Some Evils of Interfaith Dialogues
A shocking title, to some, but quite appropriate. Having spoken
at numerous interfaith dialogues myself, I have only recently gained
insights into their evils. The event that first caused me
to begin examining interfaith dialogues with a critical eye occurred
while I was still in medical school.
I was living and volunteering at
a place in Villanova, PA called The Foundation for Islamic Education. One day while I was sitting in the imam's office, we were approached by a pleasant, silver-haired gentleman who introduced himself as the pastor of a church. He reported paying a visit to learn about Islam. The imam quite eloquently explained our beliefs, our practices, and the common history shared with Jews and Christians. After many hours of discussion, it was decided (at the suggestion of the pastor) to hold an interfaith dialogue. To make a long story short, we had arranged after numerous subsequent meetings, to hold the first "dialogue" at the Foundation for Islamic Education. It was understood that we would tell the Muslims and the pastor would tell the Christians. However, only one other Christian showed up....and I was the one that invited him. The place was packed with Muslims.
The "dialogue" went on anyway, and it was clear, thereafter, that another dialogue was not to happen. The pastor never returned to plan the next meeting which was to take place at his church. So, never would the Muslims be given the opportunity to address his congregation as he addressed ours. A "dialogue" by its very roots, implies two people or parties coming together for discussion. This, however, was not much more than a monologue. (Incidentally, that one Christian who attended is now Muslim, alhamdulillah.)
Watering Down the Message
In an age of political correctness, we find ourselves unable to speak out against that which we find abhorent. It has become antiSemetic of us to speak out against the atrocities visited daily upon the people of Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon at the hands of Jews in Israel. It has become sexist of us to say that men and women should dress differently or serve different roles in certain instances.
Less than a decade ago, homosexuality was considered to be a disease, listed in psychiatric and medical texts as such for centuries. And for thousands of years, homosexual acts have been regarded as crimes against society. Nowadays, however, to speak out against it may cost someone their career and at the very least that individual may be seen as backward, antiquated or outdated.
Ultimately, then, Muslims devolve from being people who encourage righteousness and forbid evil to people who say, "Well, to each his own. As long as I am not involved in evil." We may do good. We may pray on time, we may fast regularly, and we may be good to our parents. But if we don't stand up against evil when we are presented with it, we are allowing it to continue. And interfaith dialogues are the training grounds for us as a group to stop forbidding evil. In an effort to make Islam pleasing to the non-Muslim's eye, we, in effect, distort Islam. We say that it is what it is not. This is especially the case with polygyny and with jihad.
Jihad: It is quite true that the Arabic word jihad has many meanings, and that translating it as "holy war" does a disservice to both the Arabic word jihad, itself, and to the Islamic concept of jihad. However, participation in interfaith dialogues often reduces jihad to an inner struggle rather than an outward struggle, when in fact, it is both...and actually, with a strong emphasis on the outward form.
In an effort to please the audience and to try to make Islam pleasing to the other members of the interfaith gathering, jihad is often diluted and it's role in war is often downplayed, ignored, or distorted. If we do not fight against the enemies of Allah, who will stop evil when it rears it's ugly face? If we do not fight oppressors, we are allowing oppression to continue.
In this day and age there is a tendency to perceive all war as evil. However, this is simply not the case. There is a such thing as a just war. The problem lies in the fact that outsiders view a war as fighting, death, and destruction. Whereas, participants in a war have quite a different view. That is, when people are thrown out of their homes, separated from their families, robbed, and raped, it is just and appropriate for them to fight back. It is just and appropriate for someone else to come to their aid. To "turn the other cheek" may have its place, but not here. Once negotiation and diplomacy has failed, war is the only option. Turning the other cheek in this case serves only to allow the spread of evil and injustice to continue.
Interfaith dialogues weaken the Muslims. Muslims represent approximately 20% of the world's population, but over 80% of the world's refugees! This is only the case because we have left jihad. To distort its definition is to make the weaker Muslims amongst us think twice when called for jihad..........precisely what the enemies of Allah want us to do.
The Jews who "killed" Jesus: Regarding the wrongs and evils that Jews of the past have wrought against the prophets of Allah (may peace be upon them), interfaith dialogues frequently omit this aspect of history contained in the Qur'an and ahadith. Many prophets sent to benefit the children of Israel were ridiculed, laughed at, and tortured. This is contained in both Christian & Islamic texts.
It is a direct result of the Christian participation in interfaith dialogues that Christians are often apologetic for this aspect of their teaching. Christians have even begun changing their doctrine to reflect this. Though Muslims do not believe that Jesus (peace be upon him) was killed at the hands of the Jews, we do believe that he suffered at their hands. For centuries, Christians, in particular the Catholic Church has stood against Jews as the killers of Christ (peace be upon him). Lately, however, their position on this issue is changing, moving more toward a Roman persecution of Jesus (peace be upon him) rather than a Jewish one. Christians have only to thank interfaith discussion.
"I'm OK, you're OK": The language of interfaith dialogues is often laden with flattery. For example, Muslims often tirelessly mention that Jews and Christians are highly regarded in the Qur'an as the People of the Book for having received prior revelation. While this is true, the rest of the message of the Qur'an, regarding the Jews and Christians as having set up others as partners with Allah, is often left out.
Furthermore, the format of most interfaith discussions is often such that each group gets the opportunity to present an answer to a question or a statement. Rarely does one group tell the other that it has gone astray. Instead, the speakers often answer the question in a soft, non-confrontational manner, giving the outward appearance of acceptance of all parties.
Islamically, it is not appropriate to quote the last ayah of Surah Al-Kafirun in isolation. "To you your way, and to me mine." Though the statement is valid (obviously because Allah Subhannahu Wa Ta'aala said it), it was not uttered by Jibreel or the Prophet (peace be upon both of them) in isolation. There was a context to the ayah. And that context manifests itself in the first few verses of the surah, in which the non-believers are clearly demarcated from the believers. There is no acceptance of disbelief, as is often implied in the isolated use of "To you your way, and to me mine." Instead, interfaith dialogues say to the believers and the non-believers, "I'm OK, you're OK."
When Musailama claimed prophethood at the time of Muhammad (peace be upon him), he did not invite the false prophet to an interfaith discussion or even to a debate. Instead, he sent a very clear letter addressing Musailama as Al-Kadhaab (The Liar).
So What Does All of this Mean?
So does this mean we should avoid interfaith discussions and remain absent from such panels when asked to participate? I don't know. I don't know the best approach. My personal feeling is that such discussions have great potential to be evil if the speakers are not careful with regards to the above issues, but at the same time have a potential to reach a wide audience and to correct a vast amount of ignorance and misinformation regarding Islam. The important thing is that it remains a dialogue.
So, what of debates? In debates, you can be as firm as you need to be regarding issues like those discussed above. However, the goal of any participant in a debate is to win...not to be persuaded by the opponent. So, how likely is it that one person debating another would stop and say, "You know what? You're right! I never thought of it that way"?
Allah knows best.
Al Wala' Wa'l Bara: by Muhammad Saeed al-Qahtani
The Multifocal Attack Against Islam: by Abu Aasiya
Unification of Religions?!
BOOK: What Did Jesus Really Say?
BOOK: Beyond Mere Christianity - C.S.Lewis and the Betrayal of Christianity
BOOK: Christianity The Original and Present Reality