May 08 2013

The Necessity of Interfaith Dialogue

People are talking about peace, contentment, ecology, justice, tolerance, and dialogue. Unfortunately, the prevailing materialist worldview disturbs the balance between humanity and nature and within individuals. This harmony and peace only occurs when the material and spiritual realms are reconciled.

Religion reconciles opposites: religion–science, this world–the next world, Nature–Divine Books, material–spiritual, and spirit–body. It can contain scientific materialism, put science in its proper place, and end long-standing conflicts. The natural sciences, which should lead people to God, instead cause widespread unbelief. As this trend is strongest in the West, and because Christianity is the most influenced, Muslim–Christian dialogue is indispensable.

Interfaith dialogue seeks to realize religion's basic oneness and unity, and the universality of belief. Religion embraces all beliefs and races in brotherhood, and exalts love, respect, tolerance, forgiveness, mercy, human rights, peace, brotherhood, and freedom via its Prophets.

Islam has a Prophetic Tradition that Jesus will return during the last days. For Muslims, this means that such values as love, peace, brotherhood, forgiveness, altruism, mercy, and spiritual purification will have precedence. As Jesus was sent to the Jews and all Jewish Prophets exalted these values, dialogue with the Jews must be established, as well as a closer relationship and cooperation among Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

There are many common points for dialogue. Michael Wyschogrod writes that there are as many theoretical or creedal reasons for Muslims and Jews drawing closer together as there are for Jews and Christians coming together. [1] Furthermore, Muslims have a good record of dealing with Jews: There has been almost no discrimination, no Holocaust, denial of basic human rights, or genocide. In fact, Jews were welcomed in times of trouble, as when the Ottoman State embraced them after their expulsion from Spain.

Muslim Difficulties in Dialogue

In the last century alone, far more Muslims have been killed by Christians than all Christians killed by Muslims throughout history. [2] Many Muslims, even educated and conscious ones, believe the West seeks to undermine Islam with ever-more subtle and sophisticated methods.

Western colonialism is remembered. The Ottoman State collapsed due to European attacks. Foreign invasions of Muslim lands were followed with great interest in Turkey. The gradual "transformation" of Islam into an ideology of conflict and reaction or into a party ideology also made people suspicious of Islam and Muslims.

Islam was the greatest dynamic for Muslim independence. It has been viewed as an element of separation, a harsh political ideology, and a mass ideology of independence that raised walls between itself and the West.

Christendom's historical portrayal of Islam as a crude distorted version of Judaism and Christianity, and the Prophet as a fraud, still rankle.

Dialogue Is a Must

For interfaith dialogue to succeed, we must forget the past, ignore polemics, and focus on gicommon points. The West's view has changed. Consider Massignon, who says Islam is "the faith of Abraham revived with Muhammad." He believed that Islam has a positive, almost prophetic mission in the post-Christian world, for: "Islam is the religion of faith. It is not a religion of natural faith in the God of the philosophers, but faith in the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Ishmael, faith in our God. Islam is a great mystery of Divine Will." He believed in the Qur'an's Divine authorship and Muhammad's Prophethood. [3]

The West's perspective on our Prophet also has softened. Such Christian clerics and people of religion like Charles J. Ledit, Y. Moubarac, Irene-M. Dalmais, L. Gardet, Norman Daniel, Michel Lelong, H. Maurier, Olivier Lacombe, and Thomas Merton express warmth for Islam and the Prophet, and support dialogue.

The Second Vatican Council, which initiated this dialogue and so cannot be ignored, shows that the Catholic Church's attitude has changed. In the Council's second period, Pope Paul VI said:

"On the other hand, the Catholic Church is looking farther, beyond the horizons of Christianity. It is turning towards other religions that preserve the concept and meaning of God as One, Transcendental, Creator, Ruler of Fate and Wise. Those religions worship God with sincere, devotional actions…"

"The Church reaffirms to them that in modern society in order to save the meaning of religion and servanthood to God—a necessity and need of true civilization—the Church itself is going to take its place as a resolute advocate of God's rights on man…

"In our world that has become smaller and in which relations have become closer, people expect answers from religion regarding mysterious enigmas in human nature that turn their hearts upside down. What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is goodness and reward, what is sin? What is the source and point of suffering? What is the path to true happiness? What is death, what is the meaning of judgment after death and receiving the fruits of what one has done? What is the mystery surrounding the beginning and end of existence? …

"The Church encourages its children, together with believing and living as Christians, to get to know and support with precaution, compassion, dialogue and co-operation those who follow other religions and to encourage them to develop their spiritual, moral and socio-cultural values." [4]

Pope John Paul II admits in his Crossing the Threshold of Hope that Muslims worship in the best and most careful manner. He reminds his readers that, on this point, Christians should follow Muslims.

[1] Prof. Griffith, Sidney, 'Sharing the Faith of Abraham: the 'Credo' of Louis Massignon', Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol.8, No.2, pp.193-210)
[2] All the above mentioned quotations from the Ecumenical Council are translated from: Prof. Yildirim, Suat, 'Kiliseyi Islam ile Diyaloga Iten Sebepler,' Yeni Umit. No. 16, p. 7.
[3] Izzeti, Abu'l-Fazl, Islamin Yayilis Tarihine Giris (trans.), 1st. 1984, p.348).
[4] Elmalili Hamdi Yazir, Hak Dini Kur'an Dili, 1st., Vol.2, pp. 1131-2.