At a recent conference attended by the Austrian Foreign Minister, the Jordanian Social Development Minister and the editor of the Guardian, Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid represented the British Muslim and added to the discussion on whether there is a common moral basis for inter-cultural understanding. Read the transcript of his speech:
' Bismillah Hir Rahma Nir Rahim (I begin with name of God the Most Kind the Most Merciful). I greet you with the greetings of Islam: Assalamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakathu (May God's blessing and peace be with us all.)
I am honoured -- and deeply humbled -- to be invited to speak to you this afternoon. I brought the greetings of British Muslims and our national umbrella organisation Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) Secretary General Bother Iqbal Sacranie MBE
Let me begin from the very outset to clarify Islam from Muslim. Most people treat Islam and Muslims as synonymous and mutually interchangeable terms, often saying Islam where they ought to say Muslims and vice versa. In my opinion the word `Islam' should be used exclusively for the `Way of Life' based upon divine sources: The Book known as Qur'an, `the word of God' and Sunnah, `the proven practices of the Prophet' (peace and blessing of God be upon him). `Muslims' as human beings are free to abide or deviate from Divine Guidance as they feel fit according to their own conscience. Islam has never claimed to be a new faith. It is the same faith that God ordained with the creation of the first man sent to earth. Islam confirms almost all Biblical and Hebrew Prophets as the Prophets of Islam and their messages as the messages of Islam as long as they are confirmed in the Qur'an, the Book of Islam. The moral and ethical code of Islam is similar to Judaism, Christianity and many other major world faiths. The only difference is in theology, concepts and practices, in the methods of worship of the One and the Only One God and methodology of how morality and ethics should govern all spheres and aspects of our human life.
Some Muslim might agree with the assertion, made by Daniel Johnson in The Daily Telegraph, on 12 September 2001, that Muslims are required by the Qur'an to believe that Jews and Christians will be `mustered into Gehennam.' They forget that in the Sahîfat al-Madinah, also known as the Constitution of Medina, the Prophet Muhammad legislated for a multi-religious society, based on tolerance, equality, and justice, many centuries before such an idea existed any where in the world. Indeed early Muslim society is more pluralistic in a religious. Under the terms of this document each religious group enjoyed cultural and legal autonomy. The Jews and Christians were equal before laws with Muslims. There was no clause demanding their subjection. They were bound by the same duties as the other parties to the contract; together they formed a single community, or ummah, a word that is now used almost exclusively with reference to the Muslim community.
I must admit that Muslims have failed to publicise the pluralistic vision of Islam. As Murad Hofmann has said, `it is essential that the Western media and those who exert an influence on public opinion should be made aware of the true Islamic model of religious pluralism.'
The Qur'an not only conveys a message of peace, tolerance, and compassion; it provides mankind with a global framework for co-operation and a charter for inter-faith dialogue. It repeatedly stresses that all peoples on earth have had their prophets and messengers, and that multiplicity of every kind religious, cultural, or ethnic is part of God's magnificent design: `And among His wonders is
the diversity of your tongues and colours' (30: 22); `To each [community] among you have We appointed a law and a way of life. And if God had so willed, He could have made you one community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you
So compete with one another in doing good works, for to God you will all return, and He will inform you about that wherein you differ' (5: 48).
This means that prophetic guidance is not limited to any one community, period, or civilisation. So Muslims if they are true to their faith do not claim a monopoly of the truth, or a monopoly of revelation: `And indeed, within every community have We raised up an apostle [with this message]: 'Worship God and shun the powers of evil'' (16: 36). Like Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad did not come to establish a new religion, but to recapitulate the teachings of those prophets, or messengers, who had preceded him. He came to remind us of our status in the divine scheme of things as God's servants and deputies. As the Prince of Wales said, in `A Reflection on the Reith Lectures for the Year 2000,' we have failed to live up to this `sacred trust between mankind and our Creator, under which we accept our duty of stewardship for the earth.'
