The Dean and the President of the Virginia Theological Seminary, Ian Markham's Interwiev at Rumi Forum
Moderator: Welcome to the Rumi Forum, and thank you to Erkan and others who have provided us with the hospitality that we have shared and this beautiful new space for us to be gathered in. Today we have a special opportunity to hear from Dr. Ian Markham who is going to give us a brief talk on –I’ll try to pronounce the name properly- Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. I am the Reverend Carol M. Fleet. I am the Interfaith Programs Coordinator at the Washington National Cathedral where I coordinate interfaith dialogues, primarily Abrahamic dialogues between Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars, as well as other grass roots dialogues as well. And I am particularly interested in Christian-Muslim dialogue and Christian-Muslim relationships. And so, I am glad to be here as well and to learn from Dr. Markham.
Dr. Markham is currently serving as the Dean and the President of the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, and is priest associate at St. Paul’s church in Alexandria. Prior to Ian Markham’s appointment in 2007,he served as Dean and Professor of Theology and Ethics at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, and as visiting Professor of Globalization, Ethics, and Islam at Leeds Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom. Dr. Markham has written two books on Said Nursi. The first was an edited collection titled: Globalization, Ethics, and Islam. And the second is forthcoming, and in its final piece of publication. The title of that is Engaging with Bediuzzaman Said Nursi: A Model for Interfaith Dialogue.
So, I am looking forward to learn more about Said Nursi and his ways that we can perhaps improve and change the ways we carry out interfaith dialogue from his learnings.
Welcome Dr. Markham.
Ian Markham: Thank you very much and thank you very much for the warm welcome. I am delighted to be here. Just a few words about how I established this interest in Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. I am an Episcopal priest, a Christian. And I had the privilege of serving for six years at Hartford Seminary ad their academic Dean. Hartford Seminary is quite an interesting Seminary. It is actually in the student body one third Muslim. And probably the only place in the United States with such a high percentage in theological education of Muslims. And many of these Muslims actually came from the Nur community. And that was actually when my interest in Turkish Islam. I am especially interested in non-Middle Eastern forms of Islam. I mean I think when we think about Islam too often we get sort of preoccupied with the Arab world, and with the Middle East, and we ignore the fact of Indonesia for example, the largest most populated Muslim country in the world by far. And per Indonesia we would say Indian Islam, of Chinese Islam, then you have more Muslim in those three countries than you will find throughout the Middle East.
Turkish Islam is, I think, especially interesting for Christians in the West, because what you have in Turkey is a country which is, had to adopt to a changing status in the world. It was on the losing side of the first World War. The Ottoman Empire was dismantled. And with it, the tremor of all of that the county came to, in terms of what was happening, you had the emergence of Ataturk, an aggressively secular state grew and developed. A remarkable state which wanted to engage with westernization and democracy and modern forms of industrializations. So, it went through an enormous upheaval. And Said Nursi was a key conversation partner in all of these. And therefore, I think, Christians, especially Christians working in the West, it is a very very interesting conversation partner.
You will find, on your seat, a summer of what I am going to say. So, let me just speak about for twenty, twenty five minutes. And, then, we can discuss and bring your expertise and thoughts. Because I am very sure, not least, our host knows great deal about Bediuzzaman Said Nursi and will be able to share his reflections. I am sure others will, as well.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Bediuzzaman simply means ‘wonder of the age.’ He was born in 1877 and died in 1960. So, as I have already noted, he lived towards tale end of the Ottoman Empire as the Ottoman Empire was dismantled. He lived through the First World War, he fought during the First World War. And it was during that, I think, his horror and fear very much shaped his faith and understanding. And also he was a key conversation partner for Ataturk. And initially was inclined to be sympathetic to the project that Ataturk imparted upon. And, then, became more suspicious of it. He became suspicious of it, because, he saw the ruling elite; a real antagonism to Islam, which worried him. And, he wanted to illustrate that you can be a faithful Muslim and live in a secular state. You can be a faithful Muslim and support modernity. You can be a faithful Muslim and find ways of dealing constructively with the West and with issues of diversity and pluralism within Turkey.
