The Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization organized a conference on “The principles of dialogue according to Medieval Christian Arab Texts on Islam”, given by Associate Professor Bishara Ebeid of the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.
Religion has and continues to play an important role in the constitution of human identity and, therefore, can significantly influence both the shaping of intercultural relations and their forward development. Dialogue between people of different faiths who nevertheless share the same fundamental ethical values constitutes the point of departure in the search for a lasting peace and sustainable development. In his address, Professor Bishara presented the underlying principles on which such dialogue must be based upon. His considerations are predicated on the ways in which Arab Christians interacted with their Muslim counterparts in the Middle Ages, and – then, as now – necessitate freedom of expression, a working knowledge about the Other’s faith and the selection of appropriate dialogue partners.
Christian Arab theologians such as Theodore Abu Qurrah and Ibrahim of Tiberias, in overcoming the linguistic barrier, managed to engage in a meaningful dialogue with their Muslim counterparts and arrive at an understanding predicated on their own sources of religious authority. In such dialogue, the acceptance of Scripture, of the Bible and of the Quran as incontrovertible sources of evidence led at least to the recognition of an indirect intervention of Divinity, if not also to the recognition of the divine origin of revelation. For this reason, Professor Ebeid Bishara is of a mind that such dialogue must never have proselytism, conviction and conversion as its ultimate goals, but merely aim towards a more thorough understanding of the Other. Professor Bishara even shared an example of his own experience, a lecture before a Muslim audience where he drew parallels between the Christian vision of Man created in the likeness of God and the Muslim concept of “khalifa” (a descendant or successor authority of God on Earth), as it is presented in the Second Sura, Verse 30 of the Quran. The conclusion reached by Professor Bishara is at once surprising and unexpected, in that there seems to exist a shared heritage of divine revelation.
Christians, Muslims and Jews share a common belief in the same God, in the same line of Prophets, and the same Commandments. Our dialogue should therefore be predicated along these primary axes. The specific details of our respective adoration of God, although important and an intrinsic part of our religious identity, should not constitute a barrier for the shared message intrinsic to all three Abrahamic religions: peace.
Ebeid Bishara was born in I’bilin, Galilee. In 2009, he graduated from the Faculty of Orthodox Theology of the “Aristotle” University of Thessaloniki. Specializing in patristic, Byzantine, Coptic, Syriac and Christian Arab theology, he qualified for a Masters certificate in 2012 from the Oriental Pontifical Institute in Rome, where he also successfully defended his PhD thesis on “The Christology of Christian Arabs” in 2014. In 2019, he was awarded his second PhD title from the “Aristotle” University of Thessaloniki for a dissertation on “The figure of Pontius Pilate in the New Testament and apocryphal literature”. Since February 2019, he has been a researcher and associate professor at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. He is also an invited professor at the Oriental Pontifical Institute and the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies in Rome.