The Holy Qur’an tells us that Islam came with the creation of first human being. Adam, the progenitor of all humans received the message of Islam from God at the time of his creation. Hence, he was the first Muslim, or one who submits to God.
All other prophets that came after Adam were also Muslim. The Divine Message received by them all was that of Islam, or submission to God. That Supreme Being created this vast universe we are part of, and millions of other universes that are now known to exist, and everything in them. He is their Lord and Master and governs them all. We are accountable to Him for all our actions.
The Divine Guidance for how we should live for our success not only in this world but also for success in the eternity of the Hereafter was that of Islam. All of the prophets spoke with God, lived, practiced and preached Islam. God raised them in every tribe and nation, and according to an Islamic tradition as many as 124, 000 prophets came through in our history in this world.
As Muslims we respect and honor all these prophets. Belief in them is an article of faith in Islam: we are required to believe, honor and respect each and every one of them.
The Qur’an describes stories of some of these prophets. For example, the story of Moses and his courageous stand against the tyrant Pharaoh is told variously at several places. Thus these narrations are meant to teach us essential lessons. All prophets were models human beings since they were constantly under guidance from God. Their lives serve as standards for our behavior and conduct in life.
Qur’an Testifies to the Truth in all Religions
Another article of Islamic faith is to believe in Holy Scriptures received by all the prophets. Although much has been lost through antiquity and changed through human tempering, yet the Holy Qur’an testifies that all religions contain elements of truth. As an example ponder over the following verses:
“That which We have revealed to you of the Book is the Truth – confirming what was revealed before it: For God is assuredly – with respect to His servants – Well acquainted and Fully-Observant. Then We have given the Book for inheritance to such of Our servants as We have chosen: But there are among them some who wrong their own souls; some who follow a middle course; and some who are, by God’s leave, foremost in good deeds; that is highest Grace.” (Fatir 35:31-32).
As such Islam holds adherents of all religions as equal members of a universal brotherhood. Islamic call is ecumenical par excellence – that is, very much related to all faiths, and interfaith dialogue is considered a domestic interaction between friends and relatives. The task of those involved in this understanding of each other is to sift through the history and critically examine the facts based on cooperative endeavors.
In fact, the vagaries of times and human interpolations have created contradictions in other religions. A fact acknowledged by Biblical scholars and exegetes. Such as Jesus being the son of God is meant in a metaphorical sense.
Hans Kung, a prominent Catholic theologian in his book Islam: Past, Present & Future acknowledges that the greatest contribution of Muhammad(p) is monotheism. He criticizes the principle of trinity and any associations with God. He sees the polemical controversies between Islam, Christianity and Judaism as transitory and that the three faiths will unite in a shared future based on their advocacy of ethical universal principles.
This future vision is in accord with the Qur’an which clearly states that it came to correct the misconceptions as well as to complete the message of earlier faiths. And it forcefully asserts that our actions be guided by divine ethical standards and be applied equally and equitably to all of humankind.
A Muslim’s Responsibility
A Muslim is urged to call others to share Islam’s vision of truth in order they could benefit from it. However, it instructs those charged with the call to do it with care and understanding, and should not at all put themselves above others in this friendly discussion: “Invite all to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching: And argue with them in ways that best and more gracious: For your Lord knows best, who has strayed from His Path, and those who receive guidance.” (Al Nahl 16:125).
The Call must not be coercive in any way following the Qur’anic maxim: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (Al Baqarah 2:256). Even the Prophet Muhammad(p)was told on various occasions when few would listen to him that his mission was not to make them believers, but only to convey the message to them, such as:”Therefore give admonition, for you are one to admonish. You are not one to manage (men’s) affairs.” (Al Ghashiyah 88:21-22) . Even tell that anyone should be free to accept or reject the Truth coming from Lord Almighty . “Say, ‘The Truth is from your Lord’: Let him wo will, believe, and let him who will, reject it.” (Al Kahf 18:29). Alas, all world tyrants would understand that free choice and free expression are a sacred human right.
Furthermore we all have to understand the observed diversity of humankind is intended by God. “If God has so willed, He would have made us a single People, but His plan is to test you in what He has given you; so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute.” (Al Maidah 5:48).
The variety and pluralism observed is not discriminate. Only God is to judge, and He will judge who is righteous among us: “O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you. And God has well-acquainted (with all things).” (Al Hujarat 49:13).
Special Relations of Muslims with Jews and Christians
Islam calls for a special relationship with Jews and Christians. The Qur’an gives them an honorific title of Ahl al-Kitab - people or family of the Holy Scriptures. The three faiths consider the great patriarch, Abraham as their common ancestor and as such are called Abrahamic faiths. Islamic scholars address the three faiths together as heavenly faiths (Adyan Samawiya) – since they are based on revelations from the One On-High.
Qur’an states that scriptures revealed to Moses and Jesus are a guide and mercy from God, such as: “It was We who revealed the Law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the Prophets who bowed (as in Islam) to God’s Will, by the Rabbis and the Doctors of Law: For to them was entrusted the protection of God’s Book And they were witness thereto:” (Al Ma’idah 5:44).
“And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: A guidance and an admonition to those who fear God.” (Al Ma’idah 5:46).
In their discussions Muslims should have special regard for Jews and Christians. “And dispute not with the People of Book, except that which means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, we believe in the revelation which has come down to us and that which came down to you; our God and your God is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” (Al Ankabut 29:46).
Hence American Muslim organizations right from their beginning approached Christians and Jewish organizations for dialogue, cooperation, collaboration and working together on common issues. The Islamic Society of North America, an umbrella organization for Muslims in the United States and Canada recognized the importance of developing relationship with Catholics, who withstood discrimination as a religious minority and had similar experiences as Muslims in the United States. And formal dialogues with Catholics were initiated in 1985, a few years after ISNA was formed and its secretary general organized a Midwest Regional Dialogue with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Other regional dialogues followed and they meet annually to discuss various aspects of faith association as well as cooperate on issues of common interest.
