What Can Muslims learn from Christian sectarian experiences? | View Points | Ammon News


What Can Muslims learn from Christian sectarian experiences?


[2/23/2010 12:20:06 PM]

One of the bloodiest wars in European history was the thirty years war (1618-1648). Initially it began as a religious conflict between Catholic and Lutheran Christians. The disputed points concerned questions like how human beings can be justified before God, and the authority of the pope in the Church. Yet none of the issues dividing Protestants and Catholics were foundational: there was no disagreement on the nature of God, the role of Jesus Christ in salvation, or the text of the New Testament.

The state of hostility between Catholics and Lutherans lasted for another three hundred years. For all that time, each side tried to prove each other wrong. And at the end of the three hundred year period, there was about the same percentage of Catholics and Lutherans as there had been at the beginning. Neither side succeeded in converting the other.

But in the early twentieth century, small groups of Christians began a dialogue aimed at achieving mutual understanding. It did not aim at converting the other, but at understanding the other. Such a dialogue is difficult; it requires fair-mindedness, humility, a willingness to put aside stereotypes and to learn from the other, and patience. Instead of focusing on what was wrong with the other side, it proved more helpful to begin with focusing on what each side had in common-such as the common belief in God. This helped to build trust between parties. This in turn enabled the participants to discuss their real differences more amicably. And the differences turned out to be not as severe as each side had initially thought.

So, for example, the question of how one is justified before God was eventually resolved: the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Roman Catholic Church were able agree on a Joint Declaration on Justification. More significantly, Catholics and Lutherans recently have been able to work together and live together in peace. Several of my colleagues at the University of St. Thomas (a Catholic University in St. Paul, Minnesota), are Lutherans. Differences still remain, of course, especially regarding the role of the pope, but the important point is that Catholics and Lutherans no longer fight each other, but can live, work, and marry together peacefully.

What might this mean for Muslims? I have been involved in Muslim-Christian dialogue for fifteen years. Sometimes at our dialogues both Sunnis and Shias are present. There is a lot of tension evident at these meetings, and it seems that Sunnis and Shias have not had much experience engaging in interfaith dialogue.

But what strikes me as an outsider is not how much difference there is between Sunnis and Shias, but how much each side has in common: they read the same Quran, acknowledge the same God and the prophethood of Muhammad, and hold most of the same doctrines and ethical values. I recognize that there are deep differences, but do not think these differences outweigh what Sunnis and Shias hold in common.

I believe that patient dialogue, aimed at understanding rather than at polemics and conversion would reveal this. So I believe that interfaith dialogue holds out some promise for Muslims. It will not resolve all differences, of course, but may at least lead to the ability of each side to live and work together peacefully, despite their differences.

As Co-Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Dialogue, at the University of St. Thomas, I believe that interreligious dialogue can lead to bonds of friendship between Christians and Muslims. We each worship the same God and hold many of the same values. As a Catholic Christian, I find much to admire in Islam, like the emphasis on prayer, fasting, and on God consciousness (takwa).

I am a better Christian as a result of my discussion with my Muslim brothers and sisters, many of whom are my friends. My dialogue with Muslims has not diminished my Christian faith, but rather enhanced it. Thus, it is my hope that interfaith dialogue both between Muslims themselves, but also between Muslims and Christians, can lead to a world in which we both can flourish and witness to God within our respective traditions.


Dr. Terence Nichols
Co-Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Dialogue
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A.

  • 1 Abdallah Mohamed 1/16/2010 4:18:16 PM

    This is great thank you Dr. Nichols. The question is are Moslims ready to make a change? May be you should visit us and give speeches to share your ideas. We are tired of wars Dr. Nichols.Abdallah

  • 2 ibrahim al habarneh 1/16/2010 4:39:43 PM

    thanks very much Dr. Terence Nichols, :) well that's really a big issue that we face these days, and the holly Quran didn't mention the other ages and prophets for nothing!! we have to learn and the history repeat it self, and the right path is always shining like the sun that we see everyday... but you need the person who look straight to this path and follow it.....and you will be very welcome Dr. to ur second home jordan :) Regards

  • 3 Muhammad Al Ordoni 1/16/2010 5:21:39 PM

    Well stated Dr.Nichols. Hopefully this can be an example for the Muslim world.