The actions of a few Muslim fanatics have been interpreted as vindicating the old idea that Islam promotes violence. All too often in the media the word `terrorism' is coupled with the adjective `Islamic.' If Islam were really, as some suppose, a religion of fire and sword, why would `the true servants of the Most Merciful' be defined in the Qur'an as `those who walk gently on earth and who, when the ignorant address them, say 'Peace'' (25: 63)? Why would Muslims be admonished to greet one another, on all occasions, with the words, `Peace be with you and God's mercy and blessings'? It is clearly stated in the Qur'ân: `There shall be no compulsion in religion' (2: 256). This disproves the fallacy that Islam imposes on the non-Muslim the choice between conversion and the sword. According to the Qur'an, `God does not love aggressors' (2: 190), and war is only permitted in self-defence, or in defence of religion. If people did not have such a right, then, `monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques, in which God's name is much remembered, would surely have been destroyed by now' (22: 40). This means that military action is justified against an enemy who destroys a place where God is worshipped. It is also said in the Qur'an that those who are oppressed, or who have been unjustly driven from their homelands, have a duty to fight.
However, when the opportunity for peace arises, Muslims are encouraged to be forgiving and to seek reconciliation, for mercy and compassion are God's chief attributes: `Whoever pardons [his foe] and makes peace, his reward rests with God.' (42: 40). This is why Muslims are taught to dedicate themselves constantly to God's service with the words, `In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.' Since the word Islam means `submission,' from the same root as salâm, `peace,' a Muslim is simply a person who attempts to find inner peace by submitting to God's will: `He guides to Himself all those who turn to Him those who believe, and whose hearts find their rest in the remembrance of God for, truly, in the remembrance of God hearts do find their rest' (13: 27-28). War in itself is never holy, and if the lesser jihad of war is not accompanied by what the Prophet Muhammad called `the greater jihad,' the struggle to control the lower instincts and the whims of the ego, then war may be diabolical.
The following principles may be derived from the Qur'an.
First of all, Muslims should not ridicule the beliefs of others: `But do not revile those whom they invoke instead of God, lest they revile God out of spite, and in ignorance: for We have made the deeds of every people seem fair to them. In time, they must return to their Lord, and then He will make them understand what they have done' (6: 108).
Secondly, Muslims should not associate with those who ridicule our faith: `Do not take for your friends such as mock at your faith and make a jest of it
they are people who do not use their reason' (5: 57-58).
Thirdly, when Muslims address those who do not share our beliefs, we should speak with courtesy: `And do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in a most kindly manner' (29: 46).
Fourthly, Muslims should invite people to use their reason, appealing to the intellect to interpret God's words, because there is no contradiction between faith and reason: `O People of Scripture, why do you argue about Abraham, seeing that the Torah and the Gospels were not revealed till long after him? Will you not, then, use your reason?' (3: 65).
Above all, within the bounds of propriety no backbiting or blasphemy there must be freedom of opinion and discussion both with those who hold other religious views and with those who share our faith for if we cannot appreciate diversity within our own religious community, we will certainly not be able to value religious diversity. The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: `The differences of opinion among the learned within my community are [a sign of God's] grace.' If Muslims were to follow these principles, they would become once again a`community of the middle way' (Qur'an, 2: 143), exercising moderation and avoiding all extremes.
It needs to be said, however, that before one can begin to apply these principles there has to be the willingness to listen and to engage in dialogue, and there has to be some degree of mutual respect and equality between the two parties. When there is a gross disparity of wealth, power and privilege, such as exists between Israel and Palestine, dialogue is very difficult. In fact the arrogance and selfishness of the rich nations, and the ever-widening gap between them and the rest of the world, generate feelings of resentment and discontent. In Islam a rich man does not merely have a duty to distribute some of his wealth to the poor, but the poor have a right to a share in his wealth. The discrepancy between the rich nations and the poor is now so great that the wealth of the world's three richest families is said to be equal to that of 600 million people living in the world's poorest countries.
