Interreligious relationships constitute the subject of an ongoing debate in conferences and seminars, especially when there isn’t any international common ground for easing hostilities among the followers of world religions. Such discussions peaked in the latter part of the 20th century over conflicts and dialogues among civilizations and religions.
A large group of thinkers such as Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington and Eric Hobsbawm participated in this debate. The new millennium brought disturbing events, which projected Islam on the world stage as a faith in whose name radical and bloody operations are conducted.
For the first time, a group of philosophers took part in a discussion about the relationship between Islam and its followers with the West, drawing theses from Jacques Derrida, Jürgen Habermas and Edgar Morin, among others. All discussions agree that there is a state of tension between Muslims and the West.
Bernard Lewis et al.
In a lecture delivered on March 7, 2007, Bernard Lewis — consistent with his historical view of the relationship between Muslims and the West — stated that the West is undergoing the most deadly attack on it today, adding that ever since it left the Arabian Peninsula, “controlling the house of infidelity and undermining its political life was its first goal.”
Organizations can, even if on the long run, contribute to decreasing tension between sects and religions, promoting understanding and public discussion and going beyond war tactics and conflicts.Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
Lewis notes that modern dialogue attempts have taken other forms. “We have seen in our own day the extraordinary spectacle of a pope apologizing to the Muslims for the Crusades. I would not wish to defend the behavior of the Crusaders, which was in many respects atrocious. But let us have a little sense of proportion. We are now expected to believe that the Crusades were an unwarranted act of aggression against a peaceful Muslim world. Hardly. The first papal call for a crusade occurred in 846 C.E., when an Arab expedition from Sicily sailed up the Tiber and sacked St. Peter’s in Rome.”
Dialogue the only option
The Lewis model comes in line with him being a classical historian. It is a model that formed a strong impression about Muslims and that make dialogue with the symbols of Islam and its followers a dream that’s difficult to achieve and that makes attempts to open dialogue futile and reaching an understanding with the Islamic situation with its troubled relations with the West an impossible task.
Nevertheless, there are other more modern points of view with an understanding that wasn’t available to Lewis who is a traditional philologist with an Orientalist approach. Other philosophers have been able to theorize that dialogue among followers of religions is the only method for reducing tension and bloodshed and for establishing a front to face extremism and obduracy of all Abrahamic religions’ symbols in particular.
I followed up on the Meeting for Friendship among Peoples that took place in the Italian city of Rimini with interest. Political and religious leaders participated in the conference which showcased academic and intellectual presentations in the presence of more than 5,000 people.
The statement of Secretary-General of the Muslim World League Mohammed al-Issa clearly voiced the importance of favoring the logic of reaching agreements when it comes to conflicts pertaining to relations between people and religion.
“Evil was not satisfied with this idea; it launched hatred, ignited wars, and initiated injustice, classifying people based on racism and oppression. Evil raised the slogan of the clash of civilizations and made conflict not peace or harmony, the first tenet on our planet. Evil founded a theory that difference and diversity mean clash, and no one should enjoy dignity except his religious, ethnic or partisan groups, whether it declared this precept or exercised it without declaration,” he said.
He added that it is neither logical nor fair to reduce Islam to an extremist group that does not exceed according to the Muslim World League’s statistics, one in 200,000 Muslims who represent moderate Islam.
“Religious and cultural differences among humans are undeniable facts, no matter how large the gap in some of their origins or branches might be, it should not, however, justify turning the world into an arena of conflicts. This difference falls within the Creator's plan in the reality of pluralism and diversity, the latter must never clash with the importance of co-existence and cooperation; for, kindness and love for all must be a basic condition to live free in peace and harmony,” he also said.
What’s more significant is that a scholar such as Mohammed al-Issa pointed out that this open vision of the world reflects the general Muslim view, and not just a personal opinion. If anyone examines the content of his speech, he would find that it has views that are more progressive than the methods offered by some of the more traditional clerics who preach starting with a provocation of the other. I honestly think that Issa’s speech is tantamount to a new address which it’s quite rare that a Muslim scholar writes it in such a conscious language.
Organizations can, even if on the long run, contribute to decreasing tension between sects and religions, promoting understanding and public discussion and going beyond war tactics and conflicts.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.