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Nurani: A Walk Through of Meedan's Inter-faith Scriptural Study Site

We are proud to announce the first release of Nurani, a platform for cross-language scriptural discussion for Muslim and Christian scholars managed by the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme at the University of Cambridge, a programme of the Faculty of Divinity.

Nurani is a cross-language open source platform for inter-religious dialogue developed by Meedan. The goal is to facilitate improved understanding between different faith communities and between speakers of Arabic and English.

Nurani achieves this by enabling users to share and discuss scriptural and commentary texts from their faith traditions in two languages - Arabic and English - and annotate important terms and concepts from these texts and dialogues into a cross-language glossary. Test dialogues are already taking place behind the scenes, and there are exciting plans afoot for a forthcoming series of  dialogues that is public.

The platform, which is powered by open source technology developed by Meedan, was designed primarily for scholars taking part in an established practice of inter-faith dialogue developed by the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme over the past ten years called Scriptural Reasoning. The goal of Scriptural Reasoning is not to reach consensus, but rather to explore how we read texts and so better understand each other.

At Meedan, we paid close attention to Scriptural Reasoning in developing the site and talking extensively to prospective users about what they needed from it.  As part of this, I was lucky to observe a three-day academic Scriptural Reasoning forum in Cambridge and a civic Scriptural Reasoning group attended by 80 participants in the city. We also held test dialogues - synchronous and asynchronous, annotative and threaded - using a variety of existing software.

From these experiences, many of the key features of Nurani were developed:

the discussion page, for example, features a palette of text passages gathered by a moderator at the top of the page, imitating the Scriptural Reasoning text packs used in face-to-face settings;

the prominent attention to profile images is designed to help build trust and give users the sense they are seated around a table;

the Nurani glossary was designed to encourage discussions around the precise meanings of important terms, and their differences in different languages and faiths, as observed in live Scriptural Reasoning;

discussions are facilitated by a moderator who invites users and puts a time limit on the discussion, as in Scriptural Reasoning workshops and symposia.

We are also grateful to the many people in the field who we consulted about their motivations for using a site like this, including Grand Mufti of Egypt, Cairo Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Sheikhs Amr Wardani and Mahmoud Shabieb at Dar al-Iftaa, Cairo, internationally recognised translator Tarek Ghanem, Director of the  Woolf Institute for Muslim-Jewish Understanding Yousef Meri, AUD scholar and Tafsir translator Feras Hamza, University of Toronto and Al-Azhar trained scholar of fiqh Ahmed Saleh, and Tarek Elgawhary, former adviser to Ali Gomaa and Director of the Coexist Foundation's US office.

Nurani was initially conceived of as a platform for dialogue around the A Common Word initiative (hence the colour scheme of the brand) and so supports bi-lateral Muslim-Christian discussion.  However, given CIP's focus on the three Abrahamic faiths more broadly, we expect to develop other instances of the platform under different branding for different configurations of language and faith communities. For example,  we expect to replicate the technology under the branding of ScripturalReasoning.org for three-faith Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue, particularly civic dialogue, in the near future. Because the technology is modular, it can accommodate  many different configurations of discussions flexibly.

The long term goal is a federated system of discussion fora (Nurani, ScripturalReasoning.org and others run by new partners) drawing upon a common textual resource (the library).  The next phase in this vision is to be funded over 18 months by a UK Research Council Digital Economy Grant with two new developer positions to be hired at Cambridge with project management, design and strategy provided by Meedan.

Under this grant, we aim to develop the world's first inter-faith library with available translations, including scriptures, commentary texts and other primary religious literature. Not only should users of Nurani and other fora built from the Meedan stack be able to draw seamlessly on this library for citations and translations, but visitors to the library itself should be able to see published discussion content alongside the appropriate passage. Additionally, glossary terms should provide dynamic concordance of references and linkages across the faith traditions for comparison and exploration. We think it's a powerful vision for taking our users on a new journey of discovery and learning. To learn more about this please contact gweyman [at] meedan.net.

We hope you will soon have the chance to explore Nurani discussions and take part yourself. If you would like to be considered for a future dialogue series on Nurani or ScripturalReasoning.org send an email to cip@divinity.cam.ac.uk.