So, I find his writings fascinating. Primary source is the Risale-i Nur, all which is now being translated into English, runs these four volumes, which is this is The Words (shows a book), I have here. You can find, you can with everything in these days, it all on the internet somewhere. And what was interesting for Nursi is, I think, he was one of the foremost theorists in Turkey; committed, devout, observant, Muslim theorist, who saw that the attachment between Islam and the state can be appropriately challenged. And he talks about that himself as the shift from the ‘Old Said’ to the ‘New Said.’ A crucial moment was the journey on in April 1923, when he decided the issue for Muslims in Turkey was less to worry about the Caliphate and the relationship of Turkey at national or state level. And worry much much more about piety, love of God, submitting your life to God, living if God really is, appreciating the coherence and elegance of Islam, loving the Qur’an, and this. In another words, it became sort of a renewal movement, which was going to start less at the state level and much much where people were and challenges of their lives. And it is a beautiful mixture of a completely traditional Sunni Islamic thinker with Sufism, with real grasp of contemporary Islamic Muslim dynamics.
So, I am going to identify four key themes of his thought. And it is difficult to be selective, because he touches on everything. I mean, what is interesting about the Risale-i Nur, that it is almost a thematic commentary of the Qur’an and it brings together in beautiful ways around certain themes, the key texts and reflects upon them. And I think the first thing one sees in Said Nursi is a commitment to being rooted. He is not, lots of, whenever I am involved in interfaith dialogue and whenever I am in talking to Christians they keep asking me about when are we going to find liberal versions of Islam? You know Sam Harris and dreadful book, The End of (Faith) Religion, whatever it is called. Harris muses on, you know, the only hope for Islam is, Islam needs to get to a place where it doesn’t believe Islam anymore. Well that is not where Nursi is. Nursi is a person, who actually thinks that the Qur’an is true, that Muhammad is indeed the final prophet, that he is completely observant, committed, rooted, in place Muslim.
In fact, his initial ‘the Tenth Word,’ is pretty known, was attracted on the resurrection, defending the concept of the resurrection for the elite. It is a very interesting illustration of, basically the hearth of the argument is that you cannot make sense of life all this complexity without locating in the context of both belief of God and the life hereafter. And he constantly illustrates how your understanding of living and being will be incomplete until you recognize this bigger picture, this larger canvas. He uses story and illustrations to develop that theme. And that was his first argument; proofs for the hereafter, proofs for the resurrection. So, part of it is apologetic. Defending Islam in the face of skepticism and atheism and a suspicion of ‘perhaps none of this is true, all of this is to be associated with a premodern age.’
And he – let me just quote his reflections on the Qur’an, where he talks about the Qur’an:
“The All-Wise Qur’an, which makes known to us our Sustainer, is thus: it is the pre-eternal translator of the great Book of the Universe; the discloser of the treasures of the Divine Names concealed in the pages of the earth and heavens; the key to the truths hidden beneath these lines of events; the treasury of the favors of the Most Merciful and pre-eternal addresses, which come forth from the World of the Unseen beyond the veil of this Manifest World.”
And so he goes on, that is from “the Fourteenth Droplet” in The Words. In other words, he is not a liberal Muslim in the sense of a Muslim who is skeptical about the truths of Islam. He comes out of that place of rootedness. He comes out of that tradition, and he believes firmly in its validity and insights. He combines that commitment to rationality, elegance of Islam and the Qur’an with beautiful piety, which come off the pages. As a Christian reading this sort of material, you cannot help but periodically swept into moments of prayer as you encounter his reflection on the nature of the creation or the beauty of God and God’s interaction with nature.
One of my favorite passages is where he is reflecting on the nature of prayer and he is talking about the Islamic practice of five daily prayers and why it is important and precious. This is from “The Ninth Word” of the volume called The Words. And he likens, I think this is lovely, he likens the pattern of the five daily prayers to the pattern of reflecting on one’s life. So the initial prayer, before sunrise may be likened to spring’s birth, the moment when sperm takes refuge in the protected womb, or the first and the sixth consecutive days on which the earth and sky were created. So, it captures freshness and new life and starting again.
The time just past midday may be likens to the completion of adolescence, the middle of summer, or the period of humanity’s creation in the world’s lifetime.
The time for sunset reminds us of many creatures decline at the end of autumn, and also our own mortality, our own death, it thus for warns us of the world’s destruction and the resurrection’s beginning.
The time at nightfall calls to mind the world of darkness. In other words, what he is done is, he is inviting a Muslim to see those five daily prayers as a way to actually reflect on all one’s own life, and also on how God is relating constantly with all of creation, from beginning through to end, and it does actually as you reflect on this it sort of a way looking at a day and the passing of time, you find yourself actually thinking differently about a day and passing of time. You actually find yourself thinking afresh about the nature of time and the importance of living life in the context of eternity and immortality.
