Islamic perimeters of interreligious dialogue

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Updated 14 December 2012

Islamic perimeters of interreligious dialogue

Peace, harmony and Islam: Peace indicates tranquility, mental calm, quiet, serenity, reconciliation, amity, accord, concord, friendliness, harmony, on the one hand and absence of, or cessation of war, state of reconciliation after strife and enmity, freedom from mental agitation or anxiety, freedom from civil disorder and strife, on the other.
Thus, peace has positive and negative dimensions. It implies that when there is no war, strife, enmity, mental agitation or anxiety and civil disorder, peace prevails as a consequence. But, in cases when personal or social problems and conflicts exist, there is no peace on individual or community level.
Therefore, to strive for changing, these circumstances with the virtues of tranquility, serenity, reconciliation, amity, harmony etc. are required for making peace or keeping peace at individual and societal levels. Thus, the natural harmony and law, when disturbed, lead to antithesis of peace, i.e., strife, war, anxiety, enmity and disorder etc. But, if the natural law, which governs human life and human societies, is preserved there will be peace.
There is a very close relationship between peace and harmony at personal and societal levels. Peace creates concord, balance, consistency, unanimity, compatibility and stability at individual and collective levels and helps to effect accord in facts, views and it acts and helps in making sympathetic relationships and mutual similarities the focal point of human concern. When peace and harmony are achieved in this inter-related manner, the expectation for a trustful, promising, secure, and faithful existence of human beings becomes possible.
Coming to Islam, when we observe this issue, we are thrilled to know that the root of Islam is from salam and silm, which means peace, reconciliation and concord. A derivative of this root (s-l-m) is aslama, which means to make sound and safe, save and attain safety, tranquility and prosperity, deliver, submit and obey. Aslama Amrahu Ilal-Allah means to resign one’s self or fate to the will of God, or to submit to Him.
Thus, words like peace, harmony and hope are very much part of the connotations of the terms “Islam.” Islam is a religion, which is based on certain tenets and doctrines, and only after following these tenets and doctrines in letter and spirit, a man can be called a Muslim or one who submits to the will of God and lives in peace with his fellow beings.
In this sense, it is a qualitative term, which requires its adherent a strict following of its teachings. By calling oneself “Muslim” one does not become entitled to the status of a true believer if his/her actions and deeds are in contradiction with the teachings of Islam. Such a person will be called a hypocrite (munafiq), and not a Muslim.
Since submission before the will of God had always been the religion of all the prophets, a Muslim is enjoined to believe not only in the last Prophet but also in all preceding prophets including those whose names occur in the Qur’an. In this matter, no discrimination is to be made against any Prophet. Indeed, Muslims are ordered: “We do not make any distinction between one and another of His prophets” (2:285). All Prophets were Muslims, i.e., they submitted themselves to the will of God. The Qur’an calls Ibrahim a “Muslim” because he submitted himself to the will of God. The hallmark of other Prophets too was their submission to the will of God. They were the first to surrender to God. They called themselves “slaves” of God. The Qur’an says about Jesus that “Never would the Messiah disdain to be a servant of Allah, nor would the angels near [to Him]. And whoever disdains His worship and is arrogant, He will gather them to Himself all together.” (4: 72) Islam envisages the believer to be harmonious with his natural environment.
Because he is not a citizen of an alien universe but follows the same path that all other objects and components of the universe follow. He endeavors for a harmonious relationship with all creatures of the world and shuns all situations of friction and discord. Thus Islam leads a man to a peace, which is accessible in no other way. This peace permeates not only into the mind and heart of the individual believer but also into the collective life of man when the law of Islam is followed. The Qur’an says that the real peace and tranquility is attained by the remembrance of God: “Say: ‘In fact Allah lets him go astray who wants, and guides to Himself those who turn to Him – such are the ones who have believed and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah. Beware! It is the remembrance of Allah, which provides tranquility to the hearts. As for those who believe and do good deeds, for them there will be prosperity and a beautiful place of final return’.” (Qu’ran, 13: 27-29)
Yet, from a different angle when the result of unbelief and transgression from the path of submission before the will of God is seen in the context of the consequential fallout, the Qur’an says that the origin of the chaos which prevails on earth and elsewhere lies in the deviation of man from the laws of God: “[Since they have become oblivious of God] corruption has appeared on land and in the seas as an outcome of what man’s hands have brought and so He will let them taste [the evil of] some of their doings so that they might return [to the right path”]. (30:41)
This verse of the Qur’an indicates that the corruption and chaos, which prevail on earth and in the sea is a consequence of the evil deeds of man, which are not approved of in the law of God. Man has been made responsible for all such aberrations and misconduct committed by him, which ultimately lead to chaos, discord, disharmony or bloodshed on earth.
Thus, the growing corruption and destruction of our natural environment is “an outcome of what man’s hands have wrought,” i.e., of that self-destructive —utterly materialistic — frenzied activity, which now threatens mankind with unimagined ecological disasters – an unbridled pollution of land, air and water through industrial and urban waste, a progressive poisoning of plant and marine life, all manner of genetic malformations in man’s own bodies through an ever-widening use of drugs and seemingly “beneficial” chemicals, and the gradual extinction of many animal species essential to human well-being and survival.

