Interfaith Dialogue a Moral Duty to Finding Common Ground


Extreme voices in the three religions that claim the monotheist heritage of Prophet Abraham--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--are busy sowing the seeds of confrontation and hate. They have recently taken the advantage of the politically rooted tensions between western and Middle Eastern countries to develop misunderstanding and mistrust among the followers of these religions.

Quoting selectively from Islamic sources, they have painted Islam as an intolerant religion that urges its followers to hate people of other faiths. This depiction belies both the historical record of Muslims dealing with the followers of other faiths, and, most importantly, the Qur'anic message itself. Although historical Muslim societies were imperfect, there are plenty of examples to show that Islamic values inspired Muslims to develop multi-religious societies in which people of diverse religious backgrounds lived in considerable harmony. The tolerance of Medieval Muslim Spain and the invitation extended to Jews expelled from Jerusalem to return to the city upon the defeat of the Crusaders are two shining examples.

The Qur'an reiterates a fundamental truth taught by all the prophets who were sent by God to guide human endeavors. It asserts that true and honest living is the assured way for spiritual and social harmony, and for protecting the long term self interests of every human being.

The Qur'an further asserts that humans are fallible and can never be free of error in understanding and judgment. Human knowledge is imperfect, and subject to bias and error. Knowledge of intentions and inner thoughts are beyond human capacity, and so is the knowledge of the final destiny of individuals. People of faith must show humility and put their trust in divine wisdom and the absolute justice of God, and must focus on doing what is right and just, instead of sitting in judgment on the eternal salvation of others. The Qur'an is clear that only God knows who is true and sincere in worship and service, and who has gone astray.

"Your lord knows best who strays from his way: He knows best who they are that receive His guidance." (6:117)

"And we granted them clear signs in matters (of religion): it was only after knowledge had been granted to them that they fell into schisms, through insolent envy among themselves. Verily your lord will judge between them on the Day of Judgment as to those matters in which they set up differences." (45:17)

The duty of the faithful is, therefore, not to judge others and look down on those who have different understanding and faith, but respect their choices and try his or her best to live an upright life and manifest the values of his and her faith through good work and good deeds.

"To you we sent the scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the truth that has come to you. To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, he would have made you a single People, but (his plan is) to test you in what he hath given you; so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is he that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute." (5:48)

The Qur'an came to confirm the truth revealed in early scriptures, and the people of the book, the followers of the revealed scriptures, have a special place in the Qur'an, particularly those who carry the Abrahamic legacy. Significant portions of the Quran focus on the story of the Biblical prophets and their followers, the Jews and Christians. It presents their stories as the story of the journey of faith, reminding the followers of the last revelation of the ups and downs in the struggle of the early communities of faith.

Some commentators have stressed the down side of that story by focusing on the Qur'anic critique of the People of the Book. The Qur'an has pointed out several excesses and mistakes committed by the followers of the Biblical prophets, and warned the followers of Prophet Muhammad against committing similar excesses. 

Yet the Qur'an is also full of stories of great struggles and shining examples of the followers of early prophets whose commitment and devotion were crucial for establishing the monolithic traditions and translating divine guidance into social practices: The strong faith of Saul (Talout) and those who stood firmly with him (2:249); the devotion of the people of the Trench who remained true to their faith in the face of a horrifying aggression committed by ruthless enemies (85:1-11); and the unwavering commitment of the followers of Christ to the ethical code and compassionate spirit he brought to humanity (61:14). Prophet Muhammad repeatedly emphasized that his mission confirmed those of early prophets. He directed early Muslims to seek refuge in Abyssinia, pointing out that the country was ruled by a just Christian King. This was the beginning of an excellent relationship and strong alliance between Muslims and Christians in Abyssinia that lasted for a thousand years.

Therefore, Muslim attitude toward the followers of other religions, particularly the People of the Book, should not be one of self-righteousness and pride, but one of compassion, mutual respect, and concern for the wellbeing and welfare of other communities. The Quran an encourages Muslims to cooperate for the common good and to search from a common ground, based on mutual respect and help.

"Say: O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah." If then they turn back, say: "Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah's Will)." (3:94)

The common ground Muslims are asked to seek with the followers of other religions is a society in which people are free to worship God. In such open society Muslims must display positive attitude and unwavering respect of the followers of other faiths. Dealing with respect and positive engagement does not mean that differences in doctrine and interpretation do not matter. Rather, it means that those differences must be addressed through free and open dialogue.

It is this open, free, and dignified dialogue that allows the followers of various religious traditions to affirm their diversity and discuss their similarities and differences, and it is what Islam requires from its followers. Muslims have a moral and religious obligation to engage in interfaith dialogue with other communities of faith, and they must do that by maintaining ethical standards required by the Qur'an, including the directive to "argue with [the follower of the revealed books] in ways that are best and most gracious." 

