DIALOGUE IN FREEDOM AND ETHICS
NELSON Mandela, elected our country’s first democratic president 27 years ago this week, once said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
According to Madiba then, Freedom Day in South Africa was probably the most apt day to launch a platform for theological dialogue and practical ethics.
As South Africans were ending their public holiday, a group of people gathered in the Ahlul Bait Mosque Complex, in Cape Town, to deepen inter-religious dialogue and ensure that faith communities too contribute to the moral regeneration of our country.
The launch of the platform was a fruit of the meeting between Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani and Pope Francis in Najaf, Iraq, at the beginning of March. A meeting whose message was one of ethical living and freedom.
It was in this spirit that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cape Town, Stephen Brislin, and the resident imam at Ahlul Bait Mosque, Moulana Syed Aftab Haider, decided to invite leaders of other denominations and faiths to join in the launch of this platform.
For Archbishop Brislin, the celebration of the meeting between Ayatollah al-Sistani and Pope Francis “should prompt us to express a similar humility through regular and mutual encounters on a local level”. A humility witnessed through the meeting in Najaf. Archbishop Brislin recalled the words of Pope Paul VI that if we want peace, we must work for justice.
Resident imam at the Claremont Main Road Mosque, Dr Rashied Omar, explained the four levels of inter-religious dialogue and suggested special attention be paid to the dialogues of theology and religious experience.
The Reverend Mark Long, archdeacon of Rondebosch and representative of the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, who is also the co-patron of the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum, reflected on the document, Human Fraternity, and pointed out the document’s “focus on the safeguarding of creation, of the entire universe, of all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need, and its emphasis on seeking to attend to the issues of our times, the consequences of the arms race, social injustice, corruption, inequality and moral decline”.
The chairperson of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, Reverend Berry Behr, suggested that “dialogue is something that is akin to the vaccination that we need right now against the pandemics of prejudice, separation, hatred, lack of inclusion”; whereas academic Professor Aslam Fataar reaffirmed that through initiatives such as these “we signal our willingness to imbibe the lessons from the deep reservoirs of our cultural systems, we are committed to experiencing each other’s histories, cultural inheritances, which open us up to cross-pollinating and influencing each other’s cultural repertoires and each other’s humanity”.
Islamic scholar at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, the Reverend Christopher Clohessy, said the document Human Fraternity suggests “dialogue as the path, co-operation as our code of conduct, reciprocal understanding as the method we use and as the standard of our behaviour”.
Moulana Aftab Haider went on to insist that the role of faith, which is often sidelined or ignored, is important and that challenges of our times in our society are often as a result of ignoring or undermining this important factor.
A number of other religious leaders were also present, including Dr Lionel Louw from the South African Council of Churches in the Western Cape and Reverend Peter-John Pearson, the director of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office for the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference.
The gathering ended with the sunset prayers and breaking of the fast during this the holy month of Ramadaan.
The initiative of launching a platform for theological dialogue and practical ethics comes at a critical time in the history of our country.
When questions of ethics and morality dominate our public discourse, such an initiative will give life to the words of Madiba that freedom is ultimately about the welfare of the other.