Christians and Muslims meet for religious dialogue in Iran

By staff writers
September 21, 2006

Christians and Muslims meet for religious dialogue in Iran

-21/09/06

Three American Mennonite scholars participated as guests and contributors at a recent (-7 September 2006) conference on Muslim doctrine organized and hosted by the Bright Future Institute, of Qom, Iran, reports Mennonite World Conference.

Their participation continued a series of exchanges between Mennonites and Iranian religious leaders that stretches back for most of a decade.

These contacts, facilitated largely by Mennonite Central Committee (the peace and social service agency), have included studies by Iranian scholars in Canada, Mennonite scholars resident in Iran and several theological dialogues and conferences.

The gathering drew more than 100 international participants and an estimated 4,000 Iranians. Leading Ayatollahs and Iranian President Ahmadinejad were key speakers at the conference.

Mennonite scholars at this latest event were David W. Shenk, global consultant with Eastern Mennonite Missions, Salunga, Pennsylvania, Thomas N. Finger, independent scholar at Reba Place Church, Evanston, Illinois, and N. Gerald Shenk, professor of church and society at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

According to Shiía Islam's ìMahdism Doctrineî(or the ìscience of messianismî), the theme of this conference, the figure of the Mahdi is identified as the Twelfth Imam in succession after the Prophet Muhammad and is understood as being hidden but not dead for the past eleven centuries. He is expected to return to establish justice and restore righteousness on earth.

Although not all Muslims, especially in majority Sunni branches, share this identification and hope, the doctrine is gaining substantial attention in Iran today. Allusions to Christian teaching are frequent, and in some versions the return of Jesus Christ and the expected Mahdi figure are linked. A display in the conference lobby prominently looped a video proclaiming: ìDo you knowóJesus Christ is coming soon? And the Mahdi comes right after that!î

In his presentation on ìMessianic hope in biblical eschatology,î David Shenk drew on his long acquaintance with Islam in Africa and around the world. He referred to Iranian President Ahmadinejadís recent letter to US President Bush (8 May, 2006) which named this hope: ìWill we be given a role to play in the promised world where justice will become universal and Jesus Christ (PBUH) [peace be upon him, traditional expression of respect] will be present?î

Tom Finger outlined the characteristics of human society that is marked by Godís reign, expressed in the life of the early followers of Jesus, as non-violence, equality and economic sharing. David Shenk further stated that for Christians Jesus the Messiah is the fullness of the presence of the kingdom of God. The papers helped to illuminate the nature of Godís reign as revealed in a Messiah who exhibited suffering love and forgiveness.

Gerald Shenkís paper discussed the rise of messianic movements in America during the past two centuries - including dispensationalist theology, which accounts for support for the nation of Israel both before and after 1948 by many Christians.

Professor Muhammad Legenhausen of the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Qom said that previous conferences over sixteen years have involved primarily Muslims speaking to Muslims. ìTo have a Christian voice present without being antagonistic is tremendous!î he said.

The American scholars had many opportunities to worship with local Christian groups who were encouraged to see foreign Christians participating in the Mahdism conference. Despite heightened international tensions, courtesy was extended across historic religious divides and the witness of the Christian scholars was welcomed in the framework of new thinking about Islamic hopes and expectations. Their inclusion at the conference elicited numerous interviews for Tehranís television and newspapers.

The Mennonite delegates were also hosted for a day of interactions with scholars at the Khomeini Institute in Qom.

At the conclusion of the conference, the 260 papers presented there, published in Farsi in three volumes, were made available.

Mennonites, along with the Quakers and the Church of the Brethren in Christ, are one of the 'historic peace churches', which see the rejection of violence as a central feature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Mennonite World Conference is a communion (Koinonia) of Anabaptist-related churches linked to one another in a worldwide community of faith for mutual friendship, worship, service, and witness.

[Also on Ekklesia: Mennonites respond to sexual abuse challenge 21/09/06; Mennonite peacebuilding expert receives international award 19/09/06; Mennonites highlight three new anti-HIV strategies 23/08/06; Mennonites join effort to rebuild in Lebanon 17/08/06; Mennonite-backed film helps lift silence on depression 15/08/06; Mennonites see hope amid Congo struggle for democracy 10/08/06; Mennonites respond to massive Lebanese humanitarian needs 09/08/06; Mennonites call on USA and Canada to pursue non-violent alternatives 27/07/06; Mennonites issue action alert on Middle East crisis 24/07/06; Mennonites back trauma counselling in Gaza 20/07/06; Mennonites diversify peace and justice work in Washington DC; Who Are the Anabaptists: Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites by Donald B Kraybill Peace church seeks positive alternatives to military recruitment; Mennonite educationists touch global vision in Egypt; Vietnamese Mennonite church faces violent security raid; Ethiopian Mennonite leader delves into politics; European Mennonite theologians tackle violence and God]

Christians and Muslims meet for religious dialogue in Iran

-21/09/06

Three American Mennonite scholars participated as guests and contributors at a recent (-7 September 2006) conference on Muslim doctrine organized and hosted by the Bright Future Institute, of Qom, Iran, reports Mennonite World Conference.

