Islam's Relations With Other Religions
In the paper he sent to the World Religions Platform held in South Africa in 1999, Fethullah Gülen, a renowned Turkish scholar, writes:
Islam reconciles opposites that seem to be mutually exclusive: religion–science, this world–the next world, nature– Divine Books, the material–the spiritual, and spirit–body. Religion can erect a defense against the destruction caused by scientific materialism, put science in its proper place, and end long-standing conflicts among nations and peoples. The natural sciences, which should act as steps of light leading people to God, have become a cause of unbelief on a previously unknown scale. As the West has become the main base for this unbelief, and because Christianity has been the religion most influenced by it, dialogue between Muslims and Christians appears to be indispensable.
As Muslims, we accept all Prophets and Books sent to different peoples throughout history, and regard belief in them as an essential principle of being Muslim. A Muslim is a true follower of Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and all other Prophets, upon them be peace. Not believing in one Prophet or Book means that one is not a Muslim. Thus we acknowledge the oneness and basic unity of religion, which is a symphony of God’s blessings and mercy, and the universality of belief in religion. So, religion is a system of belief that embraces all races and all beliefs, a road that brings everyone together in brotherhood.
Regardless of how their adherents implement their faith in their daily lives, such generally accepted values as love, respect, tolerance, forgiveness, mercy, human rights, peace, brotherhood, and freedom are all values exalted by religion. Most of these values are accorded the highest precedence in the messages brought by Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, upon them be peace.
In the West, some changes are observed in the attitudes of some intellectuals and clerics toward Islam. I must particularly mention the late Massignon, who referred to Islam by the expression: “The faith of Abraham revived with Muhammad.” He believed that Islam has a positive, almost prophetic mission in the post-Christian world, for: “Islam is the religion of faith. It is not a religion of natural faith in the God of the philosophers, but faith in the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Ishmael, faith in our God. Islam is a great mystery of Divine Will.” Together with Christian clerics and men of religion, many Western thinkers besides Massignon, like Charles J. Ledit, Y. Moubarac, Irene-M. Dalmais, L. Gardet, Norman Daniel, Michel Lelong, H. Maurier, Olivier Lacombe, and Thomas Merton express warmth for both Islam and for our Prophet.
Also, expressions regarding Islam in the final declaration of the Second Vatican Council, which began the process of dialogue, cannot be ignored. Another important point is that Pope John Paul II, admits in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, that (in spite of Muslim neglect and carelessness) it is still the Muslims who worship in the best and most careful manner. The Pope reminds his readers that, on this point, Christians should take Muslims as their example.
Muslims and the West have struggled with each other for almost fourteen centuries. From the Western perspective, Islam has threatened Western doors and opened many of them, facts that have not been forgotten. While from the Muslim perspective, as Graham Fuller and Ian O. Lesser acknowledge, (Kusatilanlar-Islam ve Bati’nin Jeopolitigi (trans.), Istanbul: 1996, p. 41-2), in the last century alone, far more Muslims have been killed by Western powers than all of the Christians killed by Muslims throughout history. Many Muslims tend to produce more comprehensive results from this. They believe that Western policies are intentionally designed to weaken Muslim power. Christendom’s historical portrayal of Islam also contributes to this. For centuries, Christians were told that Islam was a crude and distorted version of Judaism and Christianity. For a very long time the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, was considered an imposter. This historical experience leads even educated and conscious Muslims to believe that the West is continuing its thousand-year-old systematic aggression against Islam and, even worse, that it is doing so now with much more subtle and sophisticated methods. They approach the Church’s call for dialogue from the same perspective.
