San Francisco, USA
August 15-21, 1990
In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful.
Daily we feel the pressing urgency for spiritual conferences such as this, dedicated to effect mutual understanding and collaboration among the adherents of the world's religions. These noble aspirations to cooperate and for dialogue are more pressing today than in the past, more insistent and persistent, because of the scientific and technological advances in the media and in communications. Long ago, our ancestors felt the world too vast and immense for them to comprehend beyond their immediate surroundings, which restricted their ability to communicate with others. So, each community confined itself to its own world, limited by its own customs and ideologies. Unjust wars, bloodshed and the slaughter of innocent people resulted, when these isolated communities came in contact with one another, because of misunderstanding and ignorance.
Cultural progress and advances in transportation have greatly changed the world's situation since then. Our seemingly limitless world has grown much smaller and everything is much closer, so that today we can circle the globe in hours instead of years as in the past. Today the news of nations around the world can be broadcasted and transmitted to all corners of the globe instantly. Our planet is now like one big house with one family, the members of which are constantly interacting with one another. Unfortunately, injustice, greed and aggression, have spoiled and disturbed man's home and the world's harmony, so that the pressing need to cooperate with one another has become even more critical than ever before. Today, the peoples of the East are badly in need of Western science and technology. In the West, Europeans and Americans need the resources of the East and its spiritual heritage.
Now, mankind is beginning to cooperate because of pressing and urgent social needs that should not be disregarded by any reformer who seeks to bring prosperity and welfare to his people. Today's experience relates to that enjoined by God in His revelation to Muhammad.
O People, we have created you from a male and a female and divided you into nations and tribes that you might get to know one another. The noblest of you in God's sight is he who fears Him most. God is wise and all-knowing. T.Q., Sura 49, The Private Apartments, verse 13.
The Quran also says:
Help one another in righteousness and piety, and do not help one another to sin and enmity. T.Q., Sura 5, The Table Spread, verse 2.
To bring about mutual agreement and accord among mankind by force of arms has proved futile; the world has suffered grievously from two world wars which have devastated the globe, including the years of Nazism and barbarism. Intense competition for amassing destructive weapons followed. The Big Powers shamelessly competed in an arms race that led men to fear their fellow man as if they were starving wolves or poisonous vipers. Meanwhile, international organizations and institutions have failed to bring about a human fraternity. The League of Nations, which collapsed owing to the avaricious aspirations of the Big Powers, has been replaced by the United Nations and its Security Council, also controlled by the Big Powers. The role of these bodies is so ambiguous and fragile that they have invariably contented themselves with mutual acts of flattery and resorted to affecting only general and conciliatory treaties - in other words, talk for deaf people, illustrating facts for the blind. Their resolutions have been, for the most part, mere ink on paper, particularly when opposed by one or more of the more powerful member states.
Nor has the development or progress of technology enabled man to achieve the good and mutual love that mankind needs and lacks. Unfortunately, too often modern technology is controlled by oppressive and unjust people and agencies, devoid of love, faith or humanity, motivated by greed, obsessed with amassing capital and storing up material gains. These are the same groups who manufactured devices of destruction, instruments of torture, transcontinental missiles, and nuclear bombs.
Notwithstanding all the advances that man has made in recent years, he is still a slave to his own ego and more basic instincts. As a consequence of his feeble rational faith, man remains in a primitive state of barbarism and fierce brutality. The Quran describes this:
They have hearts, yet they cannot understand; eyes, yet they do not see; and ears, yet they do not hear. They are like beasts-indeed, they are even less enlightened. Such are the heedless. T.Q., Sura 7, The Heights, verse 179.
Regrettably, man's modern destructive weaponry is aimed at the living, even at life itself. Thanks to scientific advances, moral backwardness and spiritual deterioration around the globe, the world and all its beauty can be instantly converted into a barren lifeless desert at the press of a button.
