GUIDELINES FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE

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1 GUIDELINES FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE by Frederic Ntedika Mvumbi, O.P. Published in J. Kenny, O.P. (ed.), Training for interreligious dialogue, Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, Interreligions Dialogue Commission, Regional Seminar, Agbarho, May Islamic ambivalence (Mvumbi) I would have loved to title my paper "Muslim ambivalence" but my discussion is specifically about Islamic theology, not Muslims, in as much as many Muslims have abandoned the ambiguous attitude that we propose to point out. However, we cannot neglect the position of certain Muslims, especially when they are not condemned by Muslim authorities. Many people, especially those who study Islam and visit some of the Muslim countries, have hoped to get the true image of Islam or its true identity, but they meet an ambivalent attitude, because the Islam they meet is simultaneously attractive and repulsive. Meanwhile, as we can notice in many fruitful encounters, it is important, if not imperative, to know the truth about our partner; in this case, every Muslim is our partner. It was in the context of strong dispute both on the origin of Jesus and his self testimony that John wrote: "And you shall know the truth; and the truth shall set you free" (Jn 8:32). The truth about Jesus, known and attested by both Christians and Muslims, is founded on Jesus who is peace and preached peace. Whoever contradicts this ideal is no worthy to be called Christian. Someone may quickly assert that Islam has no definite stand, given the fact that it appears sometimes positive and sometimes negative, sometimes peaceful and sometimes violent ; this ambivalence goes back to the time of Muhammad, so that it seems to be the permanent status of Islam. Violence appears endemic, if not essential, to Islam. Let us look at this ambivalence in three different areas, with reference to the Qur'an. As a matter of fact, Islam begins in and with the Qur'an; thus there is no Islam without the Qur'an. There can be no serious study of anything pertaining to Islam without referring first and foremost to the Book that was revealed to Muhammad over more than two decades (610 to 632). The Qur'an is almost what is Christ in Christianity. In spite of the divisions and numerous tendencies found within Islam, the Qur`an remains the cornerstone of Muslim, both orthodox and unorthodox. The Qur'an guides the total and integral life of the Muslims. Moreover, the Qur'an is the first source to which Muslims turn to justify their stance. Wilfred C. Smith comments:

2 To study the Qur'an... is to study much more that its texts; and much more of social conditions than those that preceded its appearance in history and contributed to its formation...it is because of what the Qur'an has been doing, mightily and continually, in the life of men for all these centuries after it was launched, that anyone takes the trouble to notice its launching at all...the Qur'an is significant not primarily because of what historically went into it but because of what historically has come out of it; what it has done to men's lives, and what men have done to it and with it and through it. 1 Though Qur'anic studies have led scholars to divergent interpretations within Islam, the value of the al-kitâb cannot be underestimated; its role cannot be overlooked. The Qur'an is very important in this study because of what it has done to men's lives. The mercy of God Two specific attributes manifest God's mercy in the Qur'an: Rahmân and Rahîm. These inseparable concepts express both the essence and the existence of God's mercy, especially when they are pronounced in Arabic. 2 They therefore signify his being as he is himself and as he is in relation with created beings. In other word, Islam teaches that God is not only merciful but also shows mercy to all men and women. These attributes are so important that they are found at the beginning of every sura except sura 9. Because of his love, he forgives and has compassion (2:109, 4:48, 7:199). Similarly, the same mercy God urges Muslims to fight those who do nor share the same faith with them. It is even said in sura 2:216 that fighting is prescribed except during the month of Ramadan. In Sûra 2, 178, vengeance is taken as part of the law of equality. In the case of murder, Muslims are allowed to kill a free man for a free man, a slave for a slave and a woman for a woman. Moreover, the life of the founder is loaded with raids and unmerciful battles. Ibn-Ishaq's Sîrat Rasûl Allâh reports them as acts of bravery. Justice It is right to note that the Qur'an recommends Justice as a virtue in order to judge with fairness. If someone wants to judge, let him judge and stand firm for justice. Commenting on Sûra 4:135, Yusuf Ali said: " But Islamic Justice is something higher than the formal justice of the Roman Law or any other human law. It is even more penetrative than the subtler justice in the speculations of the Greek philosophers. It searches out the innermost motives because we are to act as in the presence of God; to him all things, acts and motives are known." Therefore, in submission to the will of Allah who is just, all Muslims should or ought to be just at all times and in all their actions. I think that advocating for

