Why Muslim And Christian Scholars Come Together
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In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon all His Messengers.
Along the course of human life, there are milestones that serve as important turning points. Such milestones should be best utilized and they should not pass unnoticed.
I think, and Allah knows best, that we are currently witnessing a critical stage, especially after the attacks on the United States on that bloody Tuesday and its serious repercussions.
I can safely say that our personal credibility as believers and religious leaders is also at a crossroads. The value of our very existence and the fruits garnered by our efforts are undoubtedly put to an even harder test than ever before.
The whole world is looking forward to see to what extent the force of our moral example is effective. Indeed, we are in a situation of 'to be or not to be'.
Either we carry out an active role that might reshape the current events towards the right course in a way that best suits our creeds or we will sink into oblivion for good.
The whole world, on the one hand, awaits our great expectations. We should rise to the situation that goes in harmony with the high hopes of millions of believers who are anxious to find out how far religion has an impact on daily life.
Undoubtedly, when our role is restricted to mere decoration we will no longer be effective.
We would like to stress the fact that we [Muslims] welcome any approach that might bring Muslim scholars and Christian bishops to common grounds to co-operate in order to find suitable solutions to contingent or chronic problems that are directly related to the Muslim-Christian world.
All Muslims have a firm belief that the Gospel is a Divine Scripture revealed by God. We have unshakable belief that Jesus [`Isa], peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is one of Allah's Messengers who endured untold suffering to disseminate their messages. Such Messengers are the elite of all Prophets.
We also believe that his mother [Mary] has been chosen by God Almighty to be the most honorable among women. We hold her in high esteem.
Unlike Khadijah, the wife of Prophet Muhammad, Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, and unlike his daughter Fatimah, and unlike his mother Aminah, two chapters of the Qur'an were named after both the Virgin Mary and the Family of `Imran. Allah Almighty says: "Lo! Allah preferred Adam and Noah and the Family of Abraham and the Family of 'Imran above [all His] creatures" (Aal-`Imran).
Sufficed to say that numerous verses of the Glorious Qur'an describe many of Jesus's miracles not found in many Gospels.
Islam orders Muslims to argue with tolerance toward others, especially the People of the Scripture [Jews and Christians]. Allah Almighty says: "And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in [a way] that is better…" (Al-`Ankaboot: 46).
In this light, the verse means that a Muslim should resort to the best form of constructive dialogue when arguing with people of other faiths.
We do realize the importance of the Christian map scattered throughout the world. We have keen interest to forge closer links between Muslims and Christians, based on sound understanding and mutual respect.
We think that the lack of mutual understanding, the ignorance of the basics of our creeds and the dictates of our faith still hinder constructive dialogue between Muslims and Christians, hence tarnishing the image of both Islam and Christianity alike.
In an attempt to add fuel to the fire, foreign elements try to tarnish the image of us all, by hunting out some of our mistakes, or spreading rumors. Such people have no aim but to use religion for irreligious motives, adding fuel to the fire.
The current critical situation dictates that both wise Muslims and Christians come together to block the attempt of those striving hard to inflame an all-out war between Islam and Christianity, taking advantage of the latest U.S. attacks in Washington and New York.
Such evil forces exert strenuous efforts to resurrect the era of the Crusades, an era that left indelible impressions on the minds of Muslims and Christians alike.
It is high time we stood firmly against the imminent war and employ wisdom to help extinguish the fire that might destroy the straw and the chaff.
I would like here to stress that I have issued a declaration denouncing the September 11th attacks on the United States. Many other Muslims scholars have also strongly condemned the killers of innocent civilians regardless of their religion, race or nationality.
Upon seeing a woman killed in the battlefield, the Prophet Muhammad denounced the act: "She should never have been killed" warning against killing women, children and the elderly.
The Prophet's Companions followed his noble tradition, ordering their armies never to touch women, children or the elderly and never to use force against recluse monks, farmers or merchants.
"Do not start the fight, do not mangle [the enemies' corpses], do not uproot trees, do not demolish houses, do not slay sheep or cows save for eating" was the order given to Muslim armies on the way to the battlefield.
Islam holds the human soul in high esteem, and considers an attack against innocent human beings a grave sin. This is backed by the Qur'anic verse which reads: "Whosoever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind" (Al-Ma'idah: 32).
We Arab Muslims are the most affected by the grave consequences of hostile attacks on man and life. We share the suffering experienced by innocent Palestinians at the hands of the tyrannical Israeli entity who raze Palestinian homes of our Muslim and Christian relatives to the ground, set fire to their land, kill them in cold blood, and leave innocent orphans behind.
