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Monks and Muslims; Towards a Global Abrahamic Community

Monks and Muslims III; Towards a Global Abrahamic Community by the Islamic Institute of Islamic Studies and Dialogue Interreligieux Monastique.

Monks and Muslims III: Towards a Global Abrahamic Community is the title of the sixth publication to be produced as result of a continuing dialogue between Catholic Christians and Shi’a Muslims that began more than eighteen years ago. The launch of the latest publication took place on November the 10th 2015, at Vaughan House in central London, under the auspices of the Diocese of Westminster and the Islamic Centre of England. Guest speakers were; Fr. Jonathan Cotton OSB, Archbishop Kevin McDonald and one of the authors, Hujjatul Islam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali. Fr. Jonathan Cotton, from the Benedictine Order and a longstanding friend of Dr Hujjatul Islam Shomali, recalled his initial encounter with Dr Shomali at Hope University in Liverpool. Fr. Cotton expressed great gratitude to the Focolari movement for being instrumental in the development of the relationship between Catholics and Shi’a Muslims that has continued up to today. He explained that: “the challenge of initiatives like this stands on the willingness of moving out of one’s individual comfort zone and to overcome suspicion of the other, recognising that each human being is a gift.” By referring to the words of Cardinal Hume who said: “When you meet another person they have something that you do not have and one must live and work for unity”, Fr. Cotton further emphasised the necessity for people of faith to meet and visit each other describing how he himself has opened up friendships with local Muslims and Imams. Describing the contributors of the book Fr. Cotton referred to the clear sense of joy expressed by all those who took part in the ‘Monks and Muslims’ third encounter and explained that the book presents some discussions on the meaning of ‘community’, what it means to be an individual in a community and how the community can help the individual. The second guest speaker Revd Kevin McDonald Archbishop Emeritus of Southwark thanked those involved in the production of the book praising the quality of the individual contributions and the originality and the boldness of the whole enterprise. He described the event as auspicious as it coincided with the 50th anniversary of the famous document issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965 known as the Nostra Aetate (In our time). The document affirmed the possibility that the truth can be found also in other religious traditions. This new theological position allowed the Church to open up dialogue with other religions. Archbishop McDonald explained that with reference to other religions, Pope John Paul II talked a good deal about the unity of the human community, recalling the initiative that brought people of different religions together in the city of Assisi-Italy in 1986 to create a sense of a shared vision and interconnectedness. It was “a day filled with profound unity”, said the Archbishop. He further explored the fundamental values that we must share and must announce together, and the language that should be used to change perceptions about religions.by refuting the ridiculous perception some people have that ‘religion is the cause of all problems.’ Turning to the book, Revd McDonald described the initiative recounted in it as an attempt to bring closeness and to bring about some form of community across divisions, a ‘community of the world’.

“If we work together God will gift us with further knowledge we didn’t know, although it would be a difficult task to build a community that from every aspect fulfils the requirement of being godly.” ‐ Dr Mohammad Ali

Shomali.The Archbishop acknowledged the fact that Christians and Muslims in general represent two quite different approaches to faith, but he also emphasised that: “this does not mean that there cannot be a deeper synthesis or understanding between the two”. He believes that the book encapsulates those moments of shared mutuality capable of creating the necessary mindset, and that one must grasp the opportunities to build on such relationships. Hujjatul Islam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali, one of the authors and editor of the book, expressed his deep gratitude to God, for providing the opportunity for such encounters and offered a special thanks to Mr Jon Dal Din, from the Focolare movement, for organising, hosting and chairing the event, stressing the necessity of publicising gathering such as this. Dr Shomali described his early experience where he felt a deep sense of love for God among the people he had met. He also described the major milestones during the last eighteen years that led to the publication of a number of works. Focusing on the book ‘Monks and Muslims III’ he explained that it contains many lessons learnt and documented from their encounter. He described how the culture of dialogue has been passed to other people and specifically to the Seminary of Qum, leading to the formation of an institute specialising in this activity. Dr Shomali explained that discussions and analysis of this dialogue were around the subject of ‘community’. Being a believer is something that one cannot do fully on his/her own. “We need today, for everybody’s sake, to give people real examples of what it means to be ‘communities of the faithful’ and try to be channels of mercy to other people”, he said. While we can approach God as individuals there is a greater benefit in doing it as a community. In this respect Dr Shomali quoted an Islamic narration whereby God asked Moses: “What have you done for Me?” Moses replied, “I prayed and fasted…”. God replied: “That is good for yourself but what have you done for Me?” Moses was unable to answer so he asked: “Please tell me what is the action that is for You?” God said: “Have you ever taken a person as your friend, as an intimate brother for My sake”? Dr Shomali explained that if people want to know if they have been acting truly for God, they should ask themselves if they have taken a person with whom they had no prior relation as a friend, just because of God, as that is the way you choose a brother or sister in faith. He further quoted another tradition of the Prophet Muhammed(s) where he stated: “one must love for the sake of God; this is the firmest handhold of faith”. The challenge, he explained, is not to love God but to love others for the sake of God. Even if we believe in the truthfulness of our faith, we can still learn from each other.

Monks and Muslims III – Towards a Global Abrahamic Community is published jointly by the Islamic Institute of Islamic Studies and Dialogue Interreligieux Monastique. It has 127 pages containing thirteen essays arranged in three chapters: ‘Papers’, ‘Presentation at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic & Islamic Studies’ and ‘Reflections on the Dialogue’.

“If we work together God will gift us with further knowledge we didn’t know, although it would be a difficult task to build a community that from every aspect fulfils the requirement of being godly.” With regards to the book Dr Shomali said: “This book makes a special reference to the Prophet Abraham(a) for his particular servitude to God. He has the potential to unite us. We need to restore the House of Abraham and create a global community.” “Understanding unity in its broader sense means to commit oneself to the idea that there is only one source of truth, one source of beauty and goodness. We cannot use religion for dividing people but rather religion should be a voice of unity. From the Qur’an, the unity of God is something that can shape all aspects and orientation of our lives. A sign of being a good believer is that he/she brings people closer together. We should have a godly vision seeing all people as children of God.” In his final analysis Dr Shomali considered a shift in paradigm in how the world sees religion. He said: “So far world religions have been doing well on their own but the world is changing and materialism if affecting all Muslims, Christian, and Jews. All people who believe in common fundamental values should know that the future requires that we work together.”

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