By Cormac Quinn
In the Quad last Tuesday, students and faculty went to a seemingly impossible talk: reconciling each religions’ claims to the same God.
Professor Ifran Omar of Marquette University was the fourth in a five-part series on “The Oneness of God and the Diversity of Religions,” hosted by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning. The previous speakers have been from Hindu, Sikh and Christian backgrounds, while the final talk, on Oct. 24th, will come from the Jewish perspective. Each speaker explains their faith’s perspective on the interconnectedness between religions, drawing upon both history and the similarities of their dogmas. John Merkle, the director of the Jay Phillips Center, was inspired to host these interfaith dialogues after reading an expert from Herschel titled, “No Religion is an Island.”
Students and faculty in the crowd were buzzing with curiosity.
“I hope the community comes together to hear a different perspective,” CSB junior and employee of the Jay Phillips Center Danica Simonet said.
“I wanted to hear a Muslim perspective on the diversity of religions,” Vice President of Student Development at St. John’s Fr. Doug Mullin said.
Junior Will Johnson also agrees with about the value of the event.
“These events are an important part of a liberal arts education,” Johnson said.
Omar is an affiliate faculty member at the Center for South Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His focus is on Islamic theology and its connections with other religions. Omar began by defining what interfaith dialogue, and presented it as an essential part of practicing any religion.
“Interfaith dialogue is not about creating a new religion, or trying to get someone else to change their religion. The only intention you should have is to listen, and learn,” Omar said. “Without the other, there’s no understanding of the self. And, in essence, the primary purpose of religion is to seek the truth.”
Omar sees themes between Christianity, Judaism and Islam and their interrelated history. They share a monotheistic tradition originating from the same region of the world, and they share some of the same characters. More importantly to Omar is their shared moral understanding that leads them to establish similar ethical precepts. He thinks the same ideas have been interpreted differently, and only through a dialogue can each side hope to gain the whole perspective.
“There’s a distinction between what’s historically perceived, and what the Quran actually says,” Omar said.
After ending the question and answer segment due to time constraints, the audience slowly meandered out, discussing their findings with one another.
“I learned exact verses of the Quran to counter arguments that generalize Islam as violent,” Simonet said.
“I now know the Quran is more open to diverse religious expression than is interpreted,” Mullin said.