“Being amicable toward people is half of faith, and being gentle and kind to them is half of life.” These are the words of one of the sacred figures of Islam in which Shahnaze Safieddine used to describe her experience at the fourth round of Wings of Unity: The Finality and Universality of Revelation in Islam and Christianity, a line of research Sophia is pursuing in collaboration with the Islamic Centre of England (London). The seminar marked the beginning of the six weeks she spent at Sophia. We asked her to tell us about it.
What did participating in the fourth round of Wings of Unity mean to you?
It gave me a renewed energy and a fresh perspective on human relationships. The talks from speakers of each faith generously allowed the other to enter his or her spiritual realm. The conference, of course, could not have taken place without the mutual friendship and respect between Piero Coda, the President of Sophia, and Mohammad Shomali, the Director of the Islamic Centre of England. To me, the vibrant discussions during the conference included the essential components of a rich dialogue: a balanced approach in clarifying theological points and spiritual experiences; talks and sharing sessions generating deep reflection; a profound sense of interest, with each member respectfully listening and eager to learn from the other, with a desire to understand and be understood; and an atmosphere that allowed for the speaking of truths resulting in fresh insights.
Dialogue is central in your research: what does it mean to you?
Let me present an example to you. Towards the end of my stay, I had the opportunity to present the study I am currently working on, Truthfulness as a Quality in Enhancing our Dialogue. I received feedback from some of the professors at Sophia, and each of those conversations broadened my perspectives. As someone who has been involved in interfaith dialogue off and on over the course of eight years, I’m humbled to share my experience amid respected elders and scholars who pave the way for the younger generation. The overall experience of dialogue has been not only about getting to know myself more, but also those within my own faith and those of other faiths. Learning to dialogue is a necessary life experience if we commit to seeking the truth and act on it. For those of us who think of dialogue as unnecessary—or, after the first experience or the first few experiences, think Now what?—I say we shouldn’t underestimate the gift of visiting one another for a cup of coffee, let alone of travelling across the world to listen to one another and have rich discussions, preventing any obstacles from dividing us, and always striving to maintain our relationships.
Can you sum up your experience in a few words?
My stay at Loppiano was revitalizing; I see it as a sign of God’s answer to our prayers of wanting to seek nearness to Him. I felt at peace and at home the moment I arrived as I set out to do my research, poring over the library books. During my conversations with both professors and students, I admired when my beliefs were beautifully articulated by them. This very much overlapped with my experience of meditating with my roommates. Our conversations involved sharing traditions on our journey to God, and witnessing the similarities unfold was heart-warming. Bringing God into everything we do is heartening, and allowing one another to do so is a freedom not to be taken for granted. I would like to express my sincere thanks to everyone who was a part of my experience.