CHRISTIANS and Muslims live together for a week at a summer school that aims to help faith leaders from different backgrounds understand and connect with each other.
Now in its fourth year, the school brings together Christians and Muslims who are training to be ministers. “The idea is to give them the opportunity to live together for the week,” says Dr Richard McCallum, a senior fellow at the Oxford-based Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies, which runs the school. Students study parallel texts from the Bible and the Quran. They also look at contemporary issues, bringing in someone from the Christian environmental charity A Rocha and Islamic Relief.
There is a social side too, with a visit to the Bodleian Library, punting and time to hang out and play games. Members of each year’s cohort are encouraged to keep in touch via Facebook and WhatsApp.
Shahanaz Begum was part of the first cohort and has returned twice to help facilitate the summer school. She says she signed up because she wanted to learn about Christianity from Christians rather than from a book or lecture.
Shahanaz is currently studying for a Masters in Islamic Studies in London. For her, the scriptural reasoning was the most important part of the week. “It’s a real privilege to look at your own holy text through a different lens,” says Shahanaz who occasionally lectures at Oxford’s Wycliffe Hall Theological College on gender in Islam. “Every cohort has a different vibe and dynamic. It’s helped my learning and it’s been even more profound watching people make those connections and see them travel through the texts.”
Idina Dunmore is studying on the Church Mission Society pioneer ministry course. “Just to be in a community for a week with people from another faith and being able to ask all the questions you want to ask is a great opportunity,” says Idina. She also said the highlight of the week for her was studying the scriptures. “I have tried to read the Quran before, but it was difficult because it is a different genre to the Bible. Studying them together has been fascinating, learning about how they view the prophets and the depth of feeling about that. It’s also fascinating to learn about how Muslims perceive Christians.
“We’ve also had quite a few social times, punting and just sitting down to dinner and playing group games. Those times to get to know one another have been good as well as the lectures. There has been a lot to talk about and a lot to take in and it has been good to sit down, relax and get to know people. The lectures are quite intense and intellectual and quite a lot to think about and reflect on, so it’s been good to relax and get to know people.”
The summer school is partly financially supported by three trusts; St Michael & All Saints, Gladiator Trust and Dame Violet Wills Trust.