The Eight General Conference:Islam And The Future Dialogue Between
INTERFAITH DIALOGUE LEADS TO COOPERATION IN THE SERVICE OF MANKIND
INTERFAITH DIALOGUE LEADS TO
IN THE SERVICE OF MANKIND
Dr. Farid R. Ahmad
Trustee of The Ottawa Muslim Association 27 Bedford Crescent, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada KIK 0E3
All mankind was created one, and Allah's message to mankind is in essence one, The Message of Unity and Truth. But as selfishness and egotism got hold of man, certain differences sprang up between individuals, races and nations,(18) Leading to endless conflicts and injustices. Instead of following Allah's True Message, people indulged in their pursuit of violence, intolerance and oppression. Sometimes, people even tried to justify their evil deeds as intended to serve the cause of Allah, but we should be alert to such false claims. As time progressed, The World's problems have multiplied; since the tools of war are now more destructive, food supplies around The World have continued to diminish, the environment is being badly abused and The World overpopulation is threatening to explode at a faster rate than ever before. Despite all the latest technological advances, The World seems to be heading to high unemployment and malnutrition unless the people and nations of The World work together sincerely to resolve humanity's problems. Main Proposal of The Interaction Council
In May 1996, The Interaction Council held a four-day forum in Vancouver, Canada, that was attended by 14 former World leaders including Pierre Trudeau of Canada, Helmet Schmidt of Germany, and Valery Giscard d'Estang of France to propose practical solutions to World problems. Their final communiqu included a list of proposals on a range of issues, but the main one was the need for global ethical standards, and the need for religions to look for the common values that bind them together, rather than what tears them apart in war-torn areas such as Bosnia. (19)
Present Trend towards Interfaith Dialogue Addressing all mankind, not just the Muslim brotherhood. Allah said in Surat "Al- Hojorat". The Chambers Chapter of the Holy Quran. (20) O mankind! We have created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other).' (49: 13)
Today, many people around The World are realizing that there is great benefit to mankind through interfaith dialogue, and getting to know one another better. Interfaith activities are flourishing, as can be seen from the following two recent events, which were held in the part of The World where I live now:
For two days, June 17 and 18, 1996. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) held an International congress, near Ottawa, entitled: "Muslim and Christian NGOs: A Dialogue on Relief. Development and Cooperation" (NGO means Non-Government Organizations). His Royal Highness Crown Prince El-Hassan Ben Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and about 160 other Muslims and Christians were invited to present papers and participate in a dialogue about helping one another.(21) On June 21, 1996. The Federal Court of Canada held an Interfaith Service at The Notre Dame Basilica, the largest church in Ottawa, to which The Muslims were invited to participate, (22) On that occasion, our Imam, Dr Tawfik Shahin, presented to the worshippers the English translation of verses 58 and 135 from Surat Al-Nisaa (The Women), which deal with the relevant topics of Trust, and Justice (23, 24).
At the pre-mentioned CIDA conference, we learnt about the Royal institute for Interfaith Studies, which was established in July 1994 in Amman, Jordan, The Institute supports a dialogue program between Jews, Christians and Muslims, to promote interfaith cooperation, and emphasize the common values of the three faiths. (25) We also learnt about An interfaith Declaration, which is described as "A Code of Ethics on International Business for Christians, Muslims and Jews",(26) This code, which is summarized in a short pamphlet, encompasses four key concepts that recur in the literature of the faiths, namely
- Justice (fairness: fair dealings between believers and others):
- Mutual respect (love and consideration for others):
- Stewardship (trusteeship: man is God's trustee on earth to take care of it);
- Honesty (truthfulness and integrity true scales weights and measures). The Declaration was drawn up in 1993 by a group of eminent scholars, clerics and business people from the three religions. The three patrons of the group were HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh; HRH Crown Prince El Hassan Ben Talal and Sir Evelyn de Rothchild. Regular Interfaith Activities in The West
Interfaith activities are taking place nowadays quite frequently in Canada and elsewhere in Europe and North America. The number of Muslim immigrants and refugees to this part of The World increased quite rapidly during the last twenty years. Their presence and local activities, religious and otherwise, made their co-workers neighbours and governments want to know more about Muslims, their faith, and their cultures. Interfaith dialogue can take different forms, and can be between interested individuals, or between groups of people, or between nations. Each of those forms involves different people, and should be useful on its own. However, for best results we should promote all three forms, and involve as many people as possible in the dialogue and deliberations. Although interest in interfaith dialogue existed in Western Countries for many years. The interest in learning about Islam and its people became most evident after The Islamic revolution in Iran, The Iran-Iraq War, The Iraq-Kuwait War, and the war in the former Yugoslavia. After each of those events. We saw genuinely interested clergy and laymen wanting to find out for themselves what Muslims believe in, and how they practice their religion. That was when several interfaith dialogue groups were established around the country in response to that genuine interest. Our experience with interfaith dialogue
At this point I would like to share with you some of our experiences, as Muslims living in Ottawa, with the interfaith dialogue. We participate on a regular basis in monthly meetings of two such groups, namely:
I. A Local "Christian-Muslim Dialogue Group", And II. A local chapter of "World Conference on Religion and Peace" (WCRP)
Each of these two groups serves a different purpose as described below.
