The cities of Qum and Mashhad in Iran hosted the 7th round of Catholic – Shi’a dialogue early this May. The Catholic group which was invited by Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali comprised of Abbot Primate Notker Wolf, head of the Benedictine Confederation, Father William Skudlarek, General Secretary of ‘Monastic and Interfaith Dialogue’, Fr. Timothy Wright, the former Abbot of Ampleforth Abbey, England (currently lecturer at Berkley Centre for Religion, Peace & World Affairs USA), Brother Godfroy, Brother Ponte and Sister Loraine from France, father Maximillian from Kenya (PhD candidate at Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies) and Dr. De Colina from Germany.
During the three-day dialogue, the group presented papers and engaged in discussions on various subjects. While in Qum, they participated in a lecture by Ayatollah Javad Fadhil on ‘Human Dignity in Shia Jurisprudence’ at the Institute of the Aemeh Athar. A visit was arranged to the University of Religion and Denominations, the holy shrine of Lady Masoumeh(sa) and the Mosque of Jamkaran, followed by a trip to the International Book Fair in Tehran.
The group of scholars visited the shrine of Imam Redha(a) in the holy city of Mashhad and were greeted by the Director of International Affairs. They attended a lecture on the history of Imam Redha(a) and the concept of Imamate. This was followed by a visit to the Museum of Qur’an house to some magnificent Quranic manuscripts attributed to Imam Redha(a) and Imam Sajjad(a). Other visits included the School of Theology at the Ferdowsi University and the tomb of Abuʾl Qasim Ferdowsi in Tus.
In an interview with islam today Dr Shomali said these meetings are important to help believers face the challenges of today’s world:
“As I was saying to a Catholic friend once, when we [believers] love each other and show friendship towards one another, no media will cover this. If a Muslim clergyman and Catholic monk start fighting over their beliefs all the media will come to cover the story. Maybe this is not such a bad idea as being good is a natural thing and the media only covers something which is unusual. Unfortunately we do not have equal coverage of positive initiatives. So I believe today is very important for religious people to be seen together. It is one thing to have this relationship and another to show these testimonies to others. Some people, who have no religion, love to see religious people fighting among themselves. They like to dismiss all religions and any concept of holiness. If we invite other people to God and to faith we can overcome the problems and together we can be stronger in our message because we are no longer seen as sectarian messengers of the things we only have an interest in.”
Dr Shomali said he believes strongly that Christians and Muslims are but people of the same family as we all are followers of Prophet Abraham(a). He said that Islam, Christianity and Judaism belong to the same tradition but different branches so it would be much more natural to be in dialogue with each other [believers] than with people who have no faith in the Divine, or have no religion or do not belong to the Abrahamic tradition. He added: “Of course even with others we can have dialogue but with these people it comes very naturally because of our commonalities.”
He further expanded on the view of Islamic eschatology and what happens at the end of time. He said: “There is a kind of an indication and reference to Islam and Christianity coming together and playing a great role when time comes. Our belief is that when Imam al-Mahdi(aj) comes Jesus(a) will also return. There must be a reason for this! Why among all the prophets is the Prophet Jesus(a) appointed to return? It shows that Christianity will be an important player just as Shia Islam. These two communities should work together for the betterment of humanity. So we need this relationship to develop and grow fellowship and collaboration.”
According to Dr Shomali participants in this interfaith and interreligious trip felt a deep sense of friendship that is getting deeper with every meeting. Even those who attended for the first time felt the same.
It is planned for the next meeting of dialogue to be held in Kenya where there has been some tension between Christians and Muslims and where meetings such as this may carry significant importance as a testimony of love and brotherhood among both faiths.
It is hoped that the 7th round of Catholic – Shi’a dialogue will be followed with another book as per previous dialogues.
Originally published: islam today issue 30 -June 2016
This issue is dedicated to the interfaith work undertaken by the Islamic Centre of England over the past few years.
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