And, sure, what I find when I read the Risale-i Nur is live as God really is. And, actually, it is quite an important challenge for Christians. Because, Christians are quite good at living as if God might be (smiles), certainly the mainline tradition of which I am part. But for Nursi, you get a very strong sense live if God really is and if God really is then let is make a really difference to one’s life.
The second key theme is his attitude to the state which I think was very very interesting. He actually, famously said: “Ninety nine percent of shari’ah consists of ethics, worship, after-life and virtue. One percent of it is related to politics; about which our principle rulers ought to think.” And elsewhere he actually writes that when it comes to leadership of Muslim state or a state predominantly occupied by Muslims you do not worry about whether your baker is Muslim, or whether your silversmiths are Muslim. So, what you need is good leadership. You need a good leadership, which can serve the people effectively. If that skill sets are found in a non-Muslim that is fine. I mean, this is actually a quite striking for the conversation within Islam. This is quite a striking position to take. And yet, he is not any different and no Muslim can be to how state and nationhood is organized. So you get throughout his writings real concerns about usury, real concerns about the poor, the obligation to take care, commitment to justice. So, he wants to put pressure on rulers to act in just ways and for those which have least. Running parallel with also with a strong sense of that is the Muslim contribution to the state, not necessarily the Muslims run the state. This is I think a very distinctive position in the Islamic world.
The third feature I would highlight is his commitment to dialogue and non-violence. There is, he talks explicitly about, this is from the biography of Said Nursi by Sukran Vahide, where she summarizes his position nicely.
[T]he way of the Risale-i Nur was peaceful jihad or ‘jihad of the word’ (mânevî jihad) in the struggle against aggressive atheism and irreligion. By working solely for the spread and strengthening of belief, it was to work also for the preservation of internal order and peace and stability in society in the face of the moral and spiritual destruction of communism and the forces of irreligion which aimed to destabilize society and create anarchy, and to form “a barrier” against them.
It is quite clear that Nursi was deeply committed to non-violence. I do not think that the category ‘pacifist’ would necessarily apply, because that is not how the question would be framed. Certainly, I think, Nursi, as every Muslim is committed to the right of self-defense. But the rules he states for self defense is so so limited. But, he definitely thinks that any Muslim, who resorts to violence, is in a very real sense of failed. It is a failure both belief in God, belief if the Providence of God, to are simply make sure right and good happened. But it is also a failure in a sense of lack of a confidence in the truth, elegance, beauty, and the coherence of Islam. So, it is like a sort of a child who has got a very strong sense of an identity and secure in who they are. And then can go out of the world and very less encountering disagreement and oppositions. When you have that self-confidence as Nursi, you should be able to interact much more constructively with difference and diversity. And there is a strong commitment in Said Nursi’s writing to both dialogue and to non-violence. There is a saying, where he talks about the fact that if you got military ship which made of a personal and on that ship full of, you know, thousand soldiers, and on that ship one child, you are not allowed to sink that ship. So, he is got a deep deep commitment to non-violence and to dialogue.
The fourth theme is his conviction that you should learn from modernity and resist the atheism of modernity. He very much saw that we were in a time when the People of the Book needed to form some sort of an alliance Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris Christopher Hitchens. Against those who really do think that you can make sense of the complexity of this world without a reference to any sort of transcendent belief in God.
And he spent a lot of time talking about the two Europes: one Europe, which we can learn from in terms of science and the understanding of the world and all its complexity. The other Europe, which adopts to materialism and to positivism which denies existence of God.
So, the other think which is important to stress is that this has been hugely an influential movement. I mean, given the literature which has been written on the Egyptian Brotherhood which probably numbers hundreds in terms of adherence. This is a movement of literally millions. I mean, numbers vary because people do not join in ways you can recognizably identify them. But, from a conservative estimate to say from six million up to nine million. So, it is a very major Islamic movement in the modern world, which people do not know very much about. But, in my judgment I think it is hugely important for us to know more about it.
