Tag Archives: Inter Faith

Inter-Religious Dialogue : An Encounter by Musa Askari

Below Musa Askari’s article for HeadWaters/Delta Interfaith

http://blog.headwatersdelta.org/2011/05/inter-religious-dialogue-encounter.html

To engage in inter-religious dialogue is a tremendous moment of encounter. An encounter primarily between individuals. A great challenge at the same time. For to enter dialogue is to run the risk of being transformed positively by the witness and testimony of the other. It is this challenge which at the same time holds great reward for those who partake in dialogue wholeheartedly as individuals and not simply as individual representations of a collective identity.

Here lies the first challenge to see the other as someone from whom one can learn; that their experience has something deeply meaningful to offer. Sadly, many fall at the first hurdle. The individual is missed and we are left with only a shell, an appearance of dialogue, where inter-religious dialogue is seen as the destination and not as one of many starting points to spiritual quest. Which maybe is why some remain disillusioned that the promise of dialogue did not bear more fruit after initial discussion sessions.

For purposes of context crucial we state a distinction between the term “inter-religion” and inter-religious dialogue. They are not one and the same. “For centuries this inter-religious consciousness was suppressed, the only way to redeem it is to clearly and whole-heartedly acknowledge the reality and necessity of multi-religion….inter-religious dialogue is one of the many ways in which inter-religion becomes a conscious process.” (Hasan Askari, from Inter-Religion, 1977)

If inter-religious dialogue is only about acquiring knowledge about the faith of one’s spiritual neighbour then it is not “dialogue”. It is a study of religion and there are many ways to acquire this socio-historic knowledge outside of a dialogue meetings. That cannot be the goal of dialogue. If it is then it is a secondary not a primary goal. The goal at its core surely must be of encounter, to bear co-witness leading to mutual mission.

Should inter-religious dialogue remain an institutional formality then I fear it may never rise to fulfill its promise of deep and meaningful engagement between peoples of diverse faiths and backgrounds. It is as individuals we dialogue not as collective identities. To arrive at such a door of dialogue presupposes some deep sense of inquiry about the very fact of a multi-religious world. A knocking upon an inner door followed by entry in to dialogue which is both with the other and within oneself. Both individuals become doors for each other’s entry in to a moment of “presence” before one another. A presence that is both independent of them and also within them.

To partake of inter-religious dialogue is to ask the question, consciously or not, “Why do we have more than one religion upon our planet?”(Hasan Askari).Thus to engage in inter-religious dialogue is also to peer in to the very obvious phenomenon of more than one religious and spiritual witness. It is a call to abolish exclusivity and one-sidedness, first and foremost within the mind of the individual. To break free of the grip of collective hypnosis; that one’s own tradition alone holds the truth exclusively:

“Perhaps we need more than one religion. How could the mystery of the Transcendent Reality be equated with the form of one faith and practice, or with one state or sign of a given religious experience! That there was something essentially desirable and positive about the very existence of more than one religion. Accepting multi religion as a theological necessity, almost a blessing. Religious diversity was thus a school of true humility and patience”. (Hasan Askari: Spiritual Quest – An Inter Religious Dimension)

My own journey spiritually, which includes a deep appreciation for inter-religious dialogue, began at the hand of my teacher and friend, my late father Professor Hasan Askari (1932-2008) https://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/hasan-askari/. From a young age I was immersed in the work of who many regard as one of the pioneers of inter-religious dialogue. At first it was a curiosity to know more about the work of a father before me but later it became, through love, a life’s endeavour and remains so. Religious diversity has always been a part of my life. Looking back I was fortunate in other ways too by having a childhood in both India and England. The spiritual diversity which was overtly a part of my life in India continued in England. However, it continued in a more subtle manner but nonetheless significant.

I came to accept, very early on, religious diversity as a sign of deep inquiry rather than something to confront. Furthermore, I came to accept it was not enough for me to be simply curious about the variety of religious practices, rites and rituals, but to move on from that understanding and integrate it in to my spiritual life, an inner life. I was interested in the individual before me as much as I was interested in my own individuality.

Spiritually I needed the presence of the other to help me consider the mystery of religious diversity. Without the other, who bears no outward resemblance to one’s collective history, to the faith in to which one is born, without the other there is no diversity. Without diversity there remains no self-limiting principle within the life of humanity to remind us of the dangers in making the most exclusive and one-sided claims to truth and finality.

I was not interested in pseudo dialogue. I was interested in not only what the other before me had to say of their faith but more so interested in a “sentiment” which can be shared despite outward differences. I was interested in a most ancient and beautiful term, the essence of one’s being, namely soul (atma/psyche/ruh).Overtime I realised that unless one is prepared to stand apart from exclusive truth claims, from the baggage of collective identity, breaking free from the weight of collective burden that one was somehow responsible for the entire collective faith of one’s tradition, one would never meet the individual in dialogue. There would always remain a hesitation to engage fully. There would be no dialogue let alone encounter only a repetition of well known themes and objections ending in not dialogue but monologue. There would be neither sentiment nor the rising to a moment of being present to one another in co-witness.

