Jesuits in two Jesuit Conferences have agreed to collaborate on a research project to promote better understanding and dialogue among Muslims and Christians in Asia. The 10 Jesuits from the Conferences of Asia Pacific and South Asia came to this decision during the meeting of the Jesuits among Muslims in Asia (JAMIA) held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from December 26 to 30, 2016.

The decision was a response to the sharing of Fr George Pattery SJ, President of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia (JCSA) on General Congregation 36 and the reminder that they participate in the mission of God, the missio Dei, not their own mission. 

“Fr Pattery invited us to practise discernment, collaboration and dialogue, and as the meeting progressed, we acknowledged that Islam in Asia has so much to contribute in Christian-Muslim relations and that we could contribute with a research project, said Fr Heru Prakosa, JCAP Coordinator for Dialogue with Islam. “We were inspired by the sharing of Jesuits and collaborators in their ministries in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.”

Fr Juan Carlos Pallardel SJ shared that in Pakistan, there is no persecution, but there is a lot of discrimination. This was confirmed by the sharing of some Pakistani refugee brothers and sisters in Malaysia. People are threatened with the blasphemy law and high-level interreligious meetings hardly reach the people on the ground. In spite of the limited number of Jesuits, the Church in Pakistan continues to be a community of hope as shown by the example of Fr Joseph Kalathil’s work in the Indian-Pakistan Peace Forum.

Fr Probash Rozario SJ shared that in Bangladesh, good relations between the Church hierarchy and the government exist. Theological discussions are being held and the national media is very open, telecasting Christian celebrations such as Easter and Christmas. Fr Victor Edwin SJ and Scholastic Midhun Joseph said that making interreligious ministry is highly probable in India, certain Jesuit predecessors have opened ways to enter into Christian-Muslim relations.

There is Christian intolerance among some Indonesians prompted by the case of Jakarta’s Christian Chinese governor who has been accused of blaspheming the Qur’an. Fr Greg Soetomo SJ and Fr Didik Chahyono shared that many say that beneath the issue is a powerful resentment toward the Chinese and Christians. However at the grassroots level, good relations between Christians and Muslims prevail as shown from the immersion experience in various Muslim communities in Indonesia.

Living in a pluralistic society can be very challenging. Some Muslims, although they are the majority, still live with a minority mentality, and some Christians still feel threatened by Islam. This was highlighted by the sharing of Fr Lawrence Andrew SJ, Editor of the Herald in Malaysia; Methodist priest Dr Herman Shantri, Catholic expert on Islam in Malaysia Dr Patricia Martinez, Comparative Religion expert Ustadz Shah Kirit bin Kalkulal Govindji and Mrs Serina of the group “Sisters in Islam”.

The research will be carried out in two phases. In 2017, they will collect narratives from various communities and 2018 will be dedicated to analysis and reflection.  The results will be shared and discussed at the next JAMIA meeting to be held in Bangladesh in 2018. They hope to publish the findings in a book in 2019, in time for the Asian Journey meeting.

The group also discussed how to encourage young scholastics from both Jesuit Conferences to participate in inter-Conference training, such as a summer course in Pakistan, the Asia Pacific Theological Encounter Programme (APTEP) in Indonesia and a summer program on Christian-Muslim encounter in India. They are also considering offering Christian-Muslim relations as an option for the Regency stage of Jesuit formation.

This post was originally published in the Jesuit Asia Pacific Conference website here.