International Prospects of Islam and Christianity
International Prospects of Islam and Christianity

Rome, Italy
December 1985

In the name of ALLAH, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

My dignified audience, I am thankful to the Omnipotent God by Whose grace this world meeting is being held, that it will be memorable and inspiring for us all. I am also very grateful for and appreciate the respect and esteem of those who summoned us here.

Revealed religions, especially Islam and Christianity, are key to the Plan ordained by God for man's welfare in this world and the next, lest this noble creature go astray, and are essential to guide him to prosperity and righteousness.

For this purpose God chose His prophets and apostles from among men in order to lead mankind. Their mission was to instruct souls and create bounds not to be transgressed for the sake of the preservation of rights, family and honor, by warning and preaching. Thus, the prerequisite in fulfilling these goals is the perfect belief in God, Whom Islam and Christianity call us to worship.

If God is the Lord of mankind, sound reasoning and logic necessitate that His faith must be one religion whose foundations have not differed throughout the course of successive generations. The Holy Quran alludes to this fact in the Sura 42:

He has ordained for men the faith, He has revealed to you and formerly enjoined on Noah and Abraham, on Moses and Jesus, saying, Observe this faith and be not disunited in it. T.Q., Sura 42, Consultation, verse 13.

Muhammad emphasizes this point further, in the following tradition: We (prophets) belong to one parent, our faith is one, but our laws are diverse. He, thereby confirms his membership in a prophetic brotherhood whose sole concern is the welfare of mankind. This brotherhood includes individuals who led religions which, although different in their dispensations, did not invalidate the structures of its predecessor, but complemented and completed it, thus paralleling and accommodating itself to the developing circumstances of man's life.

Abraham established the original foundation of this building by combating idolatry and thus raising the standard of monotheism. This standard was upheld and heralded by his successors, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, the latter to whom the Seal of Prophet was given. Muhammad refers to this analogy to a building in the following tradition: I and the previous prophets are exemplified in a mansion built and beautified by someone save a space left in a corner for a missing block. People entered and admiringly exhorted him, 'Do lay this block', I have been this block and I am the final and ultimate prophet.

This tradition of prophethood outlines the gradual process by which God has perfected His religion. Muhammad's mission, therefore, is deeply rooted in the origins of the former religions. God says in the Quran:

Say, 'We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us; we believe in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes; to Moses, Jesus and the other prophets. We make no distinction between any of them' . T. Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 136.

Every religion that has been decreed by God holds a faith or belief in God that is absolute and pertains to the affairs of both this world and the next. The preaching of the prophets, as ordained by God, was not restricted to those people who lived around them, it encompassed more comprehensive and vaster horizons. Jesus and Muhammad, for example were sent to illuminate the souls of the whole of humanity, and not just to the people of Jerusalem or Makkah.

Jesus said: I have come as a savior to the world; and God states in the Quran outlining the prophetic mission of Muhammad:

And We did not send you except as a mercy to all of mankind T.Q., Sura 21, The Prophets, verse 107.

We can see the results and the reality of both their universal missions, as Islam and Christianity are the largest of the world's major religions today.

Also today, with the advance in technology and the increase in luxury, ease and leisure this advance facilitates, we see a decrease in religious values. This is coupled with an increase in anxiety levels, as the ever-growing materialistic civilization increases in its material acquisitiveness, greed and a lack of God-consciousness. It is because of this that man finds himself in a constant state of moral confusion, bewildered and let down by the false promises of his technological world.

The resulting numbness in consciousness that has developed today has led man to ignore religion and the spiritual values it holds, unwilling to allow his heart to fill with hope. Therefore, hope is a concept that has become altogether unfamiliar to today's generation that has seen little but shattered dreams: once bitten twice shy! Furthermore, these shattered dreams have resulted in a vacuum that neither entertainment clubs, dance halls, or pleasures of the flesh can fill. These escapes from the realities of the world represent nothing more than a desperate attempt to escape pent-up frustrations in destructive releases. They are purposeless and aimless. This seeking of fleeting pleasures and material idolatry lowers man to the level of a beast, making him harmful and irresponsible to himself and all that is around him.

Material must be man's servant and not his master. His pleasures must be kept under control and he must not be in their control. Who is responsible for this? The essentials and fundamentals of religion, or the inability of the clergy to lead men to faith and conviction?

Divine religion is essentially guidance for all who are lost, a source of goodness for all, and a path of righteousness for those who struggle to live in dignity and happiness. In short, it is the perfect ideal to pursue. But personal interpretations, superficial reflections on texts, or worn out literal translations have darkened true religion which used to illuminate man's path with love and peace.

Religion has never failed to enhance man's spiritual or material needs. The divine doctrine granted by Christianity and Islam endows mankind with the ability to withstand excessive pleasures and desires. Thus, religious conviction frees man to pursue maximum productivity in all fields that he engages in.