And there are three reasons which I just noted at the bottom of your handout. I think, when the interfaith dialogue world and the industry thinks about future, we have got to stop hoping that the way forward is going to be secular humanism, which denies the truths of religion. Or even that we are going to have lots of liberal Christians who are skeptical about the particularities of their traditions. That is just not where the world is going. I think it is quite interesting secularization thesis is manifestly failed. I mean the confidence of the 60s and the 70s. With modernity comes decreasing religious participation and identification. That is not true, I mean, Europe is exception rather than the rule. America remains counter to that. But also, as modernity takes off in places like India, or China, or elsewhere actually religious propensities are running parallel with some of the growth in these areas. So we have got to live with the truth that the religion in its particular forms are with us forever. We are not going to move to a situation where religion is losing its power or this is affecting this over people’s lives. And we have got to work with the fact that people want to, if they are going to identify with a religious tradition actually want to identify with it. In other words, if you are Christian most Christians want to continue to believe in the Incarnation and the Trinity. If you are Muslim, most of the Muslims want to believe in the infallibility of the Qur’an, if you are Jew, most Jews want to believe that the Torah comes from God. If you are, you know, in fact these forms of religions are where people in the end are identifying and grow into an identity and learn from what it is to be religious from.
So, the reason why I think Said Nursi is so fascinating is because he is, to use some of MacIntyre’s phrase, a good example of a ‘tradition-constituted theologian.’ In other words he knows he is located and he spends his time illustrating the out of that place of rootedness and location. He has got to illustrate what the Qur’an, what the Hadith is teaching is a deep commitment to pluralism, coexistence with difference, dialogue, learning from the best of other traditions, building alliances, while at the same time believing that ultimately Christians are mistaken. And as a Christian, I have no problem with that. I think that is quite a good place for a Muslim to be. I mean, I do not mind Muslims disagreeing with me about the Trinity and the Incarnation. That is fine. But, I am eager to work with a, when we can to build alliances, to have conversations, to commit to peace, to work together, to commit to building and constructing a better world, and to work together in the task of advocating for faith.
So, it is a good and in my view you have methodologically Bediuzzaman Said Nursi is a good model. I mean, Christians need their own Said Nursi equally rooted, equally committed to truths of Christianity, and therefore, speak to those in our own tradition which have problems with religious diversity and pluralism and illustrate that there are good Christian reasons for constructive relationships with the diversity of God’s providential gift of diversity.
Hinduism needs it. Buddhism needs it. What I mean, all these traditions need people who clearly belonging and at the same time illustrate that out of that place of belonging there are good reasons to coexist with difference and diversity. I am going to pause there and turn back to Carol and invite any questions or discussions.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Just observing you talking about Nursi you have a lot of enthusiasm and energy and passion. So, and not having met the man, but you have experienced him through his writings. My question is for you, I kind of posed earlier, this sounds like a piece of person that you said ‘every tradition needs a Nursi.’ But, how can other traditions, non-Muslim traditions discover Nursi? In order to apply those principles of finding that person who can bridge the modernity and the religious traditions. So, how would, do you have any ideas how many can bring Nursi to Christians and to Jews?
Ian Markham: That is a good question. I mean, I am very interested in sociology of ideas and how ideas can join and how certain group become famous, and how certain individuals get attention. And I have a sort of suspicion that actually that is quite haphazard. I do not know whether history is always fare to those who deserve attention. I am sure the present is hardly ever fare to people who deserve attention. And I think the history often does not quite get it right. And therefore, libraries are special precious places. I am deeply committed to the whole phenomena of the library actually does for protecting those. The most important libraries are those which are actually never taken out. Because that make sure they, those volumes are there for somebody to discover in twenty, thirty years’ time. And of course, there is something very interesting, I mean. David Hume, for example, in philosophy was, you know, I suppose his best seller was history of England, old book written by a Scotsman. And he made his living throughout his entire professional life as librarian. And it was actually the only thing is to man you can, he actually ever really got his status in the history of ideas. So there is something very interesting about that.
Now, when it comes to Islam, I think we all have an obligation to be very very careful, because I think people who are doing most to disseminate Western perceptions of Islam are those who are least sympathetic to peace and constructive relationships with Muslims. So Wahhabi Islam is getting tons of attention, Osama bin Ladin is getting tons of attention, the Egyptian Brotherhood is getting tons of attention, you know lost of books being written about al-Qaida. And I think we need to say, ‘Look, hang on. Let’s just be a little fare here. And do the exercise of really seeking to understand what is going on the side of the Muslim world. We need to actually read more widely.