Here we can appreciate the role of faith and belief in God as being the most important and inspirational factor governing human behavior. It urges mankind to unite, cooperate, love one another, and do away with all kinds of discrimination, be it, racial, color or tribal, and to congregate under God's command. The Quran says:
Your religion is but one religion, and I am your only Lord. Therefore serve Me. T.Q., Sura 21, The Prophets, verse 92.
However, only belief which goes hand in hand with science and reason can penetrate the depths of human conscience and dictate proper conduct and behavior from within. There it can enforce virtues and bring about sublimation of the spirit. The history of both east and west has proven the validity of this proposition upon which knowledgeable persons worldwide agree. Unfortunately, human greed, desire for power, capricious whims and fancies, has often made religion a means and a cause for separation and fighting in contrast to what it should be: a source of love and peace. Likewise, scientific progress and spiritual and moral degeneration has been used as a means for accumulating fortunes and control over the weak by those in power.
Instead of holding meetings for dialogue and coordination, so that cultures could mingle and come to mutual agreement and cooperation, the West and the East clashed early under the banners of fanaticism and gross misunderstanding during the Crusades. This was the worst way to let the peoples of the east and west to get to know each other; and, combining the Crusades with later colonialism has proved to be the most unfortunate medium for promoting Muslim-Christian understanding.
Isn't it time for all believers in the One God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, to meet together openly and candidly; to listen and discuss the messages of all the Messengers and Apostles who have preached a mission and were sent to fill the earth with love, compassion and peace, and instill reason with conviction and faith?
On behalf of the Muslims, who comprise about one quarter of the inhabitants on this planet, I say the Prophet Muhammad was sent as a Messenger and Prophet into a society of idolaters, Christians and Jews. He exhorted his countrymen to believe in the Quran, which lent credence to the spirit and teachings of the Torah of Moses and to the Gospel of Christ. God says in the Quran:
He has revealed to you the Book with the truth, confirming the Scriptures which preceded; for He has already revealed the Torah and the Gospel for the guidance of men, and the distinction between right and wrong. T.Q., Sura 3, The Family of Imran, verses 3 & 4.
Through his actions and teachings, Prophet Muhammad stressed bonds of intimacy and affection, of the joint purpose and messengership with Christians, and stated that this applied to all preceding prophets.
We have revealed Our will to you as We revealed it to Noah and to the Prophets who came after him; as We revealed it to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and David, to whom We gave the Psalms. Of some apostles We have already told you (how God spoke directly to Moses); but there are others of whom We have not yet spoken: apostles who have brought good news to mankind and admonished them, so that they might have no plea against God after their coming. God is Mighty and Wise. T.Q., Sura 4, The Women, verses 163-165.
The Quran asks Muslims to revere all preceding apostles, twenty five of whom are mentioned in the Holy Book by name. However, God also says: but there are others of whom We have not yet spoken, thus indicating that although revealed religions are multiple they have one single target. Then the Quran commands the Muslims to declare openly and frankly that they believe in all heavenly messengers.
Say we believe in God and that which is revealed to us; we believe in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes; to Moses and Jesus and the other prophets, We make no distinction between any of them, and to God we have surrendered ourselves. T.Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 136.
Then God urges the followers of the other revealed religions, particularly those of the Torah and the Gospel, to do the same. He says:
If they accept your faith they shall be rightly guided; if they reject it, they shall surely be in schism. T.Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 137.
The Quran further states that Muhammad's mission does not refute those of earlier prophets, rather it complements and perfects them.
Say: 'My Lord has guided me to a straight path, to an upright religion, to the faith of Abraham who was no idolater. T.Q., Sura 6, The Cattle, verse 161.
Men have to know that the apparent differences between religions is due to alteration and corruption that entered through mistranslations and practice, erroneous explanations and misinterpretations.
Yet they were enjoined to serve God and to worship none but Him, to attend to their prayers and to pay the alms-tax. That surely is the true faith. T.Q., Sura 98, The Clear Evidence, verse 5.