3 freedom of religion or accepting that the truth can be found elsewhere than in my house is a great act of Justice. Unfortunately, the Qur'an is very strict when it says that Religion is Islam and nothing else: "The Religion before God is Islam.." (3:19). In other words, true believers or those to be saved are solely the Muslims. Meanwhile Sûra 2:62 says that those who follow the Qur'an and those who follow the Jewish Scriptures and the Christians shall have their reward with their Lord. Violence It is commonly accepted that the whole of humanity yearns for peace, desires it and struggles for its establishment. But we find violence in all its ramifications in Islam. When all living faiths have one basic claim which is peace, many Muslims willingly labor for violence. It is curious to note that both those Muslims who engage in fights as well as those who quench fights, claim to work for peace. Errare humanum est, sed perseverare est diabolicum. This means that to make mistakes is human but to persevere in mistakes is evil. Many Muslims persist in conducting unnecessary atrocities without being condemned by their leaders. This phenomenon observed among many Muslims has become a subject matter, especially when Christians of our countries, Nigeria for instance, are threatened, lose their properties and shed blood. Muslims have been behaving in a way that disturbs both the Muslim and the non-muslim societies. They justify their conduct by calling on Allah as the one who recommends it. Therefore, they have constituted almost in the five continents groups that uphold violent and barbarous practices and have refused to welcome modern ideas such as freedom, justice and peace. There is no doubt that Allah is the true God who created the visible as well as the invisible world (Q. 7:54); he created the world for just ends (Q.15:85); He is the Creator of man (Q. 96:2); He is Rahmân and Rahîm. And Muslims are those who submit to the Creator and merciful God. However, since violence is the opposite of mercy and Muslims fail to show mercy and communicate God's goodness, some Christians wonder whether Allah is really God. Thomas Aquinas says: It is fitting, therefore, that God's divine goodness should be communicated to creatures in both ways as it contains all perfections in itself and as it flows into things so that because of this goodness created things not only would exist and possess goodness but also would give existence and goodness to other things. 3 Now should we believe that Allah commands violence and rejoices when his people undergo unnecessary pains and sufferings? How can we give a religious justification to these atrocities when we remember that Islam claims to be a religion of peace? Does violence work for peace? We do not propose answers to these questions but call on all believers to meditate on the interpretation and understanding of some Qur'anic statements such as "wa-qâtilû fî sabîl Allâh al-

4 ladhîna yuqâtilûnakum wa-lâ ta`tadû. Inn-Allâha lâ yuhibbu l-mu`tadîn" (2:190 "Fight for the sake of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress. Allah does not love tra sgressors.") and fa-l-yuqâtil fî sabîl Allâh aladhîna yashrûna-l-hayâtal-dunyâ bi-l-âkhirat wa-man yuqâtil fî sabîli-l-allâh fa-yuqtal aw yaghlib fa-sawfa nu`tîhi ajran `azîman"(4:74 "Let him fight for the sake of Allah those who purchase this life at the cost of the next. Whoever fights for the sake of Allah, whether he is killed or is victorious, we will give him a great reward."). Everything depends on how one apprehends God and war. Two propositions emerge from these two concepts, namely "God of war" and "wars of God". Commenting on both assertions, Francis Gonsalves wrote: He continued: Conclusion The image of the God of war, however, is tempered by that of God who seeks to exterminate violence (Gen 6:13), detests violence (Mal 2:16) and those who love violence (Ps 11,5) rejects the offering of the violent (Mal 1:13), warns the violent and grievous consequences (Ezek 12:19), saves from violence (2 Sam 22:3), condemns violence through the words of his prophets (Jer 22,17), and proclaims that violence will be no more (Is 60,18). 4 Ironically, history bears a burden of blood in God's name! Wars of God or wars of religions is a contradiction in terms, an absurdity! for, would the God of life and love, Creator and Sustainer of life, require human beings to embark upon suicidal holocausts, to spread darkness, division, death and to create chaos out of the cosmos? 5 This ambivalent attitude may not be peculiar to Islam because it could also be found in other religions. As soon as Christians and others of good will condemn the Muslims who resort to violence in the name of God, justifying themselves by referring to the Qur'an and the life of Muhammad, we are quickly told that the Bible (the Old Testament) and Christian history are filled with violence. This could be right, but in Catholicism we have a Magisterium which warns against and condemns some of our attitudes. It is like a railing preventing me from falling when passing over a bridge. I know that moral theology allows as well as forbids a different actions. It is unfortunate that Islam has no central authority that can make a sound statement in the name of all Muslims. As a matter of fact, apart from some Muslim individual statements made against terrorism, we have not had a solemn statement from a single Muslim authority anywhere issuing a fatwâ declaring the 19 terrorists of September 11 to be kâfirs or apostates for disobeying the Qur'an and Allah. 6 We cannot talk about peace in Islam or claim that Islam is a religion of peace when the principles of peace are violated in so many Muslims' interpretation of the Qur'an and the life of the Founder, Muhammad.

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