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In the name of Allah the Most Merciful the Most Beneficent. Praise be to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon the seal of God's messengers, our Prophet Muhammad and his family, companions and followers.

The phenomenon of ‘Interfaith Dialogue’ has gained importance in the world for decades due to many reasons; therefore it is an urgent need of the time to scrutinize it under the lens of Islamic Shariah.

The term interfaith dialogue between coexistence and rapprochement refers to cooperative, constructive and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions (i.e. faiths) or spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional levels. It refers to cooperative, constructive and positive interaction between people of different faiths at both the individual and institutional levels. It also refers to a meeting of qualified members of different faiths in a formal setting to discuss religious opinions and practices they have in common, usually with the intention of expanding their common ground.

Similarly, there is another term ‘Interreligious dialogue’ which is seen as a challenging process by which adherents of differing religious traditions encounter each other in order to break down the walls of division between themselves.

In this way ‘interfaith dialogue’ is distinct from syncretism or alternative religion. But, this term is actually used by different people in different contexts as per their motives and vested interests.

Muslims, throughout their history, have been living with peace, tolerance and coexistence along with people of other faiths. The people of other faiths have always lived under the rule Islam very peacefully and amicably. Right from the era of the Prophet (peace be upon him) up to the Ottoman Caliphate and Mughal Empire in India Muslims provide historical example of generally peaceful coexistence with peoples of different faiths. The Jews, Christians and other non-Muslim communities enjoyed full rights and lived shoulder to shoulder with Muslims.

Dialogue between individuals and communities of different faiths is a natural phenomenon which takes place at stages of multi-faith communities. The process of dialogue forces people to examine and reconfirm their own religious identity and to strengthen their own beliefs while respecting those of others with patience and dignity.

Entering into dialogue with people of different beliefs does not mean that we surrender or compromise our own. It does not even mean that we forgo our right to proselytize in a different context. It only means that we respect that they have the right to believe in and practice their religion, just as we do. Dialogue is a context in which we express our support for the same universal religious freedom that would allow us, in other contexts, to seek to spread our own faith without fear of persecution.

The prevalent idea of interfaith dialogue is based upon the following principles: followers of all religions are free to lead lives in accordance with their own beliefs; and the moral values inherent in all religions — especially patience, tolerance and coexistence – are respected.

However, there are serious concerns about the motives and hidden agenda under the banner of ‘interfaith dialogue’. According to some, this might be a conspiracy of the enemies of Islam to weaken the attachment of Muslims with their religion as they see it the biggest hurdle in the way of their imperialism expansions. Usually such dialogues are arranged with so-called Muslim intellectuals who are not firm in their religious knowledge and belief and thus fall prey to the hidden agenda.

These concerns are intensified by the dual policies of the Western powers and contradictions between their words and deeds. On one side they supervise interfaith dialogue and on the other hand they attack Islam and Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad and the Quran are blasphemed in their lands and they are not ready to punish the culprits. This has created doubts in Muslim minds that these ‘staged’ interfaith dialogues are not but political strategies to serve their own ends

Shariah and Interfaith Dialogue

In order to understand the view of Islamic Shariah about ‘interfaith dialogue’, it is imperative to learn the basic principles in this regard:  

1. Islam is the only Religion Acceptable to Allah: Though all religions of the world claim to be true, but it is only Islam which stands as final and perfect religion established on strong evidences and solid foundations. As Muslims, we must have firm belief that Islam is the only religion acceptable to Allah and it is the only way of life which can guarantee success of human being in this world and their salvation in the hereafter. As the Qur'an said:

{إِنَّ الدِّينَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ الإِسْلامُ}

 Truly, the (recognized) religion in the sight of Allah is Islam.” [Q3:19]

{وَمَنْ يَبْتَغِ غَيْرَ الإِسْلامِ دِيناً فَلَنْ يُقْبَلَ مِنْهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ}

Whoever seeks a faith other than Islam, it will never be accepted from him, and he, in the hereafter, will be among the losers"Q3:85.