n Prof. Hamid Nassem Rafiabadi is director, Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir, Srinagar

To all this may be added the rapid deterioration and decomposition of man’s social life, the all-round increase in sexual perversion, crime and violence, with, perhaps, nuclear annihilation as the ultimate outcome. All this, in the last resort, is an outcome of man’s oblivion of God and, hence, of all absolute moral values, and this suppression by the belief that material “progress is the only thing that matters.” The Qur’an exhorts the believers and other people again and again that peace, harmony and concord should be maintained at all cost as Allah has created everything with natural order and in accurate quantity. Even humans have been guided to the same “natural way” through the agency of the Prophets so that peace and harmony may prevail on earth, as it prevails in nature and the heavens: “...Hence, spread not corruption on earth after it has been so well ordered. And all unto Him with fear and longing: verily, God’s grace is ever close to the doers of good!” (7:56)
The same fact has been highlighted in a different manner while enumerating the factors, which lead to corruption and disorder on earth. Prophet Shu’ayb
(pace be upon him) reminded his people about the causes, which finally lead to such evil consequences: He said: “O my people! Worship God alone: you have no deity other than Him. Clear evidence of the truth has now come unto you from your Sustainer. Give, therefore, full measure and weight [in all your dealings], and do not deprive people of what is rightfully theirs; and do not spread corruption on earth after it has been so well ordered: [all] this is for your own good, if you would but believe.” (7:85-86)

Religious Freedom And Islam
The Qur’an denounces the disorder that may arise out of religious fanaticism and dogmatism has also been in a very effective manner criticized by Islam.
The Qur’an says categorically that there should be no compulsion in the matters of religion. The Qur’an says: “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith.”
On the strength of the above categorical prohibition of coercion (Ikrah) in anything that pertains to faith or religion, all Islamic jurists, without any exception, hold that forcible conversion is null and void under all circumstances, and that any attempt at coercing a non-believer to accept the faith of Islam is a grievous sin. This dispels the widespread fallacy that Islam
places before the unbelievers the alternative of “conversion or the sword.”
Islam even upholds the religious freedom of all people and calls it “the foremost cause for which arms may — and indeed, must — be taken up” otherwise it warns that “corruption would surely overwhelm the earth.” The Qur’an says: “For if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries and Churches and Synagogues and Mosques — in [all of] which God’s name is abundantly extolled — would surely have been destroyed... .” (22:39)
Islam wants that arms may be used when need arises for protecting religious freedom “until God can be worshiped without fear of persecution, and none is compelled to bow down in awe before another human being.”
Islam, however, exhorts that the message of God may be conveyed to the people in the best way, adopting the most beautiful style. The Qur’an says: “Call thee [all mankind] unto thy Sustainer’s path with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the most kindly manner, for, behold, thy Sustainer knows best as to who strays from his path, and best knows He as to who are the right-guided.” (16:125)