  • 4 Mowali 1/16/2010 7:00:33 PM

    Nice article by the respected Dr. Nichols. I am a fan of his. I agree with many of his points, but disagrees with others as well. The one thing I disagree with the professor the most is how he considered Shiahs and Sunnis are equally to blame. I know that this is the American way that intellectuals deal with issues: equalizing between the victim and the prey. I like what Bill Mahr says about feminism. It really applies here as well. He said and I quote: "The feminine values are the values of America today. Sensitivity is more important than truth. Feelings are more important than facts..." This is so true about how outsiders view the conflict like between Shiahs and Sunnis. Take the facts measure for example: Which side is encouraging (until this very day) young Sunnis to explode amongst Shiahs gatherings? Which side unleashes verbal attacks against the other side? The above actions are not done by average individuals who have no weight. It is done by government-appointed so called scholars. These are not opinions. The are facts that can be verified easily. Those are the facts that should be our leads to cure the core of the problem (rather than the symptoms). I suggest this article: Getting to Real Causes By: Robert F. Abbott. The other thing I have a comment on is the professor's observation about the tension between Sunnis and Shiahs. I would like to point him out that at any given tense moment between a Sunni and a Shiah, you will find that it is the Sunni person who has a baggage of accusations and slurs against the Shiah one. I've been a Sunni before and I testify that this is always the case. A little research will let anyone conclude that this is another fact. Nevertheless, I like this article and waiting for more from the professor.

  • 5 To Mowali 1/16/2010 9:33:21 PM

    I may agree or disagree with some of your comments. But dialog must start not by complaining about who is right and who is wrong. It must start at what is common, and as Dr. Nichols said, Shia and Sunni have many things in common. As the Koran said, forgive and forget so that Allah forgives your sins..With my love and respect. An Imam of a Sunni Masjid in upper AmmanP.A. What made you become Shiai? I ask to know not to disagree.

  • 6 Ali 1/16/2010 10:32:13 PM

    Yes Dr, I truly believe that if it worked for the Christian groups then it should work for Moslem groups as well, it would take a lot of time and efforts by the Shia and Sunni groups since the recent events have added to the problems between the two groups but a sincere initiative is a must, great article Dr. Nichols

  • 7 Yusuf 1/16/2010 10:36:24 PM

    Sincere and honest voices like yours DR need to be heard.keep it up so we can all have peace.

  • 8 Manar 1/16/2010 11:57:31 PM

    Thank you for this article..I do agree that a lot of Sunni's and Shia's focus on the differences between them rather than the similarities, with no time to understand each other. My parents are Sunni and my husband's family are Shia so I know first hand how the differences can come between them. Living in Jordan, a lot of our fellow Sunni's just don't know much about the Shia, and the little information they do know is quite negative mostly made up. So you can imagine how hard it was to convince my parents at first that I wanted to marry a Shia. The more, though, that my parents learned about how similar Shia's are to Sunni's the more they appreciated them. And now, the more they interact the more they realize how much we are all the same. But, for the longest time they pushed away the differences between Sunni's and Shia's instead of trying to understand them at the same time. In the end, it all comes down to communication and understanding! If my family could do it, I know others can too!

  • 9 Tommi 1/17/2010 6:33:33 AM

    Thank you Dr. Nichols for this wonderful article. I agree with you, we (Shias and Sunnis) have a lot in common. My only problem is with this other religion claiming to be an Islamic sect when in reality they have their own religion but using the name of Islam. ...... Again Dr. Nichols, thank you for this article.

  • 10 Mowali 1/17/2010 6:46:01 PM

    One of the brothers asked why I became a Shiah. The Sunni history books made me a Shiah. Especially the ones that dealt with the era after the prophet. If you read that history, you will be able to understand the must-know past of the topic of Dr. Terry's article.

  • 11 jordanian 1/18/2010 10:04:45 AM

    dont we need a dialogue with the jews ?to ease this political conflect?

  • 12 Philip Hamzah 1/18/2010 10:10:12 AM

    As a former Christian who became a Shia Muslim at age 39, I appreciate Dr. Terry Nichols article. The Magisterial Reformation in Europe led to wars between Roman Catholics and Lutherans, and wars with other Protestants such as the Anglicans and the Reformed Churches. Nowadays, Roman Catholics and Lutherans are even marrying each other! I didn't become a Muslim because I didn't like Christians. I have Christian friends and family and love them very much. It was some of the the popular Christian doctrines that I could no longer believe. In my experience as a Muslim in the USA, I don't see major problems between Shias and true Sunnis. Where I see problems is with Salafis/Wahabis, and those uneducated Sunnis who are influenced by them. Having a difference of opinion with Sunni Muslims over doctrine and practice and history is not a big deal, but sometimes the dialogue can be tense, and Dr. Nichols has accurately described in his wonderful article. If I were to travel to the Middle-East, in most countries I would not be concerned about encounters with Sunnis. However, I would be very concerned about encounters with many of the Salafis/Wahabis that I might encounter. As an American who is somewhat acquainted with the writings of men like William Penn and the 3rd President Thomas Jefferson, I believe America is for everyone. I consider Muslims with views that I don't share not only as my brothers and sisters in Islam, but also as my fellow Americans. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion. I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to be a Shia Muslim in a country where Salafis/Wahabis have a strong voice.

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