Is inter-religious dialogue failing? Is it yet to deliver on its promise? It maybe too early to say despite the great efforts made over the previous four to five decades. For example, from Ajaltoun consultation to Lebanon and Broumana in Colombo, Europe and the United States. From those early days of commitment inter-religious dialogue has now become a global phenomenon which must be regarded as some measure of success. Today we have the “Common Word” initiative – Love of God and Love of Neighbour. In the end as in the beginning the common word for me literally and spiritually is simply “Life”. To ponder this mighty question of “Life” spiritually one cannot help but stumble upon soul as the principle of “Life”. Perhaps, just perhaps, what is missing from inter-religious dialogue may be met by reviving the classical discourse on soul.

The Dialogical Relationship between Christianity and Islam

By Professor Hasan Askari (published 1972 Journal of Ecumenical Stidies)

“It is sometimes easier to reflect with the aid of poetic metaphors, particularly when one has to tread the difficult space between two massive traditions. Where the conceptual finds the door solidly barred against all entry, the symbolic carves its way in. Where the theologian is confident within his boundaries, the poet takes the risk and leaps beyond. Rumi, the Persian Sufi poet, once said: 

“O for a friend to know the sign, And mingle all his soul with mine.”

“With the help of these two line, let us reflect on the “friend,” the “sign,” and the mingling of “all his soul with mine.” Is there any common sign between Christians and Muslims? Would they become friends? And would their souls mingle?”

“There are certain difficulties in the way. Dialogue is sometimes misunderstood by Muslims as a masked attempt at syncretism. The suspicion is not always without basis. The Muslim immediately becomes self-conscious of the differences that lie between Christianity and Islam. He often fails to notice the deep and vast changes the Christian faith, in its interpretation and expression, has been undergoing in almost every century. The notion of an evolving and expanding faith is somehow alien to the Muslim mind. It is however strange that evolution is often considered as betrayal and perversion of the original dogma. Herein lies, I suppose, that most serious disparity between the Christian and Muslim attitudes to questions of faith. Secondly, the political experience of Christianity, recently in the form of imperialism, hampers on both sides the openness and trust necessary for an informal encounter. Thirdly, the cultural experience of Christianity, particularly in the shape of science and technology, is usually looked upon as a threat to Islamic civilization. The Christian-Western influence is held responsible for secularization of culture and institutions. The intermingling of academic and religious traditions by Muslims is another aggravating factor. One often comes across an intriguing mixture of fantasy with fact, inquiry with apology. It appears that, more than the primary and fundamental differences in the dogmatic frame, the differences in historical experience and cultural development are responsible for incommunication and mistrust among Christians and Muslims.” 

“But equally grave are certain features in the Christian situation. Many a complex issue owe their origin to the scientific traditions as well. The speech of religion is being determined after the model of the speech of science. The process of secularization has already taken command paving the way for the priority of “word of man’ over “Word of God.” Above all, the entire theory of communication on which most of the theologians and philosophers rely is a historicist theory through and through. We are told that the first revolution in communication was brought about by scientific invention and mechanical engineering, and the heroes of this revolution were Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. At the heels of this revolution came another, the consequence of the theory of cybernetics headed by Norbert Wiener and Dichter. It was the discovery of the unity of communication and control. All communication to the giant computers seems to take place in an imperative mood. Wiener is afraid that this process might be reversed with immense consequences for the human civilization: The process of from man to machine might soon become from machine to man. A corrective against the cybernetic threat becomes imperative. The foundations of a third revolution have to be explored.”

Continue reading at http://www.sierraf.org/articles/Askarieh.pdf

From Interreligious Dialogue to Spiritual Humanism

By Professor Hasan Askari

“I have always looked at religious diversity with a sense of wonder. The differences between religious beliefs and practices have never bothered me, nor have their conflicting truth-claims unnerved me. I was mystified by the fact of diversity itself. But the call to tolerate and coexist with the other in mutual respect, however desirable, was not enough for me. The intuition underlying the ancient saying, “the lamps are many but the light is one,” gently led me on to look for a theological affirmation and validation of more than one religion. What was lingering in the depths of my soul came to the surface of my consciousness sometime in the mid-1970s when I clearly realised that transcendental reality could not be equated with any one religious form; otherwise a religion will become a god and that would be utter blasphemy. The prospect of a religion reflecting the Absolute absolutely would turn that religion into the most dogmatic and oppressive belief system imaginable. Hence, there should be room between the religions for mutual critique and complementarity. In turn, this should generate a religious need for religious plurality and diversity.”

“Each religious form should then express the beauty and the splendour, and the transcendence and the mystery, of the Supreme One in terms of its own language and culture, framed in its own historicity and reflected in the vision of its pioneers. To enter into dialogue is to celebrate the splendour of the infinitely Supremely Good, in the unity and diversity of our faiths. By the theological affirmation of religious diversity, our coming together in dialogue becomes akin to an act of worship; our exclusive witness is transformed into co-witness; our one-way mission is replaced by mutual mission.”