So, to put it bluntly, I think, a factor in the neglect of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi is Islamophobia. We are not working hard enough to find out who is shaping the lives of many Muslims living around the world today. Another factor is just sociologically; his writings were discouraged - to say the least- by the government of Turkey. Printed additions only appeared in (referring to someone in the audience) probably you can give me the precise dates, within last thirty years or so. 50s, 1950s. Translations came slower. I mean it is taking some time to, for for this to get.. Nursi.. I mean, still in English studies on Bediuzzaman Said Nursi relatively few. I mean, five or six collections if essays now. But, here you have an inspiration to actually millions, I mean, nine millions up there, bigger than the Episcopal Church by several times over. You know, it is a significant movement inside Islam. And it is deeply committed to non-violence and dialogue.
And, I think that, you know, if you take anything away from this presentation, next time somebody says ‘where are moderate Muslim voices, or why do not I hear Muslims condemn more often non-violence, you can just say, ‘look, they say these things all the time. You are just not listening. But, B, did you know, for example, the largest Muslim movement in the world inspired by a non-violent dialogical Muslim. And that does not mean that he does not believe or he bet Islam either. He is just not a Western Muslim, who long sins, spends all his time in the bar drinking, you know (smiles). This is coming out of a real place. So, so, I think, yeah. That is an interesting question, I think. And the answer in short is partly the way that the movement has finally got some base to draw attention to Nursi, partly translation of his writings, partly the slowness of academy to take an interest in non-Middle Eastern forms of Islam. And partly, we just find learning about terrorists much more interesting. And we are not paying attention to the billon Muslims
Moderator: Your position as the Dean and the President of a Seminary to be able to incorporate some of this awareness of Nursi with the next generation of preachers and teachers in the Episcopal Church.
Ian Markham: Yes. (Agrees by nodding.)
Moderator: And hopefully we can, I think, your other question is very triggering is who would be a Christian Nursi or a Jewish Nursi that the Islamic world needs to hear from. So, again there is then, our conversation is mutually beneficial. Because we need to have an understanding of each other, not just us understanding Islam, but a better understanding of Christianity and a better understanding of Judaism for Muslims as well.
Let’s open it to our audience that is gathered here today, if you have some questions for Dr. Markham.
Question: Thank you very much, it was very interesting. You mentioned very briefly Hindus and Buddhists. I am interested in how the dialogue will be affected if a group of people believes that their belief systems have been revealed, but another group of people their beliefs are not revealed. And how that works, in that divide? I think, you know, so much of our attention has been focused to Jewish, Christian, Muslim dialogues. That is where the hot buttons in. But, if you look over toward India, in that region of the world other paradigms that are at work, very strong identities and very strong individuals also. And I am wondering how we close that divide? Because that belief will be a barrier.
Ian Markham: That is a very good question. I delivered the Teape Lectures in India on the Hindu-Muslim dialogue primarily. Because, of course, that is a huge issue in that country, Hindu-Muslim dialogue. Because that is a significant and difficult relationship to, I mean, India is a beautiful country, remarkable country and it is a real question about how the two coexist. And as you know, there has been, over the last fifteen twenty years of fairly aggressive backlash against Islam, and Christians, and Sikhs by some Hindus who felt that, they are in the end all invaders. What I found really interesting about when you look at some literature which came after VHP for example in their early days. When you read that literature the primary argument seemed to be ‘the natural religions of India are ones that are deeply inclusive. Islam is a non-inclusive tradition. Therefore, it is not authentically Indian.’ I mean, it is a really interesting, very interesting argument really. It is precisely paradoxical because of, does not include, we cannot include a Jew I mean it is slightly in that form now. And of course, congress got reelected and so on. Things are moved on and settled down little bit. But, what I find quite interesting is that I think you are right to say that interfaith dialogue needs t take seriously is the particularities of situation and context. So, on the whole I am not in favor of generic sort of United Nations. Interfaith dialogue is where, we all try to come together, the leaders of the world religions and solve the problems of the entire world. Because, you know, the North of Ireland conversation was very very much inter-Christian and you have to understand that particular dynamics between Scotland and Ireland and English, all those sort of. And it comes out of a Presbyterian and Catholic, and that is the dynamic. That is the place and setting. In India, it is sort of fear that the change is brought about by the impositions of the secular state by the British are departed and so on. Created a sort of nervousness about too much change and undermining core historic values in Indian society, which created part of the backdrop of the conversation which needs to take place there between Hindus and Muslims. So, therefore, I am much more in favor what I call ‘contextual dialogues.’ Dialogues which acknowledge place, location, are local and focused on the particular dynamics and histories that make up the traditions that need to have those conversations.
