Interreligious Dialogue

Who suggested interreligious dialogue first?
Who has advocated it so far?
What are the real aims of those who started it?
What has been done to realize this up to now?
Lets leave these questions and similar ones aside for a moment and suppose that we come across with an idea like this for the first time, and try to determine what our attitude should be against dialogue.
We should state immediately that it is not right to answer this question positively or negatively without thinking and hastily. As the followers of the only true religion in the world we are expected to answer this question as yes principally; however, what is important here is whom we shall make a dialogue with.
The people to represent Muslims in these dialogues should practice the essentials of Islam exactly, should perfect their hearts, minds and all of their feelings with the beauties of this religion, and should serve as examples to people who need Islam. If they can manage it, the following conditional good news of Badiuzzaman will be realized:
If we show the perfection of the realities of belief and the Islamic ethic by our actions, the followers of other religions will embrace Islam in groups. Maybe some continents and states of the earth will embrace Islam (Tarihçe-i Hayat, 90)
When the dialogue starts after we reach this point, it will be useful. Todays western community, which is seeking the truth but cannot find it because it cannot find the ideal system of belief and sample people who show it, and which retires into its shell and resorts to debauchery and faithlessness, can only meet the reality through such a dialogue. They can meet the Quran, which was sent to guide the human beings and the jinns; they can be honored to be a member of the ummah of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH), who was sent as a mercy for all creatures.
Thus to oppose to the dialogue despite having enough accumulation of knowledge means to show Muslims as negative stereotypes who meet and talk to only each other, who do not need to give something to others who are full while their neighbors are hungry, who are so egoist as to think it as a good deed to leave the needy hungry and who are so contrary to Islam. To behave like that is a great sin.
The following divine address to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) is as valid today:
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." (Aal-e-Imran, 64)
Now lets think like this:
Doesnt the belief of trinity still prevail in the world of Christianity? Doesnt this belief mean to accept beings other than Allah as deities, to become polytheists Since the illness continues, the address to the prophet to call others to Islam also calls todays Muslims to negotiate with the People of the Book, doesnt it?
Muslims have great responsibilities to this effect as they have in other issues. As a matter of fact, public-spirited, hardworking and compassionate people with sufficient accumulation of knowledge in religious sciences are working hard and trying to convey the light of Islam to the hearts that need it and trying to take advantage of every opportunity. Interreligious dialogue can be seen as one of those opportunities.
However, the people we are negotiating may want to use the same opportunity to reach their secret aims. Here, it is very important for Muslims to be prudential.
If all of the parties have the same common cause, to find the truth and cooperate against common enemies, in the end the Truth will predominate and the victorious party of this dialogue will be Muslims.
Muslims should not be the party that avoids dialogue; they should advocate that dialogue should be carried out for the common interests of human beings. However, if the other party ceases to see it as a religious issue and attempts to use it as an instrument for the political and economic interests of the world of Christianity, instead of losing time, attempts should be focused on the youth that inclines towards atheism. That is, the dialogue should be carried out with the youth.
After these explanations, lets deal with the issue on the outline and without any prejudice:
There are several dimensions of such a dialogue carried out with good intentions.
One of them is the cooperation against negativeness which is the common enemy of all religions.
What is negativeness?
Lets list some of them that we recall now:
- Atheism reaching great dimensions in Europe
-Disappearance of honor as a result of the ethic crisis and waning of the family life
-The commitment of all kinds of corruption, cruelty and betrayal for the sake of worldly interests as a result of the declining of the belief in the hereafter
- Spread of alcohol and drug addiction increasingly as an indication of the lack of nourishment of the hearts and souls
- The attempts to fill in the purposelessness with some aberrant ideas like Satanism
- And the anarchy that disturbs everybody. Bloodshed by the robot people who do not know whom they kill and why. The flow of money to the arms network instead of to the peace and welfare of human beings.
This last item reminded me the explanation of the writer of the Risale-i Nur about an issue exploited a lot. I want to mention it briefly:
He answers the question, The Quran prohibits loving the Jews and ChristiansHow would you say become friends? concisely but convincingly:
This prohibition is because of their mirroring Judaism and Christianity.