We now have to make a choice individually and collectively between confrontation and dialogue, between destruction and construction, between war and diplomacy. True global cooperation will not be possible until we recover an awareness of the ecumenical, ecological and ethical principles that are at the heart of every spiritual tradition. In most of the world's trouble spots in Palestine, Kashmir, Gujarat, and Chechnya Muslims have been massacred and tortured and denied their most basic rights freedom, independence and dignity of life. In Iraq thousands of children have died of cancer as a result of international community's sanctions, or as a result of polluted drinking water and malnutrition, and thousands more may now be in danger of losing their lives due to occupation of foreign armies. In Afghanistan thousands of innocent people died as a result of US bombing. Not unnaturally Muslims feel that they have been treated unjustly by what is euphemistically called `the world community.'
Those who see religious, cultural and ethnic diversity as a blessing, and who share the view of the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that `no one creed has a monopoly of spiritual truth; no one civilisation encompasses all the spiritual, ethical, and artistic expressions of mankind,' must find the middle way between religious fanaticism and fanatical secularism. It is essential, as His Royal Highness Prince Hassan of Jordan has said, that we promote a dialogue of civilisations, and that we should not allow extremists to highjack Islam or any other religion. It is vitally important, especially in the light of current events, to refute those shallow secularists who regard religion itself as inevitably divisive, and to rediscover the ethical principles upon which all the great spiritual traditions are based. It is not simply a matter of respecting religious differences; we have to recover the practical spiritual wisdom that unites us and makes us human. As Martin Luther King said, `our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.' This vision of a just and peaceful multi-religious society can never be achieved without the active cooperation of the mass media.
The necessity of mutual cooperation:
In my faith tradition the Holy Qur'an commands believers for interfaith co-operation `to come to common grounds' (3:64). As a Muslim I have been ordered to build good relations with all people of the world (49:13 & (16:40); work for peace everywhere and whenever possible with others (2:208) & 8:61); cooperate with others in furthering virtue and Godconsciousness (5:2); seek and secure human welfare, promote justice and peace (4:114); do good to others (28:77) and not to break promises made to others (16:91). The Holy Qur'an tells believers that those who do good deeds and help others are the best creation (98:6). The Holy Prophet of Islam made it clear that `Religion is man's treatment of other fellow-beings' (Bukhari & Muslim); and `the best among you is he who does good deeds in serving other people' (Ahmad & Tabrani).
The Prophet of Islam (May the peace of God be upon him) practiced this ideal for interfaith dialogue himself while talking to Jews, Christians and other faith traditions, as well as people with no faith on issues concerning life, death and relevant matters. The Prophet of Islam confirmed this in writing explicitly in the Charter of Medina in 622 CE. The Holy Qur'an not only recognized religious pluralism as accepting other groups as legitimate socio-religious communities but also accepting their spirituality. The preservation of the sanctity of the places of worship of other faiths is paramount in Islamic tradition (22:40). The Holy Qur'an is full of many examples but time does not permit me to dwell on this.
In Search of a Common Ground
Much controversy arises or is made out of the question of values; what is meant by 'values'? Which values are good and which bad, if any? Which values are to be tolerated even if their rightness is controversial? Has one a right to express and teach values? Can any science or doctrine be neutral with regard to values? These are key issues of psychic and social development, not facts merely to observe and describe. The essential goodness of human nature is ultimately something for us to reach out to together, through discovering, experiencing and further developing it personally. Progress in this direction invokes many kinds of feedback from others in one's personal sphere of experience, which strengthen the conviction that, despite all, values are a human heritage, while anti-values are but the result of ignorance as to our this heritage and shortcomings in so far discovering and pursuing our true destiny, whether individually or collectively.
The question that preoccupies us as implied by the theme is this: Can we find a common ground on which Muslims and non-Muslims stand comfortably in a democratic and pluralist society? My answer is a resounding yes. The Qur'an directs the Muslims to find a common ground with other religious communities. This common ground is expressed as a mutual respect of the freedom and autonomy of different religious communities. That none should appropriate to them the right to impose their way of life on other religious communities. The Qur'an is also clear that there can be no force in matter religious. The Qur'an urges Muslims to seek a political order based on peaceful cooperation and mutual respect, and warns them against placing religious solidarity over covenanted rights and the principles of justice, religious conflict, particularly between Islam and Christianity in the past, or more recent conflict between Israel and Palestine, more often than not rose out of human excesses and the desire to stir religious passion to support political goals. It is true that these Abrahamic religions (Islam / Judaism / Christianity) advance a slightly different conceptualisation of God and of humanity's relation to the divine, but doctrinal differences are not limited to inter-religious relationships. One can find more doctrinal diversity within each of these world religions that between them.
