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In His Name, Exalted


Introduction
The papers collected in this volume were delivered at the fifth Mennonite-Shiite dialogue, which took
place in Winnipeg, Canada, at the Canadian Mennonite University, in May, 2012. The dialogue series
began as a result of an initiative begun by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), after having
provided relief assistance following the earthquake in Rudbar, Gilan, Iran, in 1990. Building on the
cooperation between the Iranian Red Crescent and the MCC, eventually a statement of understanding
was signed by Ayatullah Misbah and Ron Mathies, in 1997, on the basis of which cooperation was begun
between the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Qom and the MCC that included a
student exchange program and other efforts to promote greater mutual understanding, one of the
outcomes of which has been a series of theological conferences that have had alternating venues in
Canada and Iran since 2002. Most of the papers delivered at these dialogues have been published
subsequent to the conferences.
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Thus, this volume is witness to a much broader and continuing
discussion between (mostly) North American Mennonites and Iranian Shiah, and this continuing
exchange of ideas is a manifestation of the friendships that have grown ever deeper as we have come to
better understand one another.
In addition to serving as a historical record, the collection and publication of these essays serve several
purposes: they show how Mennonite and Shiite scholars seek to make themselves understood to those
of other traditions, that is, without assuming any expertise in the histories and theologies of those
addressed. Because the essays are addressed to an audience that includes others, that is, those outside
ones own tradition, each of the essays may be seen as an introduction to the topic discussed from a
Mennonite or Shiite perspective. Because the essays are addressed to a mixed audience that includes
scholars from the authors own tradition, the scholars seek to explain elements of their traditions in
ways that will be at least tolerable for their colleagues. So, these are not the usual sorts of academic
articles to be found in scholarly journals. The journal literature seeks to carry a specific academic
tradition forward in accordance with the developing standards internal to that tradition, often by
defending a controversial view within the tradition. Our essays are reflections on what the authors
believe, and what they believe to be fairly well attested within their communitiesthis is not by any
means to say that the views are those held by all scholars of the community. Each thinker offers a
unique approach to the issues, one with which others in their community might take issue; but the point
of the essays is not to promote new theories. The point is to promote mutual understanding. The essays
thus reflect the authors ideas of how best to convey what they hold to be not only their personal

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The Challenge of Modernity: Shiah Muslim - Mennonite Christian Dialogue, Conrad Grebel Review, Fall, 2003:
https://uwaterloo.ca/grebel/sites/ca.grebel/files/uploads/files/CGR-Fall-2003.pdf; Revelation and Authority:
Shiah Muslim - Mennonite Christian Dialogue II, Conrad Grebel Review, Winter, 2006:
https://uwaterloo.ca/grebel/sites/ca.grebel/files/uploads/files/CGR-Winter-2006.pdf; On Spirituality
Essays from the third Shii Muslim Mennonite Christian Dialogue, M. Darrol Bryant, Susan Kennel Harrison, and A.
James Reimer, eds. (Kitchener: Pandora Press, 2010); Peace and Justice: Essays from the Fourth Shii Muslim
Mennonite Christian Dialogue, Harry J. Huebner and Hajj Muhammad Legenhausen, eds. (Winnipeg: CMU Press,
2011). For a review of these dialogues, see A. James Reimer, Preface: Ten Years of Shiah Muslim Mennonite
Christian Dialogue, in Peace and Justice, cited above, 15-20.
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beliefs, but the beliefs of their communities, to an audience that is not expected to share these beliefs.
Surprises abound as discussions reveal astonishing similarities across denominational lines and
differences in basic concepts where similarities were assumed. The authors do not attempt to prove
that their views are correct or that those of their dialogue partners are wrong. Indeed, what is most
lacking in this collection is the give and take of the questions and answers after the delivery of each
paper and the informal discussions that took place in Winnipeg. So, the essays may also be read as an
invitation to explore the issues in dialogue with Mennonites and Shiah, to observe the similarities and
differences displayed in the thinking of Mennonites and Shiah, both in contrast to one another and
within each group.
Mennonites and Shiah both have a history of dissent within their broader Christian and Muslim
societies. Both Mennonites and Shiah claim that the original principles of Christianity and Islam,
respectively, were violated by the religious institutions that came to dominate the majority. Both
formed communities of dissent whose members have been subject to the violence of those whom they
criticized. Both have a legacy of martyrdom. When the Mennonites were first introduced to the Shii
religious scholars in Qom, and The Martyrs Mirror was described for them, there was an immediate
sympathetic reaction.
