Muslim professor lives interfaith values

A professor of Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn., is the guest lecturer at this year's Interfaith Scholar Weekend in Fresno.

Dr. Yahya M. Michot will speak Friday through Feb. 21 on the event's theme, "Islam: A Faith for the 21st Century." The annual event brings people of various religions together for a weekend of lectures, discussion and worship.

Michot says he hopes participants will work together despite things they may disagree on.

"When the Titanic is sinking, it is too late for the orchestra's members to fight about the music they want to play," he says. "Is God really interested in who we claim and think we are or in the purity of our intentions and the righteousness of our actions?

The Bee caught up with Michot via e-mail to learn more about his observations.

Question: You are a Muslim scholar who has earned his degree at a Catholic university and joined the faculty of an institution that devotes a lot of attention to Christian-Muslim relations. Why is it important to be so well-rounded?

Answer: At the end of the day, to make sense of religious diversity on this little planet is God's problem, not ours. As a Muslim born in a Catholic family and married to a Jewish lady, I consider that gardens are richer when adorned with the most diverse plants and flowers.

What is the greatest challenge in Christian-Muslim relations?

To stop opposing each other in vain theological debates, respect each other in our different faiths, establish more justice in international relations and make sure we leave to our children a planet that still has a future.

What is a Muslim's most compelling challenge today?

When he lives among non-Muslims, to be like Joseph in Pharaoh's Egypt. Even if he does not agree with others in religious matters, the faith that a Muslim has in his heart obliges him to deal with them with sincerity and probity, to wish them well and to contribute as much as possible to more justice and welfare in the society.

You have lectured at many distinguished institutions in various countries. Which lecture remains a vivid memory to you -- and why?

The most vivid memories take me back to the royal palace of Rabat, Morocco, where I had the honor to be invited a few times to attend and discuss with other Muslim scholars the Ramadan lectures offered to the late King Hassan II and H.M. King Muhammad VI.

Of the 17 books you have written, which book are you the most proud of -- and why?

I am particularly happy with my edition and translation of the Arabic text of Avicenna's "Letter to the vizier Abu Sa'd." This early treatise of the great Iranian philosopher was considered lost since the 12th century. It is totally by chance that I discovered a manuscript of it in a Turkish library. It was a wonderfully stimulating game to decipher it, and its publication has renewed our knowledge of various aspects of Avicenna's life and ideas.