Winter reflections on Islamic-Christian relations


Fr. Victor Edwin SJ writes:

I spent Christmas in a small Jesuit parish in Behror, on the way to Pink Jaipur (India). One day before Christmas, I read the 19th chapter of the Quran and the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Something beautiful struck me: how God takes care of Mary. In the Quran we read that Mary gave birth to the child as announced by the angel Gabriel. She is single. She worried about how she would present the child to people. It happened exactly like that.

Carrying her child, she brought him to her people. They said, “Mary, you really did something terrible! (Q. 19, 27)

Her relatives were furious and accused her of immorality. She gestures towards the child, and the child speaks, defending his mother. A vulnerable child defends his mother, something very beautiful.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we find Mary pregnant. Joseph, the man to whom she was engaged, was a man of righteousness and obedience to God. He was very worried about how the woman he was engaged to was pregnant before marriage.

… An angel of the Lord appeared to her in a dream and said: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as a wife, for the child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20)

A silent man, Joseph said nothing. A silent and obedient person protects the dignity of Mary. From these two accounts, one can draw insightful conclusions as we, Muslims and Christians alike, engage with the Quran and the Bible. What does the Word of God tell us in today’s context? What does it tell us about protecting the dignity of poor and vulnerable people?

I wish more Muslims read the Holy Bible and Christians read the Holy Quran. Some time ago, while reading the tradition of medieval commentaries in Islam, I found an encouraging reference to the reading of the Bible by Muslims. Al-Biqai (d. 1489 CE) in his great commentary on the Quran, nazm al-durar fi tanasub al-ayat wa l-suwar (String of beads concerning the harmony of verses and suras) included biblical material. He has been criticized for this by his academic colleagues. Al-Biqai maintains that reading the Bible conforms to Islamic tradition (ref. Walid A Saleh, In Defense of the Bible: A Critical edition and an introduction to al-Baqai’s Bible Treatise (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 57 -191. Al-Biqai uses a long passage from the Book of Jeremiah and comments on the passage in the following words: “a speech which is sublime in style, exquisite in its tenderness, such as it crushes the livers, makes the eyes swell with tears “(ref. Walid A Saleh,” ‘sublime in style, exquisite in tenderness: quotes from the Hebrew Bible in the commentary on the Quran of al-Biqai “, in Adaptations and innovations: studies on the interaction between Jewish and Islamic thought and literature from the beginning of the Middle Ages to the end of the 20th century, Dedicated to Professor Joel L Kramer, Y Tzvi Langermann and Josef Stern editions (Paris: Peeters, 2007), 331.

Just before the Christmas holidays, a group of third year theology students presented a seminar on Blessed Charles de Foucauld (soon to be canonized). This seminar gave me the opportunity to re-read one of my favorite books on the Blessed One titled: A Christian Hermit in an Islamic World: A Muslim’s Perspective on Charles De Foucauld by Ali Merad.

Charles De Foucauld was a pioneer in the field of Islamic-Christian relations. As a teenager, De Foucauld lost his Catholic faith. While undertaking a risky exploration of Morocco, he witnessed Muslims’ devotion to prayer. His heart cried out, “My God, if you exist, let me know you. At the age of 28, under the guidance of his spiritual director, he rediscovered God. He declared his faith in these terms: “As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not help but live for him alone.

As an ordained priest he moved to live in Beni Abbes and later in Tamanrasset among the Muslims of the Sahara deserts. He wanted to be among those who were “the most distant, the most abandoned.” He wants all those who approach him to find in him a brother, “a universal brother”. With great respect for the culture and faith of those among whom he lived, his desire was to “cry out the Gospel with his life”.

The writer Ali Merad observes that for Charles de Foucauld the best Christian witness among Muslims is to seek to imitate Christ. De Foucauld sought to imitate Christ with extraordinary generosity and deep devotion among the Muslims of Morocco. Merad notes that for a Muslim, imitating his prophet is the most perfect form of living his faith. As a student of Christian-Muslim relations, I totally agree with what he says.

Inspired by Muslim devotion to Muhammad, it must be said that the best way to share the Gospel of Christ with Muslims is to be a living witness of Jesus among them. This is a great challenge for every follower of Christ, especially for those called to a lifelong ministry among Muslims. The challenges may be monumental, but I feel a deep comfort. There are great role models from the past like Charles de Foucauld, Louis Massignon and Jacques Jomier to emulate, but also wonderful contemporary role models that I have met and received guidance and support from – people like Paul Jackson. , Chris Hewer and Christian Troll. With great gratitude and love, I can only surrender myself to the Lord who, I believe, called me to live this mission of being a witness among our Muslim brothers and sisters.

On New Year’s Eve, a friend of the Islamic Studies Association, Professor Alan Brill came to visit me. He is the Cooperman / Ross Chair in Judeo-Christian Studies and Director of Graduate Studies at Seton Hall University (United States). I invited a Muslim scholar, Khurshid Khan, for the conversation, and we had a trialogue – a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim – where we shared our work and had a meal together.

It is one thing to say that we Christians, Muslims and Jews must come together and work for peace. It’s good to hear that. However, I think it requires more thought than that. I believe that this trialogue between Muslims, Jews and Christians should be an opportunity to celebrate the most cherished convictions and practices of faith. Such conversations provide the context for learning through mutual witnessing. I think this is the most important thing. And our conversation would be engaging and fruitful if it also introduced conflict situations into our conversation – land and state issues related to Israel and Palestine and the coexistence of the three groups of believers in Jerusalem. I think it’s not enough just to be friends and build a bond of love between them or just to repent of past hurts or past violence against each other and in the present, however necessary it may be- they. It’s not just about listening and learning from each other. The most important thing is that we should find ways to collaborate with God’s work of healing, reconciliation and bringing peace. We must work together as brothers, sisters and friends. We have an important task in today’s world. We must work with all peoples for coexistence, reconciliation, peace and harmony. We really need to work harder together.

I wish you a successful and healthy New Year 2022.

Joseph Victor Edwin SJ


Father Victor Edwin is a Jesuit priest who teaches Christian-Muslim relations at Vidyajyoti, a Catholic higher theological education center in Delhi. He is deeply committed to the search for the promotion of understanding and goodwill between Christians and Muslims. He holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, and has written extensively on issues related to interfaith relations.

Keywords: Victor Edwin, India, Marie, Muslims, Islamic-Christian relations, Charles de Foucauld, Louis Massignon, Jacques Jomier

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