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Participation in Muslim-Christian dialogue quietly grows

Famous theologian and director of Yale Center for Faith and Culture Miroslav Volf gave a lecture at the Islamic Foundation of Villa Park last Saturday, Feb. 27 titled, “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” after which Wheaton College assistant professor of art history Matthew Milliner participated in a larger interfaith panel discussion.
Organized by the Islamic Foundation and The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, the panel also featured Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Muslim scholars. Former Wheaton professor Larycia Hawkins was honored prior to Volf’s lecture with an award from the Islamic Foundation Board.
In his lecture, Volf reiterated a position he suggested at Wheaton College in 2011 and in his book “Allah: A Christian Response,” saying that although there are important distinctions between Christian and Muslim theology, it is crucial to recognize places of agreement that are valuable for creating a common ground for interfaith dialogue. By using this same distinction to posit that Muslims and Christians do in fact worship the same God, Volf became a leading voice in the recent controversy regarding similar statements made by Hawkins.
The event comes at a time when students, faculty and administrators at Wheaton College have been both condemned and praised for their stance toward the Muslim community. While the college has been criticized for its handling of the Hawkins controversy, Wheaton students received recognition last November for penning an open letter denouncing President of Liberty University Jerry Falwell Jr.’s remarks about Muslims.
Other members of the Wheaton community have been reaching out to Muslims in quieter but more personal ways. More recently, Milliner and Noah Toly, associate professor of urban studies and politics & international relations and director of Wheaton’s urban studies program, have both spoken at the Islamic Center of Wheaton, where other faculty and students have also been building relationships. Assistant professor of philosophy Adam Wood participated in a philosophy of religion conference in Tehran last month, and Wheaton College President Philip Ryken recently committed to inviting a Muslim or Jewish scholar on campus each year for interfaith discussion.
Other panelists at Saturday’s event also emphasized the importance of laying groundwork for interfaith dialogue, but they were careful to distinguish and even emphasize the differences between Islam and Christianity. Milliner recalled a critical moment when Muslim panelist Sheikh Amin Kholwadia of Darul Qasim Institute distinguished Islam as “merit-based.” This kind of clarity about differences between the two faiths, Milliner noted, is integral to productive dialogue.
Senior David Choi attended Saturday’s lecture and panel discussion “looking forward to having a broader dialogue” with Muslims and “seeing their perspective” in person. Junior Darren Yau agreed, noting that he gained a new understanding not only of Muslim theology, but also of Muslim humanity. Being in a mosque allowed him to see that worshippers there “have kids running around” and “food in the back,” just like Christian churches he is used to attending.
Reflecting on Volf’s lecture and the panel discussion, Choi and Yau both said the event gave them a deeper love and appreciation for their Muslim neighbors. “I wish more Wheaton students had this sort of experience,” Yau concluded.

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