LOUAY M. SAFI Executive Director of ISNA Leadership Development Center (ILDC), Plainfield, Indiana. He is fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and serves on the steering committee of the Muslim-Christian Initiative on the Nuclear Weapons Danger.


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  10 Comments   Comment

  1. psalm from UK

    To: AC (25/2/2008)

    In response to your 4 questions:

    1. If you'd ever read the Bible- you'd know that the Apostles of Jesus Christ were GIVEN the name "Christians" by non-followers in Antioch. The non-believers perceived that the Apostles "had been with Jesus Christ and were like Him". The name was given both in AWE and to MOCK Jesus' followers. That is why the Apostle Peter (one of Jesus' closest disciples) speaks of "suffering" for the NAME.

    2. As a muslim, you do not seem familiar with the whole Bible- so I'll help you. The Prophets are CLEAR that MESSIAH must first, to Israel and then to the World. Jesus Christ fulfilled this: He came to Israel (and many rejected Him), then He came to the World. In Matthew 28 and Book of Acts, Jesus sends His disciples TO THE WORLD to "make disciples". He tells them too that the GOSPEL must be preached first in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria and then to the WORLD. They did just that. We still do this today.

    3. Yes, Jesus Christ came to FULFILL the Law (not abolish)- which is why YOU will be judged by the LAW and condemned by Jesus Christ. No man has ever fulfilled the Law- only Jesus. Jesus did give a new law, He said "I give you a commandment: love one another as I have loved you. This way men will know that you are MY disciples." This law was given to BELIEVERS- as only WE know the depth of Jesus' love (having experienced it).

    4. You've clearly never read the LAW. Muslims eat shellfish (which they claim is halal). This is a VIOLATION of the LAW. Your obsession with pork blinds you to the fact that you are a VIOLATOR of the Law. Now, to assist you. Jesus Christ said: "It is not what goes into man (consumed) that renders him unclean, but rather what comes out of him (what he speaks). Clean the inside, and the outside will be clean." (to paraphrase).

    Finally, the Father of Christianity is YHVH. Christianity is the new Covenant promised by YHVH through His prophets.

    You need to get educated o

  2. psalm from UK

    The author has tried but lost.

    There can be no inter-faith "dialogue" between Christianity and islam (though some claim to engage in it), for the sole reason that the BIBLE CLEARLY rejects any islamic claim of "common ground".

    1. We, of the CROSS, worship JESUS CHRIST as God and Lord; while islam insults His Holiness and calls Him a mere "prophet" of a "god" we don't accept.

    2. Muslims refuse to grasp the Christian principle that muslims' claim that they worship "the god" does NOT mean that this "god" is the God of the Bible; and that pointing to islamic story characters who have been given names of Historical Bible figures does not make the quran acceptable.

    As allah contradicts the Most High, and the quran contradicts the Bible- there is no "common ground" as there is NO common God.

    3. Now, muslims will claim mohammed is mentioned in the Bible- yet a reading of the HEBREW, ARAMAIC and KOINE texts disproves this fiction. Further, the claim that muslims share a "common" prophetic heritage with Christians is nonsense in light of the fact that mohammed FAILS the Biblical test for Prophets. mohammed also VIOLATED Torah and has taught muslims to VIOLATE it, as they continue to do so today.

    So, what "common ground" is the author hoping for?

    4. allah has taught muslims an incorrect version of "Trinity" (as he claims in sura 5:73-75 that Christians say "the god" is the third of three). That's an oxymoronic statement. Trinity does not say "God" is third of three, or that "the Father" is third of three.

    5. islam insults Jews, and in turn, Christians, by claiming that Jews "corrupted" the Torah- yes, the same Torah that JESUS CHRIST clearly confirms in His own words.

    6. islam has "holy oppression" in store for Christians- it is called Dhimmitude- another form of discrimination. "Common Ground"?

    We do NOT worship the same God, nor read the same texts.

    Christians and Jews can at least discuss the Tanach together and debate

  3. Ahmad Sirajudin from Malaysia

    Any attempt at interfaith dialog between Muslim, Christians and Jew would most likely end in debates, each side trying to tell the other side they are wrong. As an alternative, I would like to suggest Muslims read the Old and the New Testaments and the Christians and the Jews read the Koran. I have done that and I have discovered the whole lot of similiarities as well as differences among the three religions. This helps interfaith understanding

  4. a muslim from USA

    The article overall was written well, but it has certain errors in it. atleast from my point of view.

