Apostasy, Blasphemy and Heresy

Christian-Muslim Dialogue and Criticism

Inter-faith dialogue must be based on recognising and respecting differences and not recycling the same attacks on the founders of religions.

27The Review of Religions – January 2005 Mr. Chairman, I deem it a great honour for me personally and for the Muslim Community in Ghana to be invited to take part in this Conference of the Catholic Bishops of Africa and the Catholic Bishops of Germany. My topic for today is ‘Problems and Chances of the Relations between Christians and Muslims in Africa – from the Muslim point of view’. Mr. Chairman, let me begin by extending to all of you the Islamic salutation of ‘Peace’: Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakaatuh – Peace be unto you and the Mercy of Allah and His b l e s s i n g s . P o p e ’s Call for Dialogue I vividly recall that when His Holiness Pope John Paul II paid a visit to Ghana, religious leaders were given the opportunity by the Catholic Church of Ghana to meet His Problems and Chances of the Relations between Christians and Muslims in Africa By Abdul Wahab Adam, Amir & Missionary In-Charge, Ahmadiyya Mission, Ghana An address delivered on the problems and chances of the relations between Christians and Muslims in Africa from the Muslim point of view at a conference on ‘Dialogue Between Christians and Muslims as Partners in Solidarity for the Development and Promotion of Spiritual Values: Chances and Conflicts in Africa’ on Tuesday 12th October, 2004. 28 The Review of Religions – January 2005 Holiness at the Independence Square, here in Accra. His Holiness the Pope had three messages. One for the Catholic Church, the other for non-Catholic Christian Churches and yet another for the non-Christian religions. Among the non-Christian religions was Islam. His Holiness in his message to Muslims, stressed the fact that both Christians and Muslims believe in the Prophet A b r a h a m( a s ). Indeed both Muslims and Christians are his children through Ishmael( a s ) and Isaac( a s ). The Pope also said that Muslims are required to believe in the Founder of Christianity, Jesus C h r i s t(as) and also that the Holy Q u r’an mentions the Mother of J e s u s( a s ) with great respect. He then, on the basis of all these, suggested Muslim-Christian dia- logue as a means of forg i n g Christian-Muslim understanding and cooperation. To me, if anyone required any assurance about the need for Muslim-Christian dialogue, understanding and cooperation, that assurance had come from His Holiness, the Pontiff and Head of the Catholic Church himself. Islam When we come to Islam, the Holy Qur’an, which constitutes a guide for all Muslims, declares in unambiguous terms that Christians are closest to Muslims. And thou shalt assuredly find those who say ‘we are Christians,’ to be the nearest of them in love to the believers. (Ch.5:V.83) The Holy Qur’an gives reasons for this assertion: That is because amongst them are savants and monks and because they are not proud. (Ch.5:V.83) Then the Holy Qur’an calls upon all adherents of religions: O people of the Book! Come to PROBLEMS AND CHANCES OF THE RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS IN AFRICA 29The Review of Religions – January 2005 a word which is equal between you and us – that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partner with Him. ( C h . 3 : V. 6 5 ) The Holy Qur’an also appeals to adherents of all religions to cooperate in all matters that are good and in righteousness. And help one another in righteousness and piety; but help not one another in sin and transgression. (Ch.5: V. 3 ) M o s q u e It is common knowledge that the Holy Prophet of Islam( s a ) g l a d l y opened the doors of his own Mosque for members of a Christian delegation to worship in it. How then, in the whole wide world, can any Muslim dare close the doors of his mosque to a Christian worshipper? Mutual Respect In view of these clear- c u t injunctions from the Holy Qur’ a n , the adherence of which were exemplified by the Holy Prophet of Islam( s a ), it is beyond comprehension that Muslims and Christians, and for that matter, adherents of other religions, cannot live together in mutual respect and cooperation and indeed, as partners in devel- o p m e n t ! Inroads Christianity and Islam have made great inroads upon the African continent and the indications are that the influence of the two great religions will continue to be felt for a long time to come. In many homes and families in this country, it is common to find members of the home or family professing one faith or another, including the Traditional African religion, and yet living at peace with one another. Let me give you one example. While I am the Amir or Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission in Ghana, my late uncle’s son, Rev. Nub Ben Abubakar, is the Diocesan Methodist Bishop of Kumasi. This example can be multiplied to show