The topic of discussion for the dialogue sessions reflected in these pages was theological anthropology.
The topic was suggested by the late A. James Reimer at close of the previous session on peace and
justice in Qom. Prof. Reimer seemed to think that in order to better understand the similarities and
differences on the topics that had already been discussed, we would have to review our beliefs about
what it means to be human. There was general agreement, and preparations were begun with the aim
of exploring our views about being human in Winnipeg.
Dissent gives a particular edge to the concept of being human. Anabaptists and the early Shiah
appealed to scripture in order to show that the majority communities had gone astray, and that
believers were bound by the general covenant between God and man to reform themselves. Of course,
the precise nature of the covenant is understood differently in Christianity and Islam; but the structural
parallels are striking. The experience of dissent is one in which appeals to conscience are made. The
ability of each individual to freely choose between the path of the dissenters or the path of perdition is
essential to the dissenting view of being human. The proper free choice which accords with scripture
and conscience is the choice indicated by divine guides. The divine guides are understood differently by
Christians and Muslims. For Christians, divine guidance comes in the life and teachings of Christ, while
for the Shiah, this guidance is dispensed by the prophets (among whom Christ is included) and the
twelve Imams. The divine guide not only offers teachings, but exhibits the proper way of living in his
own life. As such, those sent by God establish an ideal of human perfection toward which believers are
to strive. In traditions of dissent, the ideal of human perfection is held up as a target with the
observation that the larger community is widely missing the mark, or is not even aiming in the right
direction. The alternative posed by the dissenting community is not only an individual choice guided by
scripture, conscience, and divine paradigms; but requires the establishment of communities of believers.
Humans are social creatures, and our religious pursuits, successes and failures, take place take place in
the various contexts of human cultures. For Mennonites, the social development of faith has focused on
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the building of communities of believers intentionally committed to the discipline of the church. For the
Shiah, the focus has been on the establishment of a virtuous society, including the various aspects of
culture and its institutions, from education to government. Both on the individual and social levels,
there can be no success through human efforts alone; and believers turn to God for grace and mercy.
The question of the relation between individual effort, sin, and grace has been especially prominent in
Christian thought, especially since the Reformation, and has no close counterpart in Islamic thought,
although Muslims generally affirm the need for good works and faith, which can only be achieved with
divine aid. Social dimensions of being human that demand special attention and which have been posed
as challenges to religious views include questions of human rights and the changing roles of women in
religious societies. Both Mennonites and Shiah struggle with these issues in complex ways. Finally, both
our communities struggle with tensions between individual conscience and commitment to the
structures that shape religious social life. For Muslims, ideas about how to fulfill the duty to establish a
just Islamic society have been especially divisive; but there has also been a tremendous emphasis on the
personal spiritual journey, inwardness, and knowledge of ones true self, and questions continue to be
raised about how to reconcile these demands. For the Anabaptist tradition, the issue of church discipline
has been especially divisive, while the need to respect the demands of the individual conscience has also
been recognized. Perhaps a part of what it means to be human in both traditions is to live toward ideals
of perfection with cognizance of human flaws and limitations, conflicts and discrepancies, through which
we can only find direction by divine aid. For dissenting communities, these challenges to the radical
discipleship of Mennonites and to the submission to Allah of Muslims are properly understood in
contrast to that against which religious dissent is articulated; and in understanding these challenges we
learn what our faith traditions teach about being human.