As to second part of your question, namely, is there a fundamental difference between the Abrahamic traditions and non-Abrahamic ones around the concept of revelation? Actually, I mean, think about the Hindu theologies which there are thousands, of course, and the whole name is European observation. But, there still is a very deep commitment to revelation in those traditions that there is a text which in some sense authoritative which shapes the understanding of what is true. So, actually, I think, actually concept of revelation is shared across. You know, Buddhism. You get that. So, the Buddha made a discovery of a truth which then all of us are invited to participate in. So, actually, I do not think that is necessarily the divide. Is the divide then some people think they are right and other people are wrong. I am just worried about that divide. I think that is the divide we cannot just get over. In other words, I have no problems with people meeting, who disagree fundamentally. You acknowledge that disagreement, share it, enjoy it, have it out, and then just move on. Okay. Even though we disagree we still have plenty to work together like peacemaking, justice, or living together constructively. There is a superb study which I really do recommend. Ashutosh Varshney study, social scientist out of Harvard. And it is a really interesting study, because the question was so sort of obvious really. He did a study of communal violence in India. Between Muslims and between.., well Hindus and non-Hindu groups. Not actually only Muslims. And he asked the question why the some cities are robbed and others do not, especially when those cities have the same percentage of different faith traditions. And the answer he gives is really important for the interfaith dialogue movement alone. The answer Ashutosh Varshney gives is this: ‘Those cities which were robbed are those which lack formal interfaith structures. In other words, too much can be made of ‘Oh, we all live together happily here. We shop together, you know, we get the milk from the store, or, you know, everything is fine.’ Those are informal connections. But we have seen they blow quite effortlessly and, you know, those informal networks are at work. What happens, he says, where you got strong Muslims, Hindus, and some sort of structure be it around business, be it around politics, be it around some sort of structure. And then, when there is the provocation they then are a vehicle which people connect and calm. And that was it. ‘Structured interfaith organizations’ is a major factor in preventing inter-communal violence in Indian cities. And I think that is actually something we need to take much more seriously. Local, contextual, worry less about theological differences and rather more about the immediate contacts and structures in those places.
Question: … a teaching, ‘one man’s idol could be another man’s deity and vice versa.’ We need to do even if we do not agree with it. We respect whatever that person’s representation is.
Ian Markham: Yes, I am all in favor of respect, full stop. Yes, respect is very important. Because... No, definitely. I mean, for me, I sort of see religious disagreements is allocates (38:25) all disagreements. I think we overstate the differences. You know, if you put a democrat and a republican together disagreeing about, I do not know, whatever, the Iraq war. There ought to be still a respect for each other’s arguments. Certainly respect for each other, peoples, human beings. You can share the disagreement, you can try to persuade each other. And then, if you are not going to persuade each other you can move on and talk about other things. And that is largely how I see, you know, disagreement and all sorts of things and this is how we operate. I mean, I am sort of a big fan of ‘let us not over state the natural religious differences and let us learn how to live with them more effectively.’
Moderator: I would like to comment just briefly on your report of the study in India. Because, I have had a number of conversations with Iraqis who grew up in Baghdad as children where they lived and played with Christians and Jews and people I have talked about Islamabad said the same thing. But, when there was a change in the political structure, you know, there was an interruption of hostility between the groups. But in those places they really lacked that formal interfaith structure, you are recommending, there was a void; there was not anything to hold it together once there was a shift in the political leadership. So, it is a really important lesson, in our own country as well. I mean post 9/11. My experience was in Massachusetts where we had a formal interfaith structure in a particular community prior to 9/11. So, when 9/11 occurred, we had an immediate method of responding and communicating with each other. So, I have learned that personally, but I want to sort of highlight that recommended formal interfaith structure as a way to maintain harmony in midst of diversity.
Ian Markham: Yes, I agree entirely.
