Quranic Motivation for interfaith dialogue

logo_interfaith3In Islam rights are of two kinds: the Divine rights and the Human rights. Divine rights include strong faith in the Lord and worshipping Him. Humanity is described as “Allah’s family” and thereby Human rights are sacred. The Quran whilst repeatedly telling the believers to worship the Lord emphasises the respect for Human rights. In order to promote these rights and good relations the Quran teaches four principles:

  1. The Equality of mankind
  2. Mutual understanding
  3. Cooperation
  4. Friendship

These wonderful virtues should underpin relationships and interactions in particular Christian-Muslim. Here we will examine these principles to show how the Quran encourages Muslims to adopt them.

Equality not discrimination

The glorious Quran says: “O men! We have created you all out of a male and female and have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another” (Hujarat: 13). The classical commentators interpret a “male” and a “female” as “we have created you from a mother and a father”, implying that this equality of biological origin is reflected in the equality of human dignity common to all (M Asad: the Message of the Quran Pg. 904).

The Quran also highlights the criterion for dignity as being piety, the God consciousness and awareness of other’s rights. This concept of equality of mankind is given a legal status in another verse; “There is no compulsion in religion” (Baqarah: 256). God has given mankind the freedom to choose a religion. Archbishop Carey very rightly asks “are we really ready to build our relations on equality? Are we willing to give others the right as we expect for ourselves?”

Another interesting verse is this one: “Unto everyone of you we have given a different law and a way of life. And if God had so willed He could have made you all one single community” (Maida: 48). This makes it absolutely clear that the different religions are part of the divine plan, who are we to object? Within this diversity is human unity. This verse further highlights the inclusive nature of Islam.

Mutual understanding not disengagement

islam_christian1I think the following verse of Ale-Imran is a clear invitation to understand about one another, it’s an invitation to discover our commonalities. “O people of the book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God, that we associate no partner with him, that we should not appoint from among ourselves lords and patrons other than God” (Ale-Imran: 64).

Professor Faruqi points out “there can be no cooperative endeavour without consciousness of the common base and shared purpose. The general awareness of Muslims and Christians ought to be developed until the truthfulness of the common base and moral desirability are recognised”.

As far as Muslim understanding of Christians is concerned there are some misunderstandings for example: Colonialism, Christian missionaries and Orientalists. Muslims must make distinction between excesses of these and Christianity, these western activities and Christianity are not the same thing. This will go a long way in helping Muslims better understand their Christian friends. Similarly, the Christian’s awareness of Muslim concepts of Prophethood and Jihad, status and role of women will help Christians overcome the misunderstandings about Muslims.

Cooperation not conflict

The Quran lays down a principle with regards to this when it says “And co-operate in matters of righteousness and piety” (Maida: 2). There are many fields of activity where Muslims and Christians can work together for example:

1. Provide spiritual guidance; reconnect humanity to their creator, develop God bound consciousness.

2. Promote the development of moral values in the society at large.

3. Support the family institution; Rejuvenate traditional marriage, re-educate young about the rights of parents, tackle problems of divorce and domestic violence.

4. Help modern man to cope with materialism and consumerism thus achieving a balance between worldliness and the thoughts of the hereafter.

5. Raise voice against the neo-colonialism and the wars it wages on humanity e.g. War on Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine etc.

6. Help in the relief of world poverty and development of sustainable societies particularly in Africa.

7. Support the asylum seekers and the refugees.

Muslims and Christians are best suited to helping the postmodern society. We as believers have the know-how, the tools and the teachings, which can guide mankind in these fields. The crucial question however is how? And who will bring this about?

Friendship not Hatred

A friend is a person with whom one enjoys mutual affection and regard. There are many levels of friendship, from intimate friendship to mere acquaintance or mere knowledge of someone. The four levels often used in Tafsir books are:

  • Muwalat – Intimate and very close friendship
  • Muwasat – sympathetic relationship
  • Madarat – to show regard and courtesy
  • Muamalat – purely economic or professional relationship

A verse that is often quoted as evidence against making friends with Christians and Jews is verse 51 of Surah Maida “O believers do not take Jews and Christians for your allies”.

Muhammad Asad says “this prohibition of a moral alliance with non Muslims does not constitute an injunction against normal, friendly relations with such of them as are well disposed towards Muslims”.

Remember these verses were revealed at a time when the nascent Muslim community was under enormous tensions with other people, the Jews in particular. However in Surah Mumtahinah a much later Madni Surah the Quran predicts “it may well be that God will bring about mutual affection between you and some of those whom you now face as enemies; For God is infinite in his power and God is much forgiving a dispenser of grace” (Mumtahinah: 7).

And how true was this prediction in later Islamic history when we see excellent relationships between Jews, Muslims and Christians.

As religious people it is imperative we develop friendship that grows beyond just a dialogue. This will send a positive message to the whole society. The Quran says “… You will find nearest in affection to (Muslims) are those who say, ‘We are Christians’ since amongst them are priests and monks who are not arrogant. When they listen to that which was revealed to the Messenger, you will see their eyes fill with tears as they recognise its truth” (Maida: 82).

This verse praises the Christian Priests and Monks and describes their friendly nature towards the Muslims. In conclusion the Quran is encouraging Muslims to develop these virtues so that they can build a harmonious and peaceful relations with others.

References

  • The message of the Quran by Muhammad Asad, The book foundation, England
  • The Holy Quran – Abdullah Yusuf Ali, King Fahd printing complex, Madina
  • Ismail Al Faruqi by Ataullah Siddiqui, Islamic foundation