2 . Syncretism or unification of religions is absolutely unacceptable in Islam: The ridiculous theory of Syncretism or unification of religions unacceptable in Islam for reasons. The foremost among them is that this is unnatural and in no time in the history of mankind have they been adhering one set of beliefs. It is so destined by Allah that people will never be converted into a single community, as He says:

وَلَوْ شَاءَ رَبُّكَ لَجَعَلَ النَّاسَ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً ۖ وَلَا يَزَالُونَ مُخْتَلِفِينَ

"If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one people: but they will not cease to dispute." (Q11:118)

3. Coexistence but not Compromise: The interfaith dialogue should be free from any kind of compromise on the part of religious rulings even to the minor issues. A tolerance which prevents from speaking the truth or favour un-Islamic thoughts cannot be allowed. The Quran describes that the disbelievers wish Muslims to be flexible, but it is unacceptable:

وَدُّوا لَوْ تُدْهِنُ فَيُدْهِنُونَ

"They wish that you become flexible (in your faith), so that they should become flexible." (Q68:9).

The chapter al-Kafiroon (109) from the Quran was revealed in response to proposal of the disbelievers to strike a compromise deal seeking Muslims to worship their Gods and binding them to worship Allah in return, but the Quran very emphatically rejected it and said:

قُلْ يَا أَيُّهَا الْكَافِرُونَ * لَا أَعْبُدُ مَا تَعْبُدُونَ *  وَلَا أَنتُمْ عَابِدُونَ مَا أَعْبُدُ* وَلَا أَنَا عَابِدٌ مَّا عَبَدتُّمْ* وَلَا أَنتُمْ عَابِدُونَ مَا أَعْبُدُ* لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ

 Say, O disbelievers, I do not worship that which you worship, nor do you worship the One whom I worship.  And neither I am going to worship that which you have worshipped, nor will you worship the One whom I worship. For you is your faith, and for me, my faith.” (Q109)

Dialogue, or peaceful negotiation, is the path prescribed by Islam. The Holy Quran and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) set standards for dialogue with people of other faith. The Quran encouraged Muslims to talk to the Jews and Christian on matters which are common:

قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ تَعَالَوْا إِلَىٰ كَلِمَةٍ سَوَاءٍ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ أَلَّا نَعْبُدَ إِلَّا اللَّهَ وَلَا نُشْرِكَ بِهِ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُنَا بَعْضًا أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ ۚ فَإِن تَوَلَّوْا فَقُولُوا اشْهَدُوا بِأَنَّا مُسْلِمُونَ

 Say, O people of the Book, come to a word common between us and between you, that we worship none but Allah, that we associate nothing with Him and that some of us do not take others as Lords instead of Allah. Then, should they turn back, say, .Bear witness that we Muslims."(Q3:65).

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) advocated reconciliation with other religions. In Makkah in 615 CE, he sent Muslim fleeing persecution from the Meccans to find refuge with the Christian king of Abyssinia, current-day Ethiopia, as a signal of mutual trust with Christianity. Later when he migrated to Madinah, he signed peace treaty with the Jewish tribes and later with the tribes of Makkah in 6th year of Hijra. He also had religious discussions with the Christians of Najran in his holy mosque. He also wrote letters to the rulers in and around Arabia in order to convey the message of Islam.

So, following the footsteps shown by the Quran and Hadith, Muslims can engage themselves in dialogue with the people of other faith on the issues which form a common ground for them and which may help in promoting peace and enable Muslims to represent Islam to others.

Dialogue can be utilized as one of the best means to convey the message of Islam to people of other faith. As nowadays, the non-Muslims have many misconceptions about Islam and Muslims which are caused by their insufficient knowledge of Islam. So this opportunity can be utilized to remove the misconceptions and to transmit the true spirit of Islam to the world. Islam is based on the principle of dawah which is another name for peaceful negotiation.

To sum up, these are the main points which should be kept in mind in order to understand the concept of Islam about interfaith dialogue: Islam favors divine revolution by striving for a society in which spiritual, ethical, and human values are cherished. Islam advocates an atmosphere where peace, tolerance and respect prevail. It wishes to create an atmosphere where disputes are resolved without the use of violence. This is the desired world of Islam and such a world can be established only through peaceful dialogue.

Interfaith dialogue should be fitted in the framework of Islamic Shariah and no compromise should be made on the part of religious fundamentals and its teachings. Through interfaith dialogue, the common grounds of ethical and social values can be explored which help in promoting peace, harmony and tolerance. Interfaith dialogue forums should be used by competent Muslim scholars to represent the true face of Islam and to remove the misconceptions spread against Islam.

 

 

 

 

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