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ISL: Monotheists and the `Other` - An Islamic perspective 2
« on: February 17, 2007, 08:42:52 PM »

6. Religious Differences

Religious freedom is an explicit Quranic principle: "No coercion should be [by any means allowed] in matters of faith" (Quran 2:256), and the sanctity of houses of worship-be they monasteries, churches, synagogues or mosques, "in all of which God's name is abundantly extolled" - should be secured and defended (Quran 22:40). Muslims and non-Muslims have equal rights and responsibilities according to the constitutional document drawn up by the Prophet Muhammad after his arrival in Medina. A dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims ought to be conducted, objectively and ethically, in the best possible way, the Quran teaches (Quran 29:46). God alone can judge human beliefs and deeds according to every individual's intention, knowledge and abilities, and no human being has this kind of comprehensive knowledge of another person that is essential for such a judgment. This is a fact which the Quran repeatedly stresses.5

Of paramount significance are the words of Quran 5:48, "Unto each of you [those who are following any of the successive divine messages], we have appointed a law and a way of life: and if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community, but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you through what He has given you (of His guidance]. Vie, then, with one another in good deeds. Unto God you all must return, and then He will let you truly-know all that on which you were wont to differ."

With regard to the dialogue with those who share with the Muslims the Abrahamic faith, "the People of the Book," the Quran reminds Muslims of the common ground which should always be kept in mind: "And say, 'We believe in that which has been bestowed upon us, as well as that which has been bestowed upon you, and our God and your God is one and the same, and unto Him we submit ourselves' " (Quran 29:46), and, in the words of Quran 42:15, "And say: 'I believe in whatever [divine] book God has bestowed, and I am bidden to be just and fair with you. God is our Lord as well as He is your Lord, to us shall be accounted our deeds, and to you your deeds. Let there be no contention between us and you, God will bring us all together, for with Him is all journeys' end.' " Anyone who is involved in a dialogue ought to have an open mind and heart and to speak unboastfully, and the Quran gives this impressive example of language which sets the tone for any constructive discussion,
assures the equality of all participants, and removes any mistrust or fear of prejudice: "And behold, either we or you are on the right path or have clearly gone astray. Say: 'Neither shall you be called to account for whatever we may have become guilty of, nor shall we be called to account for whatever you are doing.' Say: 'Our Lord will bring us all together (on the Day of Judgment], and then he will lay open the truth between us injustice, for He alone is the One who opens all truth, the All-knowing' " (Quran 34:24-26).

7. The Use of Force

Muslims are only allowed to fight against aggression, whatever the ethnicity, faith or opinion of the aggressors may be. Non-Muslims have to be fought against when they commit aggression, not because they are non-Muslims (Quran 2:190; 4:75; 22:39-40; 60:8-9). The Muslims also have to be fought against when they commit aggression (Quran 49:9). However, Muslims are taught by the Quran to strive for peace, even if there are doubts about others' sincerity: "And if they incline to peace, incline you to it as well, and place your trust in God... And should they seek but to deceive you [by pretending to want peace], behold, God is enough for you" (Quran 8:61-62). The Quran teaches that peaceful and friendly relations should al-ways be considered as a future possibility, even in times of inevitable confrontation: "It may well be that God will bring about [mutual] affection between you and those of whom you [now] face as enemies; and God is All-powerful, and God is Much-forgiving
and Most-gracious" (Quran 60:7). It is historically significant that the early confrontation between Muslims and Jews in Arabia during the Prophet's time did not go beyond that time and place, and constructive relations between them existed in other countries under the caliphs, especially in Muslim Spain (Andalus). The Abbasid Caliph al-Mamun (813-833) offered the Byzantines - the constant neighboring enemy of the Muslim caliphate - a permanent peace and the payment of two thousand gold pieces in his message to Emperor Theophilus (829-842) if the latter agreed to allow a mathematician called Leo to come to Baghdad and teach there for some time, and this would be considered by the caliph as a gesture of goodwill. Unfortunately, the emperor did not respond positively to the caliph's message, and the hostilities continued.6 But the memories of these hostilities did not affect the relationship forever. The crusades were forgotten by many through the passing of time, and even
colonization with all its aggression and injustice did not revive for everyone the memory of the crusades, and the two were not always correlated in the literature of the Muslims' struggle for independence.

8. The Acquired Differences

As the inborn human differences represent a wonder of God's creation and offer the potential of an enrichment of the human capability and productivity, so there is a very positive aspect also to the acquired differences that are, in Quranic perspective, natural and permanent, since a universal human consensus from all people in all times is impossible. Such diverse human views represent different angles of vision and various points of view with regard to a particular issue. And such an intellectual variety enriches the discussion of any matter, reduces the risk of human limitations and errors, and can lead to a better understanding of any point and consequently to the most responsible decision regarding related issues. This fact has been explicitly stated in the Quran: "And had your Lord so willed. He could surely have made all humankind one single community; but [He willed it otherwise, and so] they continue to have differences [all of them], save those upon whom your Lord
has be-stowed His grace [as they follow His guidance in dealing with their differences) ; and for such a test [in handling constructively their differences and maintaining their good relations] He has created them all" (Quran 11:118-119). The Muslims are not immune from this natural law, their differences are also very human, and they have to tackle them objectively (Quran 4:59) and ethically.7 The argument with Muslims or non-Muslims should be pursued conceptually and behaviorally in the best way (Quran 16:125 and the earlier quoted verse Quran 29:46).

