Inter-Faith Dialogue in Islam

by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Dialogue, or peaceful negotiation, is the path prescribed by Islam. Islam is based on the principle of dawah, which is another name for peaceful negotiation. Violence is totally forbidden in Islam. There is only one exception to this ban and that is when it is engaged in self-defense. This can take place only at the time of external invasion, and such action is the prerogative of an established government. Non-governmental organizations have no right to wage a war in the name of justice, or even in self-defense.

The Prophet of Islam started his mission in 610 A.D. This mission was to communicate his ideology to people by talking to them, listening to their objections and trying to convince them of his viewpoint by means of arguments. One of the initial Quranic verses revealed to him was that the ideology given by God to the Prophet should be spread by him among the people (93:11) The Prophet’s ideology was based on monotheism, whereas his Arab contemporaries believed in polytheism. It was but natural, therefore, that his mission should become subject to bilateral negotiation.

He would communicate his point to people, listen to their responses and then give them further explanations. In this way his mission became a practical demonstration of what we now term dialogue. To make this dialogue fruitful, the Quran lays down certain meaningful guidelines: “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.” (16:12)

This verse shows that your conversation with others should be carried on in the best and most gracious way, that is any bickering with other parties has to be avoided. After listening to their objections, the point should be made in such a way as appeals to their minds. That is, it should not end in mere debate, but should be result-oriented. The conversation should not appear to be between rivals, but should take a scientific course.

The Quran makes this quite explicit:

“Good and evil are not alike. Repel evil with that which is best, then he between whom and you was enmity will become as if he were a warm friend.” (41:34)

This verse of the Quran tells us that no one is Mr. Enemy. Everyone is potentially Mr. Friend. This is so because everyone is born with the same nature. From this Quranic principle, we learn that the beginning of any dialogue should not be marked by any sign of frustration about the possible outcome. The right approach is to display a hopeful attitude and at the very outset to suppress any tone which would suggest low expectations of success.

In this regard, another verse of the Quran is as follows:

“Say: “O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you that we worship none but God.” (3:64)

We learn from this verse, what should be the subject of discussion when a conversation is being held between two parties? That is, the beginning of a dialogue should not be started with a controversy. Instead, a common ground should be sought on which the discussion should begin. The sequence of the discussion, therefore, should be from agreement to difference of opinion and then back to agreement.

In Islam, the formula for social peace, social harmony and inter-faith dialogue is based on peaceful co-existence as has been given in the following verse of the Quran:

“To you then be your way. And to me be mine.” (109:6)

In other words, the principle of dialogue given by Islam is, “Follow one and respect all” or the method of ‘mutual respect’. As per the teachings of Islam, while respecting others, we have to welcome differences wholeheartedly without any reservation. It is hatred, which has to be eliminated, and not difference of opinion. People may have their differences in belief, religion, culture, etc., but while following their religion, they have to have mutual respect for others and discover a common bond between them, which shows them all to be human beings.

The following is another relevant verse:

“Revile not those whom they call upon wrongfully besides God, lest they revile God in their ignorance.” (6:109)

We gather from this verse of the Quran that, when dialogue takes place between two parties on a controversial subject, it is essential that an amicable atmosphere be maintained. If media belonging to both the parties set about arousing animosity, and people on both sides are engaged in spreading antagonistic feelings, such an unfavourable atmosphere will be created that no fruitful dialogue can take place.

It is a fact that the result of dialogue is not solely dependent upon the atmosphere of the immediate surroundings, but depends rather upon whether the external environment favours or disfavours it.

Another principle of dialogue is supported by the tradition of the Prophet of Islam concerning the via media arrived at in drawing up the Hudaibiya Peace Treaty. This treaty was signed only after long negotiations between the Prophet of Islam and the Quraysh. It is a matter of historical record that the conclusion of this treaty was possible because the Prophet unilaterally accepted the conditions laid down by the Quraysh.

The principle of dialogue derived from this Sunnah of the Prophet is that both the parties should present their viewpoints supported by arguments, while remaining ever ready for give and take — a pre-requisite of a successful dialogue — rather than insist on all demands being unconditionally met.

In practical matters, Islam advocates flexibility to the ultimate possible extent.

