Issue 89 / September - October 2012
Basis for Christian-Muslim Dialogue
Rev. Fr. D Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua
Whenever I watch and read about killings and terrorism in the name of religion today, the music of our dear sister of blessed memory, Christy Essien Igbokwe re-echoes on and on akin to a heart-rending dirge:
Hear the children crying!
Hear the children helpless!
Hear the children calling!
Nne m o..., Iya mi o mama o!
How I wish the killers would have the human heart to hear this cry! Human flesh has become so cheap and the dignity of the human person no longer counts for those who kill themselves in order to kill a multitude. Suicide bombing is the highest form of terrorism in the world. Religion - the comfort and refuge of God's children - has become a night mare because of religious fanatics. I think that the time is now ripe for Christians and Muslims to deliver Christianity and Islam if we really believe that no religion preaches violence! The time has come for everybody who cares about life to drop prejudice, preconceptions and suspicion to face the fact that we must now come out voluntarily to work for peace. A bomb that explodes in public does not know who is a Christian and who is a Muslim. We have the basis and support to do this. Do we not all profess faith in one and the same God?
Abraham our Father in Faith
The Jews, Christians, and Muslims lay claim to Abraham as a common father of faith. Like the Jews, Arabs regard themselves as a Semitic people. Some Christian and Muslim scholars trace the descendants of Shem to Abraham. Their claim is based on the submission of Abraham in the supreme test, the attempted sacrifice of his son described in the Qur'an by the verb aslama that appears to have provided Islam with its name "peace and salutation to Abraham!" (Qur'an, Saffat 109).
Some other scholars claimed that before the birth of Isaac, Hagar, an Egyptian girl had a child, Ismail, for Abraham (Genesis 16). Later Sarah gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 21:1-7). At the order of Sarah, Abraham sent away Hagar and her son Ishmael. The Bible says that Hagar wandered off into the wilderness of Beersheba (Genesis 21:15). "God was with the boy. He grew up and made his home in the wilderness, and he became a bowman" (Genesis 21:20). But the Qur'an says that Abraham brought Hagar with Ismail to Mecca. His descendants grew up in Arabia as Muslims whereas those of Isaac, who remained in Palestine, are Jews (Baqara 125-129, An'am 86, Maryam 54-55, and Anbiya 85).
If the Christians and Muslims really have a common origin, it means that they have every reason to dialogue in love and live together in peace and unity as a family. The contrary will make Abraham sad and weep in heaven. This belief in the one family of Abraham must have enabled the Abyssinian Monks and the Christians welcome, accommodate, and protect Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) followers. Abdullah Yusuf 'Ali reports that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) encountered the Abyssinian and Nestorian monks. This encounter must have given rise to some dialogue of life and dialogue of theological exchange. In the introduction to the Holy Qur'an C.23, he says: "When he went in a trade caravan with Abu Talib to Syria, his tender soul marked inwardly how Allah did speak in the wide expanse of deserts.... Commenting on this Abdullah says that it was on such visits that he met and conversed with Nestorian Christian monks like Bahirah who were quick to recognize his spiritual worth." The Holy Prophet while on a caravan trip with Khadija also encountered the Abyssinian monks who were very hospitable to them.
Abdullah says that after the reception of the first message "Iqra" (Cf. Al 'Alaq 96) Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) confided in Khadija. "She went and consulted her cousin Waraqah, a devout worshipper of Allah in the faith of Christ." The Holy Qur'an therefore provides room for inter-religious and inter-faith dialogue in the promotion of human value and peaceful co-existence.
This encounter of Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of Abyssinia is a strong basis for dialogue between the Christians and the Muslims in Nigeria. The Muslim who follows the teaching of Islam to surrender to the will of Allah and the Christian who is willing to follow Jesus by bearing any suffering patiently as a meeting point in the dialogue of life. The Christian must be willing to carry the Cross and tolerate others no matter their color, race, tribe or religion. The Christian must be prepared to work for peace as preached by Jesus Christ. "Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God" (Matthew 5:7).
Religious leaders, what answer do you have to give to those who ask about the essence of religion if one cannot feel safe in the house of worship? To what extent can you defend the view that no religion preaches violence? Is it not possible for the religious leaders to find out who these terrorists are and let them explain exactly what they need from the government? Can we really deliver religion from being used as garb for terrorist activities? There is no alternative to peace through dialogue. Let us make the world a better place to live in.
Rev. Omonokhua is the director of Mission and Dialogue, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.