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We need interfaith dialogue to establish mutual understanding

By Kourosh Ziabari - posted Wednesday, 4 July 2012

To probe some of the most essential issues of religion, including the proofs of the existence of God, the position of Christianity on the other divine religions and the necessity of establishing interfaith dialogue between divine religions, I've interviewed the British theologian Prof. Oliver Davies of the King's College.

Prof. Davies has published several books including "The Creativity of God. World, Eucharist, Reason," "Celtic Christianity in Early Medieval Wales: the Origins of the Welsh Spiritual Tradition" and "God Within: the Mystical Tradition of Northern Europe."

What follows is the complete text of my interview with Prof. Oliver Davies.


Kourosh Ziabari: What's the position of Christianity on the authenticity and veracity of the message of other divine religions, especially Islam that emerged after Christianity? Does Christianity accept the plurality and numerousness of religions? Does it recommend its followers to respect and venerate other religions and their prophets?

Oliver Davies: Generally very hospitable in well worked out ways among educated Christians, I would say, and more instinctively so among the less well educated. But there are other options it is possible to take, and these often get the headlines. They tend not to be particularly theologically literate. It is important to recall however that Christianity also has had an important long-term dialogue within itself, between Catholic and Protestant. These denominations exist side by side to a much higher degree than Sunni and Shiite. It is also the case that they not only confront each other in many ways but are also clearly complementary in key respects Protestantism is the expression of the modern world, in which Catholics also live, though as an ancient form of Christianity. Inter-faith issues tend to be deeply influenced by positions already taken in the internal ecumenism between Christian denominations.

KZ: Muslims believe that the Holy Quran is consisted of the words which the Almighty God has directly pronounced to Prophet Muhammad through his trusted angel, Gabriel. They believe that no distortions have happened to Quran and that the present Quran which we have today contains the exact words which were sent 1,400 years ago. What's the viewpoint of the Christians regarding the New Testament? Do they hold the same viewpoint regarding their holy book?

OD: No definitely not. For the Christian, Jesus is the revelation as a person and not the Bible as a book. There is no problem using a translation therefore. This does not mean that the Bible is not an intensely sacred text for Christians or indeed that many conservative Christians would not hold to its inerrancy. But it would be quite bizarre for a Christian to hold for instance that the Bible is revealed while Christ is not the revealed Son of God.

KZ: Today, we're witness to an unjustifiable rise in the Islamophobic sentiments in Europe and the U.S. Muslims in the Western societies are subject to harassment, persecution and discrimination, being deprived of many essential rights which the other minorities freely enjoy. What's, in your view, the reason behind the emergence of such anti-Muslim attitudes? Why do the Western media equate Muslims with terrorists and portray a blackened, distorted image of Islam in the eyes of Western public?

OD: I think this has a lot to do with fear and with a basic unfamiliarity with Islam. It may also crystallize the fact that Western societies have become highly pluralistic quite rapidly and so there must be all kinds of tensions just below the surface. Perhaps there is a particular problem in the U.S. also with the strong tendency to absorb ethnic minorities into a generalized American identity, reflecting the Judaeo-Christian tradition in all its considerable diversity. There may be a tendency to see Islam as standing outside that and even challenging it. 9/11 unquestionably had a huge impact on the American psyche. They have had very little experience of attacks on their own soil.


KZ: Muslims and Christians have many misunderstandings about each other. It's unfortunate to see that both of them worship the same God, at least in my view, but they haven't come to a comprehensive mutual understanding of the pillars of each other's religion and in some cases, behave toward each other belligerently, as if they're fated to be enemies forever. What's your viewpoint on these enmities and the necessity of fostering inter-faith dialog between the Muslims and the Christians?

OD: It is absolutely critical that this dialogue takes place and mutual understanding is developed. But it might take some while. There are tensions in both camps but also in the Islamic world which is undergoing extensive social change, not least in terms of the relation between modernity and tradition. Potentially they have a great deal to offer each other since there is much they have in common and the differences between them can be illuminating. There are increasingly signs in the UK for instance that Christians who are under pressure from what can at times be an aggressive secularism in the public sphere are looking increasingly to Muslims as allies in that public debate.

KZ: Why has secularism extended its roots such deeply in the political structure of Western societies? As a professor of theology, do you believe in the separation of religion from state? Don't you believe that secularism in politics will lead the youths to a kind of identity crisis and undermine their moral and ethical values? Let me make it clearer. Religion is an instrument for promoting modesty. If religion is removed from the society, the people will go astray and lose their values. Religion has always been an important part of culture and civilization. Why do the Western societies insist on limiting the role of religion and endorsing secularism?

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About the Author

Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist, writer and media correspondent. In 2010, he won the presidential medal of Superior Iranian Youth for his media activities. He has also won the first prize of Iran's 18th Press Festival in the category of political articles. He has interviewed more than 200 public intellectuals, academicians, media personalities, politicians, thinkers and Nobel Prize laureates. His articles and interviews have been published in such media outlets as Press TV, Tehran Times, Iran Review, Global Research, Al-Arabiya, Your Middle East, Counter Currents, On Line Opinion and Voltaire Network and translated in Arabic, French, German, Turkish, Italian and Spanish.

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