Interfaith and Intra-faith Dialogue is a Must

By Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef (Shahbaz Nadwi*

Though dialogue is a relatively new phenomenon as a subject of talking about and discussing on, however, on practical plane,it has been ever there among human beings. Its examples easily could be found between various cultures and civilizations, and amidst different religions, classes, clans, tribes and various nations.

These dialogues in history, has mostly been there in practical forms, rather than theories and doctrines. For example swapping of embassies between two emperors, representing two different religions and different civilizations or exchanging religious delegations and ,at times, holding debates on some controversial issues between two rivals or their representatives, was also a form of dialogue, yet it is another matter that polemical debates results more in negatively than positively. And because the dialogue in a form or the other, is a practical need of man so it has always been there in one way or the other. So it will be amounted to be a misgiving to say that it is a new thing initiated by real or imagined Muslim bashers.

Now when Muslim Ulema particularly in subcontinent, except a few, commence talking on this subject they begin ,on the outset, from the point that because the concept of conducting dialogue was begun on behalf of Vatican City, so its motives could not be satisfied upon, and finally they make the point that dialogue is a part and parcel of a Jewish conspiracy against Islam, while to some, dialogue discourse in fact, is aiming to consolidate the concept of oneness of all religions, that ‘s Wahdate Adyan (وحدت اديان )in Islamic terminology.(1) 

The fact of the matter is that all these thoughts rendered by clergy, are merely rumors. We have been accustomed to live in superfluous assumptions and imaginations. Our past worshipping religious thinking plays a great role in strengthening this trait in the community .However it is heartening that, though very late, but our religious circles are also realizing this need. For example recently Islamic Fiqh Academy (India) held a three day international seminar with collaboration of Arabic department of Delhi University, sponsored by ECESCO on the subject of Shariah bases of dialogue in multicultural world.(2) The thing is that dialogue has nothing to do with a creed, theory or religion; simply in today’s world every individual and every group has full freedom of creed and freedom of expression, now what concept or doctrine is scientific will cause to recognize itself. Dialogue in deed is related to social and natural human need, this why there is no need to worry about who has started it and why.

To some contemporary Arab scholars dialogue is not only our need, but Muslim were have to take the ante for that being Islam a Dawah mission and their being the torch bearer of that mission. They not only are incumbent of it but their mission induces them, for that matter, to pursue ‘’other’s introduction “as an end itself.(3) As Quran says:  O mankind! We created you from a single(pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other(not that ye may despise (each other. Hujrate:13

Secondly Islam doesn’t imprison its adherents in the confinements of space and time but makes them the bearers of a universal message, i. e Muslim is a universal citizen. The whole earth was made a place of adoration of God for him and was given at his disposal. Prophet is the divine grace for all and Allah is sustainer to all. These Arab scholars argue of ‘’Kalimat Sawaa”(  ) a common word on whose basis Quran called the people of the book to come to a common platform, as this common ground could be used as a meeting point to solve the lifelong problems.

How Muslim should deal with Non Muslim humanity? This question became very urgent and significant in today’s world where in this age of globalization it is not possible for any to shut himself in his ghetto. In this regard Muslim Ulema resort to old Fiqhi texts written in the era of Muslim dominance “Now the situation is changed entirely, so we needs moves and steps different from of that were proposed in Past era”(4)

How the dialogue is a pressing need of humanity today, to explain this in present context, we should cite some relevant cases. Obviously radicalism and extremism is a common phenomenon in all the religious communities Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist and others. However none can deny that the silent majority in all these religions is peace loving, if so, this peace loving majority has to face the menace of fanaticism, violence and terrorism pulling together and in unision.

For example the question of Palestine and in particular that of Jerusalem, both have for so long, been a soaring crisis for Mid East and for the world at large. The city of Jerusalem being a centre of spirituality, peace and holiness for three major world religious faiths; Islam, Christianity and Judaism is not deniable. But its sacredness is defied every day by notorious State of Israel and Jews ritht wing extremists . Why not people of all the concerned faiths should gather together ,pounder on it and try to solve the nagging problem. Because one day somehow, there may be a free Palestinian state, but I think due to its special nature Jerusalem question may still be pending in between and remained unresolved. So any practical solution will only be viable and effective, which could be taken   by a bold initiative by all representatives of all concerned parties. And the negotiating table is the best option for that, through which this crisis can be, solved which is right now in a closed tunnel. Western Muslims are working on this line and living with Christians and Jews they have set local peace committees and are solving local problems through them. These dialogue forms have been best platform for them to be in harmony with local societies and to preserving their Islamic identity as well. So the people of the world have to utilize this dialogue process in face of WMD, global warming, terrorism and menaces and evils endangering the future of humanity. There are questions of Palestine, Chechnya and of Arakan( Myanmar). In my humble opinion no military or political solution is applicable there. Only concerned sides should solve them through the negotiating table, as was done in the case of Moro Land in Philippine which was 50 years old dispute. Now this Muslim majority province and Philippines government both held bilateral talks and eventually has reached to a solution. People ask a valid  question that as Vatican, times and again, voice her concerns for human welfare and render her take on different human issues why not Imame Kaaba or any big Muslim religious leader does that? In this globalized era nobody can shrink to his shell nor can live in isolation, cut of others. Why then Muslims are entangled only with their own issues all over the world, why they do not ever speck on the challenges facing the humanity at large?

