Common Word Conference: Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed.
University of Yale, Connecticut, USA
Yale Center for Faith and Culture
28 July 2008
Islam and Relation with Neighbor
By Mustapha CHERIF
Love is Beautiful but it is amazing that we speak about love, forgetting the bitter reality filled with hatred. We speak of love, and at the same time are faced with threats and unprecedented dangers. We must face reality without running away from our responsibilities. The gap between our theory and our application is huge. We must look for the reasons. Dialogue and living together are necessary. There is no alternative. Muslims and other global citizens notice that ignorance and lack of clarity and distortion prevail, instead of getting to know each other. More than that, after the brutal acts committed during World War II, we notice a return of hatred. Some invent a new enemy, taking advantage of criminal acts of radicals and desperate men or groups that are closed upon themselves, who betray the text of the Generous Koran and the Prophetic Sunna. This group invents a new enemy, taking advantage of the contradictions of Islamic systems, as well as our legitimate grasping of our right to differ. They create a new enemy in order to distract people and make them forget the political and moral problems above all else. The Common Word initiative aims to protect us from a day when we would say: The opportunity is lost, and we are driven to collective suicide.
In order to clarify the picture to our Christian brothers, I need to show what the vision of Islam is on basic issues which face humanity. The Islam is the religion of monotheism before God and religion of justice before humanity. Regarding to the acknowledgement of the other, and regarding to the fact that the Prophet came after the Messiah, I will remind you that Jesus says according to your texts: “Watch out for false prophets. (…)By their fruit you will recognize them. (…)Likewise every good tree bears good fruit.” Islam is a blessed tree which has brought lots of fruit. This makes you think, nothing will prevent you from acknowledging that the Prophet of Islam as a Messenger of God. First, Islam considers life and existence a trial to man. Second, God gives us trials on three levels: on the levels of time, differences, and revelation. Third, Islam considers human life as built upon freedom and responsibility. Fourth, there is no prior guarantee of happiness and prosperity for anyone. Fifth, no religion or culture has a corner on all the truth.
Sixth, man must respond to these challenges based on openness and honoring life. Seventh and last, this response must be based on awareness and caution.
The issue of relationships with others is a basic relationship which touches coexistence or clashing, peace or war, oppression or freedom, founding civilization or descending into barbarism. At this level in particular, there are risks and choices. According to Islam, whenever we ignore the idea of God, the Absolute and Infinite, who is unlike any other, we risk our existence and are closed to others and to an important part of our human experience. Relationship with others means we must have a clear idea of who man is, since man does not achieve his complete self, except through dealing with others. But in the light of closed traditions, religion can be a source of fanaticism, closed-ness, and rejecting others. The truth is that religion may give unprecedented opportunities to respect the rights of others. We can say that after the right to life, which is the foundation of all human rights, comes the right to worship God. For Islam, the understanding of the relationship with others and respect of their human rights begins when he surrenders to the unknown. For man to worship God and communicate with him, he must not be persecuted or a persecutor of others. He must also respect basic rights of all and be able to balance the rights of the individual and the group, rights of God and man. We have a trial relating to our relationships with others. This is not just accepting others, but others are essential to our lives. Openness to others, welcoming him, honoring him and listening to him must all be the first position we take in our relationships with others. Objectivity requires taking a complementary attitude based on caution, so that a person is not a hostage of the other.
Living together, we face a struggle today: the individual is cut off from the center of the society, or isolated, and forgetting the concept of communal life violates human rights.
This matter is connected with acknowledging the other as a similar and different person at the same time, or respecting his privacy in order to share. It is not enough to claim to tolerate the other; we must know him and listen to him, respect his differences, in order to be able to bear the difficulties of existence together and keeping the essential social bonds. Islam wants to be a civilization of living together and caution. We will be lacking if we miss the mark if we do not move toward living together. The brotherhood of humanity is built on a common root and common source. Islam makes us responsible and reminds us of our responsibilities, so that a Muslim must be totally open. The Koranic verses: there is no compulsion in religion, argue in a better way, you are not their sovereign, all suggest openness. There are also other verses that tell us that caution is necessary. This is the concept of balance.Openness and resisting if necessary, are our program.
Companions of the Prophet and scholars after them, and most Muslims focus on the Koran and Sunna’s requiring that human rights outweigh divine rights. Religion cam to free man, make him responsible, civilized and human, not to oppress him. The last word in the Koran is People. This means that the purpose of the Islamic message is strengthening humanity, while honoring life and living together. Naturally, freedom naturally represents the basis of existence. But absolute freedoms are not true freedoms. It is not lost upon the Muslim that rights of the other are to respect his dignity and not to impose one point of view. Being a pious, virtuous and responsible person is at the core of the Islamic message, to create an individual open to shared existence, and cautious at the same time. A virtuous person despises no one.
In complement to openness, which is basic, Islam requires cautiousness and legitimate self-defense if attacked. God does not love aggressors. We must not confuse aggression and hatred. There is no concept of holy war in Islam, but rather just resistance within strict guidelines. Without good deeds and inner peace, which are the greater jihad, there is no external peace with another who is different.
In contrast to Islam’s view, modern thought does not see the other as keeping his identity as a different individual, but as a deficient individual who must be eliminated, because he is outside the required pattern. Thus objectors, resisters, and separatists who refuse control are banned. If the different other is seen as primitive or less than human, it seems that the so-called lights are not a characteristic of our age.
If the whole society is to move toward peace and truth, we cannot build individual and corporate life and ignore the necessity of resistance and being responsible. Some modern messages want people to be quiet and turn the other cheek to the aggressor. In Islam, conflict and the hardness of the world are tests that we must pass and control wisely. In the eyes of a sincere Muslim, the other has part of the truth. Legitimate resistance is better than insults.
The true Muslim must be shocked at the barbarism of the ignorant extremists, the barbarism of the overpowering and terrorism of the weak and the strong. Islam sees the need to organize violent responses and conditions of use of force through respecting human rights. Those movements that see Islam as intolerant and a religion of violence are the same that adopt a clash of propaganda, and speeches full of hatred of the foreigner and unjust wars. The Koran and the Messenger define legitimate self-defense as defending life, not sheep and wolf type relationships.
Finally, what lessons and points of view can we take for living together tomorrow? Nothing conquers us except what we don’t resist. So we must move and think, without claiming that we have all the keys of all truth. What our age requires is communication/talking together to limit the other’s ignorance, which is confusion and wrong thinking, and educating new generations about human rights, and the call to openness, and at the same time, a call to caution and justice. There is no peace without justice. The world has seen a return of feelings of hatred toward the other. Today we jointly face huge, complicated challenges: First, marginalizing religious values or using them for narrow purposes. Second, reducing freedom and the right to differ. Third, prevalence of market logic and the return of paganism in new forms. All this is controlled by the law of the jungle and illogical responses. Thus we need to help others and they us to meet challenges. This requires us to work toward openness more than at any other time. We are like deaf people dialoguing. So we must learn how to listen and understand one another. Our age more than any other needs to be rational among ourselves, since the West and the Islamic World are joined together. Why does humanity try to destroy itself? We must tell the world to be very careful and defend basic rights of the other and restore them, for God does not love those who say and do not do.