Prophet Muhammad summed up the relationship between himself and the other prophets in the following parable: The comparison between me and the preceding prophets is similar to a group of people who took part in building a house and completed it but for an empty space for one block or brick. Onlookers admired it and said in astonishment: 'What a beautiful mansion, if it were not for the place of the missing brick' I have been this brick and I am the last and seal of the prophets. Sahih Bukhari, P.18. He does not claim to be the entire mansion, however, but says: I am one brick of it. The missions of all the Prophets were integrated. Thus, Muhammad came to complete and not to refute, or contradict, the messages of his earlier brother Prophets.
Muhammad explains that the purpose of his mission is to bring peace, and this means a truce between fighting adversaries. God addresses him:
We have sent you forth save as a blessing of mercy to mankind. T.Q., Sura 21, The Prophets, verse 107.
This mercy exists only between loving brethren. In answer to his call, Muhammad then sought free and fraternal dialogue with all religions, in order to serve this purpose and make the people of the earth happy before they reached the eternal heavenly paradise. He preached that all religions are one. For:
There is no nation that has not been warned by an apostle. T.Q., Sura 35, The Angels, verse 24. (That is to say a heavenly instructor).
He also taught that all prophets are brethren and have a single faith in origin, but different laws or canons of religion. When he was told that the Jews devoted the tenth day of the month of Muharram (the first month in Muslim's calendar) to fasting in thankfulness for God's deliverance of Moses from Pharaoh on that day, Muhammad said to the Jews: We are more attached to Moses than you. If I am alive this day next year I will fast on this day and the preceding one i.e. the ninth and the tenth. Sahih Muslim, P.133.
The Quran also states that it was revealed in confirmation of Moses' Torah and Christ's Gospel.
There is guidance and there is light in the Torah which we have revealed. T.Q., Sura 5, The Table Spread, verse 44.
Also we read:
We sent forth Jesus ....... and gave him the Gospel, in which there is guidance and light. T.Q., Sura 5, The Table Spread, verse 46.
The Quran attaches much reverence to the revealed religions. It says:
Believers, Jews, Sabaeans and Christians - whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right - shall have nothing to fear or to regret. T.Q., Sura 5, The Table Spread, verse 69.
When the Christians of Nejran visited him, Muhammad respectfully and willingly let them say their prayers in his mosque. When the Empire of Islam stretched from China to France, a Roman temple in Damascus equally belonged to the Muslims and the Christians who went in and out through one entrance to say their prayers in tolerance and freedom. Owing to the embracing of Islam by great numbers of Christians in Syria, the Muslim half eventually did not have enough room for its worshippers, so Caliph Al-Waleed asked the Christians to relinquish their half of the temple in favor of the Muslims in exchange for ten times its price, to which they willingly agreed. The Caliph, who governed half of the ancient world at the time, could have taken the temple by force, but as Islam is the religion of freedom, justice and reverence for all revealed religions, he could only do what he did.
The attitude of Islam towards the Jews and the followers of all revealed religions may be inferred from this prophetic tradition: Whoever molests a non-Muslim citizen shall be my opponent on Doomsday and I will win. Ibn Majah P. 7. The Quran supported the accused innocent Jew against the guilty Muslim.
He that commits an offense or a crime and charges an innocent man with it, shall bear the guilt of calumny and gross injustice. T.Q., Sura 4, The Women, verse 112.
Those that wish to have more detail of Islam's respect for the other revealed religions and their adherents' freedom can refer to the Quran where they can find hundreds of examples.
The Islamic sources which encourage dialogue among religions are:
1- Much of the Quran is a free-flowing dialogue between Muhammad and God that discusses the lives of Muhammad and the preceding prophets. This dialogue is generally rhetorical in format, and shows intellect and patience on the part of the prophets, in stark contrast to the dialogue of the peoples of the other religions with their prophets. When authority and might enhanced Muhammad's prophetship, God revealed the verse:
There shall be no compulsion in religion. T.Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 256.