    Muslims do not view the prophets mentioned in the quran as christians, but as muslims. Allah (swt) said explicitely that Ibrahim (as) was neither a jew nor a christian but a muslim monotheist (hanif). This message of interfaith has alienated a large percentage of the muslim population in effort by some brothers in attracting non-muslims. Please be clear in your words in time of great fitnah

  5. Shuja from Canada

    People have misunderstood the meaning of interfaith dialouge. We do not question Christians what bible they subscribe to. Interfaith dialouge is nothing but co-existence. You beleive whatever you want to believe and we will do the same. We Muslims tend to create more problems by raising unnecessary issues like "comprimise", "different version of bibles", etc... Interfaith dialouge is something to talk on mutual issues like muncipal issues, faith based agendas, homosexuality in the society, drug addiction, youth issues etc... These issues attract others towards Islam since Islam is truth. Invite people to the masajids on food and discuss with them the mutual issues. This will open the doors for other issues automatically.

    Shuja

  6. henry jurkiewicz from UK

    you cannot have interfaith dialogue that proposes every faith can have its say , for Islam by its nature does not recognise anyother but allah.Likewise true biblical Chirstianity says there is no other name except in Christ Jesus whereby men can be saved. All that idealism of interfaith is nonsense and no faith at all.Having said that it has already been shown thaat if we are to be honest an true then any serious errors pointed out in our faiths ought to met head on and explained or abandoned if found to be based in error. Islam is in error as has been shown,but those who are predjudiced and to proud to admit they have swallowed a lie cannot stomach the truth. So what is the point of all this drivel about common ground. The only common ground you have is that we are all in sin.If we are to see anything it has to come from God. The truth is not a plurality of religious opinions but a single point of God reching down to humanity and showing them the Way of righteousness. Here is a link ,if you think you can handle it, to an unnassailble evidence by the prohet Muhammad himself that he was in error.http://answering-islam.org.uk/Authors/Wood/deuteronomy_deductions.htm No doubt i shall get the obvious reply

  7. H.A. from Yathrib

    Interfaith Dialogue is just a waste of time. I rather find a ranch and feed cows; this is more beneficial cows(and humans) and for the environment than wasting time at interfaith dialogue.

    That's because as soon as these people( THE INFIDELS) depart the meeting and with their own friends...they say WE WERE ONLY JOKING. WE WILL REMAIN INFIDEL and plot against the believers as before.

    This is just another statement of truth from me. If anyone can't handle the truth...TOO BAD!!!

  8. Charles Jacks from USA

    In attempting interfaith dialog with trithesists, one will have to use references they believe in. The problem with this is that there are just so many versions of the bible in use now. While it is possible to demonstrate a monotheistic paradigm for Jesus in the older versions, the supporting evidence has been edited out of most modern versions, at least the ones I have examined. However, there is a strong current of monotheism within Jesus's words. Jesus clearly considered himself separate from and dependent upon God unlike what is the core tenet of tritheism. Examine the start of John chapter 17.

    The benefit of this is that if someone can be returned to monotheism then they can be returned to God's good graces and away from abandonment to evil. Who should they believe anyway, unknown authors that say stuff about Jesus or Jesus himself? Thankfully, in all the editing to create new versions of the Bible, the words of Jesus are typically left alone.

  9. Alfonso from United States

    Assalamu alaykum,

    What happens in this interfaith reunions is that Muslims end up oppologizing and compromising their faith in order to please the kafirun.

  10. Babandi A. Gumel from U.K.

    Going back to the story of Abraham he never associated partner with Allah (God).Initially when he saw the Star,he said "This is my Lord" but when it set he said I like not those that set.So when he saw the moon rising up,he said "This is my Lord".But it sets he said unless my Lord guides me I shall be among the people misguided".When he saw the sun rising he (again) said "This is my Lord.This is greater".But when it set ,he said "O My people I'm indeed free from all that you join as partners (in worship).Verily I have turned my face towards Him who created the heavens and the earth Hanifa (Monothiest) and I'm not among the Mushrikin (idol worshippers).

    That was our proof which we gave Abraham against his people .We raise whom We will in degrees.

    Certainly your Lord is All-Wise,All Knowing.We bestowed upon him Isaac and Jacoob each of them We guided and before him We guided Noah and among his progeny David Solomon,Job Joseph Moses and Aaron.Thus do We reward the doers of good.And Zachariah and John and Jesus and Elias each of one of them was of the righteous.And Ishmael and Elisha and Jonah and Lot and each one of them We preffered above the Universe.And also some of their forefathers and their progeny and their breathren,We chose them and guided them on the Straight Path.This is the Guidance of Allah with which He guides whomsoever He wills of His servants.But if they had joined in worship others with Allah all that they used to do would have been in vain.They are those whom We gave the Book,the Laws and Prophethood.So if these disbelieve therein then indeed We have entrusted it to a people who are not disbelievers.So this is the simple message of Islam what else do you need more than this?Those who reject our proofs We shall gradually seize them in ways they could not perceive.Anyway Show forgiveness enjoin what is good and turn away from the foolish and if an evil whisper comes to you from Satan then seek refuge with Allah Verily He is All-Hearer the All-Knowe