Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Message from Muslim Leaders

November 13, 2007. Every second Tuesday at the seminary there is an event called the "Scholar's Seminar", begun by previous coordinators and in which I have some part for arranging who speaks. Today a visiting professor from Norway, Dr. Jan Opsal, reviewed a recent letter by 138 Muslim leaders throughout the world to Christians. You can read about it by going to "Come to a Common Word" on your web site and to the ELCA web page and searching out Dr. Mark Hansen's response as leader of Lutherans in the U.S. and the Lutheran World Federation. My first picture is of the El Fath mosque near central Cairo, and for most of us from the west all this may seem majestic, mysterious, and a bit overpowering. After three months in Egypt it is still very much the same as when I first came, majestic, mysterious, and more than a bit overpowering. Here are some of the comments which Dr. Jan shared and some of the reflections by the group which gathered to hear him (my second picture). He noted that of the 138 the vast majority are from the Middle East and only one woman signed the original letter, though another has added her name to a subsequent list. Missing from the signers are Muslim scholars from countries in Asia where many, many Muslims live. This letter is a follow up to a letter written by 38 Muslim scholars in response to an address by Pope Benedict XVI a year ago. That letter was very polemical, as was the declaration by the Pope which started that exchange.
Dr. Jan pointed out that the tone of this letter by the leaders is less so, and that it focuses on common themes in the Christian and Muslim holy books. It deals with the responses of humans to God - to love God about all else and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It does not discuss the love of God to us, nor does it suggest any specific steps for further dialogue or action among the faith communities. It does represent a significant number of the diverse Muslim community speaking together, brought about by an institute in Jordan.

Comments from the persons who attended suggested it would be well for world Christian leaders to whom the letter is addressed to contact leaders in the Arab Christian churches in this region for their reflections in framing their responses. Some felt that the letter is really intended to address Christians living in western Europe and the United States. Others shared that living with and under Muslim majorities continues to be difficult, a far cry from a love for neighbor which is voiced in the letter. Do you have any comments you want to share?

The schedule is now set for January and for the spring term here. This Norwegian professor will present a course on women in the QurĂ¡n and the Bible (with some suggestions from Dr. Susan Hedahl, a professor from Gettyburg Seminary who visited here last week). There will also be a January course on the history of Christianity in Syria. Dr. Mark Swanson, now at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and former director here, will find time to tutor some students in Muslim-Christian relations. Studies in Hebrew, in the Coptic language, and the Letters of Paul will be part of the Biblical studies concentration starting in February and I will teach the course on Christianity in the Middle East, Part II (from the coming of Islam to 1900).
Blessings to you all in your ministry as we move toward Advent. Roger

No comments: