SASKATOON — “A Christian Study of Islam: An Introduction” is being offered in Saskatoon this fall as a way to expand understanding and dialogue, say three organizers who share a deep interest in multi-faith undertakings.
Sister Phyllis Kapuscinski is a sister of Our Lady of Sion, a religious order with a long-standing commitment to interfaith understanding and tolerance; Rev. Colin Clay is an Anglican priest who has been active in Multi-Faith Saskatoon for many years; and Rev. Bernard de Margerie is a Roman Catholic priest known for 50-plus years of ecumenical work, including the establishment of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism.
Together the three make up the planning committee for the series that will be offered through the diocesan “Foundations: Exploring Our Faith Together” program, open to all those interested, beginning Oct. 18 and running for five weeks, including one session that will be held in a local mosque.
The series is a response to what the planning committee sees as a profound problem in our world: misunderstandings and lack of knowledge about the Islamic faith. The main focus is to be an “undertaking of Christian faith and hope seeking understanding.”
“There is a big upheaval in the world right now, with the migration of people; a lot of them are Muslims,” says de Margerie. “I prayed about that, and that’s what gave rise to this project.”
“What has really concerned me is the anti-Muslim feeling I hear,” adds Clay, pointing to a steady trickle of disturbing anti-Muslim emails he has received in recent months.
“As a result of my work with Multi-Faith Saskatoon I have been working with various Islamic associations,” Clay says. “I have become aware of the love and compassion we find among Muslims. Now is really an ideal time to start helping all people, but especially Christians, to understand our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Although the charism of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion is originally concerned with Jewish/Christian relations and the education of Christians about Judaism, Kapuscinski notes that her order recognizes they cannot leave out another major world religion.
“I feel that it is part of our calling,” she says. “I am also concerned about fear, and the way that fear is being used to manipulate people. I think the best way to combat fear is through education and through people meeting one another face-to-face.”
De Margerie emphasizes church teachings and papal statements that encourage dialogue and understanding with Muslims, including the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, which urges Christians “to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions.”
The document also states: “The c hurch has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own.”
Since Vatican II, life has moved on in the Catholic Church, with a few faithfully exploring, studying, praying and giving witness to new ways for Christians to approach our sisters and brothers of the Muslim faith and other world religions, notes de Margerie. In particular, the Pontifical Council of Inter-religious Dialogue has provided pioneering energy in this new venture of faith.
He points to statements by recent popes, including St. John Paul II, who stated in Ankara in 1979: “It is urgent, today especially, when Christians and Muslims have entered into a new phase of history, to recognize and develop the spiritual bonds that unite us.”
The World Council of Churches has also addressed the issue over the years, adds de Margerie.
In the world’s present situation, the need for dialogue is ever-more urgent, he stresses, describing how Christians and Muslims are challenged “to meet and live together, and find new ways of mutual understanding, justice, compassion and peace — in the name of what is most true and noble in each of the two religions (Pope Francis).”
A number of scholars will give presentations in the series, including Dr. Brenda Anderson of Luther College in Regina, and Dr. Roland Miller, a professor of Islamic studies and world religions at the University of Regina, who spent 23 years as a Lutheran among Muslims in southern India. Members of the different Muslim communities in the city will be invited to speak during portions of the program.
The introductory series begins by addressing the question of “why such a course?” at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family, says de Margerie.
An introduction to the Qur’an and “the essential Islam” will be the theme Oct. 25, with both a Muslim and a Christian presenter, while the third session Nov. 3 will feature a public lecture on the relationship between the Bible and the Qur’an, and the Qur’anic understanding of Jesus.
Organizers plan to hold the Nov. 8 session at a local mosque. This will include a guided visit hosted by the Saskatoon Islamic Association and a time of prayer. The final session Nov. 15 will further consider the question of prayer, as well as offering a panel discussion on “where do we go from here?”
Those interested in the series are being asked to pre-register by contacting the Foundations office at the Catholic Pastoral Centre, 306-659-5831. A course description may be obtained by contacting de Margerie at 306-651-7051; firstname.lastname@example.org.