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A Muslim perspective on Interfaith

Basma Elshayyal's picture

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A Muslim perspective

 

This topic is one which I feel most strongly about; and one which is very close to my heart; so I’m anticipating that my contribution in this essay will be the most personal.

 

Firstly, just to clarify, the two concepts included in the title mean very different things to me. For example, a parachutist about to jump out of a plane believing that they had the necessary safety equipment strapped to their back would have a very different attitude to one who had faith in his parachute and had perhaps tested it before commencing.

 

Rooted in faith

Similarly, I think that dialogue and encounter between ‘people of faith’ and others – no matter how positive or fruitful it may be – will always run a different course. Quite simply, ‘interfaith’ by its very nature must have ‘faith’ as a prerequisite to existing.

 

Having said this, I cannot possibly imagine a world where this is absent. As a Muslim, I cannot claim that I truly accept all Islam’s tenets unless I believe in love, respect and follow the teachings of every single one of Allah’s prophets and messengers. This list begins with Adam, goes through Abraham, Moses, Jesus (as well as many others) and culminates in Muhammad (peace be upon them all).

 

Say: We believe in God and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and his sons, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between them, and unto Him we have surrendered.
(Qur’an 3:83-84)

 

My own interfaith experiences

Reflecting on my own personal life, some of my most enriching learning experiences have, I believe, stemmed from encounters and dialogue held with members of other beliefs. I have vivid memories of my formative years in Alexandria, Egypt, the recollections my mother would share about her neighbours and childhood friends as we walked together: which of her classmates had communion at this church round the corner, her neighbour who married at this synagogue just down the road and so on. All remained committed to their own faiths, positive citizens of the country in which they lived, and true lifelong friends and companions. No less vivid are memories of my own primary school days (spent at a Roman Catholic institution in Edinburgh) and the lasting friendships forged there; more recently my current experiences as an RE teacher and everyone I have been fortunate enough to have met and worked with. This has all had an incredible impact on me and comes flooding back whenever I come across the following verse:

 

If it were not for God’s support… monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques - where the name of God is commemorated frequently - would have been destroyed… God is Powerful, Almighty. (Qur’an 22:40)


 

In preparing for this essay, I came across a few verses in the Qur’an which I would like to share, as I believe they embody the real, dynamic spirit and essence of the wholesomeness that may emanate from sincerely listening to others’ beliefs and the very tangible goodness that can result from interfaith initiative…

  • On the importance of wisdom, measured speech, sharing one’s opinions and patience at all times:

Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and discuss with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best. (Qur'an 16:125)

...Whenever you speak, speak justly, even if a near relative is concerned; and fulfil the covenant of God. Thus does He command you, that you may remember. (Qur'an 6:152)

  • On the concept of freedom, ‘setting out to change other’s beliefs’, the centrality of mutual respect and universality of goodness:

Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (Qur'an 2:256)

The main aim should be that of mutual benefit, learning and enrichment – not an atmosphere of point-scoring or aggressive debate.

  • On not taking blessings one has for granted and remembering to enjoy diversity created by God together, regardless of differences of opinion and belief:

Therefore be patient with what they say, and celebrate (constantly) the praises of thy Lord, before the rising of the sun, and before its setting; yea, celebrate them for part of the hours of the night, and at the sides of the day: that thou mayest have (spiritual) joy. (Qur'an 20:130)

And finally – On ‘agreeing to disagree’!

Say : O ye that reject Faith!

I worship not that which ye worship,

Nor will ye worship that which I worship.

And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship,

Nor will ye worship that which I worship.

To you be your Way, and to me mine. (Qur’an, 109:1-6)

 

Realism is indispensable. Interfaith dialogue is not, in my humble opinion, a forum where people sit around politely chatting, skirting controversial issues and aiming to merge all beliefs into a nebulous haze of ‘similarities’ shared between all, in the sincere, but mistaken, belief that this will help result in social cohesion or harmony. It is, in fact, a precious (and too often rare) opportunity to rise to very real challenges presented in today’s societies, to learn from each other and grow together, that must be seized whenever and wherever possible.