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Friday, March 5, 2010

Muslim-Christian dialogue: An Islamic view

OMG! I am humbled to read the following piece, what a coincidence! The words, phrases, sentences and ideas are idential to what I have been writing. I would be shocked if this author has written that Prophet Muhammad was the first interfaith dialoguer and and that the role of a muslim is to mitigate conflicts and nurture goodwill, and the purpose of religion is to bring peace and balance within an individual and what surround him; life and matter. The last paragraph has been part of my writings for the last five years.

The article lays out the basics of interfaith dialogue, something Prophet Muhammad had laid it out some 1400 years ago. Yes Sir, Islam is about harmonious co-existence.

Mike Ghouse
Muslim-Christian dialogue: An Islamic view
By Dr. Ahmad Mohamed El Tayeb
president, Al-Azhar University in Cairo


For Muslims, peaceful coexistence is an obligation rather than a matter of choice. Prophet Muhammad was not only encouraged

to engage the followers of Islam, Judaism and Christianity - the three monotheistic religions - in meaningful dialogue; he was commanded to do so.

This week in Washington, leaders of different Muslim and Christian faiths came together to discuss reconciliation between Islam and the Christian West at the Christian-Muslim Summit. I was honored to be a part of this dialogue and to join a myriad voices, from eminent religious leaders to the general public, to discuss ways to work together to promote peace efforts worldwide.

The 2007 open letter signed by 138 Muslim leaders, "A Common Word," has paved the way towards better understanding of religious diversity amongst Muslims. It opens with a line that best summarizes the Islamic position on interfaith dialogue: "Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and contend with them in the fairest way." (Ayah 125 of Surat Al-Nahl).

The Qur'anic command is also very clear on this topic: "Say: O People of the Book: Come to an agreement between us and you, that we worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partners to Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they decline (your invitation for dialogue), then say: Bear witness that we shall (continue to) submit to God in Islam" (Al-Imran: 64). According to the Qur'an, interfaith dialogue should be proactively initiated by Muslims.

There are two important tenets to emphasize about the Islamic viewpoint on interfaith dialogue:

• The purpose of interfaith dialogue is not to necessarily conclude with a winner and a loser or to convert others, but rather to share one's principles. Sincere dialogue should strengthen a person's faith and at the same time break down barriers.

• Dialogue must not be confined to academic and intellectual circles. Its purpose is to demystify religious differences to everyday people and to uncover the words of truth that frequently get buried under human biases and tendencies to follow that which is convenient. Dialogue can only lead people to examine their religious identities more deeply.

With regard to interfaith dialogue and understanding taking place on an institutional level, al-Azhar University, the oldest, most respected and influential Sunni institution of higher education in the world, has long been active in reaching out to other religious communities, both within the Islamic world and on the international stage. This spirit of dialogue is evident in the fatwas, or rulings, of Al-Azhar Sheikhs, as well as in the activities of its scholars.

For example, in 1959, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar Mahmud Shaltut issued a fatwa proclaiming that the school of thought followed by Shiite Muslims is acceptable to Sunnis, bringing about a new era of dialogue and cooperation between the sects. Pope John Paul II visited Al-Azhar in 2000 after which a Muslim Catholic commission for dialogue that continues to meet regularly was founded.

More recently, in 2007, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, the head of Dar al-Ifta, one of the world's leading centers of Islamic authority, was a primary signatory of the "A Common Word" initiative which called for dialogue between Muslims and Christians based on the principles of love of God and love of neighbor. In a series of conferences based on this initiative, the Grand Mufti and other Muslim scholars from around the world have met with Christian leaders in the U.S, the UK, and with the Pope at the Vatican, where they discussed the importance of interfaith dialogue based on authentic scholarship and brotherly love.

Moreover, Al-Azhar University does not limit its involvement on the issue of interfaith dialogue to members of different faiths, but engages those within the Muslim community itself. Last year, Al-Azhar University devoted its annual international alumni conference to the theme of interfaith dialogue. The conference, which brought together former students from Egypt and around the Muslim World, explored the sources of inter-communal tension around the globe and stressed the importance of awareness of the common values shared by all the great faiths of the world.

It is not religion that is the root cause of world problems, as some people may want to assert, but rather the misunderstanding of religion that ends up plaguing the world. Interfaith dialogue can certainly serve to bring about a higher level of understanding of different religions on a global level, which will also hopefully lead to more tolerance, acceptance of others, and appreciation for all humanity.

Dr. Ahmad Mohamed El Tayeb is president of Cairo's Al-Azhar University and served as one of the principals in the Christian-Muslim Summit in Washington on March 1-3, 2010.
By Ahmad Mohamed El Tayeb March 4, 2010; 2:37 PM

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