We learn from a number of examples throughout Islamic history that Islam not only lays down principles of dialogue, but also gives practical demonstrations. In the Makkan period of his mission, the Prophet of Islam repeatedly practiced the principle of dialogue. For instance, once the Quraysh sent their leader, Utba-ibn-Rabiyya, as their representative to the Prophet of Islam so that an atmosphere of peace might be arrived at through negotiation on the subject of mutual differences. The traditions tell us that Utba heard the Prophet out patiently and with full attention; and then conveyed what he had said to the Quraysh. Similarly, at the invitation of his uncle, Abu-Talib, representatives of the Quraysh gathered at the Prophet’s home and held negotiations there peacefully on controversial matters.

This principle of peaceful negotiations can also be witnessed in the negotiations held at Hudaibiya between the Quraysh and Prophet of Islam that continued for about two weeks, culminating in the treaty of Hudaibiya. This event, without doubt, is a successful example of peaceful negotiation. Again, in the presence of the Prophet of Islam, tripartite talks were held between representatives of three religions – Islam, Judaism and Christianity, in the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah. This historic event, which took place in the sacred place of worship, shows the importance given to peaceful dialogue in Islam.

These examples, which are many in number, relate to the golden age of the Prophet and his companions. That is why; the practice of dialogue in terms of bilateral negotiation enjoys the position of an established principle in Islam.

In Conclusion

It becomes clear from the above discussion that the method of Islam is that of peaceful dialogue. The Quran tells us that the way of peace is the best way. (4:128)

There is another verse, which tells us that the way of negotiation and arbitration should be adopted in controversial matters. (4:35)

There is a tradition to this effect: “Do not desire or seek confrontation with the enemy, but rather ask for peace from God.

The objective of Islam is to bring about divine revolution, to invite people to the worship of God, to strive for a society in which spiritual, ethical, and human values are cherished. Islam advocates an atmosphere where peace, tolerance, love and well wishing is the order of the day — an atmosphere where controversies are resolved without the use of violence. This is the desired world of Islam and such a world can be established only through peaceful dialogue. The truth is that Islam is based on monotheism, with regard to God; and on peaceful dialogue, with regard to methodology. This is the essence of Islamic teaching. No other way is possible in Islam.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is an Islamic spiritual scholar who has adopted peace as the mission of his life. Known for his Gandhian views, he considers non-violence as the only method to achieve success.

Internationally recognized for his contributions to world peace, he has received, among others, the Demiurgus Peace International Award, the Padma Bhushan, the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavna Award and the National Citizen’s Award. A recent book, The 500 Most Influential Muslims of 2009 by Georgetown University, Washington DC, has named him “Islam’s Spiritual Ambassador to the world.” His approach, the book points out, is “popular among Indians, both Muslim and non-Muslim.”

Born in Azamgarh (U.P.) in 1925, the Maulana was educated in a traditional seminary. From his early years, he showed a voracious appetite for modern knowledge, spending entire days in the library. As a result he became well versed in both classical Islamic learning and modern disciplines. His extensive research led him to conclude that the need of the hour was to present Islamic teachings in the style and language of the post-scientific era.

Early Challenges

Having lost his father, Fariduddin Khan, at an early age in 1929, he was brought up by his mother, Zaibunnisa Khatoon and his uncle, Sufi Abdul Hamid Khan, arranged for his education. He comments that becoming an orphan very early in life taught him that, to succeed in life, you have to take such situations as challenges and not as problems. Being an advocate of result-oriented and positive action, he explains that treating such situations as problems can only be negative in result. All you can do in this state is either try to fight to remove them or lodge complaints or protests against them. On the other hand, if you take such situations as challenges, you can positively and constructively work to overcome them yourself, as and when suitable opportunities present themselves. His success in life is largely due to the implementation of this and other such principles, which he has derived from Islamic scriptures.

His Education

Since his family was involved in India’s freedom struggle from the very outset, as a very young man he became a staunch nationalist with Gandhian values in the period prior to India gaining its independence in 1947, and he continues to be such till today. Although his brother, Abdul Muhit Khan, his cousin Iqbal Ahmad Sohail and other members of his family were sent to western-style schools for their education, the young Wahiduddin was enrolled at a traditional Islamic seminary, the Madrasatul Islahi, in Sarai Mir, near Azamgarh in 1938 to receive religious education. Here he spent six years, completing this course and graduating in 1944.

From childhood he unconsciously loved to live in nature. When during his days at the seminary he learnt that the Quran teaches man to observe and reflect on nature – God’s creation; he consciously began to imbibe this principle in his life. Henceforth, observation and reflection became the seeds that were to develop in him a scientific and analytical bent of mind, which he effectively applies till today in both religious and secular fields.