However, maintaining good relations with all "others" who have different views has to go hand in hand with the readiness to express one's own position openly and clearly. The expression of one's views about what is right and what is wrong is a right and an obligation which the Quran calls "enjoining the doing of what is right and good and forbidding the doing of what is wrong and evil," al-amr bil-marut wal-nahy an al-munkar. It is a right and responsibility of every human being, and those who follow the Abrahamic faith, Muslims and the People of the Book, should together seek to fulfill this duty (Quran 3:104. 114). A child should be brought up so as to initially discern and, when it becomes possible, to express himself/herself about what is right and what is wrong (Quran 31:17). Every human being is a witness in this life and should testify honestly about what he/she has witnessed, and this responsibility should be secured and protected (Quran 2:282-283). The right and
obligation of peaceful association for legitimate purposes, occasionally or permanently, must also be secured for all, since freedom of expression is meaningless if it does not apply to individuals who are weak in facing social or political forces. Enjoining the doing of what is right and forbidding the doing of what is wrong may necessitate an organized collective effort, and therefore the Quran mostly uses the plural for the verb and its subjects, although the individual freedom of expression has always to be secured. Christian parades raising crosses and religious signs have been inseparable from se-curing the freedom of faith in the early history of Islam.

9. The Environment

Islam extends the duty of good behavior to include others in this universe than only human beings. People should maintain and develop natural resources such as earth, water and air, and they should secure life for all living creatures as long as they are not causing harm. Muslims should not cut trees or kill birds and other animals, even during war, except when necessary and when justified for other reasons. Pilgrimage is a religious training obligation to refrain from causing harm to human beings, animals and trees.

10. The Bitter Reality

The realities of our contemporary world are very far from, or even entirely opposite to, such lofty ideals, among believers and non-believers, among monotheists and non-monotheists, among Muslims and non-Muslims. Many monotheists, including many Muslims, who themselves adhere to certain way of thinking and a certain pattern of behavior, also believe that all good people have to fit in their frame. Tolerating differences in "others" has not become fundamental in our thinking nor in our faith, where dogma has overshadowed morality and behavior. Diversity within unity has not yet been recognized as being essential among Muslims and among all human beings. Horrible crimes are committed in the name of religion all over the world: in Northern Ireland, in Bosnia, in Algeria, in the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka and elsewhere. "Ethnic-cleansing" has become a familiar term in the political glossary, and ethnic conflicts cover the whole world; the ethnic mass massacres in Africa
South of The Sahara are just one tragic example. Conflicts resulting from ethnic and religious differences, or born from chauvinistic nationalism and a fanatic following of ideologies, have been happening all through history, and Muslims and monotheists have not been an exception. Furthermore, modern technology and evil growth of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction have contributed to horrible practices aimed at destroying the "others," efforts that would bring with them a total self-destruction of the whole human race.

The "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" issued by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1968, followed by other resolutions of later international conferences in Helsinki, Vienna and Beijing, represent some hope within the thick darkness of the present situation. But the Declaration requires significant organizational reforms and needs a fundamental moral base. Spiritual morality has to be spread through universal and national mass communications and education, and has to be nurtured by all our institutions. Monotheists have to stand together in developing a monotheistic morality among believers in the 'One God, and morality in general among all people everywhere. Monotheists, especially Muslims and Christians, are present all over the planet and have powerful institutions, - while many of them enjoy influential positions. The coordination of their concerted efforts would become a mighty power in safeguarding and reinforcing our era of an essentially pluralistic
globalism. Detailed plans and practical applications can definitely be worked out in all circumstances, for the well-known saying always proves to be true: "When there is a will, there is a way."

There is the urgent call of the Gospel: "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11.28), "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will toward all human beings" (Luke 2.14). And the challenge of the Quran is equally clear: "O you who have attained to faith! Enter wholly into peace, and follow not Satan's footsteps" (Quran 2:208). We believe in God's promise: "And for those who strive hard in Our cause, We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead to Us, for God is indeed with the doers of good" (Quran 29:69).

Institute for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World, Los Angeles. California .
Dr. Fathi Osman is a retired professor of Islamic Studies and has taught in several universities in Muslims World and the West. Among these universities are Al-Azhar University in Egypt, Houran University in Algeria, Ibn Saud University in Saudi Arabia, International Islamic University in Malaysia, Temple University, USC, and Georgetown University in America. He is also author of several books.


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