Brothers Under the Banner of Faith
March 30 - April 2. 1993
In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful, the Lord of all creation.
All Blessings and Greetings be on Muhammad, and on his two brothers, Moses and Jesus, and on all prophets and messengers who follow them with benevolence to the Day of Judgment.
I am grateful to God for granting me this chance for a meeting with our brothers in faith, whom we have loved for centuries. In fact, ever since the Holy Quran was revealed to Muhammad, it commanded us on many occasions to believe in all prophets and messengers, and to venerate and love them, particularly Jesus and Moses. I feel the Quran and the messenger of Islam, Muhammad, emphatically taught us that all religions are one and that their objective is one, which is to bring happiness to all people wherever they are.
Some of us may find this strange and may deny it, or be ignorant of it. They may further say this is nothing but flattery. But as you know, both Christianity and Islam believe in the One God of Creation, the Day of Judgment, and in doing good works that will save man from God's retribution and earn him Paradise. This has been proclaimed in the Quran and is called for by Islam:
Those who believe (in the Quran), and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures), and the Christians, and the Sabaeans; whoever believes 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.
Furthermore, the Quran holds the followers of the Holy Book in high esteem, saying:
And nearest among them in love to the believers you will find those who say 'we are Christians' because among these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant. T.Q., Sura 5, The Table Spread, verse 82.
The followers of the Holy Book have been further commended in the Quran:
And there are certainly among the People of the Book those who believe in God, and the revelation to you, and the revelation to them, bowing in humility to God: they will not sell the signs of God for a miserable gain. For them is a reward with their Lord, and God is swift in account. T.Q., Sura 3, The Family of Imran, verse 199.
Now, whoever reads the Quran and considers the biography of Muhammad and his teachings will find that Islam defends and supports Jesus Christ and his message, as well as all the messengers of God and their messages. Islam has not come to abrogate or destroy them, but to unify and to call to belief and action in accordance with the messages of all God's Messengers. The Quran urges the people of the Torah and the Gospel to follow their books sincerely and denounces those who neglect to adhere to them. Thus, the Quran says:
Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by what God has revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel. T.Q., Sura 5, The Table Spread, verse 47. And, continues . . . O People of the Book! you have no ground to stand upon unless you stand fast by the Torah, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord. T.Q., Sura 5, The Table Spread, verse 68.
Ali, the fourth caliph to succeed Muhammad, used to say to the Christian believers: We don't forbid you from Christianity. To the contrary we command you to follow it.
The same denunciation is poured on those Muslims who do not follow the teachings of Islam. The Quran says:
Not your desires nor those of the People of the Book (can prevail): Whoever works evil, will be requited accordingly. Nor will he find, besides God, any protector or helper. If any do deeds of righteousness, be they male or female and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them. T.Q., Sura 4, The Women, verses 123-124.
This divine instruction puts the believers of all religions on notice of their individual responsibilities towards their Creator and Man. It won't help them to formally join this or that religion, unless they heartily and earnestly follow its teachings and commands in thought, word and deed. Only then will they earn true redemption.
In the Quran, God reproaches those who claim to be believers but are not committed to any action:
The desert Arabs say, 'We believe.' Say, 'you have no faith; but you only say, 'we have submitted our will to God,' for not yet has faith entered your hearts.' T.Q., Sura 49, The Inner Apartments, verse 14.
Religions are but paths for true believers to draw closer to God, to enliven their souls with His light and their minds with His wisdom and signs. A Christian Arab poet writes: I swear by your life! Religions are but windows through which the eye of the worshipper sees God.
Islam emphasizes the fact that the revealed religions perfect each other. Whenever a prophet came, he affirmed the message of his predecessor and added to it; thus, bringing an increase in happiness to man, and glad tidings of a prophet who would come after him. This meaning comes out clearly in the Sura 21 of The Quran, The Prophets, where God narrates their life-stories and struggles to call their peoples to Him. Among those mentioned are Lot, Noah, David, Solomon, Job, Jonah, Ishmael, Jesus, and Muhammad. In concluding, the Quran points out that the goal is to unify the members of the human family under the umbrella of belief in God, the Almighty, saying:
Verily, this brotherhood of yours (of prophethood) is a single Brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher: therefore serve Me (and no other). T.Q., Sura 21, The Prophets, verse 92.
The Quran goes on further to say:
He has ordained for you 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 points out that the construction of religion wouldn't have been completed and finalized had not each prophet contributed a stone to its building. There remained one last stone to complete the edifice of religion and Muhammad was that last stone. So, the credit goes to all of them collectively and not solely to one without the others.