I categorically rule out the possibility of a committed Muslim embarking upon such attacks, for he is aware that Islam prohibits the killing of the innocent and the helpless; hence, a real Muslim has firm belief that killing a human soul without a legitimate reason is a grave sin.
Islam goes against bloodshed in all its forms. Fighting in Islam is usually launched to repel aggression. Allah Almighty says: "Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors" (Al-Baqarah: 190).
I have called upon all Muslims living in the States to nurse the wounds of their fellow Americans, to donate their blood to rescue their lives as such charitable acts are generously rewarded by Allah Almighty. Such a magnanimous gesture is considered a national duty for those whose countries witness such a state of emergency.
As we condemn the latest attacks in New York and Washington, we also condemn the provocative and hatred campaigns against Muslims and Arabs, who are tormented as a result of the biased media coverage. Some of them, especially women, are so scared to leave their homes. Still, those Muslims and Arabs are part and parcel of the multi racial American society.
We hope that the Christian authorities play an active role in combating hatred, incitement and racial discrimination among people on the basis of color or creed.
Islam Condemns Terrorism
On behalf of all Muslim scholars worldwide, I categorically reject terrorism against the secure and the innocent. However, those who fight in defense of their country and their honor and sacred places, people are not considered terrorists when they fight in legitimate self-defense against the wrongful occupiers. Such legitimate self-defense is a religious obligation in all Divine religions. It is also a stated norm in all international constitutions.
I do not see that the best way to combat terrorism is to backlash using another form of terrorism, where the rough is taken with the smooth.
What we are warning against here is to hold a whole nation accountable for a crime that was carried out by a small group of people, or to characterize a certain religion as one that supports violence and terrorism because of the terrorist acts its adherents commit.
When the well-known Oklahoma incident was carried out by a Christian American, driven by personal interests, neither Christianity, America nor the Christian world were accused of the attack, although the wrongdoer was a member of a group that doesn't conceal their warped interpretation towards some Christian beliefs.
In my viewpoint, the best way to root out terrorism is to eradicate its causes.
The remedy is within reach: all people should let justice prevail for all and work on unresolved issues, the first of which is the Palestinian issue.
The absence of the justice, freedom and democracy in many Muslim countries are primary reasons behind terrorism.
Muslims should further be allowed to freely govern themselves according to the tenets of their creed in which they strictly believe. In other words, Muslims should not be forced to accept a form of government that their religion rejects.
Reverent Bishops, Distinguished guests:
Islam considers the whole humanity as one family. All have common ground in being the worshippers of Allah and the sons of Adam. That is why the Prophet, God's peace and blessings be upon him, has put it clearly in front of the gathering congregation at the Farewell Pilgrimage saying: "Oh People, Your Lord is One and your father is one. All of you are traced back to Adam, and Adam was created from dust. No privilege of a certain person over the other save by righteous deeds."
Islam has determined the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in two clear verses of the Glorious Qur'an. These two verses serve as a regulatory code to the norm of relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Allah Almighty says: "Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers. Allah forbiddeth you only those who warred against you on account of religion and have driven you out from your homes and helped to drive you out, that ye make friends of them. Whosoever maketh friends of them (All) such are wrong doers" (Al-Mumtahanah: 7-8).
The aforementioned two verses were originally revealed to shape the nature of the relationship between Muslims and polytheists.
However, the People of the Scripture are further granted a special consideration. Islam allows a Muslim to have a wife from among the People of the Scripture [i.e. Christians and Jews]. Such a sacred bond [marriage] dictates that the wife's kith and kin deserve a kind treatment, for after having children, all of them will become the newborn's uncles, aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers, etc. Here, it is clear that Islam has treated the People of the Scripture, the unbelievers and the polytheists each in a different way.
In Islam, Christians are nearer to Muslims than the people of other faiths. Allah Almighty says: " Thou wilt find the most vehement of mankind in hostility to those who, believe [to be] the Jews and the idolaters. And thou wilt find the nearest of them in affection to those who believe [to be] those who say: Lo! We are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not proud" (Al-Ma'idah: 82).
The Prophet, Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, is reported to have said: " I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus [`Isa] the son of Mary, both in this world and in the Hereafter."
Muslims Have Firm Belief in Constructive Dialogue
Muslims, who are required to hold constructive dialogue, do believe to what extent such a dialogue will bear fruitful results. In the Qur'an, there are different forms of dialogue between God's Messengers and their nations, between Allah and some of His servants. Even with Satan, God Almighty holds dialogue. God addressed His Prophet saying: " Remind them, for thou art but a remembrancer. Thou art not at all a warder over them. But whoso is averse and disbelieveth. Allah will punish him with direst punishment" (Al-Ghashiyah: 21-24).
