VOLUME IX, Number 2
July - December 2019
Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali and author
Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali and author
Tangaza University College in Nairobi Inaugurates
Institute for Interreligious Dialogue and Islamic Studies
On November 1, 2019, I represented DIM·MID at a colorful ceremony at Tangaza University College for the inauguration of the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue and Islamic Studies. One of the principal speakers at the inauguration ceremony was Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali, Director of the International Institute for Islamic Studies in Qum, Iran, and leader of the Shi‘a delegation in an ongoing Monastic-Muslim dialogue co-sponsored by DIM·MID.
 Background and Vision
In 2003, Tangaza University College in collaboration with the Congregation of the Missionaries of Africa (MAfr) and Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Entwicklungshilfe, an organization connected to the Civil Peace Service carried out by German peace and development organizations, agreed to work together to offer programs to address the increased needs in the field of dialogue and cooperation between religions and for the study of Islam in an East African context.
The Institute for Interreligious Dialogue and Islamic Studies (IRDIS) was established to serve as a tool at the service of peacebuilding and social cohesion for Catholic and faith-based agents with the aim of promoting dialogue with Muslims at the sake of peace, justice, and  the integrity of creation.
IRDIS intends to expand to the curriculum of the current Islamic studies program in order to develop and host comprehensive degree programs in interreligious dialogue and Islamic studies that will be connected to the proposed PhD program in Religious Studies. An online publication will be established to serve as a forum for Interreligious Dialogue in East Africa and beyond. Specific training programs, summer courses, advisory services, and outreach programs will be designed and offered to reach a wider audience within Catholic structures and external faith-based organizations, All these services will be offered within Tangaza University College and in collaboration with a widened partner base comprised of  Catholic and other faith-based communities and civil organizations.
Among the partners of IRDIS are; Umma University, St. Paul’s University, Germany Embassy in Nairobi, Cultural Council of the Embassy of Iran in Kenya, Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, FinnChurch Aid, International Institute of Islamic Studies in Qom- Iran, Harmony Institute Nairobi, Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims (SUPKEM), National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), Hekima University College in Nairobi, Coastal Interfaith Council of Clerics in Mombasa, Exposure and Dialogue Program-Germany, Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), The Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (University of Liberia), Foundation
for Religious Studies John XXIII-Bologna, and Muslims for Human Rights Kenya (MUHURI).
The Interest and Involvement of Catholic Monastics
As can be seen, DIM·MID is conspicuously missing from the partners of IRDIS. In his keynote speech, Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali explained how the Monastic-Shi’a Muslim Dialogue let to the collaboration between the International Institute for Islamic Studies and Tangaza University College that gave rise to the foundation of IRDIS. Suffice to say that the fruit of this collaboration is one of the success stories of the Monastic-Shi’a Muslim Dialogue. How did it come about?
In 2016, at the final session our Monastic-Shi’a Muslim encounter in Mashhad-Iran, I proposed that the next encounter be held in Nairobi, Kenya. The proposal was unanimously accepted by the participants, and the next meeting took place in 2017 at the monastery of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi. At that dialogue, two public events were held at Tangaza, and at that time the need for collaboration became clear. Abbot Primate Gregory Polan OSB, Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali, Fr. William Skudlarek OSB, Secretary General of DIM·MID, Rev Prof Stephen Mbugua, Vice Chancellor Designate of Tangaza, and Fr. Magaya met to lay the groundwork for such collaboration. A few months later, the International Institute for Islamic Studies invited Fr. Magaya and others from Tangaza to visit Iran and sent students to Tangaza for a few weeks’ program. In 2018, the International Institute of Islamic Studies and Tangaza University College signed a memorandum of understanding that led to the formal establishment of IRDIS in November of this year.
Having provided, in part at least, the impetus to establish IRDIS, the time has now come for DIM·MID to collaborate with Tangaza. Following the inauguration of the IRDIS, I held a fruitful meeting with Fr. Magaya, who is in charge of the new Institute, to discuss ways in which we could collaborate for our mutual benefit. Given the role that DIM·MID played in the establishment of IRDIS,  Tangaza University College is ready to bring DIM·MID on board and to begin the process of formalizing our relationship.
IRDIS is a new Institute, and there is need for personnel. After successfully completing my studies and defending my doctoral dissertation at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Rome, I am prepared to help lay the necessary academic structures for this new Institute.
At the last DIM·MID directors’ meeting in Netherlands, we decided that time has come to form an African DIM·MID commission. An African continental commission would  greatly benefit from the programs offered by IRDIS. If African monastics are to be effective in engaging members of the Muslim community in their surroundings, they will require basic formation in Islam and Interreligious Dialogue, which IRDIS could provide.
In shāʾ Allāh, IRDIS and DIM·MID will soon be working together to provide monastics with the formation they need to be able to play an important role in promoting peaceful and mutually beneficial relations between Christians and Muslims in Africa.
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