A. Amrita Anandi, Dept. of Biotechnology, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata
“I am a Christian, You are a Muslim.” This was my attitude before attending the eye-opening lecture of Fr. Victor Edwin SJ on July 26 evening at Fr. Depelchin auditorium, St. Xavier’s College. Fr. Victor made me realize that we are all children of one God whom Christians recognize in Christ as compassionate Father.
Fr. Victor Edwin is involved with the Islamic Studies Association- an Initiative of the Catholic Church I India to promoting harmonious relations between Christians and Muslims. He is a faculty member of Theology at Vidyajyoti College, Delhi and director of VIDIS (Vidyajyoti Institute of Islamic Studies). He is also the Managing Editor of the Journal Salam, promoting Christian-Muslim dialogue.
Fr. Victor spoke on the contributions of Fr. Courtois and other Jesuits to Christian-Muslim Relations. The lecture was organized by The Goethals Indian Library and Research Society of St. Xavier’s. Fr. Felix Raj, SJ, the director of the Society welcomed Fr. Victor and introduced him to the audience which comprised of Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, laity and college AICUF students. Threre were around 80 people attended this public lecture.
Fr Victor chose to highlight the work of Jesuit Father Paul Jackson along with Courtois’ contribution for two reasons. First, Courtois desired and prayed for the grace that at some point of time, a Jesuit would take up the in-depth study of Indian Sufism. God answered Courtois’ prayer in the person of Jackson. Jackson is one of the foremost Christian scholars on Indian Sufism. Second, Jackson was inspired to ‘reach out to Muslims‘ after listening to a lecture given by Fr Putz SJ at St Xavier’s College where the lecture is held .
At the outset, Fr Victor presented a brief exposition of how Jesuits and other missionaries approached Islam and Muslims in India. That helped us to distinguish between those older approaches that were mostly negative from the fresh and positive approaches that marked the lives and works of both Courtois and Jackson.
Fr Victor affirmed that Fr Courtois envisioned Christians and Muslims as brothers and sisters belonging to the one large family where God is father of both groups of believers. This stunningly vibrant and fresh vision charted a new course in Christian – Muslim relations in India. An analysis of his vision points towards a universal family where Christians and Muslims live together as brothers and sisters. In stark contrast to the polemics that have been largely typify the relationship between Christians and Muslims, this vision ushers in a new era, in which Christians and Muslims belong to a single family.
It was further noted by Fr Victor that Courtois’ theological vision urges Christians to recognize and explore the unknown riches of the Muslim’s faith-life and then to recognize in their lives the features of our Heavenly Father and love them as brothers and sisters. This vision implies a spiritual relationship between both sets of believers. This vision reverses any negative approaches and appealed for positive approach.
The implication of the vision, noted Fr Victor is that as members of one family Christians and Muslims are encouraged to be in constant conversation with one another. Polemical debate should end and family conversation should begin. Each should witness to one’s faith conviction in an atmosphere of mutual love. In one stroke this vision does away with polemics which had been the mode of interaction between Christians and Muslims. The newness is that the interaction between Christians and Muslims is conversation within the family of God where both continue to give witness to one another’s faith.
While speaking on the work of Jackson, Fr Victor said that Jackson was convinced that one knows Islam only by knowing Muslims. He essentially discovered that an openness to ‘receive’ and not to be obsessed with ‘giving’ is at the heart of dialogue. Experience and reflection on experience is the key to ‘receive’ and ‘share’ the spiritual riches. This discovery led him to the conviction of ‘standing with the other as quintessential aspects of Dialogue’. Jackson’s model calls for a paradigm shift in mission by emphasising ‘receiving’ rather than ‘giving‘. This paradigm shift is the significance of his reflection based on experience. This is the significant contribution of Jackson to Christian Muslim relations in India.
Fr. Victor Edwin continued that, “A Christian and a Muslim can recognize God’s inscrutable ways and His presence in one another’s life. Moreover, it is possible for a Christian to delve deep into the spirituality of a Muslim that is born of God experience, without losing one’s Christian identity, and to help follow Christians to recognize the depth of Muslim spirituality.”
Christianity and Islam are the two major religions embraced by more than half of the world’s population. With such a significant share of the global population, relations between Christians and Muslims will therefore have a huge impact on the state of religious harmony globally.
Christian-Muslim relations have a complex history, sometimes marked by rivalry or war, but equally in many cases. The conflicts have overshadowed the peaceful experiences; especially the polemics have drowned the voices of frank and honest interchanges. There is hence an urgency to deepen mutual understanding and trust between Christians and Muslims. Fr. Courtois and Fr Jackson have highlighted these aspects and called for mutual dialogues.
Significantly many Christians and Muslims strive for peace and harmony among peoples. We need to explore each other’s strengths and ways of mutual dialogue, so as to correct misconceptions and avoid rivalry. We need to accept each other and walk hand-in-hand towards social and political goals. No matter how pessimistic the landscape seems to be, we must not allow ourselves to be swayed away by the polemics. The lecture by Fr. Victor Edwin was a forum which facilitated better understanding of the two religions.