Question: Theologically speaking, is there anything similar conversations about the nature of God among all these religions? If there is basic questions about the fundamental nature of God, you know, the same issues of predestination versus free will get addressed, if He is All-Loving monition , the evil problem. Have in Nursi’s dialogue is there anything that a Christian would find alien to their concept or understanding of the Nature of God aside from the Trinity, I mean aside from obviously we think there is three in one and that does not violate monotheism somehow. Could you sort of theologically address? Thanks.
Ian Markham: No, certainly. I mean, it is interesting, isn’t it? I mean the Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican fryer of the thirteenth century, of course get credits for probably thinking through with enormous depth the classical idea of God which of course is in the sum of theological, he explicitly explains his depth to both supremely Aristotle enormously grateful to Islamic world for preserving that part of the Aristotlian corpus on which he drew. But, also to Muslim theologians. I mean it is quite clear and to Jewish theologians. It is quite clear that Aquinas actually did learn from the conversations about Divine simplicity, for example, from a Muslim theologian, which he then used in his own understanding of God. And David Burrell in his excellent work documents this I think superbly well. And so therefore, that work of, okay, here we are puny little creatures in a massive universe made up a billions of planets and solar systems and galaxies. Trying to work out what the ultimate create is like. There is something very health about recognizing that work should be done, drawing on the arrange of conversation partners across the traditions and I think that is actually ‘sound orthodox Christian theology’ methodologically. I mean, Augustine of Hippo, what was his primary inspiration? It was Platonas and neo-Platonism. And Plato just reminds us all warning, exactly, you know, a God caring about ties Christian. So, we were all in the business of this and it was the tradition always has been. And one is carry on this, I think is fidelity to Christianity, you are not betraying the tradition when you think in all of these ways at all.
Nursi is very classical. He would, so, divine amiability immutability is there. Basically, I think what happened in the history of ideas when it comes to God, there are those which stress God’s distance from the creation, and Nursi is in that school of thought. And those which stress God’s closeness to creation, the immanence of God, the immanence, transcendence. And there are Muslim thinkers actually who talking very radical ways about immanence and creation. So, that conversation continues in traditions, across traditions, among theologians, and actually, you know those two differences are still very much there.
I tend to think the Trinity is an interesting one. I mean, Trinity is clearly a major issue in the Christian-Muslim dialogue. And that is a, I mean, but Christians often do not help here. Because we are not very good at explaining what the tradition claims about the Trinity. And, I think, we can actually be much more imaginative about that conversation. I mean, I think the most important Thomas Michel, the Jesuit theologian, I think has been helpful here, when he stresses ‘the dilemma of Christian space that is comparable to the one that is Muslim space.’ Both traditions said the eternal word must be eternal. Because God just does not arbitrarily starts speaking. So, for Muslims that is the Qur’an that is the eternal word, and must be eternal, pre-exist creation, as you heard of Said Nursi I quoted just a moment ago. Christians actually said the same thing, but we located the eternal word not in a text, but in a life. And, we then said the same thing: the eternal word must be eternal and pre-exist creation. And of course, the doctrine of the Trinity for Christians was the Christian way of safe God in monotheism. So, we wanted to make sure that the eternal word and the Creator wrapped together. So, we talk about is triune; the eternal word aspect of God, the creatorial aspect of God, and of course the third person of Trinity, that aspect of God that makes God present to us now, the Holy Spirit. Those three things, we did not want three bit of cloth hanging around, so the Trinity was ours, the Christian way to hang on to monotheism. Once you start talking these sort ways, ‘we face the same problem, this is how Christians solved it.’ I think that is a very healthy way to think through the relationship, to discuss the Trinity, and so on.
Comments from an auditor.
Ian Markham: What is good is that we are heading up to a place where I think people, you know the Hans Kung type of approach to interfaith dialogue which was much more global, or John Hick, the Englishman, who organized the pluralist hypothesis and so on. I think that approach is almost had its day. And, we are now much more searching for people who come out of a tradition and because of that fidelity to that tradition can give good reasons for going into the conversation. And, then once in the conversation, let the conversation go where God takes it. And that in one sense is much closer. Thomas Aquinas said horrible things about Muslims. Let us not set him up as a model. But, he managed to have his horrible things about Muslims, while at the same time reading them and taking them very seriously. Now, let us get back to respect. So, we will get rid of the horrible things Thomas Aquinas said about Muslims and focus much much more on, so let us have respect, but also have rootedness in place and then see where the conversation goes.
Said Nursi, DİVAN-I HARBİ ÖRFİ, Volume II, p. 1922.