A Common Word: five years on

In October 2007, an Open Letter (www.acommonword.com) was sent, signed by 138 Muslim religious leaders, to a range of Christian leaders inviting them to come to work together to build peace between Christians and Muslims on the basis of a verse of the Qur’an (Q. 3:64). This was a significant Muslim initiative in Christian-Muslim relations. Five years on, this reading guide is offered to readers to help unpack some of the context, content and complexity of A Common Word and to indicate points on which Christians might like to reflect in thinking of an appropriate response. To read more, click on the link below

ACW five years on

Christian Lives Given to the Study of Islam

This book captures the autobiographical reflections of twenty-eight Christian men and women who, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and movements within the World Council of Churches, committed their lives to the study of Islam and to practical Christian–Muslim relations in new and irenic ways. Their contributions come from across the spectrum of the Western church and record what drew them into the study of Islam, how their careers developed, what sustained them in this work and salient milestones along the way. Their accounts take us to twenty-five countries and into all the branches of Islamic studies: Qur’an, Hadith, Shari’a, Sufism, philology, theology, and philosophy. They give fascinating insights into personal encounters with Islam and Muslims, speak of the ways in which their Christian traditions of spiritual training formed and nourished them, and deal with some of the misunderstandings and opposition they have faced along the way. In an analytical conclusion, the editors draw out themes and pointers towards future developments. Click below to read more…

Christian Lives Given to the Study of Islam

Husayn and Karbala: a role model for humanity

Imam Husayn, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, together with seventy-two of his companions, was brutally massacred on Ashura Day, 680 on the plain of Karbala in Iraq. This event acts as a clarion cry for Shi’a Muslims, that they too should stand for the cause of justice and right. It is marked by deepest mourning and a review of life. What happened? Why is it such a central element of Islam? How might it act as a role-model for all human beings? Husayn role model for humanity

We have Justice in Common

In October 2007, an “Open Letter” was sent from Muslim religious leaders to Christian leaders inviting them to come to “A Common Word” between them about the primacy of loving God and loving one’s neighbour. The document was originally signed by 138 Muslim leaders from various countries but South and South-East Asia and Africa in general were under-represented, especially when it is considered that these are the areas of the world in which Muslims and Christians live in large number and engage in daily contact. In the light of this, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Germany in October 2009 convened a colloquium of Christian and Muslim scholars and activists from these two regions to discuss the Open Letter and its impact on their local communities. The resulting report, edited by Christian Troll, Helmut Reifeld and Chris Hewer, called We have Justice in Common, was published in 2010. The name was chosen to reflect the overwhelming sense of the colloquium that the central ethical principle of justice needed to be added to any discussion of Christian-Muslim relations. The full text of the report is available to download here.
We have Justice in Common

Five Years of Understanding Islam in London

For the five calendar years 2006 to 2010, I had the pleasure to be able to
concentrate exclusively on promoting a better understanding of Islam,
Christian-Muslim relations, the situation of Muslims in Western Europe and to
attempt to enhance Muslims’ understanding of Christianity. This work was
nominally hosted by the St Ethelburga Centre for Reconciliation and Peace,
Bishopsgate, and funded by a syndicate of four charitable bodies. The brief
was to develop courses, promote an understanding, raise awareness and build
up a cohort of people who were interested in multiplying this work in their own
neighbourhoods or professional lives, so that the work could be taken up by an
appropriate institution. The geographical focus was on Greater London with an
awareness of the need for occasional programmes in other parts of Britain and
Europe.

The genius of the project can be indicated in the following ways:

  • Through the generosity of the members of the syndicate, I was able to offer my services without charge, including travel and office expenses.
  • St Ethelburga’s hosted my presence on their web site, which allowed for advertisement and recruitment for the study days that I did for them and allowed us to build up an e-list of people interested in the Understanding Islam project. Throughout the five years, St Ethelburga’s, in the persons of their Director, Simon Keyes, and the team and volunteers, has provided stalwart support and taken an interest in the project and their Fellow in an exemplary way; the original concept was one of symbiosis and I believe that this has been fulfilled.
  • The lack of a physical location for the project (I only actually “worked” at St Ethelburga’s for nine Saturdays each year) meant that its overheads were extraordinary low; there was never the immense burden of “having to generate funds to preserve the fabric of the building”, pay administrative costs, etc.
  • Courses, study days and talks went to people wherever they naturally gather by habitation, interest or work. In this way the logistics of attracting people to a teaching centre, wherever it might be located, were avoided. This is of particular note in an area the size of Greater London, where I could easily spend six hours per day in travelling to reach teaching locations; and this given the fact that I was able to take rooms fairly centrally. Courses etc. were hosted in religious, educational, community or domestic locations that were “within the comfort zone” for participants and could be provided either free or at a nominal cost by the hosts.
  • There was an explicit agreement from the outset that I was to avoid involvement in committees, working parties, boards of enquiry, commissions and suchlike, therefore being able to devote all my time and energy to the project itself.
  • The project grew on the basis of securing the services of an individual with proven knowledge, skills and experience. I had an academic background in Christian theology, Islamic studies, pedagogy and interfaith relations spread across four decades. I had a proven track record in teaching about Islam, including explicitly to the target audiences and enjoyed a degree of respect within both Christian and Muslim communities. The “course book” for the project (Understanding Islam: the first ten steps, London: SCM) was published in April 2006 and during the London years has sold around 5,500 copies, 50% of which were sold in relation to the project’s work directly. The much shorter basic introduction: The Essence of Islam, aimed at the widest possible audience, has similarly sold around 2,500 copies directly in relation to project events.

Click here to read “UI London Report”

Troll in Selly Oak: teaching by example

This article was written by Chris Hewer for a presentation volume dedicated to Prof. Dr Christian Troll SJ to mark his seventieth birthday (Im Dienst der Versöhnung: Für einen authentischen Dialog zwischen Christen und Muslimen, (ed.) Peter Hünseler, Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 2008). Prof. Troll has worked in the field of the study of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations since 1961. He studied in Germany, the Lebanon and Britain and subsequently taught in India, Britain, Italy, Turkey and his native Germany, where he is currently Honorary Professor at the Jesuit Theological Faculty in Frankfurt am Main. The article shows the methodology and structure of a course in the historical development of Islamic religious thought as taught by a Christian with a Muslim colleague to a group of Christian and Muslim students in a British university context. Four colleagues of ours at Selly Oak contribute their own reflections: the late Prof. Khalid Alavi from Pakistan, the Revd Gisela Egler from the Church of Hessen Nassau, Germany, the Revd Dr Herman Roborgh SJ from Sydney, Australia and Dr Ataullah Siddiqui from the Markfield Institute of Higher Education, Leicester

Introduction

Christian Troll was present in the Selly Oak Colleges in May 1975 when the original
consultation with leading Christians and Muslims took place that formulated the vision and launched the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations. By this time, he had completed his theological studies in Germany, his Arabic studies in Lebanon, his Persian and Urdu studies in London, and was completing his doctoral work on Sayyid Ahmad Khan. In 1976 he left for Delhi, where he taught at the Vidyajyoti Institute until his return to Selly Oak in 1988. During his five years at the Centre, in addition to supervising research, editing the Centre journal Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations that he began, consultations and occasional lectures, his principal teaching responsibility was the MA core course on the Historical Development of Islamic Religious Thought. When the MA was first developed in conjunction with the University of Birmingham, whose degree it was, the schema was to mirror a Master’s degree in Christian theology, with one paper on scriptural material, one on systematic theology, an optional paper and a dissertation. The Troll course, which was first taught by the Centre’s founder David Kerr, was the Islamic equivalent of a paper on systematic theology…

Click here to read the full article “Troll in Selly Oak”

An enduring vision: the Study Centre at Selly Oak

This article was written by Chris Hewer as a contribution to the two-volume
posthumous book to mark the contribution of Prof. David Kerr, the Founder-Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations in Selly Oak, Birmingham (World Christianity in Muslim Encounter: Essays in memory of David A Kerr, Vol II, (ed.) Stephen Goodwin, London: Continuum, 2009 ). David died in his early sixties, just at the moment when he had settled to polish and publish the
contributions that he had made to the field orally during four decades. The article
seeks the rationale and spirit behind the founding of the Centre – as much needed
today as when it was founded.

For those of us involved in the world of Christian-Muslim relations, the name of David Kerr will for ever evoke the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations that he founded at the Selly Oak Colleges in 1976. As the reality of the Centre passes into memory, it is important in the context of the current Festschrift to record something of that vision from early documentation and the memories of those involved over the first decade…

Click here to read the full article “Study Centre at Selly Oak”