Similarly, ISNA approached the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCC) less than two months after the tragedy of 9/11 to cooperate and engage in collaborative efforts to face current issues. The NCC is a country-wide organization composed of 35 Orthodox, Protestant, Episcopalian, historic African American and peace church traditions representing 45 million Christians in 100,000 congregations in the United States.
Muslims have had a particularly difficult task overcoming the influence of Zionists and their supporters because of the recurrent Palestinian issue. There are, however, a number of Jewish groups interested to develop relationships with Muslims. Among these Rabbi Marc Schneider, head of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) convened a summit of rabbis and imams in New York in November 2007. In November 2008, FFEU and ISNA arranged a weekend of “Twinning” between 50 mosques and synagogues across the United States and Canada to better understand each other and jointly combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. These “Twinning” events have become a regular yearly feature with the blessings of the World Jewish Congress in the U.S.
The Union for Reformed Judaism is the largest of the three main Judaic denominations in North America. ISNA invited Rabbi Eric Yoffie its president to its 2007 annual convention on the labor-day weekend. Addressing the largest gathering of Muslims in North America, Rabbi Yoffie called for an open dialogue between Jews and Muslims, appealed for an end to racial profiling, emphasized the dangers of extremism, and asked American Muslims to assist in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Other Muslim organizations in the U.S. have been equally well-involved in interfaith work. Among them are Islamic Circle of North America, Muslim Public Affairs Council, and American Muslim Society. Also the Council of Islamic-American Relations, the Muslim advocacy organization with its extensive network works closely with many faith organizations to enhance understanding of Islam and build coalitions with them.
Islamophobia is Rampant in the West
A major prevailing problem Muslims the world over face is Islamophobia prevailing all over the West. The Gallup, famous polling organization carried out a world poll and released its findings on December 10, 2014, which showed Islamophobia prevails in all of the Western countries.
The Gallup defined Islamophobia as an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.
The Gallup report said that Islamophobia existed before the 9/11 terrorist incidents. But it has increased greatly during the last decade. It escalated after an Islamic Center proposal near the World Trade Center memorial in New York in 2010, and increased further with the murder of Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the recent shootings in San Bernardino, California. And it led to increased hate crimes and discriminations against Muslims, attacks on mosques, passing of anti-Sharia laws in some states, and emergence of the hate rallies.
All forms of media have engaged in distorting Islam and adverse depiction of Muslims.
It has gone on to new heights with the Republican Party candidates in the current presidential race. Donald Trump first targeted Mexican migrants, and seeing it worked targeted Muslims saying he would order surveillance of mosques and ban Muslims from entering the United Sates.
Interfaith Work is the Way to Go
Fortunately, during these critical times decades of work by Muslim organizations began to pay off. Among these is the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign, a coalition of 31 national, interfaith, and religious organizations that ISNA joined in 2010 to uphold the freedoms on which Americans of all faiths depend. The Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign is funded by a large grant from the Open Society Foundation and was launched during the mosque controversy in New York.
An organization calling itself “Global Rally for Humanity” arranged on October 9-10, 2015 a number of hate rallies initially targeting 23 mosques including ISNA headquarters in Plainfield, Ind. At some locations these protesters carried guns to incite violence: and CAIR called for patient and peaceful rebuttal. However, the rallies soon fizzled out when they saw people from other faiths standing Shoulder to Shoulder with their Muslims brothers and sisters. Commenting Catherine Orsborn, the director of the Campaign said: “Thankfully these protests do not represent a majority of the American public; however they do represent a national rhetoric of anti-Muslim bigotry that has grown pernicious and widespread.”
American religious leaders were especially alarmed by the anti-Muslim rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates. A multi-faith group, which included Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and evangelical leaders placed an ad in the Washington Post on December 21, 2015 saying “Muslims are our equal.” The leaders called remarks from the political leaders “highly offensive” and said suggestions that a Muslim cannot be president or that Muslims should be registered and their mosques closed are unconstitutional. “As faith and community leaders that value our own freedom of religion, we state unequivocally that we love our Muslim siblings in humanity,” they wrote.
The Washington Post letter was signed at Georgetown University by 49 religious and civic leaders. Among the speakers were Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, Chris Seiple, a longtime advocate on international religious freedom who has advised the State Department, Catherine Orsborn, director Should to Shoulder Campaign, and Rabbi Jonah Pesner, head of advocacy and social justice for the Judaism Reform Movement.
President Obama endorsed this stand on his visit to Islamic Society of Baltimore on February 3, 2016 when he declared that “an attack on one faith is an attack on our faith faiths” and “when a religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up.”
It is very much obvious that the current population of Muslims estimated at about 7 million, a targeted minority by politicians and special interest groups constitutes only a small portion (about 2%) of the total U.S. population. Thus it can withstand the continuous assaults and opposition, and advance themselves further only through the help, cooperation and collaboration of other faith groups.
The experience of those involved in interfaith work is that most people of faith in the U.S. are very keen to know from their Islamic compatriots, learn the truth, and collaborate with them. The national Muslim organizations and some locals knew this from their beginning and developed relationships. With the rise of hateful ISIS that violates all Islamic norms, local communities have become convinced to save their children from its vicious grips, and enlighten others about the true nature of Islam and about the 1.6 billion mainstream peaceful and peace-loving world Muslim communities. They are committed to amicably work with these faith groups, convinced that this is way to go for Muslims, now and in future in the U.S. and elsewhere, God willing.
Siraj Islam Mufti, Ph.D. is a writer and author involved in interfaith activities. This article was published on March 9, 2016.