12 October 2000
Dear Dr. Clooney:
Greetings to you. Thank you for your letter dated June 19th 2000 on the subject of Interreligious dialogue and on improving our understanding of other religions and cultures. In response to your letter, I would like to briefly explain my work on Islamic mysticism and some aspects of my teaching at Boston College. I am completing my manuscript, entitled Striving for Divine Union: Spiritual Exercises for the Suhrawardî Sufis, where I examine the intellectual, spiritual, and sûfî mystical writings of a famous, but unfortunately neglected sûfî thinker, Shaikh 'Abû Hafs 'Umar al-Suhrawardî (d.1234) and his erudite sûfî treatise 'Awarif al-Ma'ârif. This sûfî manual became an important book for all sûfîs striving to understand and practice the proper sûfî path (ta_awwuf) as it was connected to a rich philosophical tradition in Islâm called the 'school of illumination.' I demonstrate that al-Suhrawardî's sûfî treatise contains a wide range of sûfî theology; from Qur'ânic hermeneutics, _adîth tafsîr, rational arguments on epistemology, different levels of spirituality, proper etiquette, correct methods to subsisting with God, to disparaging criticism of other sûfî orders. It is a systematic examination of al-Suhrawardî's sûfî exegesis of the Qur'ân and the different methodologies he applied to his particular sûfî theosophy. Essentially, my work centers around the argument that sûfî texts function differently from other Islamic texts, which are primarily meant for legal expositions, because they provide daily spiritual exercises designed to contribute to the spiritual and intellectual growth of the Suhrawardîyya sûfî members. I hope to continue with the themes of sûfî Qur'ânic hermeneutics and the sûfî remembrance of the Prophet Muhammad in another book by focusing on creating an Islâmic Liberation Theology for the Muslim modern world.
In many ways I feel fortunate to teach Islamic theology and Comparative Theology at a Jesuit Catholic university because the study of faith is understood as a real intellectual discipline and I can be a part of real engagement with the students. In terms of course content, I teach Introduction to Islamic Theology, Islamic Ethics, and Striving for Death: The Mystics of Islâm, and a two-semester undergraduate comparative theology core-course entitled The Religious Quest. Not only am I committed to developing the critical thinking abilities of students, but also I find that students and I are partners in the Intra-Religious journey. For some time, we've been working along Raimon Pannikar's model of Dialogical Dialogue, where students view Intra-Religious dialogue as a personal, cross-cultural, cross religious, and pluralistic endeavor. At first they despise Pannikar's theories and his theological language, but after class discussions and group meetings on the subject, students find their own Intra-religious dialogue with a member of another tradition to be one of the most exhilarating experiences as an undergraduate student. Many students have commented to me that they never reflected upon the multi-dimensional aspects of faith and how the Intra-religious dialogue taught them a great deal about themselves in their own tradition. I think for many students, theology is an obstacle to their professional careers but immediately after these dialogues and classroom discussions students feel passionate and are intellectual excited about their journey on learning more about their religious traditions.
At Boston College, I am involved with a number of Intra-religious dialogues, namely the Jewish-Christian-Muslim Trialogue that is in its fifth consecutive year. I work closely with the VP for Mission and Ministry, Joseph Appleyard, S.J., who formed a Multi-Faith Worship center on campus. I think BC is a vibrant and intellectually active campus for Intra-religious dialogue, and the administration and faculty both acknowledges the importance of religious pluralism in the contemporary world. I look forward to your comments and I do wish to participate in any conversation on teaching religious pluralism.
Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies
& Comparative Theology
Tel. No: (617) 552-3896
Created: October 16, 2000 Updated: October 16, 2000