Ahlul Bait Mosque Complex, Ottery, Cape Town
Tuesday 27 April 2021
Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar
Nahmaduhu wa Nusalli wa Nusallim `ala Rasulihil Karim: Amma Ba`du
I greet you all:
Assalamu `Alaykum wa RahmatuAllahi wa Barakatuhu
May the Peace, Mercy and Blessings of God be upon you all
I would to begin by congratulating the Ahlul Bait Mosque Complex who in conjunction with the Catholic Church of Cape Town is launching a “Platform for Theological Dialogue and
It is my considered view that this Platform for Theological Dialogue will add yet another dimension to the rich legacy of interfaith dialogue in the City of Cape Town and in indeed in South Africa as a whole.
FOUR KINDS OF INTERFAITH DIALOGUE (i)
Scholars of interfaith dialogue have described four kinds on interfaith dialogue:
FIRST is the ‘DIALOGUE OF LIFE” which entails the local spontaneous daily interactions of
peaceful co-existence between people of diverse faiths.
SECOND is the “DIALOGUE OF ACTION” (or Social Solidarity). This form of interfaith dialogue occurs when people from different faith traditions band together and cooperate in promoting a social cause or fighting an evil.
We are all too familiar with this form of interfaith dialogue which was the dominant model in our common fight against the racist system of Apartheid.
THIRD is the “DIALOGUE OF THEOLOGY”. This happens when theologians and scholars of
different religions meet to discuss or reflect on deep theological issues.
An example would be when Catholic theologians reflect on the just war theory in relation to world peace and Muslim scholars reflect on the meaning of Fiqh al-Jihad or the jurisprudence and ethics of war and peace in Islam.
Another example is when theologians from missionary religions like Islam and Christianity get together to discuss the ethics of Islamic Da`wah and Christian proselytization.
FOURTH is the “DIALOGUE of RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE ” (Mystical Experiences & Prayer). This is not a well-known form of interfaith dialogue and was pioneered by an American Trappist monk, by the name of Father Thomas Merton (d1968).
Fr. Merton was a keen proponent of interfaith understanding and spiritual experiences and he explored Eastern religions including Islam through his study of mysticism and Sufi practices. (ii)
In Cape Town and South Africa we have thrived on the first two kinds of interfaith dialogue:
namely the dialogue of life and the dialogue of action or social solidarity.
The Platform for Theological Dialogue and Practical Ethics falls within the third type of interfaith dialogue and it is my prayer and hope that it will indeed add great value to the existing interfaith forums within the City.
INSPIRATION FROM THE MEETING BETWEEN POPE FRANCIS AND GRAND AYATULLAH SISTANI
This event and the “Theological Platform for Dialogue and Practical Ethics” that we are
launching here this evening were inspired by the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Grand Ayatullah Ali Sistani on the 6 March 2021 in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq.
This meeting has been lauded by both the Vatican and Shi`a Muslims as a major step forward in promoting interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East and globally.
Moreover, it is my considered view that in meeting Grand Ayatullah Ali Sistani one of the most senior Shia religious leaders in the world, Pope Francis was strategically also affirming the Vatican’s non-sectarianism vis a vis the negative Sunni – Shi’a rivalry that was and continues to bedevil Middle Eastern and indeed global Muslim politics.
Since the beginning of his papacy on 13th March 2013, Pope Francis has reached out to
Muslims in a myriad of ways. But perhaps the most significant and celebrated fraternal
initiative towards Muslims that Pope Francis has undertaken in the past nine years since on the onset of his papacy is the co-signing with one of the most renowned Sunni Muslim
leaders the Shaykh al-Azhar of Egypt, Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, of a historic interfaith
“Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” in Abu Dhabi on 4th February 2019.(iii)
To promote the principles of tolerance and friendship enshrined in the document globally a special interreligious committee “The Higher Committee on Human Fraternity,” headed by the Shaykh al-Azhar and the Pope has been established.(iv)
POPE FRANCIS’S ENCYCLICAL FRATELLI TUTTI (v) and DIALOGUE WITH MUSLIMS
Building on this historic interfaith initiative at the 28th October 2020 launch of his third
encyclical letter enunciating Catholic teachings, titled Fratelli Tutti (meaning we are all brothers and sisters), Pope Francis chose a Muslim, Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam, the secretary-general of “The Higher Committee on Human Fraternity,” as one of the speakers.
This gesture was unprecedented and was a clear indication of Pope Francis’s intent
in the encyclical of pursuing interfaith peacebuilding with Muslims.
Moreover, Pope Francis acknowledges that the subtitle of Fratelli Tutti, “On Fraternity and Social Friendship,” was inspired in part by his February 4, 2019 meeting in Abu Dhabi with Shaykh Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar Islamic University.
The egalitarian spirit of Fratelli Tutti is usefully encapsulated in another paradigmatic verse
from the most primary source of Islamic guidance. The Glorious Qur’an in Surah al-Hujurat, Chapter 49 verse 13 proclaims the following:
يَا أيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَاُنثَی وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
“O Humankind! We have created you of a male and a female, and fashioned you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other
(recognize each other); surely, the most honourable of you with God is the best in conduct. Lo! God is the All-Knower, Aware of all things” (Q 49:13)
The Qur’anic verse is emblematic of the Islamic tradition’s celebration of human diversity, embrace of plurality, and its call to get to know one other through intimate knowledge and fraternal relations. One might consider it as one commentator has suggested a Fratelli Tutti Qur’anic verse.
I have written a blog piece about the resonances and contestations of Pope Francis’s encyclical Fratelli Tutti and that of Islamic teachings and would encourage you to find it online and read it.(vi)
Notwithstanding Pope Francis growing stature among Muslims globally and the new optimism in Muslim – Christians relations, it is my considered view that Muslim leaders, in
particular, need to do much more to reach out, engage, and embrace Pope Francis’ invitation
to interfaith dialogue and solidarity. For this indeed is the call of our faith and demand of our times. And this is precisely what the purpose of this launch of a ‘Platform for Theological and Practical Ethics” is about.
In this Holy and Blessed Month of Ramadan we make du`a and supplicate for all those who work to foster fraternal relations of love, solidarity and justice between Muslims and
Christians, and people of other faiths and of none. We make du`a and pray that Allah, the
Lord of all Cultures, will give us the courage and wisdom to heal our world from the scourge of racism, bigotry, xenophobia and classism and build a world of true interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence.
Last but not least we pray and supplicate that God, the Answerer of all Supplications, allows this ‘Platform for Theological Dialogue and Practical Ethics’ to grow and thrive.
Thank you for your patience with me.
(i) For a useful introduction to the four (4) kinds on interfaith dialogue see: M. Thomas Thangaraj, The Common Task: A Theology of Christian Mission (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1999, pp. 95, 96).
(ii) See, Merton and Sufism: The Untold Story – A Complete Compendium (Kentucky, USA: Fons Vitae, 1999).
(vi) A. Rashied Omar, “The Peace Dimensions of Fratelli Tutti: A Muslim Perspective” in Contending Modernities Blog: https://contendingmodernities.nd.edu/…/peace…/
Ahlul Bait Mosque Complex, Ottery, Cape Town