Dialogue with the Delegation of the Reforming Church in Switzerland
His Eminence’s speech to and discussion with the members of the delegation
8 October 1993
In the name of God,
the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise is due to God, the Lord of the worlds. Peace and blessings be on Prophet Muhammad, on all of his brother prophets and messengers, and their households and companions.
I welcome our guests, “the Children of Jesus Christ.” We, the children of Muhammad, welcome you. Islam encom¬passes all heavenly messages and calls all humankind to believe in them all. Muslims would be considered disbelievers if they believed in Muhammad but not in Jesus, Moses or any other prophet.
Almighty God says in the Holy Qur’an:
“We make no distinction between any of His Messengers.” T.Q., 2:285.
We as Muslims have known this faithful brotherhood through the Holy Qur’an and our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
The Holy Qur’an criticises those who claim to be followers of Islam, Christianity or Judaism but with no knowledge or practice of their religion. It classifies their followers into two main divisions: true believers and false believers. So there is a true Muslim and a false Muslim. The Holy Qur’an praises true believers from the followers of the three religions and mentions them in different verses. For example,
“Verily those who believe, Jews, Christians and Sabians; whoever believes in God [Allah] and the Last Day and does good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord. They shall have nothing to fear, nor shall they grieve.” T.Q., 2:62.
Although the three religions have differences, not in essence but in interpreting some of their articles, they all call to monotheism. Monotheism or oneness of God does not differ in its truth and reality, but the difference happens in interpreting it in some religions. This has made many people move far away from faith when monotheism is interpreted in a way that mind and reason reject.
In addition to that, there has been a kind of distance and disharmony between religions because we got to know one another from afar. When someone looks at another who is on the top of a mountain, he cannot see his nose, eyes or his beauty. He might even see him as a black dot. In this case and in order to know the truth, we have to come closer to it, and then we will be able to recognise its features and its actual picture.
For this reason, I say that Muslims cannot be true Muslims if they do not believe in Jesus (pbuh) and his message and Moses (pbuh) and his message even though Muslims believe that many false things have been attributed to Muhammad, Moses and Jesus, peace be upon them all.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ordered us to search for true Islam every hundred years. He said, ‘Almighty God raises for this community, at the end of every hundred years, the ones who will renew its religion for it.’ Sunan Abi Dawoud.
This renewal is to protect the essence of religion from having false things attached to it so that it is not distorted in the sight of people when it comes to practical life.
Islam calls to monotheism or oneness of God, the belief in all the prophets of the Torah, in Jesus and all of his teachings, in addition to the belief in what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) came with adding to the legacy of previous prophets. Islam does not limit itself to spiritual matters; it also concerns itself with both spiritual and physical matters on the highest levels.
Islam also calls for the unity of human beings regardless of colour, ethnicity or religion as it is said, ‘Human beings are brothers and sisters whether they like it or not.’
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘You will not be a true believer unless you desire for your fellow humans what you desire for yourself.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
Islam also calls for the establishment of a global state and family. Early Muslims who were raised by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in his school were able to unify half of the Old World under one nationality and state while preserving the freedom of religion and social security among all people; the rich helped the poor, and the learned taught the ignorant.
Additionally, under the Islamic understanding of freedom of faith, Islam urges and instructs Muslims to keep and even protect the places of worship of Christians and Jews.
The countries of Al-Sham (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine) were Christian, but when its people found their Christianity in Islam and the Holy Qur’an, they accepted Prophet Muhammad’s teachings because he did not command them to desert the teachings of Christ. Islam, on the other hand, gave full freedom to those who insisted on holding on to their Christian or Jewish doctrine to keep and practise their religion.
I work hard with all the power I have to achieve this principle: peace and human brotherhood among all people.
I pray to God that the adherents of Christianity and Judaism understand this fact so that we can work together under the banner of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon them all, to achieve peace and brotherhood of faith.
Question: What change occurred in your life that had the greatest effect on it?
Answer: I took religious education from many teachers, most of whom called to one Islamic school of thought which negated the others, but at the last stage of my studies, my final teacher was my father, Sheikh Muhammad Ameen, may God have mercy upon his soul. He was a great Muslim scholar and a Sufi leader.
He shifted me from a narrow circle to this vast international one in which I am living now. I have found out, in my travels to America, Europe, the Soviet Union and Japan, that the developed world is ready to accept this idea, which is the spirit of the three heavenly religions. I strongly believe that if Abraham, Moses, the prophets of the Torah, Jesus and Muhammad met, they would hug one another and constitute one entity, and reject anyone who did not follow their unity.
Question: Sir, you have talked about the state of respect and mercy which Muslims and Christians lived in in the past. How do you see their relationship at the present time, especially regarding the issue of marriage?
Answer: Here in Syria, we Muslims and Christians live as the children of one family. As for the other part of the question, Islam allows a Muslim to marry a Christian or Jewish woman because when she enters his home, she will find respect for her faith, which guarantees that the happiness of the family will grow. However, Islam prevents a Muslim woman from marrying a Christian or Jewish man lest he hurts her through negating or disrespecting her sacred belief. This might cause dissolution of the family and loss to the children. If a Christian or Jew believes in Muhammad and his message as Muslims believe in Moses and Jesus and their messages, then there would not be any objection to that marriage.
Question: We know that fundamentalism is growing in Christianity. What is the view of Islam regarding this tendency? And why does it grow in Islam as well?