This stress on kindness and tact, and, hence, on the use of reason and wisdom alone in all religious discussions with adherents of other creeds is fully in tune with the basic, categorical Qur’anic injunction: “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith.” (2:256)
The Speech and the invitation towards the path of God should be the best example of politeness and humility, and the words should match one’s deeds as well. The Qur’an says: “And who could be better of speech than he who calls [his fellow-men] unto God, and does what is just and right,” and says: “Verily,
I am of those who have surrendered themselves to God.” (41:33)
The Qur’an lays much emphasis on the commonalties between one religion and the other instead of differences, especially when followers of earlier revelations are to be addressed by the Muslims, they should start with the common “propositions” or “tenets” rather than differences. In other words, the similarities need to be highlighted and not the dissimilarities. The Qur’an says, for example: “Say: “O followers of earlier revelation! Come unto that tenet, which we and you hold in common: that we shall worship none but God and we shall not ascribe divinity to ought beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings for our lords beside God.” (3:64)
But, if despite the beautiful speech and wise admonitions, an invitee does not accept the call of Islam, he will not be compelled to accept faith under coercion. Rather, such people will be allowed to follow their own religion and ways, and be obedient to the faith, which they deem suitable for them. The
Qur’an indicates the attitude of a believer and a Muslim in such situation in the following words: “Say: unbelievers, I do not worship what you worship, nor do you worship that I worship. I shall never worship what you worship, nor will your ever worship what I worship. You have your own religion, and I have mine.” (109:6-1-6)

Religious Sensibilities and Islam
Islam forbids Muslims to hurt the religious sensibilities of others. A Muslim may invite others to the unity of God in the best possible polite and cultured parlance but if the invitees don’t shun their ways, still their “gods” or “goddesses” will not be vilified according to the teachings of Islam. The
Qur’an says that no mortal has it in his power to cause another person to believe unless God graces that person with His guidance: “But do not revile
those (beings) that they invoke instead of God, lest they revile God out of spite, and in ignorance: for, goodly indeed have we made their own doings appear into every community. In time, [however], unto their sustainer they must return: and then He will make them [truly] understand all that they were doing.” (6:108)
These prohibitions of reviling anything that other people hold sacred apply to all believers in Islam despite the fact that the principle of God’s oneness or unity is at the heart of Islam’s teachings. Thus, while Muslims are expected to argue with others and put forward their viewpoints in the face of the beliefs of others, they are not allowed to abuse the objects of those beliefs or to hurt the feelings of their fellow men.
The reason why the Qur’an ascribes to this view is that it is in the nature of man to hold in high regard the beliefs, which have been implanted in him from childhood, and which he shares with his social environment, with the result that a debate against those beliefs often tends to provoke a hostile psychological reaction.
Apart from upholding and guaranteeing religious freedom, Islam also declares that all men are born equal and nothing like race, color, language, nationality can place one above the other with the sole exception of fearing God: “O mankind, We created you from a single pair of man and woman and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other. Indeed the most honored of you in the sight of God is one who is most God-fearing.” (49:13)
Expounding this principle of the unity and universal brotherhood of mankind, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor has the non-Arab any superiority over the Arab. Similarly a black man is not superior to the red-complexioned one, nor is the red-complexioned person superior to the black man”. (Al-Baihaqi) The
Prophet also said: “All of you came from Adam and Adam came from clay.” (Al-Baihaqi, Al-Tirmidhi)
Respect for human life, which is the bedrock of social harmony, is one the cardinal tenets of Islam. The Qur’an says: Whoever slew a person... unless it be
[retribution] for murder or due to spreading mischief on the Earth... it is as if he slew the whole Mankind and whoever saved a person (from killing) it is as if he saved the whole Mankind.” (5:32)
Mercy and fellow-feeling is an important ingredient of Islamic religion. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Be kind to those on Earth, God in the Heavens shall be kind to you.” (Al-Bukhari) This is because, according to some traditions, “the whole creation is considered like Allah’s family and it has been said that Allah loves that person most who is most good to His family.” (Baihaqi).1