that co- PROBLEMS AND CHANCES OF THE RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS IN AFRICA 30 The Review of Religions – January 2005 existence among the various faiths is not only possible but also common here. Annual Conferences For a long time now, the Annual Conferences of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission have been enriched by the presence of representatives of other faiths who have always delivered fraternal messages tending to emphasise the ultimate aim of religion, which is to make the human being better, physically, e m o t i o n a l l y, intellectually, morally and spiritually. I recall that the Catholic Church has had the occasion to invite me to give a similar fraternal message at their conferences held in Kumasi, Pedu and elsewhere in Ghana. So have representatives of the Catholic Church, including His Eminence Peter Cardinal Turkson, and other Christian leaders been gracious enough to honour our invitation to deliver fraternal messages at our conferences. We can safely conclude that this country has been spared the tragedy and the trauma of the kind of religious conflict that has unfortunately claimed so many innocent lives elsewhere on this continent. It would be seen that in Ghana, ethnic groups and families have members who subscribe to varied faiths. Yet they live together in harmony; they collaborate in decision-making for devel- opment, they strengthen and enhance social relations and even participate in their various religious festivals. The renowned African political scientist, Prof. Ali Mazrui, in a lecture delivered in Accra on July 12, 2004, described this unique relationship as ‘the ecumenical spirit of the African.’ P ro b l e m s This is not to say that there have been no problems regarding relations between Christians and Muslims in this country or on the continent of Africa. Indeed the celebrated African intellectual PROBLEMS AND CHANCES OF THE RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS IN AFRICA 31The Review of Religions – January 2005 was quick to add that o c c a s i o n a l l y, this religious diversity creates differ-entiations that are fuelled by external factors. These contribute to conflict situations that lead to violenc e . M r. Chairman, this constitutes the underlying problem that militates against harmonious relationship between Muslims and Christians. Six major factors that engender such religious di ff e r e n t i a t i o n s readily come to mind. They are fanaticism, misunderstanding, lack of respect for spiritual leaders, the concept of Jihad, political mobilisation, post September 11 developments and forced conversion. F a n a t a c i s m Fanaticism is the first. This phenomenon is the excessive belief in the rightness of one’s cause to the exclusion of all others. To the fanatic, the other belief systems do not exist and even if they exist at all, they are inconsequential. Such systems, must of necessity, be eliminated for his own to predominate. Such a psychological frame of mind predisposes the fanatic to be intolerant of other religions. To him, cooperation with adherents of religions not his own, is an anathema. To him, people of other religions are irrelevant in his global view. ‘Cleansing’ them from the society finds justification from his scripture. In many parts of Africa, both in Islam and Christianity, there has not been a shortage of fanatics, whose utterances and actions have constantly undermined co- operation between believers of these two religions. It is important that we keep an eye on such religious fanatics and take steps through education, to curb their excess- e s . The 4th Successor to the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has this to say on salvation: ‘The question of salvation, howsoever innocent it may PROBLEMS AND CHANCES OF THE RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS IN AFRICA 32 The Review of Religions – January 2005 appear to be on the face of it, is potent in its danger to peace in the religious world. It is one thing for a religion to declare that those who seek to be redeemed from Satan and attain salvation should rush to the safe haven of that religion; it is there that they will find salvation and eternal liberation from sin. But it is quite another thing for the same religion to declare in the next breath that those who do not come hither to seek refuge will be damned eternally one and all. Whatever they do to please God, however much they love their Creator and His creation, however much they lead a life of purity and p i e t y, they would most certainly be condemned to an everlasting fire… Unfortunately this seems to be the attitude of the clergy of almost all religions of the world against those who do not conform to their faith.’ (I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues, pp.23- 24) According to the Holy Qur’an, salvation cannot be monopolised by any single religion of the world. The Holy Qur’an makes this clear: S u re l y, those who have believed, and the Jews, and the Sabians, and the Christians – Whoso believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good deeds, on them shall come no fear nor shall they grieve. (Ch.5:V.70) Misunderstanding But there can also be plain misunderstanding. For example, again and again, Muslims have stressed that their religion is Islam and not Muhammadanism, and that they are Muslims and not Muhammadans. Yet, even among some enlightened Christians, this error persists. Muslims worship Allah directly and not through the Holy Prophet PROBLEMS AND CHANCES OF THE RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS IN AFRICA 33The Review of Religions – January 2005 Muhammad(sa). Indeed, Muslims are enjoined to pray for the Holy Prophet(sa) anytime his name is mentioned, just as Muslims would say a short prayer for other prophets of Allah. Muslims have great reverence for Jesus(as) and his mother, Mary. One chapter of the Holy Qur’an is named after her. Several verses of the Holy Qur’an testify to her piety, chastity, truthfulness and her high spiritual status. Jesus(as) is treated with great respect. Indeed when His Holiness Pope John Paul II made reference to the reverence that Islam has for Jesus(as) and his mother, he was referring to the momentous positions taken by the Catholic Church at the Vatican Council I and II: the admission that Islam reveres Jesus Christ(sa) and his mother, Mary. The question is, is the Holy Prophet Muhammad( s a ), the Prophet of Islam, treated with the same respect and reverence with which Muslims treat Jesus Christ(sa) and his mother? There is also the wrong notion that Islam was spread at the point of the sword. The surprising thing is, no-one tries to explain how the very large Muslim population of Indonesia came into being when no Muslim armies had invaded that vast country! It has to be admitted that some of the problems that have characterised the relations between Christians and Muslims in Africa have been caused by Muslims. Ignorance of Christian doctrine, blind fanaticism, over zealousness, misinterpretation of the actual import of Qur’ a n i c teachings and appeals to dubious sayings and actions attributed to the Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam have created friction that has sometimes led to blood-letting where there should be peaceful co-existence. Jihad is an example. The term ‘Jihad’ is simply translated as Holy Wa r, an aggressive war waged by Muslims against non-Muslims! This is not correct. PROBLEMS AND CHANCES OF THE RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS IN AFRICA 34 The Review of Religions – January 2005 The Holy Qur’an makes this clear: Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made because they have been wronged – and Allah indeed has power to help them. (Ch.22:V.40) The subsequent verse clarifies further the nature of the wrong done. It states: Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’. (Ch.22:V.41) The historical context should not be overlooked under any cir- cumstance. In that same verse, another case is made for fighting. And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churc h e s and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. And Allah will surely help one who helps Him. Allah is indeed, Powerful, Mighty. (Ch.22:V.41) These verses from the Holy Q u r’an unequivocally establish that there are only three types of war in Islam. They are: 1. Those undertaken in self defence. 2. Those undertaken as chastisement against aggres- sion. 3. Those undertaken for the establishment of freedom of religion and conscience Islam teaches its followers to bear in mind the fact that there should be no compulsion in religion. (Ch.2:V.257) It is a fact that coercion can only produce hypocrites, not true worshippers. The sword can only bend heads but cannot win hearts. So it is inconceivable that Islam would urge its followers to PROBLEMS AND CHANCES OF THE RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS IN AFRICA 35The Review of Religions – January 2005 compel others, on the point of the sword, to become Muslims. As shown from the Qur’ a n i c verses, by freedom of religion is meant not only the freedom to accept Islam, but also freedom to accept any other religion. It is also clear that the protection of places of worship, which is enjoined by the Holy Qur’an on Muslims, extends to synagogues, cloisters and churches. Indeed mosques are the last to be mentioned in the verse of the Holy Qur’an. I want to assure you that mere brutal fighting is opposed to the whole spirit of Jihad. T h e scholar’s pen or the preacher’s voice or the wealthy man’s charity are said to be the most valuable forms of Jihad. Political Mobilisation The fourth impediment to Christian-Muslim cooperation is religious mobilisation for political objectives. Some social scientists have opined that religion has been the source of