South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Need for interfaith dialogue
Mohammad Jamil

Islam is a religion of peace; it exhorts tolerance and expects of the Muslims to consecrate and revere all religions. This is borne out by the fact that none of the Muslim countries ever ventured to unleash a provocation of the west and the faith of its people. However, it is none other than a western state that provokes the religious sentiments of the Muslims around the world. The recent sacrilegious film made in the United States that has outraged the religious emotions of Muslims around the world, including Pakistan, is not the first example of profanity coming from the West but there have been more of such profane and sacrilegious material in the past. Of the recent history, the book by Indian-born UK national Salman Rushdie, “Satanic Verses”, which was published in 1989, is still fresh in the memory for its blasphemous contents that caused the worldwide protest.

In September 2005, a Danish newspaper had carried the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) followed by their publication in Netherlands and elsewhere that had hurt the feelings of Muslims throughout the world. On 12th September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI in his lecture to staff and students at the University of Regensburge - his Bavarian homeland - had quoted criticism of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by a 14th century Byzantine Christian emperor Manuel II, who among other things misinterpreted Jihad and misquoted the command, which had triggered protests throughout the world. In the Holy Quran, Islam advocates religious liberalism: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256). But Emperor Manuel was quoted as having said: “It is one of the suras of the early period when Prophet Muhammed was still powerless and under threat”. Some liberal-democrats in the West had objected to the infecundity of referring to 620 years old analysis, as it gave rise to protests and tension between the two great religions. However, a statement from the Vatican City had said: “The Holy Father sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim believers and were interpreted in a way that does not correspond in any way to his intentions”.

Quite a few Muslim rulers and rulers from other religions showed utter disregard to Allah’s commandments. If someone is not a good Muslim or a good Christian and does not act upon the commandments, Islam or Christianity is not to blame. Muslims believe that God is the most Magnanimous and the most Merciful to His creation and his reward and forgiveness are not confined to any particular sect, discipline or denomination but to all and sundry. “Those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabians - whoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right - surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve” (2:62). The Holy Quran exhorts Muslims to recognize and show reverence to all the prophets Allah had sent; and it is clear from the above verse that Allah will bestow His bounties on all who pursue His commandments.

Anyhow, today Muslims are on the receiving end today. With the US-led war on terror, none else but Muslim fraternity is targeted. Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir are the places where Muslims have been persecuted, subjected to repression and foreign occupation. And they are fighting for liberation. In all these cases, Muslims have been pushed against the wall with the result that the world has become more violent, more radicalized and more dangerous place to live in. Against this backdrop, if a few hundred misguided elements out of 1.5 billion Muslims in the world resort to violence or suicide attacks, Islam or Muslim fraternity as a whole is not to blame. On the other hand, in many American states Evangelists use vitriolic and even abusive language on radio and other media not only against Muslims but also against Islam.

If the western countries continue to misuse the right of freedom of speech to hurt Muslims and followers of other faiths, then they would make this world unsafe for the present and the coming generations. In 2008, the three-day Interfaith Dialogue Conference organized in Mecca by Rabita Alam-i-Islami had ended with a call to scholars and leaders of the Muslim World to develop mechanism for dialogue and exchange of ideas with other faiths. More than 500 delegates from all Muslim countries had participated in the conference to discuss ways and means to effectively take on challenges of rigidity, ignorance and narrow-mindedness so as to make the followers of other religions understand the message of Islam and its potential to solve the problems facing the world. Many such conferences have been held in Saudi Arabia, Doha, Geneva and elsewhere but to no avail, as there is no reciprocation from the US and the West. Yet it is imperative to hold interfaith dialogue to make this world safer place to live in.

However, the Muslim World should first forge unity in its own ranks whereby scholars representing various schools of religious thought should appeal to their followers to shun sectarian conflicts. Otherwise the West would raise the question that those who do not have unity among them, and do not show tolerance to each other, how can they show tolerance to other religions. Anyhow, the world is in turmoil, and the need for interfaith dialogue to achieve interfaith harmony has never been so great as it is today. The OIC should come out of the shadow of the super power America and used the leverage of oil and trade relations with the US and the West for making laws to punish those who commit blasphemous acts hurting the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims, or for that matter followers of any religion.. It should form a delegation which should visit capitals of the world to make a case in the UN. Leaders from Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Malaysia should be included in the delegation.