Muslims, Jews and Christian share similar core values of respect of human life and dignity, and profound commitment to charity and the common good. There are five common values in all major religions and faiths of World. That honesty and sincerity, compassion and love, sacrifice and selflessness, a sense of justice and a sense of fairness, patience and perseverance are values which all religions cherish is to state the obvious. Likewise, there is no religion that does not regard human dignity and mutual respect, modesty and humility, moderation and restraint, a sense of balance, and a sense of propriety as vital aspects of a flourishing civilisation. Industry and diligence are important attributes. So are kindness and courtesy. The world has become a fairly stable multi-religious society as a result of political, economic and cultural policies and arrangements which have sought to accommodate the interests and aspirations of the different communities. But there are new challenges which demand new strategies for bridging the chasm that separates the communities. Harnessing the common values embodied in the religions of the nation is one such strategy that deserves our consideration.
"Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself". It is noteworthy that most religions base their moral code on the highly effective
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful (Udana-Varga 5:18)
Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you. (Mahabharata 5:1517)
Confucianism: Surely it is the maxim of loving kindness: Do not unto others what you would not have them do to you (Analects 15:23)
Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not god for itself. Good thoughts, good words and good deed are the bases of good life.
The Christian faith actually uses two complimentary rules: The (ineffective) Biblical "Golden Rule" which proclaims: "All things whatsoever ye would that man should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets" (Matt 7:12). However, the (effective) Ten Commandments are framed in the negative, as all moral codes must be in order to be effective.
Islam: `No one is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.' (Sunnah) This moral code is also a version of the Golden Rule. It is very ineffective. It is obeyed very selectively and ambiguously. Clearly, it is based on the unrealistic assumption that your brother has precisely the same needs and wants as you do.
If we wish to live in harmony with others and never give rise to a conflict with others, we must convert the "Golden Rule" into practice:"Don't do to others what you don't want done to yourself"..
Good deeds and Moral values:
As a Muslim I believe that faith in the broadest sense includes all that is good in life, and Islam emerged as a moral challenge for humanity to respond to the call of the faith with active submission to Divine Will, with a commitment to obey the Creator in providing welfare to all beings in the society without any consideration to race, gender, language, colour, culture, physical build or ethnic origin. The goal of Islam - of its concepts, worship and teachings relating to values, attitudes, morals and behaviour - is to create an Islamic personality of an individual Muslim preparing himself for a wider role in this life. Belief in Islam is not a simple assent to a dogma. All Islamic beliefs have a reference to an action. Good actions become a part of Islamic faith, which leads to a more virtuous life. Man is thus accountable for his own actions and behaviour. Humans have the responsibility to choose and implement a moral and righteous life in obedience to God's commandments for common good
The Quran and teachings of the Prophet of Islam strongly suggest that Faith without the backing of good deeds is meaningless. Faith based on Aqida (belief system) leads towards good deeds and good deeds prepare a man for a full Islamic personality. Islamic concepts of Taqwa (God Consciousness), Falah (well being) and Hayat Tayyibiah (good life) facilitate the realisation of an Islamic personality - when a Muslim seriously pursues the broader goals of the creation believing that mankind is but one community and striving hard with others for freedom, justice, and peace. It is upon an individual Muslim to build Islamic qualities, values and morals such as brotherliness, sincerity, honesty, truthfulness, pursuit of knowledge, responsibility, integrity, fair dealing, keeping promises, discipline and self-control, humility, patience, courage, thankfulness, modesty, honour and self-respect, warmth and lovingness, generosity, hospitality, charitableness, kindness, helpfulness, respect, tolerance and mutual understanding, obeying the commandments and abstaining from the prohibitions. These attributes transcend religious belief.