That is why Muslims welcome all forms of [cultural and civilized] dialogue as a substitute for conflict between civilizations and religions. We have played an active role in making this year the year of 'cultural dialogue'. The idea of such cultural dialogue surfaced when Iranian president Mohammad Khatami hailed this initiative in his speech at the United Nations.
We Muslims do not believe that there will be an unavoidable clash of civilizations between the Islamic civilization and the Western one, as some American thinkers, like Huntington, do.
Now is high time for Muslims and Christians to complement one another and make the best use of their achievements.
What do we want from the West?
We want the West to free itself from the fear of Islam [Islamophobia] and from the notion that it is an upcoming danger – the 'green danger' as some people have called it – and from considering it an alternative enemy after the demise of the Soviet Union, which former U.S. president Ronald Reagan dubbed "a country of evil".
The latest tragic events have unveiled the great rift in the Western mentality about Islam as a whole. This becomes clearer when previewing tens of articles, messages and ongoing dialogues via the Internet.
Such a gap astonishes us [Muslims] to the extent that it causes discomfort to us when we see that the West is generally in the dark about Islam and Muslims. We cannot abnegate ourselves of this responsibility.
We want the West to free itself from the old prejudice that it inherited from what it calls "crusade wars". We are the children of today not the remains of yesterday and we are not those who initiated those wars. We are, in fact, those whom war was waged against.
We want the West to free itself from the superior attitude by which it views the rest of the world, such as the way a master views his slave. This attitude only provokes others.
Fields of Muslim-Christian cooperation:
There are many common fields that we can work in together to widen and to enhance our relationship.
Focus on common factors:
1- The focus on common factors between us and people of other divine revelations. This is why God says: "And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in [a way] that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender" (Al-`Ankaboot: 46).
As we come together through dialogue we need to remember the points that we meet in and not those in which we differ.
There are Muslim extremists who claim that there are no common grounds between us and Christians and Jews but this is a wrong understanding of the Islamic viewpoint. Otherwise, why would God allow us to marry Christians and Jews? Why were the Muslims saddened when the Persians defeated the Romans, when the former were worshippers of fire and the latter were Christians
Later on, God revealed in the Qur’an a verse that told the Muslims that the Romans will gain victory in the near future and that they will be happy with God's victory. Allah Almighty says: "Within ten years Allah's is the command in the former case and in the latter and in that day believers will rejoice. In Allah's help to victory. He helpeth to victory whom He will. He is the Mighty, the Merciful" (Ar-Room: 4-5)
This shows that Christians and Jews, despite being non-believers of Prophet Mohammad's message to humanity, are yet closer to Muslims than others who are idol worshippers. To us Muslims, the Christians have belief.
Cooperation to oppose atheism and promiscuity:
1- Together we can stand together to confront the enemies of religious faith and those who call for atheism, promiscuity, materialism, abortion, homosexuality, unisex marriages, bloodshed, misappropriation of others' property, and enhancing materialistic trends in man at the expense of his spiritual elevation.
2- We all need to stand together as one forum against those who want to ruin humankind by their calls and action and to reduce it from humanity to animalistic levels. God Almighty says: "Hast thou seen him who chooseth for his god his own lust? Wouldst thou then be guardian over him? Or deemest thou that most of them hear or understand? They are but as the cattle, nay, but they are farther astray!" (Al Furqaan: 43-33).
3- And we witnessed Al-Azhar and the Muslim World League come together with the Vatican to stand as one front in the Population Conference in Cairo 1994 and in the Women's Conference in Beijing 1995 to oppose the non-religious sentiments in breaking the family ties and destabilizing the natural instincts that God Almighty has created to guide human beings to the straight path.
Advocating just causes and standing by weak nations:
4- We have to come together to advocate just causes and to stand by those citizens in the world who are weak and who have had their rights taken away from them such as those in Palestine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Kashmir, the discrimination against African Americans and others elsewhere.
Islam is against oppression and stands by those oppressed from any nation, color or religion.
A committed Muslim usually stands right behind truth, justice, good and freedom. When it comes to facing injustice, a Muslim is required to face it courageously.