In order to help the reader steer through the essays, a very brief overview of the papers follows. Our
collection is divided into six parts. Part I: Sacred Texts begins with the contribution of Mohammad Ali
Shomali, Human Nature According to the Qurran, in which there is a review of the good and bad
qualities by which man is described in the Quran. Emphasis is given to the choice given to the individual
to cultivate good qualities or sink into depravity. Success in choosing the path of self-improvement
depends, according to the Quran, on having faith and performing good works. This essay is followed by
Gordon Zerbes Human Nature in Biblical Perspective, in which mans nature is shown to be described
in the Bible through salvation history: creation, fall, and restoration. While Shomalis paper finds the
scriptural description of man to focus on the essential moral choice, Zerbes finds it in the course of
development from creation and fall to the restoration of mans relationship with God. A developmental
account of human nature is also suggested by Mohammad Fanaei Eshkevari, whose The Concept of
Perfect Man in the Holy Quran This paper may be considered a transition to the discussion of
perfection. It treats the notion of the perfect man in the Quran and in Islamic mysticism. The
development is not from fall to restoration, but from a state of being lost to a gradual approach to
human perfection through spiritual discipline. Both the Bible and the Quran emphasize that man is two-
sided: there are both inherent human dignity and sinfulness. Christians understand man through the
doctrine of salvation in which history is prominent. In Islam there is less concern with historical
narrative, and instead the focus is on stories with a moral. While the sinfulness of man is not seen as
being quite as radical as it is in Christianity, the divine intervention to guide man is through a divine
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model and guide. In Islam, we are not reconciled with God through anything but our own faith and good
works by divine aid and mercy. Nothing plays a role comparable to that of Christ in Christianity; although
both Christians and Muslims see man as sinful and in need of divine aid.
Fanaeis introduction of the theme of the perfect man serves as a good introduction to Part II:
Perfection, which begins with Jo-Ann Brants The Way of Perfectiona Christian Perspective,
according to which there are three main roads available toward human perfection: (1) perfection
through the imitation of divine generosity; (2) perfection through the endurance of suffering; and (3)
perfection through sanctification or holy living as children of God. The concept of perfection in the New
Testament is about neither the perfectibility of individual gifts, the cultivation of good qualities, nor the
individual achievement of a moral perfection. Instead, it is the way by which we, as Gods creatures, can
participate in Gods perfection at Gods invitation within the context of an imperfect world by following
Christ. Despite the differences between Muslim and Christian perspectives on moral improvement,
Aboulhassan Haghanis The Way of Perfectiona Muslim Perspective displays a remarkable
correspondence to many of the points in Brants paper. Muslims are called to perfection, although the
perfection of God is unattainable. Nevertheless, one can strive toward perfection through obedience to
Him and in hope for His mercy; and one can, for example, approach divine kindness by exhibiting
kindness to others. Human nobility and greatness is especially manifest in traditions related to Imam
Husayn who was able to display these features through his suffering and martyrdom.
Part III: Culture, opens with Harry J. Huebners profoundly theological essay, Sin and Grace. The
concepts of sin and grace have a contested history in the Christian theological tradition, while Islamic
theology has not been divided over the nature of the corresponding concepts of sin (isiyan) and grace
(lutf). Heubner guides us through some of the tangles over these topics in the Christian tradition, and in
so doing dispels some common misgivings that Muslims often have about what Bonhoeffer called
cheap grace. Muslims will agree with the main points with which Huebner concludes. An account of
human sinfulness is needed to understand the human; and divine grace is needed to lead us from sin,
and to a life in which we show kindness toward others as we hope in Gods kindness toward us. Sin is a
distortion of human nature, but does not destroy human perfectibility. We need divine aid to escape the
grasp of sin. The Christian is called to faithfulness after repentance and finds the ability to resist the
power of evil in Christ, while for the Shiah the calling is through the Prophet and Imams and the power
to resist is sought by direct recourse to God. The Christian finds that we can see our own nature best by
looking to Christ; the Muslim looks to the Perfect Man as a way to find inner direction to our true selves.
Huebner writes: Grace is rooted in Gods covenant faithfulness toward sinful human beings. That is,
God does not deal with us according to our actions but according to Gods mercy and righteousness.
For the Muslim, God does deal with us according to our actions as prescribed in our covenant relation to
Him. However, there is hope for man in divine mercy if we repent for what has been done contrary to
the covenant, and even the unrepentant sinner deserving eternal damnation might be forgiven because
of divine mercy that has no limits. Resistance to the seductions of sin is manifest in an exemplary way by
the divine guides. The call to true Christianity, is not an appeal to cheap grace, but to work for peace and
justice even when this entails personal sacrifice. As God forgives us, we also are enjoined to forgive
others and in so doing to restore our communities. Prayer and submission are required as we seek Gods
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grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation with Him and as we seek to manifest these in our relations with
others. These are all points on which Muslims and Christians can find common cause. In Ali Mesbahs
Religion, Culture, and Social Well-Being from the Muslim Perspective we find an outline based on the
teachings of the Quran of the kind of society that Muslims are called upon to build. First, people in the
ideal society are to comply with divine commands in order to achieve felicity. Second, people seek to
live in a responsible manner, aware of their abilities and of how God wants us to use them. Third, people
are to recognize their responsibility to the environment as divine stewards. Fourth, they are to help one
another and all other human beings. Fifth, they are to establish social relations based on justice and
benevolence through such social institutions as as the family, economy, state, law, and education.
