Right away, Legenhausen pointedly defined the nature of Shia Islam:
"Shia and Sunni Islam are usually discussed in terms of the dispute over the Caliphate. But Shia understand themselves as "the party of Ali," the prophet's closest disciple. This means that Shia believe that God's guidance to human beings didn't stop with the prophet, but continued through the twelve Imams.
"Shia has two central concepts: Reason, and Justice. Even mysticism must go hand-in-hand with reason. And justice should e a primary goal. Governance should not be favoritism, but justice, tempered with mercy."
Asked about interfaith dialog, Legenhausen indicated warm openness to us and to other delegates from "peace churches" in the states.
"There hasn't been much interfaith dialog for many years. The seminary system has been closed. But since the revolution, there are many efforts to learn about other religions and to create dialog.
"There is a Religious Studies Center now in Qom, which is now fully accredited and expanding. One branch studies the Abrahamic religions, another studies other Eastern religions, and the third studies other Islamic sects.
"There is also a second Institute, with societies for epistemology, history, and religious studies. The religious studies society is focused on understanding and dialog with other religions.
We have a lot of discussion with professors in other countries. Last month we had a good dialog with clerics in Innsbrook, Austria. We have held three dialogs with Benedictines in England, one with published papers in English. We have plans for an exchange with the Mennonite Central Committee through the University of Toronto.
"In Islam, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians are acknowledged as "People of the Book." So we have deep historical roots for inter-religious dialog. When settling disputes with Christians, the Imams used the Bible instead of the Koran as a basis for governing law."