Since Islam came to unify the human family, advocating all prophets and messengers and their messages, affirming human rights, especially the freedom of belief, it opened the door wide for the peoples and nations of all the world to flock to. Thus, they would believe in all prophets bearing in mind that, when they believed in the new prophet, they would not turn their back to their own prophet nor to his message. Therefore, whoever believes in Jesus carries that belief on to belief in Muhammad. This way, he will find that his love for Jesus will increase even more, because this is part of the teachings Muhammad enjoins upon him to follow. Shouldn't the Christians and Jews greet Islam and the Muslims similarly?
Islam did not stop at that. It accommodated the Jews and Christians in its spacious homeland, which at one time extended from China in the east to France in the west. It was the established super power of the Islamic Empire that guaranteed for them their places of worship and their freedom of belief. During this period in Damascus, there was a time when both Muslims and Christians shared one temple in their worship of God. They used to enter through one door, and the Muslims would perform their prayers in the eastern wing, while the Christians prayed in the western wing. This established a practice that continued for fifty years in the Omayyad mosque, when it was used as both a church and a mosque at the same time.
Any unbiased look would show clearly that more than one billion people in the world might still be heathen, worshipping idols, had it not been for Islam. Today these Muslims believe in Moses and his Torah and in Jesus and his Gospel, in addition to Muhammad and his teachings. My question is: What is the attitude of the Christians and the Jews towards Islam, which converted those billion people from heathens to believers glorifying and venerating all prophets, especially Moses and Jesus and their heavenly books, and the One True God?
Another early example of this Christian-Muslim relationship was seen at the mosque of Prophet Muhammad in Madinah, when the Prophet received a Christian delegation there. The delegation's arrival corresponded with the time for prayer, so Muhammad invited them to use the facilities of his mosque to hold their service, over the objections of some of his companions.
The height of Muslim faith in God and His teachings, in which care for the People of the Book is mandatory, is exemplified in the action of the governor of Homs, during the Caliphate of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab. This governor, in remorse over his abuse of a Christian under his care, to whom he said: May God shame you! submitted his resignation to Caliph Omar. His reason was that he considered his action not worthy of a Muslim governor, whose duty was not to discriminate between people, despite their differences in religion, race, color or wealth.
Another example is seen in the punishment that Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab meted out to the governor of Egypt's son for his lashing a Coptic Christian during a horse race. The latter's crime was nothing more than winning the race. In punishing the governor's son, Omar considered punishing the governor himself for failing to instill in his son the virtue of humility, and giving him the mistaken belief that he could act unjustly, relying on escaping punishment through his father's position. In rebuking the governor, Omar made the following famous statement: How is it that you enslave people whose mothers gave birth to them as free?
It is in Islam's respect for human rights where the observer can see the benevolence of Islam, such as in caring for non-Muslims who had reached old age by putting aside funds for them in a public treasury designed for their welfare. Furthermore, if such individuals lost their means of livelihood, the Islamic welfare system guaranteed a lifeline for them until such time as they were able to stand on their own feet. However, this is not the proper place to list all the types of social welfare systems that the Islamic state offered the followers of other religions, despite their being a minority in that state.
In another area of Christian-Muslim relations, those who depict the wars that took place between Muslims and Christians as being motivated by religion are doing history and truth a great injustice. Islam has never allowed any harm, oppression, or bloodshed to befall anyone as a result of his religious orientation. In fact, those wars invariably served as means to fulfill egotistic, ambitious and colonial objectives, of which religion is absolutely innocent. On the contrary, history has shown that the liberation by Islam of the countries in the Middle East from the domination of the Persian and Byzantine empires brought relief to the peoples they ruled, especially the Christians who were exposed to severe oppression under their own Christian governors. These governors forced their own version of Christian orthodoxy upon their subjects. Thus, the non-Orthodox Christians were never able to feel happiness, security, or dignity, except under the protection of Islam. During the Abbassid period of Islamic rule in the Middle East, this compassionate umbrella of protection extended to encompass fifteen thousand Christian churches, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. This example only goes to show that Islam fully respected and honored the adherents of all religions, especially those who followed Moses and Jesus.
To anyone closely examining the prayers performed by a Muslim five times a day, and listening to his recitation of the Quran, it will seem as though he were reading the Torah or the Gospel, because of what is mentioned in the Quran about the stories of the prophets and their divine teachings.
Is it possible, therefore, for anyone to accuse Islam as being a religion based on oppression, iniquity or injustice? God describes the messengership of Muhammad in the Quran:
We have not sent you except as a mercy to the worlds. T.Q., Sura 21, The Prophets, verse 107.
