Building Respect and Seeking Truth
Building Respect and Seeking Truth
We are often asked: what is the goal of Muslim-Christian studies? What are you aiming for? It is hardly surprising given our name and work! Our answer? Well, depending on how long we have to respond, we will sometimes point to the Centre’s tagline: ‘Building respect and seeking truth’. It was written purposefully to be open-ended, to demand a degree of reflection and yet still clearly set an agenda for our work. In all our activies we aim to advance these two principles: building respect (developing strong friendships between Muslims and Christians) and seeking truth (academic rigour and integrity in research). In this blog we explain its meaning a bit more.
GLOBAL AND LOCAL: ‘GLOCAL’
The Muslim-Christian interface will always be beset with vexing questions. At the macro level, questions of beliefs, of human rights, of the relationship between religion and law and politics and so on. At the micro level, questions of how we develop positive relationships at the school gate, at the park, on the local council, of co-existing in a culturally diverse society. Yet, the macro and micro are always complexy related in challenges such as education, poverty, youth culture, and relationships between men and women. As Dr. Philip Lewis, a good friend of the Centre, has rightly concluded, “We can no longer immunize the local from the regional, the national, and the transnational”. How then do we confront such challenges in fruitful and honest ways?
One can respect someone without having to agree with everything they think. It is very unhelpful to discourage questions or appropriate critique because it does not make good press.
BUILDING RESPECT AND SEEKING TRUTH
Building respect and seeking truth offers the necessary framework for the kinds of difficult conversations and challenges that confront us, today. Respect and truth must go together. Too often one of these – respect or truth – becomes the only goal. A group may wish to present its views to others, perhaps with the aim of conversion but will give very little thought to issues of how we live together. Alternatively, others can be nervous of discussing or presenting truth claims or distinctive aspects of their faith because of endangering relationships or violating protocol.
One can respect someone without having to agree with everything they think. It is very unhelpful to discourage questions or appropriate critique because it does not make good press. In a healthy marriage or working relationship differences are aired and talked over so as to reach, if not a consensus, then at least a way of living-well together. Respect fostered in and through friendship provides the basis for a truthful exchange, and truth means that those relationships are based on honesty, integrity and authenticity.
Importantly, seeking truth is not about achieving a particular outcome. Ibn Khaldūn (d.808/ 1406), the great Muslim thinker, states on the first page of his Muqaddima, (‘The Introduction’) that, “the inner meaning of history… involves… an attempt to get at the truth”. He adds regretfully regarding his contemporaries, “Little effort is being made to get at the truth”. Our work can and will help ‘social cohesion’ – to use the government’s choice buzz phrase – and diffuse growing ethno-religious tensions in many communities, but that is not our final goal. As a study centre we are not trying to ensure that our students come away with a pre-determined set of perceptions. Instead we seek to uncover truth, insofar as is possible, learning to understand the position of those with whom you disagree, even if you do not adopt it. So teaching or studying the history of Muslim-Christian interactions in order to prove a predetermined point is not really education. One can hope for certain outcomes, but this is different from engineering them.
While we oppose engineering pre-determined outcomes, there are obligations in education. Students should be obliged to make the effort to understand a tradition they do not share. They should be obliged to read unfamiliar texts, face unpalatable truths about their own or other traditions, and be taught to identify the leading ideas and influences in their own traditions. Though true education cannot dictate the outcomes, this is not an abdication of responsibility, an aloofness from real-life problems. In fact, educating people of different traditions together ought to increase the fruitfulness of reconciliation events aiming to resolve specific conflicts; it ought to impact the thinking of leaders and policymakers at all levels.
We understand this model of building respect and seeking truth through studying together as being the foundation for effectively and sustainably confronting the challenges of our inter-connected, complex and diverse world.
CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION
This is really just the beginning of what could be said about what we do and what we hope to achieve. You could always continue the conversation with us by popping in for tea or coffee during weekday mornings at 10.45! Of course you can also just leave us a comment, here…
 Philip Lewis, ‘For the Peace of the City: Bradford – a Case Study in Developing Inter-Community and Inter-Religious Relations’ in World Christianity in Muslim Encounter: essays in memory of David A. Kerr, vol. 2, ed. Stephen Goodwin (London: Continuum, 2009), p. 282.
 Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddima, ed. Quatremère, 3 vols., (Paris, 1858), I: 2-3; tr. F. Rosenthal, ‘The Muqaddimah’ 3 vols., (London, 1958), I: 6-7.