So the love prohibited by the Quran is to incline towards Judaism and Christianity and love these religions after embracing Islam, the true religion. As long as this prohibition is observed it is permissible to have a good neighboring relation, to trade, to cooperate with a Christian against common enemies. The actions mentioned above do not mean to love Christianity.
Badiuzzaman clarifies the issue as follows:
A man is not loved because of his self. He is loved because of his attributes and work. Therefore why shouldnt it be permissible to love an Islamic attribute or work? If you have a wife from the People of the Book, you will love her, of course! (Münâzarât, 40)
The last sentence is wonderful and settles the debate. A Muslim man who is married to a woman from the People of the Book will love her of course, but it does not mean that he loves her religion.
To stay away from this fine line sometimes costs us dearly.
The justification of being friends with the People of the Book is presented clearly as follows:
The reason why to become friends with them is to take their civilization and technology, and to maintain the law and order which is an essential for the worldly bliss. This kind of friendship is by no means prohibited by the Quran. (Münâzarât, 41)
These sentences attract attention to the two important aspects of the interreligious dialogue: One of them is to learn the civilization and technology from each other. The other is to maintain the law and order, that is, the world peace. The second is especially underlined in terms of being an essential for the worldly bliss.
Now lets think like this: Why should people oppose the cooperation of people from different religions and their determination of a common strategy against common enemies and problems, some of which we listed above? Only the people who have the negative ideas we mentioned should oppose such cooperation, shouldnt they?
This question always strains my mind and I can never associate it with the reality thatIslam is universal.
Two verses relating to this issue:
The Religion before Allah is Islam (submission to His will). Chapter Aal-e-Imran, 19
This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed my favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. Chapter al-Maeda, 3
Our Prophet (PBUH) is the prophet of the end of time and Islam is the only guide of the humanity till the Day of Judgment. So isnt it our duty to convey the principles of this religion to the humanity? Cant the dialogue we have mentioned be an opportunity to inform the followers of other religions who come together to heal the wounds of the community about Islam?
For instance, lets talk about Christianity: Through such a dialogue, either they will accept and take the belief of oneness from us, or we will incline towards their belief of trinity. Have we got any doubts about our belief to avoid dialogue? Since it is a reality that today a lot of Christian clergymen abandon trinity and embrace oneness, isnt it more reasonable that the other party should avoid dialogue?
Lets leave aside the speculations and wrong theories and have a look at the reality:
During the period when there was a great rate of unemployment and when backwardness prevailed, a lot of workers immigrated to Europe especially to Germany. How many of them abandoned Islam and became Christians? There are almost no Muslims becoming Christians in statistics except for a few love affairs. Some of our workers who went to Europe for the first time were affected by the Western Culture and indulged in alcoholism, debauchery in the too permissive environment but they managed to maintain their beliefs. The following generation realized the gravity of the situation and struggled to return to their selves. Now the situation is quite heartwarming and hopeful.
Not the religion but the lifestyle of the West affected our citizens who immigrated to Europe; not the churches but the pubs of the West attracted them then. Apart from the mistakes and weaknesses of our citizens, the following reality was obvious: in Europe not Christianity but debauchery was prevalent.
In todays Europe, there hasnt been any positive progress in terms of Christianity. In some universities, up to 90% of the youth (a grave rate) become atheists. Let alone building new churches, the old churches especially those with no historical values are pulled down one by one and transformed into office premises and some of them into mosques in Europe. Now we are faced with a Europe in which drugs have replaced alcohol. It is contrary to reality to fear interreligious dialogue in the name of Islam in such a medium. If we see any harm in terms of the interests of our nation and state and feel a secret plan, it is natural not to ignore it and take necessary measures. It is something different.
I would like to quote two important messages that will bring light to dialogue attempts from Risale-i Nur Collection:
One of them is the following statement that conveys a message of our Prophet to us: In accordance with the sound hadith during the end of time the real religious Christians will make an alliance with the People of the Quran and bear up against their common enemies, the atheists ( Flashes, 151)
An alliance is mentioned; a cooperation that will be realized between the real religious Christians and Muslims is informed. The expression real religious is very important; a direct alliance in the name of religion is mentioned not an alliance to present political games and to obtain financial interests. Zındıka (atheists) is pointed out as the enemy. This term includes all of the currents against religion and all of the networks of immorality.
