Healing the Wounds of September 11

INTERFAITH DIALOGUE - THE NEED OF OUR TIME PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Shahid Athar   
I have been involved with interfaith for the last 20 years and have worked with many interfaith organizations nationally . I sincerely believe interfaith is the need of the time. Interfaith is not giving up one's faith or compromising with his belief but a process of self education about others through interaction and exchange of views. It is a coming together on a common ground as a fellow human being. It is a window of showing one's faith to others. Despite the fact that the world has become a global village, sometimes followers of faith tradition live in a small hut of their own, never opening their doors to venture outside to see how other people live or believe. Thus, our apprehension of others is sometimes as a result of not knowing one another. Knowing each other is not only a social need but a divine injunction. Quran, the Islamic scripture, says "we have created you from a single pair of souls and made you into nations and tribes that you know each other ( not that you despise each other)". Just because a person has a skin color different than mine, was born into a land different than where I was born or prays to the same God but in a different manner or in a different language, he or she does not become less worthy of my love and respect for his or her life and views. I as a Physician who spent some time in human anatomy, know that once we remove the skin, the color of the blood is the same, the color of the flesh is the same and the color of the bones and nerves are the same. So, the difference in the outer garments does not mean we are created differently and we have no justification of discriminating against others on the basis of color of their skin, their language, their gender or even views, as we can not ourselves create anything better than what God has created. For when we are not accepting others with full equality, we are in fact rejecting God and His omnipotence.

Muslims , in the tradition of prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), have always entered into interfaith dialogue with people of other faiths, showing that all the messages of different faiths are from the same God who has asked us to know each other. Thus, when Christian delegation came to know more about prophet and Islam, he allowed them to stay in the Mosque of the prophet and engaged them in discussion as well as allowed them to pray in their own Christian way. He also sent delegation to different parts of the world at that time, explaining to them the mission of the prophet. The same method was used by Sufis in India who brought Islam to India. It was their interaction with a culture which was fairly advanced in philosophy and science, to engage them in a discussion in spirituality. This was again done through the interfaith process. Interfaith dialogues are different from debates and also different from the word dawa (inviting others toward God).

Interfaith work is directed toward creating a better and more tolerant environment in a pluralistic society. Its main purpose is to create a mutual understanding among people of different faiths so that the co-operation of mutual agreed upon goals and peaceful coexistence in society becomes possible. Obviously, dawa activity can be possible only in a friendly environment. Thus, interfaith is a precursor to dawa. Certain etiquette and manners of interfaith can be summarized in the following dos and don'ts list:

Dos:
1. We must accept that everyone has a right to chose his or her own beliefs and religion.
2. Ask others and show respect for others' beliefs without agreeing with theirs.
3. Tell them about one's own beliefs.
4. Remove misconceptions regarding one's own religion.
5. Ask about hope and aspirations of the other religion and share one's beliefs.
6. Look for a common ground in beliefs and actions.
7. Join together in presenting good deeds in the society.
8. Express concern about and condemn the bad deeds in the society and work together toward creating a better society. As Quran says "let among you rise a party of believers who invite others to do good and forbid what is wrong".

Don'ts:
1. Do not speak ill of exercising anyone's beliefs.
2. One does not say "join my religion". There are other forums for that type of activity.
3. One does not abandon or compromise on his or her own beliefs or to any degree.
4. One does not to say that all religions or correct or the same.

Muslims traditionally as well as now after the tragedy of Sept 11 , have a great role to play in promoting peaceful harmony through interfaith dialogue. They must engage other Ministers, Rabbis and Priests along with their Imams in their communities. It is through interfaith that we will engage others in sharing our own concerns and share theirs with them. Only by sharing our joys and pains with others that we can heal our wounds.

Presented on May 26 ,2002 at an interfaith symposium held in Seattle , Washington
 
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