Bringing Religions Closer: Is That Possible?

It’s to be stressed that all divine religions, though different in some aspects, have many common factors which their followers can build on to maintain good relationship and establish a constructive dialogue.

Shedding more light on this, the grand Muslim scholar and prominent Dai`yah, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states: “The Arabic word taqrib (bringing closer) is too loose of an expression to denote one specific meaning. When used for religions, sometimes it means something acceptable, and sometimes it means something unacceptable by all means. So, we will explain both possible meanings and deal with each in detail.

The Rejectable Concept:

This is the one that makes the target of the taqrib dissolving the essential differences between various religions, as between Tawhid (monotheism) in islam and Trinity in Christianity; or between Tanzih (the pure, lofty and sublime concept of God in Islam) and Assimilation (comparing God to creatures) in Judaism.

The differences do have an effect on the beliefs of the followers of various religions, making, for instance, Christians and Muslims poles apart in their views regarding Jesus Christ. Christians consider Christ a god, a god’s son, one-third of a god, or a member of a trilateral divinity consisting of the so-called the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Muslims, on the other hand, view Christ as a messenger, and particularly one of the high-calibre group called ulu-l-‘Azm (the Messengers of Strong Will) who are Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, Abraham and Noah, peace and blessings be upon them all. Muslims consider Christ a messenger to whom the Gospel was revealed as a guidance, a light and an admonition for the pious, and whom Allah supported with the Holy Spirit. Jesus, in the Muslims’ eye, is a prophet taught by Allah the Book and the wisdom and given such miracles as not given to other messengers. The Qur’an has even mentioned miracles not mentioned in the Gospel (present now) as Jesus’ creating mud in the form of birds, then blowing in them and they turn into real, live birds by the permission of Allah and His power; and as the Table that was sent down from Heaven.

Yet, Christ, in the Islamic view, and with all those great assets, is a human messenger, after all a servant to Allah, who called people to the worship of Allah, not to the worship of himself. This is indicated in Allah’s saying in the Holy Qur’an: “The Messiah will never scorn to be a slave unto Allah, nor will the favoured angels…” (Al-Nisaa: 172).

That’s why the Qur’an has addressed Christians, saying to them: “O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” – Cease! (it is) better for you! – Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender” ( Al-Nisaa:171).

Another fundamental difference between Muslims and the People of the Scriptures is that Muslims’ holy book, the Qur’an, is protected against any change or alteration, by the guarantee of Allah Himself and His unfailing promise: Verily We: It is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e. the Qur’an) and surely, We will guard it from corruption.”(Al-Hijr:9)

No wonder then when we see tens of thousands of Muslims everywhere in the world managing to memorize the Qur’an in full, so much so that even some of those non-Arab Muslims knew it by rote, while most of them do not even know the meaning of the words.

This runs contrary to the Old Testament and the New Testament, which have already been proven to be corrupted, whether by omission, addition or alteration. This fact is not held by Muslims alone; it is taken for granted by many Western Scholars in our modern times, including Jews and Christians pertaining to various sects and denominations.

That corruption has led to changing the traits of divinity in the Old Testament which the two religions recognize among their sacred sources – Jews and Christians – describing God with improper traits: ignorance, inability, envy and contrition. This appears in the Book of Genesis, which is one of the so-called Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch. This draws a line of demarcation between us and those people (Jews and Christians): We describe Allah with all traits of perfection and glory, and exalt Him above any imperfection, while they would not scruple to describe Him with the attributes of humans, even the negative and bad ones!

Such corruption of their books has led to a change also in the image of prophethood aimed at providing people with guidance. So we find the noble prophets and the great messengers described in the corrupted books with derogatory things that detract from their human perfection bestowed upon them by Allah to enable them to carry His Message and provide the Guidance to mankind: “Allah knows best with whom to place His Message.” (Al-An’aam: 124).

We Muslims, therefore, believe in the infallibility of Prophets, the divine protection of them from sins and errors that would violate their selection to guide people and would make people resent them: “Do you enjoin piety, righteousness and each and every act of obedience to Allah on people and you forget to practise it yourselves?” (Al-Baqara:44).