Continue reading at InterReligious Insight http://www.interreligiousinsight.org/January2004/Jan04Askari.html

Dedication: Professor Syed Hasan Askari (1932-2008)

SpiritualHuman blog is dedicated to the work and vision of Professor Syed Hasan Askari (1932-2008) who figures as one of the eight important Muslim thinkers in Kenneth Cragg’s The Pen and the Faith and is also acknowledged in the West as an uncompromising advocate for inter-religious spirituality. The blog was created and is maintained by Musa Askari. Professor Askari has lectured and taught at several universities in India, Lebanon, Germany, Holland, Britain and the United States. Hasan Askari has been one of the Muslim respondents to the Christian initiative to Dialogue and figures extensively in the study, “Striving Together in the Way of God: Muslim Participation in Christian-Muslim Dialogue”(1987) by Dr Charles A Kimball.

Hasan Askari’s works include The Experience of Religious Diversity – co edited with Professor John Hick, Spiritual Quest – An Inter Religious Dimension and Towards a Spiritual Humanism – A Muslim Humanist Dialogue (with Jon Avery), Alone to Alone : From Awareness to Vision, Seers & Sages (co-edited with David Bowen), Solomons Ring : The Life and Teachings of a Sufi Master, Inter-Religion to name but a few.

In the foreword to Spiritual Quest, Professor Jane I Smith (Harvard Divinity School – Senior Lecturer in Divinity and Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs) writes, “This is the deeper dimension of interfaith conversation to which Hasan Askari call(s) persons of religious sensitivity, a dialogue that leads not simply to a new epistemology but to what he would call a new ontology. A long time partner in dialogue sessions sponsored through the World Council of Churches and other agencies, Askari has been a courageous and sometimes lone voice urging that conversation move to levels at which this kind of transformation indeed can take place. Those who have known him through the years find it no surprise that the noted interpreter of Islam, Anglican Bishop Kenneth Cragg, has acknowledged Hasan Askari as one of the eight prominent Muslim thinkers of this century(20th) in The Pen and the Faith. A philosopher, a mystic, an historian and a social scientist, Askari pleads with religious persons everywhere to transcend the limitations we have placed on ourselves and to move together to new levels of understanding.”

In the aforementioned study Dr. Charles Kimball writes, “Hasan Askari is among the most active and visible Muslims engaged in interreligious dialogue. Since 1970, he has participated in numerous international and local dialogue meetings and lectured widely on various dimensions of what he terms “inter-religion”…His prominence in the field of Christian-Muslim encounter is noted by Kenneth Cragg, a pioneer and acknowledged authority in the area of Christian-Muslim relations:

“Few thinkers in contemporary Islam have so tellingly explored the issues of inter-religion or undertaken them as strong vocation. Hasan Askari holds a unique position in the search for unity of heart within the discrepancies, real or unreal, of religions in society.”

Dr Kimball continues, “Hasan Askari is a provocative and engaging person, a thoughtful scholar and sometimes an enigmatic mystic.”

Professor Askari has taught at several universities including, Osmania, Aligarth, Beirut, Amsterdam, Birmingham (UK) and has been a visiting professor at the universities of Antwerp and Denver. He was also the Louise Iliff Visiting Professor at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

Professor Askari’s international reputation rests on his vast experience as both consultant and participant at several international conferences and seminars on inter-religious dialogue: Ajoultoon 1970, Broummana 1972, Colombo 1974, London 1974, Bellagio 1976, Freiburg 1976, Beirut 1977, Hamburg 1982, Hanover 1984, The Hague 1985, Hartford 1982, Philadelphia 1986, Amsterdam 1990.

Professor Askari has been the first Muslim to address the Conference of European Bishops (Vienna 1985), and the International Council of Jews and Christians (Salamanca 1986). He has also given special lectures at several universities – Tehran, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Nainz, Gottinghem, Rome, Utrecht, Leiden, Aberdeen, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Uppsala and Stockholm.

Committed to co-presence and dialogue between diverse forms of spirituality, Professor Askari emphasises the urgent need to revive the discourse on soul and promoting Spiritual Humanism as an alternative ideology.

Books by Prof Syed Hasan Askari:

Selections from The Orations of Imam Ali ibn Talib, Hyderabad, 1965 (Urdu).

Foundations of Applied Sociology, Allahbad, 1968.

Inter-Religion, Aligarh, 1977.

Society and State in Islam, Delhi, 1977.

Reflections of the Awakened, Cambridge 1984.

The Experience of Religious Diversity (Co-Editor with John Hick), 1984.

Spiritual Quest: An Inter-Religious Dimension, 1991.

Towards a Spiritual Humanism (with Jon Avery), 1991.

Seers and Sages (with David Bowen), 1991.

Alone to Alone : From Awareness to Vision, 1991.

Contemplation of Essence (Plotinus in Urdu), 1992.

Solomon’s Rings – Biography of a Sufi Master, 1997.

The Upanishads (an abridged translation to Urdu), 2007.

Essays by Prof. Syed Hasan Askari available on this blog:

Religion and State, 1991

The Qur’anic Conception of Apostleship, 1991

The Real Presence of Jesus in Islam, 2005

Please browse the “Spiritual Human” blog for more writings by Prof. Syed Hasan Askari

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