Indian Catholic News

Australian Jesuit opening minds to Muslim world

Since the 1960s, Father Paul Jackson has searched for ways to connect Christians with other religions.

Jesuit Father Paul Jackson at his room in a Jesuit retirement home in Patna, Bihar. An Islamic scholar, he initiated Muslim-Christian dialogue in India. (Photo by Julian S. Das)

Australian-born Jesuit Father Paul Jackson, 81, long renowned for promoting Christian dialogue with Indian Muslims, was once asked by a nun if he could sing mystic Islamic Sufi songs.

Fr. Jackson indicated that he could not, then moved close to her and said: "See Sister, I am Paul Jackson and not Michael Jackson."

There were peels of laughter, recalls Father Patrick Pradhan of Darjeeling Jesuit province, who met Fr. Jackson in the capital, New Delhi, some 35 years ago.

When an elated Fr. Jackson talked about Sufis - an ancient tradition that embraces asceticism his "eyes would glow", Fr. Pradhan said with obvious affection.

Fr. Jackson arrived in the Hazaribag area of present Jharkhand state in 1963 to join a group of fellow Australian Jesuits, but was later based in Patna, capital of eastern Bihar state.

During the 1960s, he searched for ways to respond to the call of the Vatican Council II for Catholics "to open the windows" of their religion.

"One of the most pivotal moments in my life is when I said to myself, let me try to do something for the Muslims," Fr. Jackson, who is an Islamic scholar, now relates.

He began to learn Urdu, the language of South Asian Muslims, as well as ubiquitous Hindi.

In 1976, he began doctoral studies on Serafuddin Maneri, the famous 14th-century Sufi Islamic mystic of Bihar.

After his doctorate, Fr. Jackson began organizing "Exposure to Islam" courses for Jesuit regional theology students in the ancient city of Patna.

He would send students two by two to spend 10 days with both poor and middle-class Muslims as well as Sufis.

He still translates Islamic documents, writes articles on Islamic themes and addresses Muslim conferences and seminars.

Fr. Jackson acknowledges that fellow Jesuits are now more open to inter-faith dialogue than they were several decades ago.

Had his dream of helping Muslims been fulfilled? "Of course, yes!" the energetic Australian priest replied with a smile.

Jesuit Father Victor Edwin, a lecturer in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at the Jesuit’s Vidyajyoti College of Theology in Delhi, said Father Jackson understood that an "openness to receive" is at the heart of dialogue.

This had included emulating the Sufi Serafuddin Manerin in rigorous study, sustained teaching activity and relentless service of the people, Fr. Edwin said.

Source: UCAN

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