Perhaps the questioner may ask what is required of the Christians today towards Islam and the Muslims? In answer to that I say: Christianity was divided into many diverse sects. In the second half of this twentieth century, there was an ecumenical movement attempting to harmonize these various denominations despite their great ideological differences. Is it therefore not possible to invite Islam to join this worldwide movement as a member worthy of due consideration, since it venerates Jesus Christ and his mother, and respects the teachings he brought recognizing that he is the word of God given to Mary?
The wisdom of God and His words, according to Islam, is the knowledge of God revealed to His believing servants which becomes their speech and action. The Quran says:
Say: If the ocean were ink (wherewith to write out) the words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than the words of my Lord, even if we added another like it for its aid. T.Q., Sura 18, The Cave, verse 109.
Thus, Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, is nothing more than the word of God (i.e. a man uttering the revelations of his Lord and displaying His power). Therefore, if some people tend to deify Jesus, it is because they have been dazzled by the light of God reflected by his heart in the same way as a perfect mirror reflects the light of the sun.
The Arab poet says: when the clear pond becomes its stillest, and the absence of a breeze can no longer ripple its surface, at that moment the sky is reflected therein as is the sun and the stars.
It is this very pond that is like the hearts of the gnostics from which you see the light of God reflected.
Through constructive dialogue, we can address many common points of faith and belief, reach mutual accord and make constructive agreements. This way, we could dissolve the ignorance, distance and dissension that lies between us. In this regard, the Vatican has recently taken a step towards the recognition of Islam as a revealed religion, a move which has been well-received in the Muslim world and is much appreciated. I look forward to the continuation of this trend towards unifying all revealed religions under the banner of faith in the One God, since the essence of the call of all prophets is one as the Quran states:
And (the teaching of the Quran) is in the Books of the earliest (revelation), the Books of Abraham and Moses. T.Q., Sura 87, The Most High, verses 18-19.
A necessary step to be taken by the followers of both religions is a positive stand against all forms of oppression and persecution, whatever be their source and not to be complacent in laying the blame upon the shoulders of politicians, while we remain idle and fail to act ourselves. It is absolutely necessary for the Christians all over the world to denounce the crimes taking place against Muslims in Bosnia and Palestine. Furthermore, it is necessary to denounce the crimes perpetrated by Christians against other Christians in Northern Ireland and by Muslims against other Muslims in Afghanistan. When the men of religion stand shoulder to shoulder in full cooperation, they will stand as a testimony to all, signifying one brotherhood bound by the belief in One God, working towards one objective, which is to save man from injustice and aggression.
In order to implement this, it beehives all of us to return to the core teaching of our religions. If these steps are not immediately taken, then the religion of God will vanish. None will be more responsible for this catastrophe than us. Hence, our joint cooperation will save man from the risks which surround him. These include drug abuse, epidemics like AIDS, the risks resulting from promiscuity, and the general indifference of man towards his fellow men, which has led to the detriment of not only his spiritual but his physical existence as well.
Furthermore, it is essential that we struggle to rescue our mother earth from pollution, desertification, depletion of the ozone layer, and the population explosion. We must struggle to make our compassion affect man and this planet we call home.
The prophet of Islam has said: All the creation is God's dependents and He loves most whoever is the most beneficial to them. He illustrates this point by quoting the example of two women, one of whom went to hell for her imprisonment of a cat that she neither fed, nor let feed, until it died. The second woman, a prostitute, entered paradise through her compassion in giving water to a thirsty dog she found by the wayside. God appreciated her noble action and forgave her.
It is for us, the men of religion, to call ourselves firstly then to call mankind towards knowledge and its acquisition, the rejection of bigotry, superstition and illusion. We have to resort to the didactics of thought and reason, and to the acquisition of wisdom and rationality. All our affairs should be executed only after careful study, and our efforts directed towards the appropriate words and actions. Then we must call for purification of the soul and cure it from all of the diseases that currently corrupt it.
For it is only after such purification that man will return to his true nature, which is capable of accepting the light of God. God describes the mission of Muhammad, peace be upon him, in His Quran:
It is He Who has sent amongst the unlettered an apostle from among themselves to rehearse to them His Signs, to sanctify them and to instruct them in Scripture and wisdom . . . T.Q., Sura 62, The Friday, verse 2.
Religion is knowledge presented to people as beacons guiding them towards God, wisdom which orders the affairs of man, and purification which elevates the soul to the Divine. Thus, Muhammad, peace be upon him, was able to raise people from the depths of ignorance to the light of knowledge, from the enslavement of the material body to the worship of God, guiding mankind in a short life span to the long sought Utopia which we should strive for with knowledge, action and sincerity.
Peace be upon you all.