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Interview (10 Oct 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)

What Does Islam Say About Interfaith Dialogue?

By Victor Edwin, New Age Islam

10 October 2017

Yusuf Jha currently works as a translator/trainee Mufti at the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, in Abu Dhabi, wherein he specializes in matters related to the local English-speaking community. Engaged in a pastoral role as a leader of Friday prayers and sermons and being authorized to deliver one of the few English Friday sermons in the region, he promotes a non-sectarian methodology of Islam rooted in its classical and spiritual traditions, positively engaged with society, and appreciative of human diversity. In this interview with Victor Edwin, a Catholic priest-scholar based in Delhi, he talks about issues related to Islam and interfaith dialogue.

What does Islam say about interfaith dialogue?

There are few Divine Books that are as comprehensive as the Qur'an when it comes to detailing the manner of dialogue to be employed between adherents of different faith-communities. In this regard, the Qur'an explicitly says:

 Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful instruction, and discuss with others in ways that are best and most gracious: for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His Path, and who receives guidance. (Qur'an 16:125)

 The beauty and wisdom that the Qur'an refers to in the above verse as the manner to be embodied when calling people to God has been alternatively called the "way of the heart" by many Islamic scholars. This way is reflected in an Arabic phrase that says: "the tongue of someone's state is more eloquent than their words". It is for this reason that the mystic Ibn Ataillah Al-Iskandari (1276 – 1309 AD) famously posited that all "Speech emerges garbed in the raiment of the heart from which it proceeds."

 As such, the beauty the Qur'an is referring to is a heartfelt one, which by its nature precludes sophistry and entails sincerity. It also requires humility, for as the Qur'an emphasizes, it is God's role to judge who is "rightly guided" and who has "gone astray".

 This means that to speak ill of the other is not the way of the believer in Islam, for in an authenticated saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him), he is reported to have said: “The believer is not a slanderer, nor does he curse others, and nor is he immoral or shameless.” (Tirmidhi)

 The Prophet also alluded to the fact that all words carry weight, for just as: "A goodly word is an act of charity." (Bukhari and Muslim), to give into spiteful dissension is to give into the worst of us, as the Qur'an says:

 “And tell My servants to say that which is best. Indeed, Satan induces [dissension] among them. Indeed Satan is ever, to mankind, a clear enemy.” (Qur'an 17:53)

 Thus, Islam enjoins upon its adherents the general imperative of speaking kindly, stating: “And speak to people in a manner that is well” (Qur'an 2:83).This is because it holds that the need to be cognizant about what one says goes hand in hand with the accountability of God’s judgment, for the Prophet said: "Whoever believes in God and the Last Day should speak in a goodly manner or refrain by being silent." (Bukhari and Muslim)

 So in summary, the discussion above indicates the general attitude that Muslims are encouraged to hold in dialogue, namely: sincerity, humility, kindly demeanour and a compassionate, heartfelt wisdom.

Some people may claim that Islam is against interfaith dialogue. What do you say?

Far from being inimical to dialogue, the Qur'an celebrates dialogue and diversity, affirming that differentiation within mankind, in respect of gender, tribe, race, and even religion, serves a contemplative function that allows one to draw closer to God, stating:

O Mankind, truly We have created you from a Male and Female, and have made you into nations and tribes that you (all) may come to know. Truly the most noble of you, in the sight of God, is the most God-Conscious. (Qur'an 49:13)

Distinction and difference between people are thus affirmed by the Qur'anic world-view as being Divinely willed and intended to be a means by which the consciousness of God is attained. The phrase "that you may come to know”, in Arabic, Ta‘Ârafû, is reflexive, and deliberately left unqualified. This from a rhetorical perspective not only delineates the immense magnitude of what is known, but also entails multiple dimensions of such "knowing", such as  knowing the other, knowing oneself through the other, and at a deeper level, coming to ultimately know God through this process. This is why the root word for this sense of knowing is the same root, ‘Arafah, used for the disclosure of Divine Reality or Gnosis, termed Ma’rifah in Arabic. Thus, Islam posits that contemplation on the differences between oneself and others is intended to ultimately lead to realization of the Unicity of the One bringing about such differences, for meaning is often best delineated through conflicting polarities, as the famous mystic Yahya Ibn Mu'adh Al-Razi (830–871 CE) said: that one who truly knows himself, knows his Lord".

Thus, Islam's position is that self-knowledge and knowledge of the other are interwoven and complementary, being integrated in an overarching knowledge of God. In that regard, the goal of dialogue in Islam is not to assert one worldview over the other, but, instead, to see the process of dialogue, like all forms of relationship, as a Mirror of Consciousness pointing towards the Divine, eventually allowing for the means of self-realization and in an  ultimate sense realization of God. Hence, in contradistinction to being inimical to dialogue, a truly Islamic approach instead always celebrates and welcomes dialogue as an ever-present opportunity to discover the Divine, for as the Qur'an states:

Wherever you turn, there is the Face of God (Qur'an 2:115)

Some people may claim that since Islam is a missionary religion and since Muslims are commanded to engage in Dawah, Muslims cannot genuinely engage in dialogue. What do you feel?

Muslims are commanded to engage in Da’wah. The word Dawah itself means to invite, and as mentioned previously, Muslims are indeed enjoined to "Call to the way of the Lord" (Qur'an 16:125) in ways that are best, through their hearts and not just their words. However, such a calling is not a missionary endeavour of overt proselytisation intended to increase numbers of a particular faith community, but, instead, a call to the essential Truth of the nature of being. The Muslim himself is tasked first and foremost to live and embody the Truths he lays claim to, the greatest of which is beholding the Unicity of God (Tawhid) that is embodied horizontally through the Prophet’s example as being Rahmatan lil 'Alamin , a mercy to the worlds, having compassionate care towards all sentient beings.  Thus, if done truthfully and properly, this "calling" itself should pre-empt disharmony with other people as it aids self-discovery and love for greater humanity. This can be evidenced by Qur'anic advice on the manner in which such a "calling" is to be operationalised wherein the Qur’an states:

Say: "O People of the Book! Come to a Word Common between us and you: That we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than God." If they then turn back, say you: "Bear witness that we are Muslims (submitting ourselves to God’s Will) (Qur'an 3:64).

What, in your view, should be the basic common consensus that brings people of different faiths together to dialogue in the first place?

The basis of dialogue in Islam is to come to know and better worship God. It is to come to realize from one's lived experience that:

Everything is perishing except His Manifest Face [or Essence] (Qur'an 28:88).

If one begins to see the above in every aspect of creation, then the purpose of such dialogue is to realize from our experience that we are already “not”, in a certain sense, and that it is only God's reality that is not subject to finality, cancellation, extinction, non-being, entailing that only He is absolutely Real. Hence, such dialogue becomes about sincerely seeking The Real, i.e. God.

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/interview/victor-edwin,-new-age-islam/what-does-islam-say-about-interfaith-dialogue?/d/112829

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  • The basis of interfaith dialogue must be derived from our own enlightened minds. If one needs to go to the holy books to find justification for interfaith dialogue one is not ready for it.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 10/10/2017 12:14:35 PM

  • By comparison, the Vatican often invites non-Xtians into Vatican
    I would love to see interfaith dialog held in Mecca or Medina ;
    Meanwhile, Kafirs are forbidden to enter Mecca or Medina
    Until this can happen, all is Taqiyah

    By Shan Barani - 10/10/2017 9:50:16 AM

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