Regular Faculty

Approaching the Qur'an - Celebrating the Commitment of Nostra Aetate

Sr. Marianne Farina, CSC

Interreligious dialogue is a ministry of the Church. It is an area of service and study that has a long tradition in the Church and in contemporary times has been renewed with the directives of Vatican II and more recently in the synod on “New Evangelization.” In our current global reality, it is becoming one of the most critical ministries of Catholics, Jews and Muslims throughout the world. 
Blessed John Paul II receiving the Gift of a Qur’an “It is important that Muslims and Christians continue to explore philosophical and theological questions together, in order to come to a more objective and comprehensive knowledge of each others’ religious beliefs. Better mutual understanding will surely lead, at the practical level, to a new way of presenting our two religions not in opposition, as has happened too often in the past, but in partnership for the good of the human family” - Blessed John Paul II, Address in Umayyad Mosque, 2001
Blessed John Paul II receiving the Gift of a Qur’an

The Dominican Order has been at the forefront of the scholarly work with Islam and Muslim communities. The Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies (Idéo) in Cairo is one of leading institutions for this research and study. Established by the Dominican Order in 1953 at the request of the Holy See, Ideo comprises a team of scholars and researchers wishing to promote a better understanding among Christians and Muslims. The programs of Ideo study Islam through its primary sources at a high academic level; provide researchers and students with a library specializing in Islam; publish research articles in its academic journal, MIDEO. The center also contains the largest collection of ancient copies of the Qur’an.

So that our community comes to a clearer understanding of this ministry in the Church and in particular, the Dominican Order, we created a program that investigates the history of interreligious dialogue and the study of Islamic philosophical writings and sacred texts. We began this exploration with two key lectures. The first lecture was given by the Archbishop of Oakland, Alexander Brunett, who served as our interim Bishop of Oakland and is one of the principal organizers of interreligious dialogue in the US Conference of Bishops. His talk focused on the history of Muslim-Christian relations in the United States. Brother Minlib Dalh OP offered the second lecture. Brother Dalh has done extensive research on Dominican friars and their involvement with Islamic studies and pastoral work in Muslim communities.The lectures were followed by a weekend series of presentations on the philosophy of Ibn Arabi, which include a workshop on the Qur’an led by Professor Carl Ernst. Fall 2013 we will conclude the series with an art exhibit and lecture on the Qur’an.

Background of Catholic Church on Relations with World Religions:
The Second Vatican Council marked the beginning of a new era between the Catholic Church and the modern world. The conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate of this council focused on the Catholic Church’s relationship to world religions.

The modus vivendi of this document concretizes in John XXIII’s opening message of the second Vatican Council, in which he said that, “We (the Catholic Church) need to open the windows so that we can see out, and they (the world) can see in.” In this encounter with other religions, differences are acknowledged, but so is an “emphasis on seeking out and highlighting the positive, shared understandings” (Cassidy, 2005: 129).

In a brief five sections, the document raises critical ideas concerning relations among religious traditions. Central is the recognition that one common area of concern, regardless of national, cultural or religious origin, is the human quest for meaning. We all ask questions about life, good and evil, suffering, sorrow, and happiness. Moreover, the document states that “from ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things.” (NA,2). Noting how this quest and awareness support a profound religious sense among people, the document further states:

The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teaching which, though differing in many aspects from then ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men (NA, 2)

The third and fourth parts reflect on relations with Islam and Judaism respectfully. These sections illustrate the special relationships that exist between the Catholic Church and these two other branches of the Abrahamic tradition. Regarding Islam the document cites significant aspects of Muslim faith that related to Christianity. Muslims “adore the one God,” and take “pains to submit to wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham…submitted to God (NA,3). They also “revere Jesus as a prophet” and “honor Mary, His virgin Mother [and] “at times call on her with devotion” (ibid). Acknowledging that during “the course of centuries not a few of quarrels and hostilities” between Muslims and Christians, the Catholic Bishops exhort us:

[to]forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom. (NA, 30)

Since the close of the Vatican II Council, various appointments, gatherings and documents have been instituted to support this ministry of the Church.

Pope Paul VI established the Secretariat for Non Christians – later renamed Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and this council has created documents and guidelines to promote good relations among religions. These efforts have fostered four key areas of dialogue: dialogue of life, dialogue of common [social justice] works, dialogue of spiritual experiences, and theological dialogue. All forms are critical to sustaining the dialogue with religious communities, and in particular ways, each leads to a deeper understanding of the teachings and lived experience of the religious traditions. Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI have also promoted positive relations among world religions through organizing prayer meetings at Assisi and apostolic visitations to various faith communities.

Local Programs:
Various programs like GTU and our offerings at the Dominican school support these efforts through academic research and study. One significant topic for study is the sacred text. As the 1981 Pontifical Guidelines for Dialogue between Christians and Muslims note one of the potential areas of religious agreement is on the “Gift of the Word.” As the document states:

Both Christians and Muslims believe that God took the initiative in hiatory to speak to human beings, thus revealing to them many truths about the Mystery of his Being and about the destiny of humankind. Believers in both religions consider themselves fortunate beneficiaries of the “gift of the Word.” (Borrmans, 1981: 104)