By Stephen Pickard
Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? How might different religious traditions speak of the one God? Are there divine attributes that Christians and Muslims have in common? What might these two religions of the world learn from one another? How might they work together for a more just and peaceful society?
These were just some of the questions on the agenda of a symposium I attended in July this year at the University of Edinburgh hosted by the Department of Islamic and Inter-Religious Studies. It’s Director, Professor Mona Siddiqui OBE had visited the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture and Centre for Public and Contextual Theology in 2016. During her visit she engaged with Christian and Muslim scholars and give public addresses on the themes of hospitality and inter-religious dialogue, and Jesus in Muslim thought.
In Edinburgh 2018, the theme was Speaking of the One God: God’s Essence, Attributes, and Names. The symposium revisited old questions about God; discussed the possibilities and limitations of human speech about God and began to re-think the nature of theological exchange between Christians and Muslims in some fresh and liberating ways.
I guess when the first speaker was the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams you could be forgiven for thinking that it might sound a tad academic. Certainly, it was challenging at times but always stimulating. Williams spoke of the simplicity of God and the implications of this fundamental aspect of God for both Christians and Muslims. What was really exciting was to be with Christian and Muslim students, scholars, church leaders and other interested people all of whom shared a desire to learn from one another and explore some of the ways in which we can join common action in the world.
In my own presentation, I suggested that Christians and Muslims are followers of the one true God. Christians undertake this project in the footsteps of Jesus Christ; Muslims in obedience to the Prophet Muhammad. The theological underpinnings of these two different tracks for the human journey are a rich source of engagement, and at times sharply different. I concluded with the proposal that to find a simplicity of life in correspondence with the simple God is a project that remains on the agenda of the religions of the world at the end of the second millennium. And not simply for the sake of those religions but for the well-being and flourishing of God’s world.