Fr. Courtois Memorial lecture on Islamic thought
A Staff Reporter
Kolkata, March 7, 2020: A lecture program to commemorate a 20th century Belgian Jesuit who worked in Kolkata explored the selfhood and identity in Islamic thought.
The fourth Victor Courtois Memorial Lecture was held at St. Xavier's University, Kolkata on March 7. Islamologist Father Victor Courtois, who died in Kolkata in 1960 aged 53, is considered an apostle of Christian-Muslim dialogue in Kolkata.
The lecture entitled 'Who am I ? An Exploration of Selfhood and Identity in Islamic Thought' was presented by Yusuf Jha, a researcher in Islamic Theology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom by a video link.
In his welcome address, University Vice-Chancellor Jesuit Father Felix Raj highlighted the importance of interreligious understanding and the need for bringing people together in the present context of divisiveness and interreligious tensions. He said, 'St. Xavier's University, Kolkata is committed to promote interreligious understanding and appreciation of all religions through its curriculum and teaching-learning methods.'
Jesuit Father Victor Edwin, the secretary of New Delhi-based Islamic Studies Association, said Father Courtois fostered relationships between Christians and Muslims in and around Kolkata
According to Father Edwin, polemics and debates marked the history of Christian-Muslim relations in the past. Father Courtois ushered an era of relationship and respect in such an era. The Belgian missionary taught that Christians and Muslims are brethren since God is the Father of all humans.
Father Courtois encouraged that Christians and Muslims to not shy away in giving witness to one-another's faith, for in giving witness to one another's faith that they recognize the heavenly Father in one another.
In his video lecture, Yusuf Jha noted that the West often questions 'Who am I?' in a dualistic pattern. Such patterns are premised on ultimate questions of existence, being split into two distinct substances: mind and matter. This thinking, Jha explained, has its roots in the 17th century, where people such as Descartes and Galileo, left God and the human mind intact as immaterial entities, but then conceived of the rest of the cosmos as mere matter in motion.
By 19th century, even this dualism waned, as minds (and the soul) themselves came to be understood as aspects of the material machine, until today when our consciousness is explained as an epiphenomenon (mental by-product).
Even though this mechanistic model is further challenged by today's science which has shifted the foundation to Quantum Physics and disputes the 'observer' and 'observed' pattern of alienation and estrangement, this still has not affected mainstream discourse which is still dominated by the mechanistic model.
In contrast to this approach, the approach of most world religions in their spirituality, and especially Sufi spirituality that is solidly founded on the Holy Qur'an and the Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad presents a holistic approach.
The fundamental call of Islam is to affirm the oneness of God and worship the one God. Yusuf affirmed that the call to surrender to one God is a call to see the One even though we observe the 'many' in the phenomenal level and to worship the One by mirroring the One in creation. The speaker affirmed that God is the foundation of this oneness and diversity.
God is the hidden treasure, noted the speaker. This hidden treasure, wanted to be known in a spirit of love. In order to be known, God, out of love, brings about creation. Thus God creates and nurtures in a constant means of disclosure, said the speaker. Drawing on the teachings of the Qur'an, Yusuf explained that God is known to creation through God's beautiful names, which are attributes of God. The attributes are imprinted in the soul of every human person.
Therefore, the ultimate goal of every
human person is to experience this Oneness
of love with God, wherein the egoistic sense
of the separate seeker is annihilated (fana)
and he remains through God (baqa) witnessing
this Oneness. Drawing from the Sufi
traditions, Yusuf noted that every seeker
under guidance of his/her sheikh walks the
Sufi path moving from one Station (maqamat)
to the next consistently going through
different 'states' (hal) patiently waiting
for the movement of God's grace.