Right of Conscience in Islam
According to Islam, human life is sacred and inviolable and every effort must be made to protect it. Man is born free. As Umar Ibn Al-Khattab wrote to the governor of Egypt ‘Amr Ibn Aas: “When have you started enslaving people when their mothers gave birth to them as free people?”
Thus, it is clear that Islam does not allow any encroachment on man’s right to liberty except under legal authority and due process of law. Every person is ensured the security, dignity and liberty in terms set out by methods approved and within the limits set by the law. Moreover, every person has the right to freedom of conscience and worship in accordance with his religious beliefs. No one can hold anyone in contempt or ridicule because of his religious beliefs or incite public hostility against such a person. Respect for the religious feelings of others is obligatory on all Muslims. In a Muslim country, religious minorities have the choice to be governed in respect of their civil and personal matters by Islamic law or by their own laws. Furthermore, every person has the right to express his thoughts and beliefs so long as he remains within the limits prescribed by law.
Moreover, the disorder that may arise out of religious fanaticism and dogmatism has been denounced in a very effective way. The Qur’an maintains in categorical terms that there shall be no compulsion in the matter of religion.
It says: “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith.” (2:256) On the strength of the above categorical prohibition of coercion (ikrah) in anything that pertains to faith or religion, all Islamic jurists, without any exception, hold that forcible conversion is under all circumstances null and void, and that any attempt at coercing a non-believer to accept the faith of Islam is a grievous sin. This unanimous opinion disposes of the widespread fallacy that Islam places before the non-believers the alternative of “conversion or the sword.”
Karen Armstrong, a British writer, said in her book, “In the West, Muhammad has often been presented as a warlord, who imposed Islam on a reluctant world, by force of arms. The reality was quite different. Muhammad was fighting for his life, was evolving a theology of the just war in the Qur’an, with which most Christians would agree, and never forced anybody to convert to his religion. Indeed, the Qur’an is clear that there is to be “no compulsion in religion.” In the Qur’an, war is held to be abhorrent; the only just war is a war of self-defense. Sometimes it is necessary to fight in order to preserve decent values…. She says further that in the new Empire of Islam, nobody was forced to embrace Islam: “indeed, for a century after Muhammad’s death, conversion was not encouraged and, in about CE 700, was actually forbidden while “the People of the Book” (Ahl Al-Kitab), i.e., Jews and Christians were
granted religious liberty as dhimmis, protected minority groups.” She says: “As a paradigmatic personality, Muhammad has important lessons, not only for Muslims, but also for Western people. His life was a jihad …this word does not mean “holy war,” it means “struggle.” Muhammad literally sweated with the effort to bring peace to war-torn Arabia, and we need people who are prepared to do this today. His life was a tireless campaign against greed, injustice, and arrogance.
(The writer is director, Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir, Srinagar)

The beauty of prayer in Islam

Updated 23 September 2016

The beauty of prayer in Islam

GOING deeper into our spiritual state during prayers (salah) requires that we have a presence of heart and are mindful of the words being said during the prayers.
Our prayer will feel shorter, yet when we look at how much time we actually spent, we will think, “Did I just spend 10 minutes?” or even 15 and 20 minutes.
A person who began applying this said he wished the prayer would never end.
A feeling that Ibn Al-Qayyim describes as “what the competitors compete for… it is nourishment for the soul and the delight of the eyes,” and he also said, “If this feeling leaves the heart, it is as though it is a body with no soul.”

