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Julian Bond, formerly Director of Christian Muslim Forum (2006 to 2015), has a formidable social media presence. Unlike many, however, his twitter exchanges are most notable for their patience. Often tweeting about Islam to a Christian audience he regularly experiences trolling – sometimes by Christians who believe him to be betraying his faith through reaching out to the Muslim community. For Julian, there is no contradiction: as he recently tweeted: “Online haters tell me all kinds of hateful nonsense about Islam. But in the real world Muslims want me to explain the Gospel for broadcast.”

After witnessing a particularly vicious (and prolonged) twitter exchange, I contacted Julian to ask – can constructive interfaith dialogue really happen online? He believed so, and had the following tips, originally offered to the Christian Muslim Forum’s Facebook group:

  1. Online dialogue is not easy – prepare to be challenged.

  2. Patience is essential, as is not giving in to ego – engage rather than compete with those that disagree with you.

  3. As we are all equal when exchanging plain text (and sometimes hypertext) with each other we may be less aware of our human differences/inequality – be mindful.

  4. Immediacy can be risky – try not to respond instantly when the topic is charged.

  5. Take responsibility – ideally those in positions of religious, interfaith or other leadership will see the importance of engaging pastorally, not antagonistically, and take on a role of being shepherds.

  6. Think of others (and collaborate) – as much as you speak up for your own community, reach out to others.

  7. Ask yourself what kind of exchange you are intending/seeking/ having – be aware of each other and your audience, especially the large silent majority.

  8. You are a representative of your faith – what values are at its core? What values are you modelling to others through your exchange?

  9. Be aware of evangelism – people engaging in interfaith or dialogue online can be perceived as an open invitation to engage in negative evangelism/da’wah – this can range from inviting others to know more to rubbishing the other religion and being very provocative.

  10. Don’t give up – The more difficult exchanges generate the most ‘life’, as well as heat, and even when negative enable the group to grow in their relationships with each other and affirm each other in a context of conflict.

Despite the negativity it seems that Julian Bond still believes in online dialogue. If we slow down, admit our own ignorance and engage positively then there is still the potential to further understanding. As one user observed: when we meet online, we still meet as individuals, and as such we have the potential to have a meeting “of the heart, not of texts, an appreciation of each other and each other’s beliefs, religion, scripture, even though, and especially when, we disagree, some degree of equal levels of interest in the other.” This is surely an opportunity too good to be missed.

Julian Bond (Christian Muslim Forum) & Alice Sandham (Woolf Institute)

One thought on “Can interfaith dialogue happen online?

  1. Pingback: Can interfaith dialogue happen online? – Interspirituality

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