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The fellowship of faiths

Muhammad Ali Shomali explains why inter-faith dialogue is both a social necessity and an Islamic imperative

Muhammad Ali Shomali explains why inter-faith dialogue is both a social necessity and an Islamic imperative

As a teenager, I used to attend a local mosque in Tehran for congregational prayers, called “al-Anbiyaa”‘ (the Prophets). As recommended in Islamic narrations, the last two verses of the second chapter of the Qur’an were frequently recited in our mosque and for many days I listened and reflected on them. The first verse reads as follows: “The Messenger believes in that which has been revealed unto him from his Lord and (so do) the believers. Each one believes in God and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers-“We make no distinction between any of His messengers” – and they say: “We hear, and we obey. (Grant us) Your forgiveness, our Lord. Unto You is the journeying”. (Qur’an 2:285)

This verse like many other verses of the Qur’an puts great emphasis on the uniformity and continuity of the prophets, their scriptures, and their missions. It makes one believe that he is part of a great community of faith that includes all believers throughout the history of mankind who have followed the same path. Later I realized that this idea of the uniformity of all religions is a very profound aspect of the Islamic conception of monotheism. Islam like other Abrahamic faiths believes in the unity of God. God is ONE; He has no partner or children and there is nothing like Him. God is SIMPLE; He has no parts or constituents. He is the only Creator and He is the only object of worship. The obvious result of this conception of God is that the universe must be harmonious and consistent; indeed one of the signs of the unity of God is the fact that there is no separation or isolation of any part of creation. The Qur’an says: “Had there been in them (the heavens and the earth) gods other than God, they both had been in disorder.“(2 1:22)

This harmony and consistency in the divine creation extend to God’s revelations, Divine messages communicated to the people through His messengers are to be harmonious too. If they are revealed by the same God to the recipients (human beings) who have the same nature and the same fundamental needs in order to show them the path towards perfection and happiness it follows that they must be similar in nature and identical in essence. Of course, depending on varying conditions and factors some details may change over time, and also the depth and the extent of the ideas expressed in the scriptures may increase in accordance with developments in human understanding.

Thus, Muslims believe in the mutual conformity of all divine revelations and prophecies. They confirm and believe in all the Prophets and consider all believers in God to be members of the same community of faith: “Say; “We believe in God and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes and in (Books) given to Moses, Jesus and the Prophets from their Lord; we make no distinction between one and another among them and to God do we bow our will (in Islam)”. (3:83)

Unity of God manifests itself in the unity of His revelations and must be echoed in the unity of all believers in God. Particularly during its early years, Islam brought unity and solidarity for those who suffered a great deal from enmity and hostility (3:103).

This act of unifying people is highly esteemed as a divine act (8:63). On the contrary, the aim of tyrants and disbelievers such as Pharaoh was to divide people (28:4). The Qur’an warns believers that if they start disputing with each other they will become weak and be defeated (8:46). It should be noted that the call for unity is not limited to Muslims. The Qur`an invites all people of faith such as Christians and Jews to unify their efforts and concentrate on their common ground (3:64). One of the best means of achieving this unity and brotherhood is to know each other, to overcome historical prejudices that prevent objective understanding between each other and to build upon commonalities. According to what Imam Ali(a), the first Imam of the Shi‘a Muslims and the fourth Caliph of all Muslims have said, “People are enemies of what they do not know”. Thus, as a Muslim, I have no need to compromise my faith in order to enter into a genuine, sustainable and productive dialogue with those who believe in God. Entering into such a dialogue and building upon commonalities is rooted in the Qur’an, and is not just a fashion or formality.

It was in this spirit and because the UK is a majority Christian nation that I started to establish relations with Christians. Our aim is to look for practising Christians who can help us discover our commonalities, and exchange our experiences in facing the challenges of living a life of faith in this modern or post-modern world. Through our acquaintances with such people, we have been impressed by the many similarities we have noticed between Islam and Christianity. We have also seen how a sincere love for God and fellow humans can give a new spirit to life and a new life to modern society.

I have now come to the conclusion that the Quranic description and praise of the Christians of the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s) is still in effect. There are sincere, truth-seeking, humble and sympathetic Christians who have devoted their lives to God. I see no reason why one cannot accept these people as real representatives of Christianity, instead of those who call for separation, enmity and fighting between believers and are a long way from implementing the Christian commandment of love.

Unfortunately today it is very easy to be deceived. There are “Muslims”, “Christians” or “Jews” whose faith can by no means be determined by their behaviour. And this gets worse if there is a deliberate attempt to misrepresent religious life in general and certain religions in particular.

Let us hope and pray that soon we will be able to witness the unity of God echoed in the unity of mankind and that all the wounds of hostility and injustice will be healed by the return of global society to God.

Mohamad Ali Shomali is the author of Self Knowledge (2006), Ethical Relativism: An Analysis of the Foundations of Morality (2001)

Originally published Issue 1 – Nov 2012

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  1. In this issue – islam today magazine UK

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