We have been keeping quite a schedule here in Iran, meeting with various religious leaders, government officials, and visiting historic and cultural sites. We have had two dialogue sessions with Muslim clerics in the last two days, both of which were very interesting. The first dialogue was at the Center for Islamic Culture and Information headquarters, in Tehran, and a significant number of media outlets were in attendance. It operated more like a theological conference, with three presentations made by each side. It was quite formal, but I was particularly fascinated by how well Muslim religious leaders understood Christianity. They quoted liberally from the Bible and made many links to corresponding verses from the Quran.
One of the leaders said that he had read the Bible from cover to cover 10-20 times in the course of his study, but he wondered if any of us had ever read the entire Quran. It was a fair question, and one that actually made me feel somewhat guilty. As I began to think about the primacy of the role of religion in Iran, and how much of their nation's value system comes out of the Quran, I began to think about whether or not you can truly understand a people if you have not read their holy book. Could people truly know me as a person, and understand me, if they had no real knowledge of the Bible?
These conversations, as well as many others, have also made it clear that the Iranians are very interested in being respected, but feel like they have not received much respect from the West. Everyone we have talked to has expressed this pain and frustration, and yet they have been so gracious, and continue to want to reach out and build bridges with us, in spite of feeling disrespected. It's a value I think we as Christians in America could learn from our Islamic brothers and sisters in Iran, and it's a value that would go a long way in helping us solve some of the differences between our nations.
Jeff Carr is the Chief Operations Officer for Sojourners/Call to Renewal. Learn more about this delegation at www.irandelegation.org.