After graduating from this seminary of traditional Islamic learning, he started interacting with people to begin his life – considering his education to be complete. As it happened, the people whom he came across had received a modern, English medium education. During some of these interactions, he was deeply shocked to realize that, although his education had been completed, he was not able to respond to statements and questions put to him by others such as, “You can believe in religion only as a matter of faith, as it falls only into the framework of primary rationalism and not secondary rationalism,” and “Will there be anything lacking in history if Prophet Muhammad were to be taken out of it?” Questions such as these presented a new challenge to him.

His elder brother wanted him to join the family business, but realizing that, without studying English and modern science, his education would be incomplete, the young Khan immersed himself in learning English and then went on to study innumerable books on science and contemporary thought. Developing a voracious appetite for knowledge, he would visit the library early in the morning and leave only when requested to do so by the librarian at closing time. His quest for knowledge can be gauged by the fact that, even today he constantly questions all visitors coming to him, so that he may gain fresh knowledge from interacting with them.

Well-Versed in Traditional Learning and Modern Sciences

As a result of his quest and resulting research, he became well versed in both classical Islamic learning and modern science. He then realized the need to present Islamic teachings in the style and language of modern times. Khan’s primary concern has been to present Islam as a perfectly suitable ideology for the modern age. Having a deep understanding of the original Arabic scriptures and with his extensive research in the fields of modern thought and science, Maulana has presented to the world – in the modern idiom – the real face of Islam, based as it is on peace, tolerance and co-existence. He dispels the notion that Islam is a religion of violence, a notion that has gained currency in the present times, because of Islam being misrepresented and therefore misunderstood. He deals at great length in his writings with issues relating to pluralism, inter-faith dialogue and peace. Let us now turn to Khan’s own distinct interpretation of how Islam can be understood in the modern world, an interpretation which claims to be both authentic and at the same time relevant in the present day context.

His Mission

Upon completion of his research, in 1955, he published his first book, Naye Ahd Ke Darwaze Par, or ‘On the Threshold of a New Era’. This book, the result of his exhaustive studies, was further elaborated upon in his next work, Ilme Jadid Ka Challenge, or ‘Islam and Modern Challenges’, which was later published as ‘God Arises’. The culmination of his research was his book, Al Islam, in which he presented the ideology developed by him, which was completely based on the original Islamic Scriptures. Continuing to write since then, he has authored over 200 books.

His book, ‘God Arises’ has been accepted as the standard Islamic position on modern thought and has been incorporated in the curricula of universities in over six Arab countries. It has been translated into various languages, such as English, Arabic, Malay, Turkish, Hindi, Malayalam and Sindhi. Its Arabic version has been published under the title of Al-Islam Yatahadda and has become popular throughout the Arab world.

From 1967 onwards, he has been addressing public and private gatherings in order to advocate a policy, which should be constructive, nationalist and inter-nationalist in nature. He has become actively involved in serving the cause of national and international unity based on peace and inter-faith harmony, and has extended his mission to interfaith efforts, by which he seeks, in the modern idiom, to present to the world the peaceful, tolerant spirit of Islam. Over a period of time, he has begun to contribute articles to various journals and newspapers, and has become a regular contributor to several national and international dailies and magazines.

Launch of Islamic Centre and Al Risala

To give full expression to these positive ideas, he established the Islamic Centre at New Delhi in 1970. Subsequently, the organ of the Centre, Al-Risala – the monthly magazine – was launched in Urdu in 1976. This journal, consisting entirely of his own articles, quickly acquired a wide circulation throughout the Urdu-speaking world, and has done much to make people understand the peaceful face of Islam, to awaken in Muslims a new awareness of their social responsibilities and to promote positive thinking and action. The first issues of the English and Hindi versions of Al-Risala were launched respectively in February 1984, and December 1990. The English version continues to be published under the title of Spiritual Message till today.

Ambassador of Peace

In 1992, when the atmosphere was so highly charged throughout India due to the Babri Mosque incident, he felt the necessity to convince people of the need to restore peace and amity between the two communities, so that the country might once again tread the path of progress. To fulfill this end, he went on a 15-day Shanti Yatra (peace march) through Maharashtra along with Acharya Muni Sushil Kumar and Swami Chidanand, addressing large groups of people at 35 different places on the way from Mumbai to Nagpur. This Shanti Yatra contributed greatly to the return of peace in the country.

It is because of his advocacy of peace on the subcontinent and throughout the world and his espousal of the cause of communal harmony that he is respected by all communities and in every circle of society. Invited to meetings by all religious groups and communities within India and abroad, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is, in effect, India’s spiritual ambassador, spreading the universal message of peace, love and harmony.