Furthermore, the Sura of the Table, and many other Suras as well, is a good illustration and example of the freedom of creed and belief under the sovereignty of Islam.
2- The second source is Sunnah, which are collection of meticulously authenticated sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad. It is the height of his call for freedom of belief and for free dialogue, in dignity and in the light of rational judgment, and clear evidence for the sake of truth and the delight in it. We have already stated the prophet's applications of dialogue and his putting it into practice as alluded to in the Quran.
3- The history of Islam is the third source. The Caliphs and many Muslim learned men held religious seminars in which free debate and dialogue was conducted throughout the Omayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, besides what is mentioned in the Quran and the Sunnah.
Today, we have more than one way for religious togetherness or reconciliation among the revealed creeds.
1. Assemble the subject matter upon which all religions, in their original forms and texts that agree, such as the unity of the Merciful, Omnipotent God, the Creator of everything in its most perfect design, and the brotherhood of man.
2. The clergymen of all religions should consider the moral code which helps make the world happy and unified. The teaching of these ethical recommendations and rules should then be propagated far and wide. Then, not only will human beings have peace, but they will also be members of one loving family, living in the fraternity Prophet Muhammad suggests: True believers through their friendly relations and having merciful love for one another are like one body if a limb or organ of it suffers all the rest of it shall undergo fever heat and experience restlessness. Sahih Bukhari, P. 27.
3. We must bear in mind boldly, sincerely and truthfully, that in the course of time countless translations of holy books and the interests of greedy and capricious men have distorted and corrupted certain origins of the revealed religions and their teaching of love and cooperation. This has opened up an opportunity for sowing the seeds of fanaticism and antipathy among the believers in the One Creator. All that has to be scrutinized and corrected. Brilliant brains and sound scientific research must eliminate and reconsider interpretations that oppose religious conciliation. This can be achieved through dialogue and open debate at conferences dedicated to this purpose.
The essence of Islam is based upon freedom of belief and calling men to the path of God with wisdom and kindly exhortation. God commanded Muhammad to say to his adversaries:
You have your own religion and I have mine. T.Q., Sura 109, The Disbelievers, verse 6.
He also commanded him to say:
There is no compulsion in religion. T.Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 256.
When the Muslims marched to spread their religion in the face of the imperial powers of Persia and Byzantine Rome, a well-known commandment of Muhammad's to them was: Do not pull down any church and do not kill any monk. On approaching a Christian monastery, or a Jewish synagogue, the Muslim conquerors used to repeat and keep saying: We have been commanded to let them free with what they believe.
Many modern reformers and propagandists all too often lack this sensible and respectful Muslim consideration towards other religions that combines reason with common sense, an alliance between rationality and sound knowledge.
Believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabaeans whoever believe in God and the Last Day and does what is right shall be rewarded by their Lord; they have nothing to fear or to regret. T.Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 62.
The circumstance of all religions sharing a single origin is expressed in the Quran:
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, The Counsel, verse 13.
Exhorting the servants of God, the Only One God, to collaborate and cooperate is one of the obligations enjoined on us by the Prophets. In addition, there is now an international human demand pressing upon us, because materialistic civilization has made such rapid strides heedless of and uncontrolled by any religious conscience.
Through technology, a candle has become an electric lamp, the donkey and the horse have become a comfortable car, and the homing pigeon has evolved into a modern communication system, all of which have become an everyday part of life. Unfortunately, man has achieved no comparable advance in his behavior and conduct. In fact, he has deteriorated and fallen back into a dark state of ignorance and barbarism, a manifestation of which is the race for armaments, including the invention of destructive bombs and weapons and amassing them on a large scale, despite the fact that only a few of these can put an end to the entire existence of man. Unless the clergymen, who are sincere and free from bigotry and whimsical inclinations and are in alliance with reason and science, remedy this monstrous defect in modern civilization, no one can foretell the gloomy fate that will befall humanity and mankind in the coming years.
