Monday, 4 March 2013

What is the point of dialogue? - Thursday 20th September Meeting 2012

Someone needs to say the unsayable, that there is a type of Islam which needs to be seen as inimical. I say this as someone who has been involved with and an admirer of Islamic culture for 45 years +.
I don’t agree with what you say about Sufism and when you have a few hours/days, I’ll tell you why.

 From my point of view what was interesting was not only what colleagues did raise but the various issues with which we did not engage, especially in relation to a theology of change and that through the Holy Spirit God may be present in moving our dialogue into new directions. How do we discern this?

Wanted to say reading what you wrote I feel very similarly and am often disturbed by the generalisations or labels we put on others.

I think this relates to something that Hugh had said at the beginning about the different levels at which dialogue takes place...personal, local, national and indeed international levels and the nature of dialogue as based on theological exchange, friendship, action and sharing religious experience.
I accept that Judaism and Islam maybe best considered as legal systems and you might contrast this with Christianity which is based much more on interpretation of religious experience and personal relationship with God but I feel that this analysis runs the risk of a dangerous generalisation as we approach dialogue. I might be tilting at windmills but I wanted to make it clear for myself that this distinction does not helpfully provide the context for Muslim-Christian dialogue as I have experienced it. The deep conversations that I have had which could best be described as dialogue have been significant for me but few in number...probably I could count them on the fingers of one Britain, the USA and in Palestine. I have many conversations with Muslim where religion has played its part but deep philosophical spiritual conversations have been rare.
I have been aware of an Islam within Sufism that spans Sunni and Shia understandings of Islam and may be considered widespread if you think of the influence of some aspects of Sufism. Certainly I have heard it said that 80% of British Muslims would accept a Sufi label in their approach to God and that Sufi Islam is widely practised and understood particularly in village communities in Palestine. It would be difficult for me to dismiss those that embrace an Inner Teacher and seek a closer more initmate relationship with God as only concerned with outer religion as a legal system.
In fact, my experience of Christianity as practiced in some parts of the United States particularly would lead me to believe that Christianity is as much a legal system as Judaism and Islam is in some circumstances...particularly on the international plane and in relationship to Israel/Palesitne. Christians often present an agenda in what they might term as dialogue or conversation with people of other faiths which is just as constrained and closed as any other...indeed, I acknowledge it can be very difficult to think that one might be mistaken and that one can learn from another's faith tradition. For me to be confident about your own understanding and practice of your faith is not the same as to be closed to new understandings and new richness from which you may learn from another's faith practice and belief. Dialogue is at least also about vulnerability and I think that is as difficult for a Muslim as it is for a Jew or a Christian. The tension between credal statements and personal experience of the Spirit of God is as much a reality for many Christians as it is for any Muslim.
I think that we must be careful not to generalise about another's experience is that the differences are not insignificant (can cause violence, persecution, changes in government etc.) but are more symbolic of power struggle than they are of an intimate and more personal experience of faith. Dialogue is not possible when a struggle for control or domination is at issue. It is rich when a sharing of personal experience of God is enabled where each party is willing to learn from the other...a notion of respect which is becoming increasingly popular as a working goal.

1 comment:

  1. Just as a further relation to 'theology of change' in our denominational practice. As we have seen change is not embraced easily where tradition, scriptural text and historical interpretation are raised to a level of authority which brooks no challenge. In some traditions, such as my own, we constantly struggle for agreements about commonalities as, as a tradition, we are tolerant of difference and even celebrate it in our theological interpretation and give an' authoritative' status to experience which may be allowed to go unchallenged if we are not careful. We risk so embracing a 'theology of change' that we may eventually find it difficult to find commonalities. There has to be a balance and, I think, early Friends (Quakers) probably had it about right.