Cultural variety is one of the major themes of David Shenks Culture and Faith in a Mennonite-Christian
Perspective. This paper is filled with fascinating vignettes of Christian missionary work and reflections
on the diversity of cultural expressions that Mennonite churches can manifest in different parts of the
world that serve as evidence against the claim that the Mennonite churches reject all elements of
culture outside those associated with the original movement. Although mission activity has often been a
source of tensions between Muslim and Christian communities, who have tended to see one another as
rivals, there may yet be hope for some cooperation on the mission front, as well.
The discussion of religion and culture naturally leads to discussion of the political and social aspects of
culture, among the most prominent of which are taken up in Part IV: Human Rights and Part V: Gender.
In his Islam and Human Rights, Aboulfazl Sajedi devines a human right as a privilege one has in virtue
of being human. Focus is on justice and equality as human rights in Islam. Islam emphasizes brotherhood
and equality, and supports justice and the removal of any kind of oppression and unfair discrimination.
One result of the right to equality and justice is to accept the equal value of man and woman and to
reject any discrimination between them in this regard. A more critical view of the concept of human
rights is found in Peter Dulas Theological Assessment of Human Rights Langauge. In this paper, Dula
dissents from the absolutism about human rights that characterizes much contemporary liberal political
writing. He engages Wolterstorffs defense of human rights, and finds it less than fully convincing. The
primary concern of the Bible is the claims that others have upon one. The language of human rights can
help to bring this to attention, but it can also obscure it. In the end, the language of human rights is
supported as a minimalist framework, while emphasis is placed on the more demanding account of the
good based on the teachings of Jesus (a).
In Abbas Ali Shamelis The Engendered Islamic Culture of Development, the study of women is
proposed as a subfield of anthropology; and in accordance with the general project for Islamic social
sciences, an Islamic study of woman based on Islamic sources, as well as the study of culture and values
is recommended. The author argues that womens activism in social and political affairs is consonant
with Islamic teachings, despite the differences in responsibilities recognized by Islam. In Created as
Male and Female, Derek Suderman considers the story of the fall in Genesis and its implications for
gender relations. It is argued that the word Adam is used in two senses: first as a general term for the
human being that includes both males and females; and second, as a proper name for the first male
human. Ambiguities in the text of Genesis yield a responsibility for the Christian to interpret the text in
accordance with Christian principles, so that the text should not be misused to justify male domination.
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Our collection ends with a return to the self in Part VI: The Self. Mohammad Motahari Farimani, in his
The Role of Turning to the Self: Introspection in the Quranic Discourse, demonstrates that through
the Quran and certain questions that it raises, God directs us to look within, or turn to the self. This is
no simple matter of immediate introspection, however, for the real self is to be distinguished from a
false or imaginary self. Service to God is found to be identical to service to the true or real self. In the
final article, Conscience: The role of Individual and Community Jeremy Bergen points out various
tensions between the ideal of being true to ones conscience and commitment to community, both of
which have been prominent in Anabaptist and Mennonite history; and these tensions are further
complicated by the modern notion of moral autonomy as action governed by conscience. Bergen
supplements his paper with a report of some of the discussion at the conference with Muslims about
these issues, and finds places where Mennonite and Shii positions seem to support one another,
especially in the distinction between real and imaginary selves presented by Farimani.
None of the conference participants argues for the superiority of their own positions where they conflict
with those of other traditions. Instead, all seek to elucidate their own positions in a way that can be
understood by others. None seeks to impose their presumptions about the other, but demonstrate a
willingness to recognize both points where we differ and points on which we seem to converge. One
reason for the convergence is the heritage of dissent. Although the papers and conference are aimed at
promoting understanding between Mennonites and Shiah on the topic of being human, understanding
comes in degrees from superficial to profound. Depth of understand occurs when the views of those
whom we seek to understand resonate with our own views, even when there are contradictory
positions that must not be overlooked. The cognitive and emotional legacies of our histories of dissent
may help us to understand how Mennonites and Shiah are able to resonate with one another despite
their differences; but the friendships that continue among us can only be fully appreciated as the grace
of God, or lutf Allah, for which we give thanks.