There is confusion also that many believe terrorism to be reaction of injustice and inequality,yes it is, but it is only a half truth. In fact false interpretation of religion is too a major cause of radicalism and extremism. For, religious fanaticism is indeed a potential terrorism, whom you very easily change into an act of terrorism. For example take the case of Pakistan wherein, since decades, Sunnis are butchering Shias and Shias are retaliating in the same coin, why? Because Shia are reported to have abused, knowingly or unknowingly, holy companions especially Abu Bakar, Umer and Aisha (RA),may be they not abusing  them verbally but Shia literature, of course ,is said to have contents of this effect. So in condolence congrigation of Imam Husain( مجالس عزاء)They poured in their aversion and hatred towards Sahaba(holy companions). In reaction Sunnis dub them as kafir(infidel)and regard them as permitted to be killed. So they fill at them when they get a chance, attack their graveyards, their Imambaras, shrines and processions, with bombs and detonators, hopping to be rewarded for that in the hereafter. In reaction Shias would attack them and this chain killing and blood shedding is going on unchecked. Seemingly these outfits ,though have been abolished by the authorities ,but they have their support base in the masses of both communities, under whose pressure those ulema  who realize it wrong, are compelled to endorse it too .

In both the sects there are a lot of insolent, headstrong and harsh wording sentimental young ulema and audacious speakers, who are enjoying full support and endorsement of elders of their sects. So this gory situation cannot be resolved in a political or military or other similar way. Not only that but if so-called Islamists one day come to power, the issue will remain as it is. To me, the only solution of this lamentable state of affairs should come from religion itself, and it will take time. And that is intra-faith dialogue. The issue is not confined to Pakistan, it was put as an example only because the situation there is more worsened and also it is at our threshold. Otherwise the same is applied to Iran, Iraq , Lebanon and Syria, wherein the bloody sectarian war so far has claimed more than 90 thousand human lives. And this Frankenstein’s monster has full free hand which changed the country into a haven for killer regime’s forces, snipers, Hezbollah terrorists, evil doers and insurgents of a sordid assortment.

We Muslims are accustomed to passing the buck to others, say, Christian, or Jewish conspirators or Western powers, instead of facing the truth. While the conspiracy, if any, is always successful because there is potentiality for that in our society. If we consider dialogue and negotiation as a better apparatus and utilize it, it doesn’t mean that all the problems and issues automatically will be resolved. No, but it will help to insure a sharp reduction in recent fanaticism and terrorism. The world is changing today rapidly. Today war ,military intervention and terrorism all have been proven counterproductive, it is not possible even for a dreadful super power like America, to win the war on terror. Had it been possible, then there will not be neither the Nine eleven terror strike nor the recent Boston Attack. So today all are compelled to review the situation. ”The world after 50 or 75 years from now will be entirely different from what it was probably before fifty or seventy five years back wherein the existent Islamic movements were established. Three peculiarities are particularly noticeable of the coming era. Firstly, America’s supremacy with her allied powers will be finished….economically she will reduced to be second or third position, and hence will not be able to play a global role. Secondly the coming world will be marked by that most of the hereditary kings, dictators and military rulers would have gone, coinciding with the ending of American hegemony….The third is that on global scale Indian and Chinese economies will be dominating ones.(5)

So even  in this imminent situation , treading on the same trodden path and relying on the same frame work for resolving problems will be amounted to suicide, the old decease our religious class generally is inflicted with.

 To me, in the face of this new situation we have to develop a modern Fiqh or Fiqh for minorities. More over we have to open our stagnant mind and to assume Ijtihad (rethinking) once again. Today we need to be benefited by the thought of Said Nursi, the religious leader of new Turkey, who called for adoption of modernity with keeping faith intact. We need to adopt understanding(تفقه) as well as Fiqh methodology of Yousuf Al-Qarzawi, to use the enlightenment of Hasan Turabi, to adopt the moderate Islam preached by Tariq Ramazan, who could be a bridge between East and the West, and to make use of the humane missionary approach of Moulana Waheeduddin Khan. For in the changed situation drawing inspiration from these thinkers and scholars would be necessary , otherwise our position would be like the Bedouin who wanted to go a certain destination but took a wrong way.