The advance of learning and education has lately overcome the difficulties and obstacles that stood in the way of international dialogue and collaboration. Nonetheless, there are still certain impediments that obstruct this splendid concurrence.
a. Fanaticism, bigotry and inflexibility, which characterize many clergymen and make them blind to the truth, and taking them far from the straight path of guidance. The Quran refers to this:
When it is said to them: 'Follow what God has revealed,' they reply: 'We will follow that which our fathers practiced,' even though their fathers were senseless men lacking in guidance. T.Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 170. When it is said to them: 'Follow what God has revealed,' they reply: 'We will follow that which our fathers practiced,' even though their fathers were senseless men lacking in guidance. T.Q., Sura 2, The Cow, verse 170.
b. Other obstacles to dialogue and collaboration are the adherents of religions who interpret their Scriptures in such a way as to make distinctions between the Prophets, fill men with aversion to their fellow men and bear malice and discord towards others. I believe the responsibility for this lies upon the shoulders of clear-sighted and enlightened clergymen. They must replace these faulty interpretations with something consistent to the original revelations in order to cherish human fraternity and cooperation.
c. Some religious rites and explanations contradict common sense and are inconsistent with logic. They disagree with accepted scientific information, which has led in certain circumstances to a historical divorce and alienation between the intellect and scientific data, on one hand, and religion on the other. This discord between reason and religion has proved disadvantageous for faith, and has been utilized by the adversaries of religion as a weapon used for waging a war against true belief.
Prophet Muhammad was very insistent on respecting learning and attaching great importance to the mind and reasoning. Therefore, his revelation has been addressed to those who have ripe talents and good judgment.
Do you not see how God sends down water from the sky which penetrates the earth and gathers in springs beneath? He brings forth plants of every kind. They wither, turn yellow and then He crumbles them to dust. Surely in this there is an admonition for men of understanding. T.Q., Sura 39, The Crowds, verse 21. And:
God sends down water from the sky with which He quickens the dead earth. Surely in this there is a sign for prudent men. T.Q., Sura 16, The Bee, verse 67.
The Quran regards learning and reason as the gateway to true faith and not an obstruction in its way.
None fear God but the wise among His servants: but, verily God is mighty and forgiving. T.Q., Sura 35, The Angels, verse 28.
The remedy for all this depends upon the clergymen's sincerity, their submission to truth, discrimination of correct from spurious interpretation of Biblical texts and religious heritage, in order to help people acquire intellectual faith fostered by learning.
I reiterate, in this honorable conference, what I often asserted, particularly in the Kremlin during an interview with Andre Gromyko of the Soviet Union in 1987. I invited all Communist philosophers in the world to a dialogue between religion and science for the purpose of effecting a reconciliatory compromise between these recalcitrant spouses. This way life would be prosperous when it is established on both learning and religion. Mr. Gromyko willingly accepted the proposal and promised to assist in bringing it about. So, I call upon you all to take serious interest in this issue.
Despite the three main obstacles that I have just mentioned, the path of dialogue and cooperation is today better paved than it was before. It has every chance of success provided that there are unbiased, sincere and wise men to do the job.
His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, told me during a meeting of dialogue with him that he read the Quran everyday. My response to him was that: I am well versed in the Bible. It is this frank and open-minded spirit that can bring about human fraternity and eliminate all malice and discord, so that the believers in One God might coexist in affection and harmony. The Quran called for this long ago:
Cling one and all to the faith of God and let nothing divide you. Remember the favors He has bestowed upon you: how He united your hearts when you were enemies, so that you are now brothers through His grace. T.Q., Sura 3, The Family of Imran, verse 103.
Peace be upon you all.