The African has been described by some Mbiti and Parrinder as being: “Notoriously and Incurably Religious’! This has therefore been my motivation since my undergraduate days not just to ‘live up to expectation’ as an African but also to understand ‘the other’ as the Muslim Scripture, the Qur’an, the human explanation of that revealed text, the Sunnah, and the pragmatic rationale expect of me. Despite the ongoing turmoil in many parts of the African continent especially Nigeria and the Central African Republic [CAR] in Interreligious violence, people of various faith traditions still live in peace and harmony. You could still find one family, not merely the extended one, but even the nuclear family, where there are people of different faith persuasions. This is what all people of faith have to strive for and this is what JCM engenders.
To me, JCM has been instrumental in deepening my own faith and through my encounters with friends that I have made on the way during my journey. My elders say that: “If you want to see yourself clearly, your neighbour’s eyeballs should become your mirror”. That is what JCM has done for me. Through this journey, I have been blessed to be the Director of my own Alma Mater, the CSIC; have had the opportunity to travel around the world offering Lectures usually in the area of ‘Islam and Interfaith Relations/Dialogue’; been involved in many reputable Organisations like the: Interfaith Network [U.K.], World Congress of Faiths [WCF], The Middle East Peace Process [MEPI], and the Christian-Muslim Forum [U.K.]. The friends I have made on the way and the lessons I have learned through interactions with people of other faiths have been especially due to the JCM. These are invaluable experiences I have gained that could not be obtained from books or be purchased on the market.
Very often, people are sceptical of Interfaith Relations as to whether they are of any benefit at all to the participants except following the philosophy of: ‘Scratch my Back, and I scratch yours’. JCM is more than that. Yes, there is a lot of intellectual encounter but there is also a deepened learned experience that people carry with them home every year. Throughout my years at the CSIC, I can count quite a number of students whose lives have been transformed positively forever, through attendance at the JCM.
It is therefore crucial to point out that interfaith relations should not be merely an intellectual exercise. It should involve the existential, practical, pragmatic issues of day-to-day life of the faith communities, and here Muslims should as a matter of necessity participate. However, if and when the intellectual route is taken, it must be a dialogue of equal partners and not seasoned theologians against people who have only emotional attachment to their faith and can barely speak the language of the discussion.
The whole set up and the programmes of the JCM have invariably been designed and been tweaked over the years on these core ideas and that is one of the reasons why it has been sustained for forty odd years.
May the Good Lord Himself continue to guide the Team and the participants that they could go on to create mutual understanding and remove the dangerous mistrust, ignorance, and spiritual arrogance that many people of faith have of ‘the other’. Amen