It is truly a HUGE pleasure for me to present you today with the first part of an interview I did with the Islamic scholar Sheikh Imran Hosein. It is a pleasure because Sheikh Imran has agreed to reply to my questions in a video rather than a text, and I think that seeing him speak is a much more powerful experience than just reading his replies in a text. Second, I believe that the importance of various issues addressed in our exchange cannot be overstated.
But I also feel pretty bad. Here is why:
Because of my strong belief that prejudices must be tackled frontally rather than buried deep under the pretext of courtesy, I chose to formulate certain questions in an openly hostile and challenging way. It had to be done so in order to avoid the accusation that I was giving the Sheikh only easy questions. Still, I want to share with you what I wrote to the Sheikh to explain my tone and questions:
Salam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu, ya Sheikh,
Before I begin my letter of questions to you, I would like to express to you my deepest gratitude for all the efforts you have made towards making an alliance between Orthodox Christians – Romans – and Muslims a reality. I understand that you have accepted to reply to my questions in the context of this unceasing labor of yours and I thank you for the opportunity to ask you a number of important questions. I also have to ask you to please forgive me the nature of some of the questions I will be asking you, as I will be asking them not only in my personal name, but also in the name of many others who might not share my views of history or who might disagree with my opinions. And, just as in the Muslim world there are those who are suspicious of Christians in general, and Orthodox Christians in particular (especially Russian ones), it will not be a surprise to you that there are many Orthodox Christians who, for political and historical reasons, view Islam with a great deal of suspicion. Rather then bury these facts, I think that you will agree with me for the need to bring them up, shine and strong light on them and publicly deal with them. Thus, some of my questions will sound accusatory and judgmental, for which I ask you forgiveness in advance.
Now here are my questions for you. Again, please forgive me if they are offensive and “loaded” (I am very much aware of the fact that they are), and I assure you that I submit them with the sole intention of “clearing the air” once and for all.
I would like to add the following here: in his patient, kind and direct replies Sheikh Imran has set a new standard as to who real, meaningful, inter-religious dialog ought to be conducted. Instead of the vapid “Ecumenical dialog of love” and the minimalist theological quest for the smallest common denominator in the respective theologies of Islam and Christianity, I feel that my dialog with Sheikh Imran will serve to “clear the air” between our two traditions.
I just hope that Orthodox Christians will be able to reciprocate in kind and address the numerous reservations Muslims have about Orthodox Christianity, especially Russian Orthodoxy. The Russian journalist Maksim Shevchenko has done a lot in this regard, but I am still waiting for an Orthodox bishop to candidly address the concerns and doubts of Muslims.
Though I do not yet know yet what Sheikh Imran will reply to this, I want to warn everybody that one of my questions (the 7th one) will try to address this issue. Here it is: “Having submitted the questions above to you, I now feel that I need to ask you: what are the main historical grievances of Muslims towards Orthodox Christians or the main events in Russian history when Muslims have felt that Orthodox Christians or Orthodox rulers have wronged Muslims, persecuted Islam or otherwise acted sinfully against our Muslim neighbors? In other words, what are the main reasons for the Muslim distrust of Orthodox Christians?“
Again, the very least we, Orthodox Christians, can do having had the opportunity to voice our doubts and fears and having received a reply from a Muslim scholar, is to listen to our Muslim neighbors and address their doubts and fears with the same level of honesty.
I felt that I had to clarify all of the above before posting the first part of this interview.
One more thing: I need volunteers to make a transcript of this and the subsequent videos and I need volunteers to translate and subtitle these videos in as many languages as possible. If you can help, please email me at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.