1. The Christian- Muslim Dialogue Group This group, which is made up of 25 Muslims and Christians from different denominations, meets once a month in private homes to learn about selected religious topics that are of common interest to the participants of the two faiths. The evening meetings usually start with an informal chat, then one person from each faith presents a 15 minute paper on the topic at hand. For one hour after the two presentations, the other participants are invited to make comments and ask questions to clarify ambiguities or seek deeper thoughts on the subject. The papers are usually well researched and documented beforehand, and the discussions are animated but polite and respectful. No one at any time tries to convert the others to his own beliefs; since the purpose is to inform and share the knowledge without trying to show the faults of others. This format has worked for us very well over the last six years, and the Group has earned a high degree of respect in the city. Several of the Christian members are active or retired clergy but some are interested laymen. Our learned Imam participates sometimes in these meetings, and the other Muslim members are deeply interested in the dialogue. It is important for such a group to be compatible, especially in religious interests and education.
II. The WCRP Group The World Conference on Religion and Peace is a World wide organization promoting peace, tolerance, and respect among people of different religions and spiritual understandings. It is supported by 30 national chapters and has members in over 100 countries. (27)
The Ottawa chapter of the WCRP was formed in 1993, and includes representatives from different Christian denominations, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh believers. The monthly meetings of this group are held at The Diocesan Center in Ottawa, which is a large Catholic center of learning. This group is concerned mainly with world peace, human rights, and humanitarian issues such as poverty, caring for the child, and restoring ecological harmony.
One of its active topics has been the drive to remove existing land mines, the deadly remains of war, which are approximately 100 million scattered in over 64 of the poorest and most war-torn countries. The land mines kill or maim more than 20,000 people each year. Recently, the Canadian government banned the manufacture of land mines in Canada, and has invited other governments who object to landmines to attend a strategy meeting in Ottawa in September 1996 (28).
Each of the WCRP chapters chooses for itself the humanitarian issues it wishes to work on and communicates directly with the governments concerned. However, one main objective of WCRP is to promote fellowship across religious lines and to develop a corps of co- workers to open and maintain channels of communication in the service of peace and understanding. (29)
Other Interfaith Services Having built a beautiful mosque in Ottawa, and established a very respectable Islamic library in the mosque, and acquired the services of an Islamic scholar to serve as our Imam. We are now privileged to communicate more effectively with other religious and educational institutions in the city. Thus, beside offering religious classes for Muslim children and adults, we welcome to the mosque every year hundreds of non-Muslim students who come with their teachers to visit the mosque, listen to an introductory talk about Islam, and ask questions. The students are mostly from secondary schools and universities, from Ottawa and the neighbouring towns. We are also prepared to provide those schools with a Muslim teacher, who can talk to them in their own schools about Islam, its history and its people. In addition, the mosque library is always available if they wish to borrow books to read, or for reference when preparing a paper about Islam. Quite often The Imam is consulted by The Canadian courts on matters concerning Muslim marriages, customs and beliefs.
Conclusions Nowadays, world scholars and leaders believe that religions have an important role to play in the establishment of peace with justice around The World. To that end religious communities should communicate closely with each other, and equip themselves for active roles in conflict resolution, respect for human rights, protection of children, and restoration of ecological harmony.
In the words of Hans Kung, European theologian: "There shall be no peace among nations until there is peace among religions". Interfaith dialogue is an effective means of communication between religions, getting to understand each other, and building of trust and confidence among people of different faiths. Through trust and respect, people will be willing to cooperate sincerely for the service of mankind.
1. "Mankind was but one nation, but differed (later). Had it not been for a Word that went forth before from thy Lord, their differences would have been settled between them." (10:19). English The Holy Quran translation of the meaning and commentary. Revised and edited by The Presidency of Islamic Researches. lftaa, Call, and Guidance.
2. The Globe and Mail, May 1996.
3. The Holy Quran (49:13).
4. "Invitation to the June 1996 Dialogue" By Norman Cook, Director. NGO Division. Canadian Partnership Branch, Canadian International Development Agency.
5. Federal Court of Canada: 25th Anniversary Seminar, "INTERFAITH SERVICE" Ottawa, Ontario, June 21, 1996.
6. Allah does command you to render back your Trusts to those to whom they are due; and when you judge between people that you judge with justice: Verily how excellent is the teaching which He gives you! For Allah is He Who hears and sees all things". The Quran (4:58).
7. "O you who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents or your kin, and whether it is (against) rich or poor, for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice. Verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do". Quran (4:135).
8. Royal institute for Interfaith Studies: Statement of Purpose. PO Box 830562 Amman 11183, Jordan.
9. An Interfaith Declaration: A Code of Ethics on International Business for Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1993.
10. The Riva del Garda Declaration: A Guide for Study. Discussion and Application. WCRP (Canada), 1996. p. 1.
11. "Canada pushes for ban on land mines despite disappointing International pact", The Ottawa Citizen, May 4, 1996, p. A6.