Touria Prayag's Blog

Interview in l’express Weekly June 8 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on June 11, 2012

“We know for sure that the theology differs but we choose to tread the path together”

One classroom, students from all faiths open inter-faith discussions. Dœs that seem like an outlandish scenario? Reverend Eddy Cheong See, member of the Council of Religions, sits with L’express Weekly to express his views on the path towards all the religions being more accepting of one another.

It’s a two- year course. The first year is on inter- faith, from the five different religions present in Mauritius : Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Bahaie Faith. We look into the historical perspective, background and a bit of the sacred books. We also touch upon the popular and social practices in the first year. In the second year, the students are taught about Peace studies and Conflict management.

We teach during the first year and the university takes over in the second year.

What is the relationship between interfaith and conflict management?

Conflict management is about being able to handle differences. For the people to be productive and efficient, it’s important that they know how to sort out these differences adequately.

The Jewish religion is not represented. Do we have a Jewish community here?

Yes, we do. We have been in contact with them. We wrote to them, but in fact the community is very small. It takes more time for us to collaborate with them, but we make it a point to be in contact with them; after all, Christianity originated from Judaism and there is still a large influence of Judaism within Christianity.. Jesus was in fact a Jew.

Do the students who enroll on this course leave with a BA?

No, it is a certificate course over two years but we are working on upgrading it to a diploma course in January 2013. We met Pr. Jugessur and he has been very supportive.

Who actually enrolls for the course? People who are particularly religious?

Yes. We have tried to attract religious leaders. Some of them have actually come but most of the enrolled students are people who are practising their own religions and who are interested in learning more.

The course is an exceptional experience for those people. Imagine that you sit at the university and a Buddhist monk comes and lectures you. He broadens your approach to religion. Suddenly you see that

he has another way of seeing the Divine. Buddhists are not theistic in their approach to spirituality, which makes the debates all the more interesting.

As a student, you are made to sit and listen to a Buddhist from Taiwan talking about theology and how this person has compassion for the whole world. It is an experience like no other , a testament to how innovative the concept is in Mauritius.

Buddhism is a different way of seeing the world altogether, isn’t it?

Yes. As a matter of fact, Buddhism is a philosophy that differs from various other religions because it is not conceptualised around God.

Can it also shake you in your beliefs and make you think that you somehow don’t have the truth?

( Laughter) That depends on what is defined as the “ truth”. If somebody convinces himself to go to the university to take this course, which costs Rs 6,000 yearly, the chances are s/ he is already convinced of their beliefs. They are stable in their own religion. Like me.

I am a Christian priest, but I love Hinduism, Buddhism and other faiths. It’s a journey you are happy to take. You are no longer shocked.

Other religions feed your spirituality.

But if I am convinced that my religion is the only way to the truth, how do I accept that somebody else might feel the same about their religion?

( More laughter) That is a good question. Personally I would say that it’s all about how you articulate your faith. I mean, it’s a quest that one embarks on. What is your theoretical grounding in the Divine? There are things that you cannot quantify.

For instance, I love my wife and my children. These are things that you cannot quantify and religion, in the same logic, cannot be quantified

I see your point. When you say, “ I love my wife, I love my children and I can understand that other people also love their children in the same way”. But here you are talking about a journey. In a journey you move forward, whereas here you are stuck in your beliefs.

Those who choose to walk the intercultural path are not stuck in their beliefs. First, a person can question Truth. Secondly, knowing that s/ he is on a journey, will never take things as fixed or unchangeable.

In religion there is no black or white.

But religion is either black or white. There are no grey areas in religion in the way that you are trying to sell it to me, are there?

( Long silence ) I wouldn’t say that there are no grey areas but we must be open to other faiths.

Is religion about ‘ I’m a Muslim’, I’m a Christian’, ‘ I’m a Hindu’ or is it about ‘ I can be anything and question the truth’?

No. You can critically study your faith.

But can you question the word of God?

No but you can put it into perspective. Today, technology and science are revealing to us new dimensions of reality. We must admit that. Sometimes, we must accept that the Divine is a dimension that we may not completely understand, and there are answers that we simply don’t know. The word of God remains the truth for all religions.

From my perspective, Jesus is the truth. The Word of God is the truth.

From that position, how can you take a journey towards the Buddhist, for example?

A Buddhist still says that Jesus is an enlightened person, a bodhisattva.

But there is a difference between being an enlightened person and being God. You are an enlightened person, but you are not God.

I take a road which is theistic.

Theistic means that there is a deity.

There is God. A Buddhist will not take this road.

Last time, I interviewed representatives of three different religions here, they all seemed happy to say ‘ we agree’. But how can you? One says ‘ Jesus is God’, another other one says ‘ Jesus is not God, he is a prophet’ and the third one says ‘ there isn’t only one God’. How do you manage to have a journey towards each other?

( Laughter) I can understand what you are saying. This is the joy of interfaith dialogue. We try to understand what the other person has to say about his/ her faith though we may disagree with him/ her. It is about being humble enough to learn from the other faiths.

How do you reconcile all these differences within a journey?

We can enjoy the joy of each other’s style. We respect what the others have to say and drink from others’ wells. We share all our theologies.

We move together, work together and appreciate one another.

We know for sure that the theology differs but we choose to tread the path together. The point is to learn how the others theologize. How the other one sees reality. What can I do to learn as a person from other people’s faith? That is a question that many of the students will ask themselves along this course.

Talking for instance about how you come to agreements upon certain issues, which is the aim of the Council of Religions, I can see that regarding abortion, you did not come to an agreement after all. You agreed to disagree.

I will not answer that.

Why not?

During the planning, I was not in Mauritius. Perhaps you can talk to our press offi ce.

Do you personally think that the debate that is going on is fair?

My bishop is writing a letter. He is working on it. My personal opinion is that life must be preserved.

And that’s it?

Yes, that’s it. Full stop!

For more information on the Interfaith Faith course at the University of Mauritius, please contact Council of Religions Tel 210- 3531 ( office hours) Email: religions@ intnet.mu


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