It follows that whatever call based on renouncing an essential part of religion, whether in creed or worship, what’s lawful and unlawful, legislations concerning individuals, family or society, etc., is rejected outright as far as the Muslim religion and law are concerned. Hence, the so-called taqrib in that sense is illegal; we cannot accept it nor can they themselves, to the best of our knowledge.

The Acceptable Concept:

The acceptable concept, on the other hand, particularly what concerns the heavenly-revealed religions, rests, rather, on bringing closer the followers of the religions in the light of the following facts:

Debating In Best Way Possible:

1-We, Muslims, are commanded by our Lord and in the words of our Qur’an, to argue with the opponents in the best way possible: “Invite (mankind, O Muhammad) to the Way of your Lord (i.e. Islam) with wisdom (i.e. with the Divine Inspiration and the Qur’an) and fair preaching, and argue with them in the best way possible.” (Al-Nahl: 125).

So, with your co-religious people you use wisdom and fair preaching, and with those who embrace other faiths you should argue in the way you feel the best to drive your message home. The Qur’an has made this specifically obligatory towards the People of the Scriptures ( mainly Jews and Christians): “And argue not with the People of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians), unless it be in (a way) that is better (with good words and in good manner, inviting them to Islamic Monotheism with His Verses), except with such of them as do wrong.” (Al-Ankabut: 46). That’s why I prefer dialogue between religions as a title for this call and not taqrib which is always susceptible to misunderstanding.

Stressing The Common Grounds:

2-It is to be noted that the rest of the above-mentioned verse, concerning debate with the People of the Scriptures, said: “And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our Allah and your Allah is One, and unto Him we surrender.” (Al-‘Ankabut: 46).

In the attempt to bring people together for a fair dialogue, they ought to stress the points of agreement, not those of disagreement and difference. Some hardcore Muslims claim there are no common grounds at all between us and Jews and Christians as long as we deem them infidels who corrupted the words of Allah. This in fact is a mistaken concept that misrepresents the Islamic attitude towards those people because if such misconception is true why has Allah (Glorified be He) permitted us to join them at meals and to get married to their women? And how has Allah allowed the Muslim to take a kitabi woman (a Jew or a Christian) as his wife and as other to his children? This would simply mean that his kids’ grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins – with all their ensuing rights as relations – would be Ahl kitab (Jews or Christians).

And why were the early Muslims grieved by the victory of Persians – who were fire-worshipping magi – over the Byzantines – who were Christians and People of Scriptures? So much so that only when Allah sent down a Qur’anic revelation bringing the good tidings that Byzantines would eventually gain victory over the Persians, in the near future specifically, did Muslims become happy and optimistic: “And on that Day the believers (i.e. Muslims) will rejoice (at the victory given by Allah to the Byzantines against the Persians), with the Help of Allah.” (Al-Rum: 4 and 5).

That is enough evidence that the People of the Scriptures – even with their disbelief in the Message of Muhammad (peace be upon him) – are still closer to Muslims than other people who are pagans or atheists.

Joining Hands To Fight Atheism And Pornography:

3-Standing side by side to face up to the foes of religious faith, proponents of atheism in belief, of promiscuity and pornography in behaviour, the materialists, the nudists, supporters of sexual looseness, abortion, homosexuality and one-sex marriage.

So, we see no reason that prevents us from sid
ing with the People of the Scriptures in one front against those who seek the destruction of mankind under misleading campaigns; “Have you (O Muhammad) seen him who has taken as his ilah (god) his own desire and prejudice? Would you then be a wakil (a protecting guide) over him? Or do you think that most of them hear or understand? They are only like cattle; – nay, they are even farther astray from the Path (i.e. even worse than cattle).” (Al-Furqan :43 and 44).

We have seen how Al-Azhar, the Muslim World League and the Vatican stand together in one front to face up to the campaigners of looseness at the Population Conference in Cairo (1994) and the Women’s Conference in Beijing (1995).