Directly addressing individuals, he has been re-engineering minds in order to develop positive and spiritually inclined citizens of the world – who can live together peacefully – so that the culture of peace and spirituality may spread at a universal level. Over decades, he has prepared a team of individuals – the Ambassadors of Peace.

Clear Translation of the Quran

Realizing the need for a clear translation of and commentary on the Quran, he translated the Quran into Urdu along with a commentary in the form of Tazkirul Quran. It’s English – The Quran, and Hindi – Pavitra Quran, versions have recently been published. According to Maulana, there are more than a dozen translations of the Quran in English. However, the clarity that is there in the Arabic Quran is lacking in all of the translations. His translation, The Quran is an endeavour to give to the world an English translation of the Quran which is clear and gives a scientific interpretation, which will satisfactorily address the minds of people of the post-scientific era.

His Books

He has authored over 200 books on Islam, prophetic wisdom, spirituality and peaceful co-existence in a multi-ethnic society, the most recent being The Prophet of Peace: The Teachings of Prophet Muhammad published by Penguin Books; Jihad, Peace and Inter-Community Relations in Islam published by Rupa and The Ideology of Peace. These books not only offer a peaceful solution to the menace of terrorism, but also helps people understand the concept of peace in Islam.

Felicitations

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, who is well traveled, and the recipient of several national and International awards, has made a very great contribution to world peace in his tireless campaign to avert the danger of a nuclear conflict between various countries. To this end he put forward a proposal for a worldwide movement for nuclear disarmament at a peace forum held at Zug in Switzerland in 2002. On that occasion, he was awarded the Demiurgus Peace International Award by the Nuclear Disarmament Forum AG. The award, under the patronage of the former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, was given to acknowledge his outstanding achievements in strengthening peace among nations and for his efforts to develop a complete ideology of peace and present Islamic teachings in the style and language of the present day. The award was presented at a ceremony by Dr Alexander Bessmertnykh, chairman of the World Council of Former Foreign Ministers (WCFFM). He has also been awarded the title of Ambassador of Peace by the International Federation for World Peace, Korea.

Some of the other awards presented to him are the Padam Bhushan, the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavna Award, the National Integration Award, the Communal Harmony Award, the Diwaliben Mohan Lal Mehta Award, presented by the former President of India, the National Amity Award, presented by the former Prime Minister of India, the Dilli Gaurav Award, presented by the Chief Minister of Delhi, the FIE Foundation Award, the Urdu Academy Award, the Aruna Asaf Ali Sadbhavna Award and the National Citizen’s Award, presented by Mother Teresa.

Centre for Peace and Spirituality

To spread spiritual wisdom based on peace to mankind across the globe, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan established CPS International, i.e. Centre for Peace and Spirituality in January 2001. As is apparent from its name, the organization aims to promote and reinforce the culture of peace through mind-based spirituality. Under Maulana’s patronage and inspired by his spiritual wisdom, the activities of the centre: peace efforts and inter-faith efforts to help individuals understand the importance of peace. With the objective of unleashing their spiritual potential so as to construct intellectually awakened positive personalities, the centre shares spiritual wisdom. The objective of these efforts is to enable individuals to de-condition and re-engineer their minds – which according to Maulana is the real personality of man – along positive lines.

The goal of CPS is to bring about an intellectual revolution in the individuals and reveal their true, positive personalities so that they become peaceful members of society.

The centre helps inquisitive minds, intellectuals and seekers after truth to find their purpose of life. It aims at helping them to rationally find answers to questions pertaining to the ideology of life. It also gives a scientific explanation of the Monotheistic concept of God, the Hereafter and the Creation Plan of God. As a result, participants, while understanding their purpose in life, embark on a journey in search of truth. This elevates their consciousness by allowing their intellect to discover their Creator and lead a God-oriented life in accordance with the principles laid down by their Creator. Maulana believes that when individuals such as these are collected in sufficient numbers, it results in a peaceful society.

The sphere of action of CPS International is global. The centre is giving to the people of the world a sustainable message of truth, peace and spirituality and training them based on the universal principles of life,. This is being done using all peaceful means: the publication of books, magazines, on-line material; one-on-one interactions in the daily and spiritual sessions; addressing individuals and groups in inter-faith and peace efforts, lectures, conferences and seminars; production of audio-visual material; and television and radio broadcasts. Through these activities, the Ambassadors of Peace and Spirituality have made it their life’s ambition to take the message of peace and spirituality to every corner of the globe – to reach each and every home!

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