personal relationships. Inter-religious dialogue must be in the context of real relationships, citing historic examples of such relationships between Christians and Muslims.
Muneeb Nasir, President of the Olive Tree Foundation, explained that it is “Islam’s fundamental ethos which promotes a doctrine of all embracing universal mercy.” When we show mercy to others, we become closer to God, who is the source of mercy. Mr. Nasir pointed out that there are many points of conversion between the Christianity and Islam, notably the description of God’s mercy which resonates with Muslims. He stressed the need to, “Move from dialogue of ideas to a dialogue of life, a dialogue of action.”
Dr. Liyakat Takim, Sharjah Chair in Global Islam at McMaster University, spoke about the concept of rahma, which roughly translates to mercy, but with a much more encompassing scope.
Dr. Takim explained that from a theological point of view, the more we practice rahma, the closer we get to the source which is God. He used rain as an example. Rain is seen as rahma from God, and rain does not discriminate on who it falls, so humans should not discriminate either. With this synchronous understanding of mercy, he believes that it is important for Muslims, Jews, and Christians to come together, to “move from talking about each other, to talking with each other.”
Shannon Wylie, a Doctoral Student at University of St. Michael’s College shared a speech from Pope John Paul II speaking in Morocco to a mostly Muslim audience in 1985. “Christians and Muslims, we have many things in common, as believers and as human beings,” says Pope Paul, in the video.
Both Pope Francis and Pope Paul have emphasized that humans have been given the grace of mercy by God, that it is something that we should share it with others. This echoed Dr. Takim’s explanation that it is important to continually show others mercy. Mercy or rahma is indeed a point of convergence for the two faiths, as it emanates from God and is meant to be shared among all those in creation.
Reverend Dr. Elias Mallon, Education and Inter-religious Affairs Officer at CNEWA, began his keynote by highlighting the long history of Muslim–Christian dialogue, which has often been respectful and mutually enriching.
The world has changed since Nostra Aetate (In our time), Dr. Mallon said, but there is still interfaith dialogue between the two faiths. “I hear sometimes—and it irritates me to no end—‘Why don’t the Muslims say anything?’” He said, “Well you know, if you’re going to say something, you’re going to need someone who speaks and someone who listens. If nobody is listening, don’t blame the speaker.” In Pope Benedict XVI’s Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, he said of the relationship between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East that, “led to a particular form of symbiosis,” and made for a stronger faith.
It is in this context that Dr. Mallon discusses mercy and rahma. Though rahma is usually translated to mercy, there are differences. Dr. Mallon describes this as semantic fields of a word, in which only certain parts of a concept are translated. For example, forgiveness is present in rahma but it is not the dominant connotation as it is in Christianity’s concept of mercy. He explained that since translation is never truly accurate, translations of the Qur’an are referred to as interpretations. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, rain, the day/night cycle are all examples of God’s mercy.
“In the story of the Good Samaritan, it is he who showed mercy who is the good neighbour.”
Haroon Siddiqui is the O.Ont. Journalist, Columnist and Editorial Page Editor Emeritus of the Toronto Star. Mercy encompasses everything according to the Qur’an and this includes cross-cultural dialogue, Mr. Siddiqui explained. The primary objective of mercy on the practical level includes helping the poor, widowed, orphaned, and helpless people. Mercy, he explained, is even above the Five Pillars of Islam which all have mitigating circumstances. Mercy is absolute.
Mr. Siddiqui explained that mercy also includes dealings with people of other faiths. “Dispute not with the peoples of the Book, save in the most courteous manner.” Muhammad was respectful of Christians and Jews, he said, explaining that angry Muslim voices have ignored moderation. On the other hand, legislative steps to bar Sharia Law in the US—that was never coming—is also a sign that we have lost our bearings.
THE QUALITY OF MERCY IS NOT STRAIN’D:
CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM RELATIONS IN A YEAR OF MERCY
Rev. Dr. Elias Mallon, S.A.
Education and Interreligious Affairs Officer, CNEWA
Haroon Siddiqui, O.Ont
Journalist, Columnist and Editorial Page Editor Emeritus of Toronto Star
3:15-3:20 Welcome by James R. Ginther, PhD, Dean of St Mike’s Faculty of Theology
3:20-3:30 Opening Address by Andrew Bennett, Ambassador, Religious Freedom Office
3:30-5:00 Panel Discussion: Finding Mercy in Encounters of Islam and Christianity
5:30-7:30 Keynote Address
Moderator: Richard Chambers, Multifaith Centre
Shannon Wylie, Doctoral Student, St Michaels University College
Dr. Liyakat Takim, Sharjah Chair in Global Islam at McMaster University
Muneeb Nasir, President, Olive Tree Foundation
Michael Swan, Associate Editor, The Catholic Register
Robert Madden Hall, Carr Hall
University of St. Michael’s College, 100 St Joseph Street
(corner of St. Joseph Street & Queens Park Crescent)
This event is generously sponsored by Richard Alway Interfaith Symposium Fund.
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