In the process of dialogue it is unnecessary to suppose  that all religions are true or that the destination is one only ways to it are different. In fact these words are good insofar they pertain to theory, otherwise in actual sense nobody believes them to be true,and indeed one can’t. For, religion is the domain of once creed and faith and obviously you only might be faithful to a single faith. So the practical is that people do learn how to respect other’s feelings, other’s divine books and their religious personalities and do, at the same time, believe in their respective faith with devotion. This is the possible thing, because Islam has taught this as Quran says:” But do not revile those (beings) whom they invoke instead of God, lest they in their hostility, revile God and out of ignorance.”(The Cattle:108)

Then among divine religions Islam is an inclusive one. So one can’t be a Muslim until and unless one believes in Moses and Jesus, thus apart of Islam, Christianity and Judaism both included in Islam’s belief system. Historically, be it political or academic, you see that Muslim fought Christians and Jews excessively, yet they didn’t abuse any Christian or Jewish personality simply because their religion doesn’t allow them that, while there have been many cases in history where either Christian or Jew did this blasphemous crime towards th holy prophet (SA), which could still be seen in world stage. Though our response to such reviling cases should still be very careful and should avoid violent protest at all coast.

In so far the Magians of Persia are concerned, Islam treated with them as similar as the people of the book. Not only that, about the Hindus there many a scholar having the opinion that they are to be treated like the people of the book. As Mohammad Bin Qasim, when conquered Sindh, did with them, and no one differ with him. Some scholars even say that Akbar the great, also had adopted the same policy of dialogue,  I think it may be the case, but virtually being himself unlettered, his religious mentors had brought about his movement to a point of no return, that is why history has been full of contradictory remarks in taking it in true prospective, yet the Mughal period had been a witness to good will, religious tolerance and communal harmony in general.(6) Then the current situation of Muslims around the world itself demands that there should be intra-faith dialogue, for ,they are more needy of it than others. If no intra-faith dialogue will be there among different shades of thought and various schools of fiqh, then the result will be very obnoxious one. As since two last centuries most of Muslim  armed struggles, their unlimited sacrifices in different parts of the world, have so far been failed, this will go on unchecked. And it will led virtually to the position where Muslim refugee’s count will go up from  95 % now ,to 100% very soon. For, they, no doubt, are the victim of terror but in most cases this terror is unleashed upon them by their own countries or by their own non state actors. This terror , at places is of a sectarian nature, at others it committed by state . Somewhere it is either ethnic or linguistic one .OIC, Arab League, World Muslim League and similar organizations are unable to remedy this situation today, so as a bitter fact, little they could do anything tomorrow also. Today it is  the West which is giving us shelter and it will give in near future too.

To me, the right Islamic stand on dialogue is that rendered by professor Mohammad Najatullha Siddiqi, who says:

”In fact Islamic stand in this regard is not much different from that of other faiths. So there could be a common platform, followers of different faith could form a common agenda, which can prevent humanity to go to further destruction. That agenda will be acceptable to those also who are humanists but irreligious. This platform, far away from conflict and clash, welcoming to all, not only will be an starting point but will be a harbinger of a new era of peace and prosperity, which can save the world from repression, torture and different kinds of deprivation.( 7)


1-vide,Umri Jalaluddin,Tajalliate Quran,MMI publishers New Delhi,Februry 2013,P:199(Urdu)

2-Apart from Saudi Arabia,OIC is also working on this project,and there are centres in Jeddah and Kuwait city for Wasatia ( moderation) and understanding among various cultures.

3-see: Dr. Hashim Al-kilani الحضارات صراع أم حوار,the tract’s Urdu version is pbublished from Institute of Objective Studies New Delhi 25

4-Maqaside Shariah(objectives of Shariah) prof.M.Najatullah Siddiqi,MMI publishers New Delhi25,May2009,P:50(Urdu)


6-see Asrar Alam,Sir Syed ke Basirat,Darul Ilm Delhi,2013P:99

7- See Profe.Siddiqi,Mulsims,Islam and Islamic movement in 21 century,MMI publishers,July 2005,P:111

*Dr.Mohammd Ghitreef  is the director of Foundation for Islamic Studies ,New Delhi, he can be contacted on:,

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