By Elvis Ndihokubwayo, SX –
From April 12 to May 9, 2015, I had the opportunity to take part in the Silsilah Basic Course on Muslim-Christian dialogue. It has been an unforgettable experience for “entering” the Muslim world in Zamboanga City.
One week before we flew to Zamboanga City from Manila, a horrible event happened in Kenya and this incident made me question my will to attend that course. A university in Kenya was attacked by Elshabab militants (El Shabab are fundamentalists Muslims based in Somalia) and more than 150 people were killed in that attack. Afterwards, I was asking myself if it was still worthwhile to attend a Muslim-Christian dialogue course. Along with this event were many other prejudices about Muslims, but thank God I was able to get rid of them as I went through this one-month Silsilah experience.
What is Silsilah Dilogue Movement?
Silsilah dialogue Movement was created in 1984 by Fr Sebastiano d’ Ambra a PIME priest. It was established in Zamboanga City, part of Mindanao in the Philippines amidst some Christian and Muslim conflicts. The goal of this Movement is to bring Muslims and Christians together in their search for peace through dialogue.
As part of its activities, Silsilah organizes every year different courses and formations for Christian and Muslims. I just attended the 29th summer Basic Course. We were 34 participants coming from different parts of the Philippines; 24 Christians and 10 Muslims. Majority of the participants was composed of seminarians.
The Basic Course consists of four “intensive” weeks in which we had many different lectures by Christian and Muslim scholars. Apart from the course on Arabic language, that takes place throughout the four weeks, other different courses last for one week each.
The first week is a kind of introduction to “Dialogue.” The Silsilah Publications just published a rich manual by Fr. Sebastiano d’Ambra, PIME; entitled A Path To Peace: Culture of Dialogue, Path To Peace. Through that manual, one comes to understand that first of all, Dialogue starts from God and brings people back to God. Furthermore, dialogue is not a strategy as we can notice it in the diplomatic world, but spirituality. Here, dialogue does not consist of converting the other to our own religion; instead, it makes the one involved in it very strong in their faith and then makes them ready to listen to the other religion with sincere heart and much conviction.
Dialogue as Silsilah Movement understands it lies on four pillars: Dialogue with God, Dialogue with the Self, Dialogue with others and finally Dialogue with Creation.
Time and again, one might notice that the dialogue starts always with God. In this pillar, one has to go back to one’s religion and rediscover God’s revelation, love and compassion to humanity. Second, dialogue with the self is also important because it allows one to reach wholeness from one’s brokenness brought about by prejudices, fear or any other bad experience about the other religion. It is true that everything starts within with authenticity, trust, silence and humility. Third, we have the dialogue with others, which is manifested by an attitude of seeing God in other people. Three elements are indispensable for a real dialogue with others: the so-called three “s” namely Sincerity, Sensitivity and Solidarity. Let me just pick up one of these three “s”: sensitivity towards the other. During our Arabic classes, we were all excited to learn a new language. I remember how we were enjoying repeating the different letters of the Arabic alphabet, sometimes in a funny way. Later, I came to hear that, for Muslims, to repeat correctly and respectfully these letters brings merits to them. One of our Muslim co-participants mentioned that some Muslims might be hurt upon hearing us repeating these letters in such “funny” way. For me, this was just a simple “deal” but lately I came to understand what sensitivity towards others means. They are also many other details that might seem irrelevant to some but which are very meaningful to others. Then, there is dialogue with Creation. To protect creation is not exclusive to any religion, indeed, Muslims and Christians can unify their energies to advocate for the protection of our Mother Earth.
The second week is simultaneously dedicated to the study of the History of Islam and Christianity. The third week is dedicated the Holy Quran and the Holy Bible. Finally, during the last week, we study the Muslim and Christian teachings.
The most remarkable experience for me has been the different immersions in Muslim families. Part of the Basic Course is the immersion, which happens every weekend from Friday after lunch to Sunday morning. Christians stay with Muslim families and Muslims with Christian families. This was my first time to stay in a Muslim family with all the prejudices I brought with me about Muslims. The different families did all their best to welcome us. One of the most touching experience was when one family left us (with my other co-participant) their bed and went to sleep down in the first floor, just to make sure that we are well accommodated. I was also touched by the sense of brotherhood found among Muslims. They greet each other Assalamalaykum (Peace be upon you) and the other reply Alaikum assalam (Be with you too). They wish each other peace. Indeed, Islam by its own definition is a religion of peace.
I had so many other beautiful experiences from every family in which I was immersed and from my different co-participants, as well. I learnt a lot from our different encounters, during our sessions, meals, informal conversation, etc. Every week we had a so-called “solidarity night” in which we shared our cultural richness and talents through different performances. It is always good to enjoy and appreciate others’ cultural richness.
To conclude, I do believe that together Muslims and Christians can build a peaceful world. Of course, this might sound unrealistic or even naïve but the challenge is ours. As long as we believe in peace, in brotherhood, we can make this dream become true. It is true that now the world is facing many extremists and fundamentalist Muslim groups. As I came to understand from our Muslim speakers, there is no such a thing as a Muslim teaching inviting people to kill others on behalf of Allah. There is no such thing except that some people intentionally manipulate and misinterpret the Quran for their own interests.
Is it possible to have Peace between Muslims and Christians? My answer is yes. Will it be easy? My answer is no, but this is a challenge and challenges are there to be overcome. At the end of this one-month experience, I came to understand that most of our prejudices are due to ignorance of the other. Opportunities like this one of Silsilah make us to be in touch with reality. For me, the reality has been different from what media usually present to us about Muslims (Bombings, kidnappings, hostility to other religions). Moreover, change starts from within. Before pointing to others, we have to look at ourselves and see if we are peacemakers, people of dialogue. We have to be people of peace before we engage in dialogue with others because one cannot give what one does not have.
At the end of our course, we made a statement of commitment in which we committed ourselves to be people of dialogue and peacemakers. This is my wish that together, Muslim and Christians, we can strive to find a common ground as most of our speakers repeated that we need to focus on our commonalities rather than our differences. Indeed, what unites us as Muslims and Christians, sons and daughters of the Same God, Allah, the Creator, is bigger than what divides us. I hope that together we can make of the world a single family, a better place where to live as brothers and sisters. We should never forget that “Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, and another religion is to take off our shoes for the place we are approaching is holy…else, we may find ourselves treading on men’s dreams.”(K. Gragg)