Our mission as clergymen, believing in God and His apostles, is to stress this fact by practice, by carrying the torch to guide those who have erred and rescue humanity from the stagnant filth it lies in. We must not profess disability but reconsider our methods of dealing with people, acknowledging our faults in order to correct them.

On the whole those who abandon religion do so not out of animosity towards God, the Creator, but rather most probably because they found their clergyman to be a fanatic, or an extreme puritan, backward in his thinking that clashed with sound reasoning and the scientific approach. So, what is required from clergymen today is valor, wisdom, and sincerity, particularly towards those lacking in morals and faith, who have rejected religion as an underdone dish. We must prepare our food for the soul and mind to be delicious for all. Our job must consist in elevating man's humanity and our role must be like physicians, who dispense medicine with tenderness and sympathy. We must not condemn our fellow men as atheists, for this judgment is God's alone, as man's actions are determined by his sincerity which only God sees. Repentance erases past sins as God's mercy encompasses all the sins of the world.

Jesus Christ said: Heaven's delight in the repentance of one sinner exceeds its joyfulness at securing ninety-nine faithful people who do not need to repent. Muhammad says: God extends His forgiveness by night so that those who have wronged themselves by day might repent, as He also extends it during the day so that those who have wronged themselves by night might find repentance.. Jesus also said: I have not come to destroy nay but to save, and he also said: I want mercy and not a sacrifice.

As men of religion, we should take into consideration the changes in contemporary man's nature. In the past, people readily accepted what lessons clergymen taught without argument. Today, we find modern man free from such mental servitude. He criticizes everything freely and in particular religions including their doctrines, dogmas and adherents. Men of today do not accept what fails to satisfy their intellect and scientific bent. Therefore, as men of religion, we should do away with unreasonable and faulty practices that have distorted the essence and brilliance of true religion in the eyes of our contemporaries.

To do this, how should religion in this century be presented? Muhammad and Christ both preached faith by common sense, argument, and ethical conduct. A deep conviction in his beliefs, seen in his actions and their relationship with God, led Christ to acknowledge Muhammad, whose advent was yet to come. In the Quran, God speaks of this:

And (tell) of Jesus, who said to the Israelites: 'I am sent forth to you by Allah to confirm the Torah already revealed and to give news of an apostle that will come after me whose name is Ahmad'. (Ahmad is another name of Muhammad's, meaning 'Praised One'). T.Q., Sura 61, Battle Array, verse 6.

The clergy today hardly have any of the above-mentioned characteristics. In the past, things were easier and faith was propagated despite the poor standard of education, because their contemporaries were simple-hearted men who could be converted easily. At that time idols were made of wood or stone, so they were easily conquered. But now the state of affairs is more complex: idols are fleshly desires, ideologies and international doctrines, all of which have at their disposal the modern media creating intensive propaganda campaigns on their behalf that few can resist. The separation, therefore, between religion and modern man has deepened; faith and love have decreased and dwindled, while egocentricity and lewdness have become more predominant and are on the increase.

World organizations like the United Nations, the International Court of Justice and bilateral treaties, seek to establish world peace but as yet have failed to do so. Many countries of the world today are ravaged by either civil wars or wars with neighboring countries. As countless souls perish, blood is shed and towns are devastated, all the United Nations can do is make feeble pronouncements and condemnations. Even the Security Council, with its long debates on restoring world justice and defending human rights, is confounded into inaction by the Veto of any one of the five Big Powers. This invariably frustrates any highly moral endeavors and destroys attempts to do away with injustice inflicted on oppressed nations.

If man is once again to realize the benefits that religion has to offer, then it requires the rekindling of a new lamp fueled by cooperation and religious tolerance. It is a light that must be carried by benevolent souls with powerful minds and extremely deep faith in God, with a responsible awareness of reality and profound sense of duty. In short, religion needs skillful and wise navigators.

Therefore, as men of religion, it is high time that we serve our respective religions, and endeavor to cooperate with one another to construct a fraternal world based on rational faith. We must work to spark a spiritual revolution with daring, sincerity, wisdom and modern knowledge, just as our spiritual fathers Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad had done in the past.

Muhammad said: At the close of each century, God sends forth people who revive the religious affairs of the creed by abolishing ignorance, exaggeration and misinterpretation. I believe that the rejuvenators of religion, particularly in our present time, are those who are able to make this cooperation a reality.

How will this cooperation come about? What will its basis be in order to obtain a better future? First, no attempt towards cooperation will be possible without understanding and recognizing the essential common foundations and goals of our religions. Furthermore, it must not be limited to a certain elite as it must be a public heritage for all classes of Muslims and Christians.

