This research was carried out over a six-year period in three dialogue groups located in the Greater Manchester area of the United Kingdom, as part of doctoral studies into interfaith dialogue. My background is that I’m a Priest in the Church of England who served for 20 years in an area that became majority Muslim and hence interfaith engagement developed. Since then I have been working as the Diocese of Manchester’s Interfaith Officer, with responsibility for developing constructive engagement between Christians and Muslims, initially in Oldham and more recently in central Manchester (areas of Cheetham Hill, Longsight and Levenshulme). As an aspect of my job I have developed a number of dialogue groups, and it was three of these that became the subjects of the research.
Having set up these groups, number of questions arose around what models of dialogue would be appropriate. The two most popular in the UK are ‘Meetings for Better Understanding’ and ‘Scriptural Reasoning’. While useful in beginning the groups neither of these popular models produced either the depth or longevity that I was looking to develop. They seemed to be productive in considering texts, or particular issues and to lead to the developing of some relationships, but where do they lead? My hope and aim was to develop groups that would engage as places where devout people of faith could engage with each other at some depth, learn about our differences and walk away friends, who would continue the dialogue in spite of the challenges it brought.
Over a period of about six years these groups arranged to meet and the progress of these groups was monitored. Almost by accident the Musalaha model was stumbled upon. When discussing the research with a friend he suggested that I explore the dialogue that Musalaha has been pioneering for that last 30 years in the Israel/Palestine context. Previously I had contact with Salim Munayer. Salim gave both permission and a most helpful interview, which aided the direction of research. Monitoring the progress of these groups, and asking if they naturally followed the six-stage cycle, gave a clear direction to the research.
The six-stage cycle provided a syllabus for the topics to be covered at each stage in the process. It gave a structure to the dialogue, which enabled the route through different stages of engagement, some of which were happening naturally and at other times provided the next topics and issues which would take the group deeper. The cycle was helpful both in terms of understanding the group dynamics which were taking place without direction and management, and also giving direction, so that there was a pathway to follow. In practice the cycle provided a framework – a route map – for the dialogue. Frequently the direction of the group meetings veered off the route, particularly when we encountered festivals, or world events, acts of terrorism and suchlike, or personal circumstances, which meant that issues that were immediately pressing were discussed, with support being given to those most affected. However, using the cycle meant that we had a route to return to, when the immediate issues had been considered.
What became clear was that dialogue at this level considered all aspects of the human condition. The Musalaha six-stage cycle model of dialogue had enabled themes touching all aspects of life to be considered – Physical, how we organise ourselves, Spiritual, the inner-life and Social, where we belong and how we can live at peace. The most important conclusion was that the Musalaha six-stage cycle model of interfaith dialogue achieved what the research sought to discover – it can enable relationship of significant depth to develop that lead to serious engagement between people of different religious, cultural and social heritage. It is a model that both gives an explanation of the process that dialogue takes people through and gives a road-map through the process.
Four existential dimensions were identified:
While the context in the UK is very different from Israel/Palestine this research has shown that this model can be used in this context to enable successful interfaith dialogue to develop. It provides a framework which can be adapted to each new group setting. However, this success is dependent upon the skill and understanding of the leaders. The model helps leaders to both understand what is happening in group dialogue – the process, and also gives a road-map to follow that will enable relationships of genuine depth and commitment to develop.
It is the recommendation of this research that a series of training events be set up, both to explain the model of dialogue and also to equip leaders to embark on using it. It is also suggested that those who have used the model can act as mentors/advisors to support those who are leading new groups.
The need for such interfaith dialogue is self-evident in the UK, therefore it might be worth considering how this might be achieved.
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Excerpt taken from:
Revd. Canon Phil Rawlings PhD, Director Manchester Centre for the Study of Christianity and Islam