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‘Can we call ourselves one faith?’

Christians and Shi‘a Muslim Scholars met to explore each other’s faiths at London Interfaith Centre. Khawther Ayed reports

The Christian Muslim Forum in partnership with The Islamic Centre of England and The London Interfaith Centre, held an interfaith event titled: ‘Can we call ourselves one faith?’ The event was held on 19th February in Queen’s Park with the participation of a number of guests and started with a generous lunch. The aim of the event was to tackle the subject in question from a variety of perspectives in two sessions.

The chairman for the first session, Dr Chris Hewer, has over thirty years’ experience in teaching Islam through lectures, in person and on television. Since 1986 Dr Hewer has devoted his life to Christian-Muslim relations through his work in countless institutions in Birmingham and London.

Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali, the first speaker, holds a BA and MA in Western Philosophy from the University of Tehran. Dr Shomali also earned his Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Manchester. He has co-edited a number of books discussing the relationships between Catholics and Shi‘as and is well known for his numerous and successful interfaith initiatives both in the UK and around the world.

Dr M.A. Shomali described that the issue of belonging to one faith or not is a very important issue as a Muslim. If we go back to the works on religions or history of religions we find everything is classified and there is a big wall between religions and even between denominations. However, what God has given humanity, as a way of life and practice, has always been the same. Whether we recognise this or not that does not change the reality. Commitment to that one thing is absolute truth if you can commit yourself to the absolute truth then you are a servant of God.
God has sent messengers to all nations. The Qur’an says God sent all messengers with the same message. Tawhid is the most fundamental principle. Regarding all the children of Adam, the Qur’an says that God has made a covenant with us and that we are not to follow Satan but to serve God. This is the right path.
The first messenger who brought the sharia was Noah -the Qur’an says that we have the same sharia as the one given to Noah. It is one code of law that can be updated or changed depending on the situation. The relation between Abraham and Noah is that Abraham was one of the followers of Noah, although Abraham himself was a great messenger.
When the Qur’an talks about the concept of the Book, sometimes the divine books are mentioned in the plural form. For example, the Qur’an says: “The believers believe in God, in His books and in His messengers.” When it comes to what God gave to the prophets, the Qur’an says that the messengers brought Kitab Muneer, the Illuminating Book!
In conclusion, Dr Shomali said that there is only one way for man to get closer to God, and in this way develop himself and move towards perfection. The only way is to commit and submit himself to the truth to the best of his understanding and capacity. He should always be open to the truth, no matter who is talking about it or presenting it. He should always try to discover the truth and commit himself to the truth. This is the only one faith that God is pleased with.
After a Q&A session, the chair of the second session, Catriona Robertson, introduced the next speakers, Dr Amina Inloes, followed by Revd Laurence Hillel. Ms Robertson is part of the Christian Muslim Forum and writes on multi-faith topics for the London Boroughs Faith Network.

Dr Amina Inloes is an American scholar, researcher, educator, public speaker, translator and a Shi‘a Muslim. She has written several books on Shi‘a thought. Dr Inloes holds an MA in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College and a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Exeter. Additionally, Dr Inloes has studied in the Hawza of Najaf and briefly in Qum.

She began her talk with a very simple and enthusiastic ‘no’ to the question. Her reasoning for this was because she believes that within Christianity and Islam, there are many different understandings and interpretations of religion, and on that basis, no two understandings of faith are the same, and so it cannot be called one faith. Each person brings their own paradigm into the discussion, and the difference is not as straightforward as has been described. However, she stated that despite this, it is not at all a problem. In fact, there is beauty in diversity – and if everyone had the same view and beliefs then it would have been rather a boring dialogue.

Revd Hillel is co-director of the London Inter Faith Centre, and Assistant Priest at St Anne’s, Brondesbury, and Willesden Area Inter Faith Adviser for the Church of England.

In his very own words, Revd Hillel stated, “Faith implies a set of beliefs, following the practices of a religion, having a relationship with God. Obviously, there are differences in our beliefs and practices. In terms of beliefs there are some very profound differences, but in many ways when I meet or talk with my Muslim neighbours, I do not feel we are that different. For a start, we will both use the language of God (or Allah), and though in the end, we cannot describe God, we may talk about how God relates to us in similar language.”
Further reiterating Dr Shomali’s beliefs about our purposes, Laurence Hillel stated “I also know that we both will accept that our life on earth has a purpose and that purpose is the purpose for which we have been formed. Ultimately the only meaning that we have in life is in terms of our ‘relationship’ with God.”

To wrap up the successful event, Dr Chris Hewer said that at the end of the day, whether it be in Christianity or Islam, the notion that God is greater exists – ‘Allahu Akbar’. That is to say, every time you want to try and say anything about God, you are by definition falling short. Whether it is something expressed in the Qur’an or an action done by the person of Jesus, God is greater.

He ended with a question for Muslims: “can we say that God is greater than our concept of Tawheed and any formula that we can come up with?” And a question for the Christians too: “Taking into consideration that no part of your belief says God became Trinitarian eventually at some point – what about the God of Abraham and Moses, who existed before the birth of Jesus?”

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