The love of Allah
Some people’s relationship with Allah is limited to following orders and leaving prohibitions, so that one does not enter hell. Of course, we must follow orders and leave prohibitions, but it needs to be done out of more than fear and hope; it should also be done out of love for Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an: “… Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him.” (Qur’an, 5:54)
We often find that when a lover meets the beloved, hearts are stirred and there is warmth in that meeting. Yet when we meet Allah, there is not even an ounce of this same feeling. Allah says in the Qur’an: “And (yet) among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals (to Him). They love them as they (should) love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.” (Qur’an, 2:165)
And those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. There should be a feeling of longing, and when we raise our hands to start the prayer, warmth and love should fill our hearts because we are now meeting with Allah. A dua of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “O Allah, I ask You for the longing to meet You” (An-Nisa’i, Al-Hakim)
Ibn Al-Qayyim says in his book Tareeq Al-Hijratain that Allah loves His Messengers and His believing servants, and they love Him and nothing is more beloved to them than Him. The love of one’s parents has a certain type of sweetness, as does the love of one’s children, but the love of Allah far supersedes any of that. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Any person who combines these three qualities will experience the sweetness of faith: 1) that God and His messenger are dearer to him than anything else; 2) that his love of others is purely for God’s sake; and 3) that he hates to relapse into disbelief as much as he hates to be thrown in the fire.” (Bukhari)
Thus, the first thing he mentioned was: “… that God and His messenger are more beloved to him than anything else…”
Ibn Al-Qayyim says: “Since ‘there is nothing like unto Him’ (Qur’an, 42:11), there is nothing like experiencing love for Him.”
If you feel this love for Him, it will be a feeling so intense, so sweet, that you would wish the prayer would never ever end.
Do you truly want to feel this love? Then ask yourself: ‘why do you or should you love Allah?’
Know that you love people for one (or all, in varying degrees) of three reasons: For their beauty, because of their exalted character or/and because they have done good to you. And know that Allah combines all of these three to the utmost degree.

All-embracing beauty
We’ve all been touched by beauty. It is almost fitrah (natural disposition) to love what is beautiful. Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, said about the Prophet, peace be upon him, that it was “as if the sun is shining from his face.” Jabir (may God be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allah was more handsome, beautiful, and radiant than the full moon” (Tirmidhi)
Allah made all His Prophets have a certain beauty so that people would have a natural inclination toward them.
And beauty is more than what is in the face, because beauty is in all of creation and somehow has the ability to take our breath away and give us peace simultaneously. The glimmer of the crescent moon on a calm night, the intensity of a waterfall as the water drops for thousands of feet, the sunset by the sea … certain scenes of natural unspoiled beauty stirs something in us. As Allah is the One Who made it beautiful, so what of Allah’s beauty?
Ibn Al-Qayyim said: “And it is enough to realize Allah’s Beauty when we know that every internal and external beauty in this life and the next are created by Him, so what of the beauty of their Creator?”
This fitrah for loving what is beautiful is because Allah is beautiful. One of His Names is Al-Jameel (the Most Beautiful). Ibn Al-Qayyim states that the beauty of Allah is something that a person cannot imagine and only He knows it. There is nothing of it in creation save for glimpses.
Ibn Al-Qayyim says if all of creation were the most beautiful they could be (so let’s imagine, ever single human being looked as beautiful as Yusuf, peace be upon him, and the whole world was like Paradise), and all of them combined from the beginning of time until the Day of Judgment, they would not even be like a ray in comparison to the sun when compared to Allah. Allah’s beauty is so intense that we will not even be able to take it in this life. In the Qur’an, Allah describes Musa’s (peace be upon him) request: “And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show me (Yourself) that I may look at You.’ (Allah) said: ‘You will not see Me but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.’ But when his Lord appeared to the mountain He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious.” (Qur’an, 7:143)
Even the mountain could not bear the beauty of Allah and crumbled, and when Musa, peace be upon him, saw this (he did not even see Allah), he fell unconscious. This is why on the Day of Judgment it is Allah’s light that will shine on everything. We talk about breathtaking beauty, but we have yet to experience Allah’s beauty. While things in this world can be beautiful or majestic or if they combine both they are finite, true majesty and beauty are for Allah: “And there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.” (Qur’an, 55:27)
Keeping all of this in mind, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Allah directs His Face toward the face of His servant who is praying, as long as he does not turn away” (Tirmidhi).
Remember this in your prayer, and ask Allah to allow you the joy of seeing Him in Paradise.