Christians, Muslims can engage in fruitful dialogue

Everyone ought to aim at keeping peace. PHOTO | PROMISE TWINAMUKYE

What you need to know:

  • Did you know? Interfaith dialogue aims to foster mutual understanding by exploring common elements between Christianity and Islam, dialogue does not, however, mean shying away from real theological differences, writes Msgr John Wynand Katende.

The Bible says, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5).

St Peter urges Christians to understand that they are, right now, fully equipped to lead the good and godly lives they are called to. This would be the best testimony of the goodness of their faith, before people of other faiths. 

The birthday tale

July 12, saw Prince Kassim Nakibinge being the guest of honour at my 70th birthday anniversary celebrations. Prince Nakibinge is the titular head of Muslims in Uganda, after his late father, Prince Badiru Wassajja Kakungulu. 

In his own testimony, the prince cherishes memories of his father’s relationship with Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga. As a result, he did his early studies in very prominent Catholic schools, namely, Kabojja, Savio and St. Mary’s College, Kisubi. 

When I gifted my guest with a Bible, he was quick to testify already being an ardent reader of the same. The Prince planted a memorial tree, witnessed by Catholic Bishop Mathias Ssekamanya and Anglican Bishop James Ssebaggala. 

This story is an excellent showcase of interfaith dialogue, both in theory and practice. Interfaith dialogue, at this level, aims to foster mutual understanding by exploring common elements between Christianity and Islam, while also not shying away from relevant differences. 

“In our time, when mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different people are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions,” says the Vatican II declaration Nostra Aetate (In our time), written in 1965.

 In this document, the Church seeks to be respectful to Muslim believers, while also being honest about the different worldviews that Christianity and Islam present. 

In 2017 a symposium between the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and its Muslim counterpart, the Al-Azhar Centre for Dialogue, was held in Cairo.  It observed that among Christians, there was both a lack of knowledge about Islam and a lack of resources for attaining that knowledge. Similarly, many Muslims regularly encountered misinformation about Christianity and Catholicism. Here arises the importance of educating the faithful of both institutions. 

Keep  controversy  at  bay

Interfaith dialogue demands a renunciation of the polemic/controversial mode, from contentious questions, while also remaining respectful to both sides. “Given more clarity, understanding and appreciation, Islam and Christianity can be “two communities seeking God and even encouraging each other.” says Gabriel Said Reynolds, Notre Dame professor of Islamic studies. Interfaith dialogue can be a powerful tool of mitigating Neo-paganism or secularism. Interfaith dialogue does not, however, mean shying away from real theological differences. For example, the Koran describes Jews and Christians as the ‘people of the book.” This is a misinterpretation. Christianity is a religion of a person: God has revealed himself not only in words or commands but in a human being, in Jesus (John 1:14). His followers are called Christians (Acts 11:26). 

The figure of Christ

The figure of Christ has been a dominant throughout the ages of Muslim-Christian dialogue. The essential question about him being God or not God, is what divides the two. For Muslims, the Christian teaching about Jesus as the Son of God is not only incoherent, but is actually offensive, because Islam teaches that God is one and God can have no son. What Christianity is claiming about Jesus is above all a view of divine love, love for creation. With this in mind, some of the controversy is lessened by an appreciation of the beauty of the Christian faith.

“Dialogue ... cannot be based on religious indifferentism (the belief that differences of religious belief are of no importance). Christians are in duty bound, while engaging in dialogue, to bear clear witness to the hope (and goodness) that is within us.” says Pope St John Paul II’s apostolic letter  “Novo Millenio Inuente” (At the dawn of the new millennium). 

We must speak the truth in love—that is, enunciate the realities that we know to be true without resentment, or arrogance, or condemnation (Ephesians 4:15). We applause deliberate efforts being made through Inter-religious Council of Uganda, Nile Dialogue Platform and UJCC, among others.