Answer: This movement began during the last ten years. The word “fundamentalism” does not exist either in the Arabic dictionary or that of Islam. Islam always calls for dialogue and forbids the forcing of opinions on others because that distorts the flexibility and ease of Islam, and contradicts freedom of faith, choice and opinion in Islam. Most often, some groups are called fundamentalists when they are not. Some of them call for freedom of citizens and the revival of Islam in this world from a moral viewpoint, so we cannot call such people fundamentalists in the modern terminology.
As for extreme fundamentalists who are against other religions or who want to impose their opinion without any dialogue, they do not have any relation to Islam.
Once a Christian delegation of seventy members came to Prophet Muhammad and wanted to say their prayers. He opened his mosque for them, and they prayed in it.
Dialogue with wisdom and argument in the best way are two basics in Islam. Islam does not allow any person, group or country to impose their opinion on others. Almighty God says in the Holy Qur’an:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion.” T.Q., 2:256.
Islam agrees on freedom and equality of citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Prophet Muhammad said, ‘Beware! Anyone who wrongs a non-Muslim citizen, degrades, overburdens or takes anything from him against his will, I will be his opponent on the Day of Judgment.’ Sunan Abi Dawoud.
It is narrated in Islamic history that the ruler of Homs (a Syrian city) said to a Christian, ‘May God put shame on you.’ That ruler realised he had done wrong to the teachings of Islam, so he resigned his post because of his fault.
Question: What does the word ‘Mufti’ mean? What are your basic interests?
Answer: The Grand Mufti in a Muslim country such as Syria is the head of the Higher Council for Fatwa (formal religious orders or advisory opinions), the head of Muslim clergymen and the upper consultant in Islamic affairs. He is the one who represents Muslims at the official councils. Each city has its mufti. He and his assistants are responsible for teaching Muslims their faith and answering their questions.
As for my current interests, I am working on introducing true Islam to all people. This true Islam makes people as one family whose members are brothers and sisters who cooperate to solve their problems and overcome life’s difficulties whether they are concerned with finances, politics, science, health or otherwise.
I have delivered various lectures regarding the unity of religion in its essence and cooperation between Christianity and Islam in Europe, America and Japan.
Question: How do Sunni and Shiite families live in Syria?
Answer: They are like brothers and sisters, living in love and harmony. Islam allows ijtihad (using human reason in interpreting Islamic Law and deducing legal rulings from their authentic sources, which is done by specially qualified scholars). If the scholars differ in their ijtihad, they should all respect one another’s opinion. They also perform their prayers in each other’s mosques.
Question: I have been so impressed by your reply about fundamentalism, but we have a very important issue which isn’t related to the last ten years only; rather it is related to the last fifty years. It is secularism and materialism. What is your point of view regarding materialistic and secular developments?
Answer: The emergence of secularism and materialism is our responsibility as clergymen because we have not been taking religion from its genuine sources. If Muslims take Islam from the Holy Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and Christians take their Christianity from Jesus Christ and from the Bible revealed to him, then we would never see one atheist who denies true faith.
These matters have happened through the interpretations and opinions of the clergy. Later generations have been influenced by the thoughts of some earlier clergymen. One of the reasons that have distanced people from the genuine source of religion is that most people in the past used to follow the clergy blindly, without thinking or using their reason.
In recent years, human reason has been freed, and it found out that the faith presented by some clergymen call to what opposes truth, reality and human interest. Some people preferred to abandon religion which did not agree with the interests of human beings. This is what I said to His Holiness Pope John Paul II in 1985. In a meeting which lasted for an hour, I asked him, ‘Do you know who founded atheism and communism in the world?’ He asked, ‘Who?’ I replied, ‘You!’ He was shocked saying, ‘Me?’ I said, ‘Yes, you and me with you!’ He asked, ‘How?’ I replied, ‘Because we as clergymen have presented religion in a way that current reason cannot accept. This has led some people to contradiction and intellectual and mental torment. They preferred to leave religion and be atheist or secular.’
Unless we Muslims and you Christians return directly to the teachings of Prophets Muhammad and Jesus Christ, atheism will still exist. We as clergymen will be held responsible for that before the divine heavenly court on the Day of Judgment.
After a long dialogue, the meeting was over, and he shook hands with me and said, ‘I read the Holy Qur’an every day.’ I replied in return that I have the Bible and the Holy Book which I always read.
We as clergymen are responsible for secularism and atheism. They have led people to drugs, intoxicants, Aids and wars. Surely, clergymen bear a big responsibility even in our current age.
Question: You have talked about tolerance and said that there is no compulsion in religion, but how can we understand that with what we hear about jihad?
Answer: Jihad in Islam is not directed against religions or peoples. When the Holy Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad called to jihad, it was a struggle against the Byzantine colonisation in the west, and the Persian one in the east. The aim of jihad was against tyrants and dictatorial rulers who retarded their peoples. The teachings and duties of Islam demand the spread of knowledge to all people. Countries in the Dark Ages restricted reading, writing and knowledge to statesmen and nobility. When Islam freed people, it obliged them all to seek knowledge. That is why a lot of Muslim geniuses in different disciplines of knowledge were from those peoples as well as Arabs, so they shared the honour of spreading knowledge.
In the very same time when Islam fought colonial countries, it kept the creeds and places of worship of people, so when they saw Islamic Law in its reality, they accepted and converted to Islam willingly and wholeheartedly.
Islam commands the Muslim State to help jobless Christians and Jews and provide them with all means of living.
It also guarantees old people sufficient social security even if they do not believe in the religion of the Muslim State.
(T.Q. = Translation of the meanings of the Holy Qur’an)
(pbuh = May Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, and may Allah exalt his mention and raise his position more and more)