We find in the Quran long Suras devoted to Christ and his mother, the Virgin Mary, describing in much detail his teachings and miracles. God honors Christ further in the great Sura in the Holy Quran named The Table Spread, which refers to the Holy Supper. Another long Sura is named Mary, sanctifying and ennobling the Virgin Mother, and another The Imran, in honor and reverence of the family of Christ and his mother.

The Suras in the Holy Quran narrate Mary's miraculous conception of Christ and his birth. Gabriel addresses Mary upon her conception of Christ with the following words:

O Mary, Allah has chosen you. He has made you pure and exalted you above all women.... O Mary, Allah bids you in a word from Him. His name is the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary. He shall be noble in this world and in the next and shall be favored by Allah. He shall preach to men in his cradle and in the prime of manhood and shall lead a righteous life. T.Q., Sura 3, Imran, verse 42-45.

These concepts form the creed which Muslims have learned from their Holy Book, the Quran, since its revelation over fourteen centuries ago. Therefore, instilled in every Muslim is a healthy respect for both Christ, Christianity, and the doctrine he preached. In the Quran, Sura The Table states:

You will find that the most implacable of men in their enmity to the faithful are the Jews and the pagans, and that the nearest in affection to them are those who say: 'We are Christians'. That is because there are priests and monks among them (i.e. theologians and devout bishops); and because they are free from pride. T. Q. Sura 5, The Table, verse 82.

Hence, Islam from its very outset has extended its hand of cooperation and brotherhood to those who claim to be the followers of Christ.

These are but only a few examples of the numerous Quranic references concerning the sanctity of Christ and his commandments. Therefore, should not Christians likewise acknowledge their appreciation of the prophet of Islam, and invite even as Muslims do mutual cooperation and understanding?

True, the Vatican was obliging when it took the first step and extended the hand of faithful fraternity to Islam. How fine and invaluable, in the eyes of God and Christ, that other steps like this should follow, for the sake of world peace, love and brotherly affection which Christ and Muhammad were sent to bring to mankind!

Since the days of the Crusades, when Christian Europe conquered and colonized the Arab world for a time at the urging of the Church in Rome, several centuries followed where Christians and Muslims viewed each other with some animosity. Centuries later, modern European colonialism and imperialism once again in Arab lands only added to the problem. The resulting estrangement of these two groups of people has created a division between them that should never have existed in the first place.

Today, at a time when the bodies and souls of mankind are on the point of perishing, we must regard one another in the light of Christ's preaching and Gospel and in the light of Muhammad's teachings and the Quran, for Christians and Muslim are brethren and kinsmen.

Man must be made to believe and brought to understand that his life on earth is transitory, and that the concept of resurrection and the subsequent judgment day are a reality. He must come to understand that morality and religious obligations are in the interest of both his worldly temporal existence as well as in the Hereafter. Also, he must come to realize that greed, avarice and sheer materialism are vices that will lead to wretchedness and poverty in this life and in the next.

The Quran contains the following verse:

... And that each man will be judged by his own labors, and his labors shall be scrutinized and that he will be justly requited for them. T.Q., Sura 53, The Star, verse 39.

Hence, man is obliged by his Creator to labor honestly in this world to create an environment fit for all to live; an environment of cooperation and understanding.

The Quran commands Muslims to know Christianity; so, are Christians knowledgeable about Islam? We know you, do you know us? We extended our friendly hands to you in response at the order of our Prophet, therefore, shake hands with us. We studied your religion, so study ours. We embraced you, therefore, embrace us. We sanctified Christ, His Holy Gospel and the Virgin mother, so return the greeting of your Muslim brethren equally, or even more warmly.

Our relationship is like two brothers, separated by a wilderness and a large desert, who happen upon each other in a chance encounter. At first, seeing each other at a distance and unaware of their relationship, they remained cautious and approached each other warily. Finally, through bravery on the part of one or both of the two men, they came closer and recognized each other and that they were, in essence, one.

I cannot stress more the need for mutual cooperation, and I am hopeful that benevolence and faith will be victorious. This age of ours is the best in which belief in God can prevail from the point of view of manners, actions, morality and codes. The time of sectarian fanaticism and inflexible religious doctrines is gone and will never return. The criterion for acceptance or non-acceptance is reason and science. Religion is merely reason and science or (systematic knowledge) with God's mercy and bounty at its source for man to live in an earthly paradise before Heaven.

May God help us all to be beneficent and to proceed on the right path. May He assist us to follow up the best of what we hear. Praise be to Allah, Lord of creation.

Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro and Sheikh Basheer Al-Banee with Pope John Paul II in the Vatica

Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro Lecturing in Rome1985

The Vatican officials receiving Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro in Rome

The Italian officials receiving Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro in Rome