This leads Muslims to oppose and resent the West. However, modern modes of transportation and mass communication have turned the world into a global village in which every relationship is interactive. The West cannot wipe out Islam or its territory, and Muslim armies can no longer march on the West. Moreover, as this world is becoming even more global, both sides feel the need for a give-and-take relationship. Islam, as represented by the Holy Book and the Sunna of the Prophet, has retained the freshness of its beliefs, spiritual essence, good works, and morality as it has unfolded over the last fourteen centuries. In addition, it has the potential to blow spirit and life into Muslims who have been numbed for centuries, as well as into many other peoples drowned in the swamp of materialism. Just as religion has not yet escaped the onslaught of unbelief based on science and philosophy, no one can guarantee that this storm will not blow even stronger in the future. These and other factors do not allow Muslims to view and present Islam purely as a political ideology or an economic system.
The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, defined a true Muslim as one who harms no one with his/her words and actions, and who is the most trustworthy representative of universal peace. Muslims travel everywhere with this sublime feeling that they nourish deep in their spirits. Contrary to giving torment and suffering, they are remembered everywhere as symbols of safety and security. In their eyes, there is no difference between a physical violation and a verbal violation, such as backbiting, false accusation, insult, and ridicule.
A Muslim’s beginning point must have an Islamic basis. In the present situation, Muslims cannot act out of ideological or political partisanship and then dress this partisanship in Islamic garb. If we can overcome this tendency, Islam’s true image will become known. The present, distorted image of Islam that has resulted from its misuse by both Muslims and non-Muslims for their own goals scares both Muslims and non-Muslims. How the West sees Islam is illustrated by the fact that in American universities it is not taught as a religion in theological schools, but as a political system in the political science or international relations departments. Such a perception also is found among Westernized segments of the Islamic world and non-Muslims in Asia and Africa. Strangely enough, many groups that have put themselves forward under the banner of Islam export this image and actually strengthen it.
In the Qur’an God says: “This is the Book wherein there is no doubt; a guidance to those who fear God” (2:2). Later it is explained that these pious ones are those: “Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them; and who believe in what is sent to you and what was sent before you, and (in their hearts) have the reassurance of the Hereafter” (2:3-4). At the very outset, using a very soft and slightly oblique style, the Qur’an calls people to accept the former Prophets and their Books. Having such a condition at the very beginning of the Qur’an seems very important to me when it comes to getting into contact with the followers of other religions.
In another verse God commands: “And discuss you not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation)” (29:46). In this verse, the Qur’an describes what method, approach, and manner should be used.
Elsewhere, in Sura Mumtahana, it is stated: “God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loves those who are just” (60:8).
Some Qur’anic verses level, according to some, certain degree of harsh criticisms against the People of the Book. However, such criticism is directed against wrong behavior, incorrect thought, resistance to truth, the creation of hostility, and undesirable characteristics. The Old and New Testaments contain even stronger expressions against the same attributes. However, immediately after these apparently sharp criticisms and threats directed at those who engage in such behavior, very gentle words are used to awaken hearts to the truth and to plant hope.
God-revealed religions strongly oppose
disorder, treachery, conflict, and oppression. Islam literally
means “peace,” “security,” and “well-being.” Naturally based
on peace, security, and world harmony, it sees war and
conflict as aberrations to be brought under control. Islam has
always breathed peace and goodness. It considers war an
accident, and has established rules to balance and limit it.
For example, it takes justice and world peace as a basis, as
in the verse: “Let not the hatred of others to you make you
swerve to wrong and depart from Justice” (5:8). Islam
developed a line of defense based on certain principles that
protect religion, life, property, the mind, and reproduction.
The modern legal system also has done this.
Islam teaches that those who want to reform the world must first reform themselves. In order to bring others to the path of traveling to a better world, they must purify their inner worlds of hatred, rancor, and jealousy, and adorn their outer worlds with all kinds of virtues. Those who are far removed from self-control and self-discipline, who have failed to refine their feelings, may seem attractive and insightful at first. However, they will not be able to inspire others in any permanent way, and the sentiments they arouse will soon disappear.
Goodness, beauty, truthfulness, and being virtuous are the essence of the world and humanity. Whatever happens, the world will one day find this essence. No one can prevent this.