Four days ago I posted a lengthy question which I intended to present to the local Muslim Students Association at the question period following the conclusion of their special lecture entitled “Muslim Contribution to World Civilization”. However, I abandoned the idea after listening to the lecture and being struck by a mixture of feelings, one of which was a sense of pity for these “lost” Muslims, all of whom appeared to be quite sincere and serious about their faith. Who was I to try to bust their party with a big question that might have appeared to them to be a well-planned attack?
Furthermore, the address given was more of an informal pep talk for Muslims than it was a scholarly work on the subject advertised “Muslim Contribution to World Civilization.” In regard to Muslim “contributions” it was pathetic, as I previously noted, and by that I mean that it was not only distressingly inadequate but it also generated a good deal of sympathy for those souls who listened intently but were in the dark.
A few days later, I dropped off the following message in a sealed envelope to the Muslim Student Association office at MUN. I hope as you read it my new approach will make sense to you.
February 6, 2013
Imam Sheharyar Shaikh
President, Muslim Students' Association of MUN
Greetings to all!
And thanks for the informative public lecture entitled “Muslim Contribution to World Civilization” held on Thursday past, January 31, at SN-2109 at MUN. I was in attendance at that event and was impressed by the sincerity and interest of those present.
Allow me to introduce myself. I am a native Newfoundlander and an observant, joyful Catholic. I graduated from MUN quite a long time ago with science and education degrees and after teaching for about five years I subsequently entered the business field and later went into ministry as a Protestant Christian pastor. About ten years ago I resigned as a pastor and shortly thereafter was received into the Catholic Church. I am now ## years old and live in the greater St. John’s area.
At the conclusion of the public lecture of last Thursday, during the brief question time, I felt very strongly that I would like to propose some questions and also make some comments. Unfortunately, my mind was swirling with too many thoughts and not enough focus so I hesitated to say anything. However, since the event I have become quite enthused about making a good will gesture—perhaps it may even be a service— by offering to address your group with a series of observations and comments.
You will no doubt be curious as to what I might be planning to share and, indeed, you are entitled to more details. Let me say first and foremost that my intention in no way is to disrespect your faith or to provoke a controversy. Also, rest assured that I would not endeavour to make a theological argument against Islam, although a future debate on Christianity versus Islam might attract a good number of interested parties from diverse backgrounds and persuasions!
On the contrary I would very much like to address your group in good faith and try to share with you what I believe are the crucial questions and issues facing Muslims living in Canada and the West. Your Imam alluded in his address to some challenges and difficulties experienced by all Canadian Muslims and I believe I can expand significantly on that subject. Knowledge and understanding are both key to overcoming such difficulties and it is my opinion that my background and experience can provide important perspective to that end. In any such cross cultural exchange a few hard questions may also need to be raised.
There are areas of common agreement that would also warrant a mention. It would be very advantageous to examine these shared values and it may help to close some distance.
Bear in mind that I am speaking from the perspective of a convinced Christian and I do not pretend to be an expert on Islam. I have studied Islam on an introductory level in the past, due mainly to my training and preparation for Christian ministry. However, I am a keen observer of cultural events, news, and politics and I do take note of the current dynamics of Muslim integration into our Canadian society. In addition, I believe local Muslims would benefit from an explanation of what has shaped my attitudes towards Islam for the past fifty or more years because these are shared overtly or covertly by the majority of my fellow Canadians.
A further safeguard respecting my address—for your peace of mind and if you insisted—would be a stipulation that I should be ready to terminate my talk at any time should it in any way be deemed by MSA leadership to be offensive or disingenuous. I would be agreeable to such a clause. Questions from the audience would of course be left until last. Attendees would be requested to be civil and courteous and to refrain from interruptions. In fairness I believe a time frame of at least 10 minutes would be essential but a full presentation of my thoughts would be more helpful and consequential and would be best suited to a 30-45 minute session, quite possibly prepared in PowerPoint format.
Please give serious consideration to my offer. I believe it will be a very refreshing and productive encounter. To discuss this matter further, feel free to contact me at your convenience.
Contact info was provided.
On February 25 I received a reply from the MSA president, thanking me for attending the public lecture and indicating appreciation for my comments/feedback. The President noted that he had sent a copy of my letter to Imam Sheharyar who resided in Toronto and that I could contact him if I wished through the North American Muslim Foundation (NAMF) at www.namf.ca. MSA was hoping to invite him back again in the near future and he hoped we might have a discussion at that time.
As of today, I have heard no further word from anyone connected with the MSA group or the Imam although I would certainly like to have the opportunity to make that presentation to them, hoping to win over some hearts and minds.
The question that dogs me is: Do Muslims want to engage in a rational discussion of Islam, or do they simply want to charge forward with blinders full on?