LAUNCH OF PLATFORM FOR THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE AND PRACTICAL ETHICS
27 April 2021 (15 Ramadaan 1442)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
By: Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
First of all, I would like to greet with the universal greeting of Salaam to all our respected guests and honoured dignitaries who are present here, from the religious leadership, civil society, academic, and even the political sphere of our society. Once again, I would like to thank each and all of you for blessing us with your presence.
Also, I would like to especially thank Archbishop Breslin for accepting our invite to start this initiative and platform for theological dialogue and practical ethics, in the background of that historical meeting which took place in March 2021, in the city of Najaf, Iraq.
I would like to draw your attention to the statement issued by his Eminence Ayatollah Sistani’s office after his historic meeting with Pope Francis. In my humble opinion, I think we can take direction from this statement, which we shared with your grace Father Breslin and other religious leaders.
This statement highlighted the major striking points discussed in that meeting, which was very inspiring, even for us here in South Africa. Therefore, we thought it would be a great opportunity to take this journey further and utilize this opportunity to engage and promote dialogue in our own country, society and city of Cape Town.
There are three points I wish to draw attention to from that statement issued by Ayatollah Sistani’s office after the historic meeting with Pope Francis.
THE ROLE OF FAITH IN ALMIGHTY GOD (SWT) IN ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGES OF THE WORLD
The first point was the acknowledgment of challenges which humanity at large is facing today, and the role of faith in Almighty God (SWT) and His messages, and commitment to high moral values in addressing these challenges. This is such a crucial point.
The role of faith itself, which unfortunately is often side-lined or even ignored. Lot of our suffering and challenges in our society is due to ignoring that huge factor in the life of all human beings.
RESPONSIBILITY OF RELIGIOUS LEADERSHIP TOWARDS THE CHALLENGES OF THE WORLD
The second important point highlighted in the discussion between his grace Pope Francis and grand Ayatollah Sistani, is that interfaith dialogue or religious leadership have a responsibility towards the challenges we are facing. This was also directly and indirectly mentioned by the guest speakers who spoke earlier.
Those challenges were mentioned very clearly as injustice, oppression, poverty, religious and intellectual persecution, suppression of basic freedoms and the absence of social justice, especially the wars, acts of violence, economic blockade, displacement and so on, especially the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.
This is a very important point. We cannot have a very beautiful, flowery interfaith screen where we only smile with each other, and do not recognize nor realize the challenges impacting our people and humanity at large the world over. In this regard, Ayatollah Sistani highlighted the challenge of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.
ROLE OF RELIGIOUS LEADERSHIP IN CURBING THE TRAGEDIES IN THE WORLD
The third important point mentioned in this statement which was shared by both Pope Francis and Ayatollah Sistani, is the role of the religious and spiritual leadership in curbing these tragedies.
We often confront this discussion in the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum, regarding our role as religious leadership acting as the watchdog and speaking truth to the power. Dr Lionel Louw is of course the senior in this regard!
This is such a critical role which we have probably not fully embraced and is greatly emphasized in the statement issued by the office of Ayatollah Sistani about his meeting with Pope Francis.
We need to hold the political leadership accountable, as they have a track record of only being interested in their own agenda. For them, human rights and the dignity of human beings is not important.
This has once again emerged as a lamentable observation during this pandemic, where the injustice which is prevalent in our society and across the world became much more obvious. We see this even in the distribution of Covid vaccines! This is the point where both these great leaders agreed we need to pay attention to this ugly reality and make our voices heard.
CRITIQUE OF INTERFAITH INITIATIVES IN LAUNCHING THIS PLATFORM FOR THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE AND PRACTICAL ETHICS
My respected friend and scholar, Imam Rashid Omar, very beautifully explained different types of interfaith forums. I would like to add to this that sometimes interfaith movements take the shape of simply being a matter of tolerance. In all honesty, we are not talking about this with the launch of this platform for theological dialogue and practical ethics. It is not simply a matter of tolerating each other.
We want to move further!
Then, there is another type of interfaith, where we misuse the interfaith platform (as described in the statement) as a smokescreen to cover the crimes committed, through alliances which makes those serving on interfaith uncomfortable to have the courage to address. Interfaith should not be a smokescreen and cover for the crimes committed. Rather, interfaith solidarity should speak firmly for justice and for the oppressed.
There is also another type of interfaith which is being promoted heavily these days, which we also do not agree with, a “new religion” coined as the Abrahamic path. The attempt here is to adopt all the religions as being the same, hoping to merge them and create something new.
RECOGNIZING OUR DIFFERENCES CREATES ENRICHING DIALOGUE
The message is very clear from the meeting between Pope Francis and Ayatollah Sistani, in that we recognize the differences in our identities, cultures, ideologies, and we celebrate these differences through interfaith theological dialogue.
You may have a different opinion on a theological matter compared with mine or a person from another faith tradition. The key point is that we can engage, despite these differences, sharing our positions and establish the commonalities.
This is the approach which emerges from meetings like the historic one between Pope Francis and Ayatollah Sistani. His Eminence Archbishop Breslin and I, together with leaders from both sides such as Reverend Peter John, sat together and had an honest discussion on the terms of reference for this initiative towards theological dialogue and practical ethics.
We need to be clear on what we are speaking about, for which we concluded on two important points, namely theological dialogue and practical ethics:
- Theological dialogue is the foundation to understand each other;
- Practical ethics ensures that our discussions are not simply a talk show. We are giving a clear, concrete message to our community and larger society, so that they are enriched and brought towards that universal message.
LOVE, COMPASSION AND CARE IS OUR BEDROCK FOR PROSPERITY
Reverend Behr is in charge of the charter compassion which addresses the most common fibre of all the faith traditions, which is love, compassion and care for all. So, we would like to move in this direction through these two major points of theological dialogue and practical ethics.
I hope and pray that the journey which we have launched today, will enrich the existing forums and with their co-operation and support, we will progress further.
I cannot forget that beautiful engagement we had in 2008 during the Xenophobia conference, for which Imam Rashid Omar, Father Christopher Clohessy, and our dear friend, the late Father John Oliver were all part of. We really enjoyed the richness of theological dialogue regarding the terrible disease of Xenophobia we faced at that time, which unfortunately still plagues our society until today. Indeed, we can build on this uniquely beautiful experience and take the discussions further.
Once again, a big thank you to all who participated and we look forward to our next engagement, which will be initiated by the Catholic Church.
May Almighty Allah (SWT) guide us on the right path and guide us to serve His servants in the best possible manner.