Spreading the spirit of tolerance; not fanaticism
This should include spreading the spirit of tolerance, kindness and mercy when dealing with people from other religions not the spirit of fanaticism, cruelty and violence. Speaking to his Prophet Muhammad [peace and blessings of Allah be upon him], God Almighty says: "We sent thee not save as a mercy for all peoples" (Al-Anbiyaa': 107)
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, is reported to have said: " I have been sent as a guiding mercy."
Referring to the children of Israel [Banu-Israel] in the Qur'an, Allah Almighty says: "Then, even after that, your hearts were hardened and became as rocks, or worse than rocks…" (Al-Baqarah: 47).
While addressing his wife `Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, says, "Allah loves kindness and gentle approach in all cases."
Both Muslims and their creed hold the compassionate human trend included in the 'Biography of Jesus' in high esteem. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him never addressed his fellow brother Jesus, Allah's peace and blessings be upon them all, save by saying, "My brother Jesus."
The basis for a Muslim tolerating those who disagree with him in faith:
I would here like to point out an issue that is sensitive to anyone who follows a particular religion. This is that he would always think that he is right, that all who oppose him are wrong, and that feelings could lead to fanaticism. However, there are certain factors that a Muslim mind and heart should be aware of which are part and parcel of the basics of a Muslim's creed, and the prerequisites of his faith. These are:
1- A belief that the difference in religious affiliations exists because of the will and wisdom of God. God Almighty says: "And if thy Lord had willed, He verily would have made mankind one nation, yet they cease not differing. Save him on whom thy Lord hath mercy; and for that He did create them. And the Word of thy Lord hath been fulfilled: Verily I shall fill hell with the jinn and mankind together" (Hood: 118-119).
In other words, they were created to be different as long as Allah has given them a mind, freedom and a will.
2- The judgment for those who go astray, or are non-believers, does not take place in this world but in the hereafter and is not our responsibility but that of God, the Fair, the All-Knowing. God Almighty says: " Unto this, then, summon [O Muhammad]. And be thou upright as thou art commanded, and follow not their lusts, but say: I believe in whatever Scripture Allah hath sent down, and I am commanded to be just among you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. Unto us our works and unto you your works; no argument between us and you. Allah will bring us together, and unto Him is the journeying" (Ash-Shura: 15)
He also says: "But whoso is averse and disbelieveth. Allah will punish him with direst punishment. Lo! Unto Us is their return. And Ours their reckoning" (Al-Ghashiyah: 23-26).
3- A Muslim's belief that the dignity of humankind is because they are humans. In a hadith narrated by Jabir it is said that a funeral passed by the Prophet and he stood for it. Then the people told him: "O prophet of Allah, it is a funeral of a Jew!" So, the Prophet said: "Is he not a soul?"
A Muslim's faith that Allah's justice is for everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims. Allah Almighty says: " O ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Informed of what ye do" (Al-Ma`idah: 8).
Therefore a Muslim must not take sides with those he prefers, but instead he should give justice where it is due to friends and foes alike.
Fanatics and Extremists
Reverent Bishops and guests, fanatics and extremists exist in very nation and in the followers of every religion and usually it is related to non-religious factors.
It is necessary to have a unified stance in facing unjust powers and fanatics. It is really a public duty where all of us have to co-operate and participate.
No nation can be judged because of the existence of fanatic elements in it. If so, Western civilization could be judged by the Nazi and fascist elements that it harbored and for the tens of millions that died during its wars. Undoubtedly, this goes beyond reason and logic.
We have extremists and so do you, but such groups cannot meet or have a dialogue because they do not believe in it. Rather, they worship power and have staunch belief in hatred and animosity.
The moderates however are those who can bring dialogue and mutual understanding into the future and have tolerance in what we differ in.
Reverent Bishops and guests, the world has become smaller and some have called it a 'large village'. I feel that it is actually a small village and it is the duty of those living in this village to meet, communicate, to help one another and to co-operate on good and righteous aspects.
We are here to help one another, and to come to common terms, which is the core essence of the Prophet Muhammad's message to the People of the Book. God Almighty says: " Say: O People of the Scripture. Come to an agreement between us and you: that we shall worship none but Allah, and that we shall ascribe no partners unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside Allah…" (Aal-`Imran: 64).
We need to come together to oppose unjust wars where the strong takes control over the weak and where citizens pay the price with their own blood, for enough of it has been shed already.
People of faith should back justice against injustice, humanity against racism, good morals against immorality, and the weak and oppressed against the strong and powerful enemy that is armed to the teeth. All should stand by truth, good and freedom.
With this in mind, we will be true to our faith when asked to answer for our deeds before God on the Day of Judgment. So, let us all prepare ourselves for that day.
Our last supplication is to thank Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.