Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former President of the Islamic Society of North America, stated in his khutbah at the Islamic Society of Orange County, California, USA on 3 Jumada Awwal 1424/4 July 2003: “Dialogue in Islam is not only permissible, but it is highly emphasized and encouraged. It is one of the best ways of communication with others. Dialogue comes from our deep conviction that all human beings are one family. Nations, groups and communities must know each other and cooperate with each other in all good matters and as much as possible.
Allah did not force people to accept His Prophets and Messengers. He told them to convey the message. Da`wah (invitation), tabligh (communication), hiwar (discourse) and jidal billati hiya ahsan (argumentation in a good way) are the basic ways of communication as explained in the Qur’an. These are the only permissible ways in Islam to convey its message to humanity. Aggression is never allowed in Islam unless it is in self-defense and against the aggressors only.
Need for Interfaith, Intercultural and Intercivilizational Dialogues
There is a great need for us Muslims to engage in dialogues today with the people of other faiths, cultures and civilizations. We have to remove misunderstandings and mistrusts from their minds. We have to build good relations and provide safe and secure environment for us, for our younger generations and for all people. We Muslims in America in particular and in the West in general can play a very significant role in building the bridges of understanding and trust between people of diverse religions, cultures and civilizations.
I would like to share with you some recent experience in dialogue. For the past few months I have been in contact with the leaders of the World Economic Forum in Europe. Last January I was invited to attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. WEF is a very prestigious and powerful economic and political organization. It has been working in the Western world since 1970. In its meeting last January, WEF also had some discussions on the subject of building better relations between the West and the Islamic world. WEF agreed then to form a Council of 100 leaders (C-100) consisting of senior political, religious, business, media and opinion leaders (20 each) from the West and the Islamic world. I was invited by WEF to join this Council as a member and to attend its first meeting on the occasion of WEF’s Extraordinary Meeting to be held near the Dead Sea in Jordan Valley, Jordan from June 21-23, 2003.
I participated in WEF’s extraordinary meeting in Jordan. The meeting was attended by about 2,000 people from the Arab and Western world. Among them there were 11 heads of state or government, 36 cabinet ministers, 19 ambassadors, 21 heads or senior officials of international organizations, 36 representatives of academic institutions and think tanks, 12 religious leaders and many CEOs of major businesses in the West and the Arab world. The general discussions in the World Economic Forum centered around the subjects of the post-war situation in Iraq, “Roadmap” and the Arab-Israeli conflict, democracy and human rights, business and economic and educational development in the Arab world. Some important recommendations and decisions were made on these issues.
The Council of 100 discussed the issues of dialogue between Islam and the West. The following questions were raised about our relations:
1. What are our principal points of commonality and difference?
2. How do we differ in responding to, and understanding, the challenges of globalization and modernity?
3. What is preventing and impeding dialogue?
4. What episodes and legacies of history obscure our vision?
5. What erroneous images and false pictures distract us?
6. What stereotypes must be dispelled (such as that which sees Islam as a closed society advocating hate and violence while the West promotes godless materialism over spirituality)?
7. What are the obstacles of cultural idiom and language we must confront?
8. How can we best secure the accurate knowledge of each tradition that will disable prejudice?
9. What are the most important misunderstandings each has of the other?
10. How can each tradition best correct its most common misunderstandings of the other? In short, how can we best build bridges able to bear the weight of our differences?
It was proposed that the Council should work on three levels:
1. Dialogue of Discourse: Discussions within the council to promote understanding of each other.
2. Dialogue of Action: Providing a platform to catalyze new or mobilize additional support for existing programs that strengthen social, economic, political or religious cooperation.
3. Dialogue of Culture and Experience: Extending the conversation between Islam and the West through museum exchanges, library cooperation and media projects to explore historical traditions and linkage.
Council’s Mission: The Council’s mission is to foster cultural respect and cooperation together with mutual understanding between our traditions and overcome the tensions and mistrust of our era.
The unique thing about this council is that it brings together not just one group but many stakeholders (political, religious, business, media and opinion makers). This is a significant development, and we hope and pray that it will bear fruits and make our world a better place for all to live together in peace and harmony.”