Entering into Dialogue – Christianity and Islam

20 Apr

Also on Radio National this morning, this edition of Encounter was of considerable interest. A complete transcript is already up. I offer it as a useful resource.

As preparations are afoot for a ground-breaking meeting at the Vatican between Catholic and Muslim scholars, Encounter presents voices of experience in this most historically compelling dialogue. Chris McVey is an American-born Catholic priest who has lived in Pakistan since 1960. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, convened the scholarly Building Bridges Seminar series. And Syed Farid Alatas told the most recent Building Bridges Seminar of the imbalances afflicting Muslim-Christian dialogue…

Syed Farid Alatas: You know I was significantly influenced by my father’s thinking. He was a sociologist and a scholar of the Malay world. He was one of the first scholars in the south or in the Third World to write critically against colonial conceptions of non-Western societies and he wrote a work called The Myth of the Lazy Native. So I come from that tradition and I have been doing work along those lines and some of that work has been placed in the context of Islamic Studies and also my concern with Muslim Christian relations.

Margaret Coffey: Your father was a fairly fearless critic too of Malaysian society too, wasn’t he? He spoke about conventions of blind imitation, lack of autonomy, the absence of an intellectual leadership in the public square…

Syed Farid Alatas: Yes, that’s right. He was both critical of the imposition of colonial and European categories on non-Western subjects. At the same time he was critical of various kinds of fundamentalisms that you found within Third World societies and his own practical experience was with Malaysia. He was very concerned with the way in which knowledge was uncritically imitated and used in line with the interests of the ruling elite.

Margaret Coffey: And at the same time he was very faithfully, deeply embedded in Islamic tradition?

Syed Farid Alatas: Yes. He wanted to recover what was traditional from Islam because he found that to be more in line with the ways of the modern world, rather than the modernist perspective which tended to repudiate a lot of tradition and tends to be rather legalistic, focusing on the sharia, on Islamic law, at the expense of spirituality and morality.

Margaret Coffey: Syed Farid Alatas, speaking from a complex Islamic centre. And, as you’ll hear, he had some important comments to make about imbalances in Christian Muslim conversations – interesting comments to keep in mind as those Muslim scholars and Vatican officials prepare for the upcoming meetings to take place at the Vatican. But first, let’s orient ourselves to what is at issue in these conversations for all citizens, and not only those who confess a religious belief…

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Posted by on April 20, 2008 in Christianity, current affairs, faith, faith and philosophy, fundamentalism and extremism, humanity, interfaith, Islam, multiculturalism, peace, pluralism, religion


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