Their participation continued a series of exchanges between Mennonites and Iranian religious leaders that stretches back for most of a decade.

These contacts, facilitated largely by Mennonite Central Committee (the peace and social service agency), have included studies by Iranian scholars in Canada, Mennonite scholars resident in Iran and several theological dialogues and conferences.

The gathering drew more than 100 international participants and an estimated 4,000 Iranians. Leading Ayatollahs and Iranian President Ahmadinejad were key speakers at the conference.

Mennonite scholars at this latest event were David W. Shenk, global consultant with Eastern Mennonite Missions, Salunga, Pennsylvania, Thomas N. Finger, independent scholar at Reba Place Church, Evanston, Illinois, and N. Gerald Shenk, professor of church and society at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

According to Shiía Islam's ìMahdism Doctrineî(or the ìscience of messianismî), the theme of this conference, the figure of the Mahdi is identified as the Twelfth Imam in succession after the Prophet Muhammad and is understood as being hidden but not dead for the past eleven centuries. He is expected to return to establish justice and restore righteousness on earth.

Although not all Muslims, especially in majority Sunni branches, share this identification and hope, the doctrine is gaining substantial attention in Iran today. Allusions to Christian teaching are frequent, and in some versions the return of Jesus Christ and the expected Mahdi figure are linked. A display in the conference lobby prominently looped a video proclaiming: ìDo you knowóJesus Christ is coming soon? And the Mahdi comes right after that!î

In his presentation on ìMessianic hope in biblical eschatology,î David Shenk drew on his long acquaintance with Islam in Africa and around the world. He referred to Iranian President Ahmadinejadís recent letter to US President Bush (8 May, 2006) which named this hope: ìWill we be given a role to play in the promised world where justice will become universal and Jesus Christ (PBUH) [peace be upon him, traditional expression of respect] will be present?î

Tom Finger outlined the characteristics of human society that is marked by Godís reign, expressed in the life of the early followers of Jesus, as non-violence, equality and economic sharing. David Shenk further stated that for Christians Jesus the Messiah is the fullness of the presence of the kingdom of God. The papers helped to illuminate the nature of Godís reign as revealed in a Messiah who exhibited suffering love and forgiveness.

Gerald Shenkís paper discussed the rise of messianic movements in America during the past two centuries - including dispensationalist theology, which accounts for support for the nation of Israel both before and after 1948 by many Christians.

Professor Muhammad Legenhausen of the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Qom said that previous conferences over sixteen years have involved primarily Muslims speaking to Muslims. ìTo have a Christian voice present without being antagonistic is tremendous!î he said.

The American scholars had many opportunities to worship with local Christian groups who were encouraged to see foreign Christians participating in the Mahdism conference. Despite heightened international tensions, courtesy was extended across historic religious divides and the witness of the Christian scholars was welcomed in the framework of new thinking about Islamic hopes and expectations. Their inclusion at the conference elicited numerous interviews for Tehranís television and newspapers.

The Mennonite delegates were also hosted for a day of interactions with scholars at the Khomeini Institute in Qom.

At the conclusion of the conference, the 260 papers presented there, published in Farsi in three volumes, were made available.

Mennonites, along with the Quakers and the Church of the Brethren in Christ, are one of the 'historic peace churches', which see the rejection of violence as a central feature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Mennonite World Conference is a communion (Koinonia) of Anabaptist-related churches linked to one another in a worldwide community of faith for mutual friendship, worship, service, and witness.

[Also on Ekklesia: Mennonites respond to sexual abuse challenge 21/09/06; Mennonite peacebuilding expert receives international award 19/09/06; Mennonites highlight three new anti-HIV strategies 23/08/06; Mennonites join effort to rebuild in Lebanon 17/08/06; Mennonite-backed film helps lift silence on depression 15/08/06; Mennonites see hope amid Congo struggle for democracy 10/08/06; Mennonites respond to massive Lebanese humanitarian needs 09/08/06; Mennonites call on USA and Canada to pursue non-violent alternatives 27/07/06; Mennonites issue action alert on Middle East crisis 24/07/06; Mennonites back trauma counselling in Gaza 20/07/06; Mennonites diversify peace and justice work in Washington DC; Who Are the Anabaptists: Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites by Donald B Kraybill Peace church seeks positive alternatives to military recruitment; Mennonite educationists touch global vision in Egypt; Vietnamese Mennonite church faces violent security raid; Ethiopian Mennonite leader delves into politics; European Mennonite theologians tackle violence and God]

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