Championing Causes Of Justice And Oppressed Nations:

4-Standing side by side to champion the just causes and back the oppressed and wronged in the world, such as the causes of Palestine, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Kashmir, persecution of blacks and coloureds in America and elsewhere. This also covers extending support to the subjugated peoples against the unjust and the arrogant who want to enslave the servants of Allah. Islam fights injustice and backs its victims from whatever people, race or faith.

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, mentioned the so-called Hilf Al-Fudool (Al-Fudool’s Pact) in which he had taken part in his early youth before receiving the Message. It was an alliance for protecting the wronged and helping them to gain their right even from the lords of the community. He (peace be upon him) said: “If I were to be called to such an alliance (as that of Hilf Al-Fudool) in Islam, I would have responded to it favourably.” [Authentic hadith].

Dissemination Of The Spirit Of tolerance Not Fanaticism:

5- Such call should also include: spreading the spirit of tolerance, mercy and ease in dealings among people of different faiths, rather than the spirit of fanaticism, cruelty and violence. Allah (Exalted be He) has addressed His Messenger Muhammad by saying to him: “And We have sent you (O Muhammad) not but as a mercy for mankind and all that exists.” (Al-Anbiyaa: 107). The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said of himself: “I am not but a mercy sent to everyone” (Reported, and held authentic, by Al-Hakim and Al-Dhahabi).

The Qur’an has lashed out at the children of Israel when it said: “ And because of their breaking their covenant, We have cursed them and made hard their hearts.” (Al-Ma’ida: 13). Elsewhere, the Qur’an said addressing them: “Yet after that your hearts became as hard as rock or even harder.” (Al-Baqara: 74).

The Prophet said to his wife ‘Aisha: “Allah likes easy handling of all matters.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim); “Not a thing that involved facility and ease but acquired beauty and not a thing devoid of facility and ease but appeared hideous;” He also says “Allah likes ease and pacific means, and He rewards such acts far more than what He gives to reward good deeds done by violence” (reported by Al-Darimi, on the authority of Abdullah son of Mughaffal).

The spirit of tolerance and mercy towards the People of the Scriptures does not contradict the belief held by Muslims that those people do not believe in the religion of Islam and that they are straying. There are some other elements, however, that help assuage this matter in the Muslim’s thought and conscience.

1- Muslims believe that people’s
divergence in their religions happens by the will of Allah (Exalted be He) and by His wisdom. Allah said: “Had your Lord pleased, He would have united all mankind (so that they would follow one religion), but the fact is they will not cease to disagree, -Except him on whom your Lord has bestowed His Mercy and for that did He create them” (Houd: 118 and 119). This means that He has created them and provided them with the intellect and the freedom of decision, and so it was quite natural for them to differ and disagree.

2- Muslims also believe that holding people to account for their straying (from the right path) or their disbelief (in the true faith) does not occur in this world, but in the Hereafter; and it is not entrusted to us, but to Allah the Most Just Arbiter, the Most Kind and Courteous (to His slaves) and the All-Aware (of everything). He (Exalted be He) said to His Messenger: “So unto this (religion of Islam, alone and this Qur’an) then invite people, O Muhammad, and follow the straight path as you are bidden. Do not be led by their desires, but say: I believe in all the scriptures that Allah has revealed. I am commanded to exercise justice among you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. We have our own works and you have yours; let there be no argument between us and you. Allah will bring us all together, and to Him is the final return.” (Al-Shura: 15).

3- The Muslims believe in human dignity on account of one’s being human, not for anything else. Evidence to that is the following hadith reported by Al-Bukhari, on the authority of Jabir: “When the Prophet (peace be upon him) saw a funeral procession passing by him he stood up for it so they said: O Messenger of Allah, it is the funeral of a Jew! He replied: Is the dead not a human soul after all ?!” Indeed, the dead is a human soul. How great the situation was and how wonderful the Prophet’s explanation was!

4- The Muslims believe that Allah’s justice is guaranteed for all His servants, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, according to the noble saying of Allah the Almighty in the Qur’an: “… and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety” (Al-Ma’ida: 8). This precludes any possible injustice from a Muslim against whom he dislikes and also any possible prejudice or side-taking for whom he likes. Rather, a Muslim has to give everyone their rights, whether be Muslims or not, friends or not.”