The following statements of Badiuzzaman can be evaluated in the same context:
In this strange period, our job and holy duty makes it necessary not to engage ourselves in the People of the Belief even if they are from aberrant parties, and the Christians that believe in Allah and the hereafter and to discuss the points that will cause disagreement. Kastamonu Addendum, 247
Can we expect this message to be carried out without dialogue?
The second message:
Christianity will either die down or be purified. It will surrender to Islam and leave its weapons. (The Words, 703)
It is informed that Christianity will either completely die down or will be freed of the mistakes like trinity and will surrender to Islam.
Isnt dialogue necessary to realize it?
The following explanations in the Risale-i Nur Collection about the hadith informing the descent of Hazrat Eesa (Jesus Christ) to the earth support the second message:
A tyrannical current born of Naturalist and Materialist philosophy will gradually become strong and spread at the end of time by means of materialist philosophy, reaching such a degree that it denies God.
At that point when the current appears to be very strong, the religion of true Christianity, which comprises the collective personality of Jesus (Upon whom be peace), will emerge. That is, it will descend from the skies of Divine Mercy. Present Christianity will be purified in the face of that reality; it will cast off superstition and distortion, and unite with the truths of Islam. Christianity will in effect be transformed into a sort of Islam. Following the Quran, the collective personality of Christianity will be in the rank of follower, and Islam, in that of leader. True religion will become a mighty force as a result of its joining it. (Letters, 57)
I want to mention another dimension of this issue:
As a Muslim, we should avoid carefully committing sins like evil thoughts, looking for secrets of others, gossiping, slandering and takfeer (declaring that someone is an unbeliever) about our Muslim brothers who do not think like us. A Muslim may personally think that interreligious dialogue will harm Muslims. We will see it as a freedom of thought and respect it. However, instead of criticizing and accusing a Muslim who thinks just the opposite, it is necessary to talk to him and listen to his reasons. If the reasons include lofty aims like the spread of Islam, Muslims living in a more peaceful environment and practice Islam and convey Islam to others, it means nobody has any rights to accuse these people. If a person supports dialogue with the intention of harming Islam and Muslims, then we will oppose him and start to argue with him.
We hear that some people go beyond limits and declare that people who do not think like them are unbelievers. Ulama (scientists, scholars) determined the following rule about takfeer:
Belief is realized with the heart-felt conviction and verbal profession; similarly unbelief is realized with the heart-felt denial and verbal rejection.
So if a Muslim commits some acts that are contrary to the spirit of Islam, we cannot declare him an unbeliever at once. We have not penetrated into his heart nor have we heard any words from him rejecting Islam.
According to Ahl-us Sunnah belief, If there are ninety-nine proofs showing a persons unbelief and only one proof showing his belief, the mufti gives his decision in accordance with the only one proof.
The following hadith of the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) is spine-chilling and calls all of us to show maximum attention:
Any person who called his brother an unbeliever (has in fact done an act by which this unbelief) would return to one of them. If it were so, as he asserted (then the unbelief of man was confirmed but if it was not true), then it returned to him (to the man who labeled it on his brother Muslim).
Lastly:
A Muslim is not an introvert person. When the Quran states that we are the best ummah, the reason is explained as we convey what is right and good to others and prohibit them from committing wrong and forbidden acts. The common way of the all prophets is to show the people the true path and to liberate them from unbelief, polytheism and disobedience to Allah.
So we should present ourselves not as murderers who kill those who are in the wrong path but as improvers who try to show them the true path and show it by our style of living.
Now lets turn to ourselves and settle accounts with ourselves:
Am I feeling sorry for and trying to save people who are deprived from the light of Islam; or am I looking for occasions to end their lives and send them to hell? If my soul favors the latter it means I am deviating from the common line of the prophets. I should come to my senses, determine my duty and act accordingly.
Our Prophet was an enemy of the polytheism but he felt sorry for the polytheists and tried to save them, as a doctor is an enemy of the illness not the patient. How much do I conform to the way of my dear Prophet?
Such an inner dialogue will make us give the best decision about dialogue.

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