I am an International student from Colombia majoring in Religion and International Relations at Calvin University. This summer I have the opportunity of participating in interfaith Scriptural Reasoning online. This is a joint effort between professor Frans Van Liere from my university and Jeffrey Bos from the Al Amana Centre. This is an entirely new experience for me since I had never been familiarized with this method of interfaith dialogue.
In the second and third sessions, we analyzed passages in the Quran and the New Testament on peacemaking and reconciliation with one’s neighbors. Approaching these topics and listening to what my Muslim classmates had to say about them opened my eyes to a characteristic of Islam that I had not considered before. This was the specific fellowship and hospitality that Islam requires from Muslims. From previous experiences, I had become increasingly aware of the commitment and indivisible loyalty that Allah asks from Muslims, and always felt great respect and admiration towards them because of this. Nevertheless, I fell short in acknowledging their hospitality and welcoming mentality, especially as is seen in their relationship with neighbors from other religions. It was eye opening to hear my classmates’ interpretations of the Quranic passages and see how they all agreed on the fact that Muslims are expected to live in peace with people from other religions. This welcoming mentality has challenged me as well, as I have become increasingly aware of how the New Testament also requires Christians to be hospitable and welcoming to their neighbors. In a sense, scriptural reasoning has led me to explore important aspects of my faith that I had not fully explored before. This example sums up my experience in the scriptural reasoning class. It has become an ideal space to grow in my faith while also creating fraternal connections with other people from different religious and cultural backgrounds from around the world.
Because of this, I would describe my experience of Scriptural Reasoning as a process that enables students to explore various faith-related topics in light of our Muslim and Christian religious traditions. It enables students to engage with fundamental issues that relate to their own personal faith in a way that is not commonly practiced. In Scriptural reasoning, we read different passages from the Quran and the New Testament. Then we wrestle with them as we interpret their meaning and significance with the support of a diverse community of participants.
Along with all the exploration that takes place during Scriptural Reasoning, I have experienced some challenges. The first was being able to comprehend the passages from the Quran that we read. This was challenging for me since I had never read the Quran before this class. The cadence of each passage and the way in which it conveys its meaning, reflects a religious and cultural tradition that is very different to what I am accustomed. Because of this, it usually takes a few questions for me to be able to gain a basic understanding of what the passage is saying.
Comparing New Testament passages to the Quranic passages has also been challenging for me at times. This is due to how the passages convey different cultural values and worldviews despite talking about similar topics. It is challenging to find similarities between both texts. Nevertheless, listening to the comments from my classmates is very helpful for me to overcome this challenge. My Muslim mates always do a great job of explaining the core idea of the passages. They also ask great questions about the New Testament passages. Listening to their opinions and inquiries about the Biblical passages enables me to see both the similarities and differences. This online Scriptural Reason group is blessed with people from all over the world. The participants come from the USA, the UK, the UAE, Bangladesh, Oman, Nigeria, and Columbia. The diverse community, with its different religious and cultural upbringings, is enriching my learning experience as I hear a large variety of ideas and faith perspectives. The greatest benefit that comes out of this experience is the safe space it provides for me to move out of my comfort zone and learn from ideas and beliefs that are culturally and religiously different from my own. I see the beauty and value of other people’s perspectives. Moving out of my comfort zone enables me to examine my own beliefs as I share them with others who do not come from my socio-cultural context and do not share my assumptions about God and the world.
My take away from this class so far has been experiencing the diverse learning community that it has created. It is a privilege to be able to listen to opinions and beliefs of people who come from different religious and cultural backgrounds. Sharing a time of discussion with them on a weekly basis has pushed me to exercise my listening skills and the ways I show respect to people that are different from me. I see the beauty and value of other people’s experiences as we create a community that is strengthen by our differences, and that pushes each one of us to value both the beliefs that make us similar and those that make us different from each other.
Written by Jose Suárez, volunteer at Al Amana Centre and student at Calvin University