conflicts. According to this thesis, many conflicts have religion as the underlying factor; and while it is very tempting to conclude that the initial conflicts have resulted in a cycle of violence that has hardened memories of hate in religious communities, the reality is that no true religion advocates violence. The history of prophets is there for all to see. This history bears testimony to the fact that it is t h e y, the prophets and their followers, who are persecuted and tortured by disbelievers and not the other way round. How then can anybody honestly suggest that religion breeds hate and conflict? The semblance of religion’s involvement in conflicts is attributed to the fact that it is religious sentiments that have been mobilised and exploited by unscrupulous politicians to achieve their selfish goals. Under such scenarios, those who dissent and question the religious basis of politicians’ actions are branded as traitors who deserve PROBLEMS AND CHANCES OF THE RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS IN AFRICA 36 The Review of Religions – January 2005 to be silenced, tortured and even killed. Another dimension to political mobilisation of religious senti- ments has to do with power relations and allocation of national resources. More often than not, in many countries of the world, where the majority of the elite, who wield political power, belong to either Islam or C h r i s t i a n i t y, invariably, empir- ical evidence supports the view, that they formulate and implement policies aimed at empowering members of their religion at the expense of the others. Ironically, while they do this, in the name of their religion, they deliberately gloss over their own religious teaching that they should be honest and just to all people because all of them are children of God. Again, they close their hearts and minds to another equally important religious teaching that we must wish for others what we wish for ourselves. What happened in places like Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Bosnia, Iraq and South Africa under the obnoxious apartheid regime, to mention but a few, and currently in Sudan, is a typical manifestation of exploitation of religion to advance the political interest of the ruling elite. Post September 11 D e v e l o p m e n t s The fifth factor is external. The end of the Cold War has given rise to the view in the West that postulates that, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Islam is the next adversary to Western and, therefore, Christian civilisation. Post September 11, 2001, has aggravated this view. Islam is being equated with terrorism. Some Christian groups see this as an opportunity to wage a ‘crusade’ against Islam. This battle is not being fought with conventional, chemical or biological weapons. Central in the armoury is propaganda through mass media. PROBLEMS AND CHANCES OF THE RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS IN AFRICA 37The Review of Religions – January 2005 For us in Africa, the fallout from this propaganda war is the creation of tension between Muslims and Christians. We have become not only proxies but also pawns in this war. Where the tensions lead to violence, it is our own people who become victims. Infrastructure is destroyed and the clock of development is turned back. There is a lot that can be gained from close collaboration between Muslims and Christians in Africa. Harmonious relationships are moral and spiritual imperatives for adherents of all faiths. Besides, our collective efforts, properly harnessed, can create a congenial environment for our children to live in peace, in spite of the diversity of their religious beliefs. But there is a challenge. The challenge is for the leadership of the two religions to emphasise the noble virtues that are common to all religions. Our d i fferences in beliefs must be regarded as differences of opinion of family members. Besides, teachers of our religions must educate our members to eschew the tendency of seeing people of other faiths as unworthy of any share in the national cake when they are in positions of trust and decision- making. Forced Conversions Our educational institutions should be used to foster harmony without any attempt to use such educational facilities for the purpose of forced conversion. It will interest you to know that both the former and the present Moderators of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana are products of the T.I. Ahmadiyya Secondary School in Kumasi, here in Ghana. To balance the equation, I must say that I am also a product of the Methodist School of Brofoyedru, in the Adansi District of Ashanti, also in Ghana. If we are to cement ties between Christianity and Islam, nothing can be more effective than that leaders of our respective religions initiate projects that PROBLEMS AND CHANCES OF THE RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS IN AFRICA 38 MESSAGE FROM HEAVEN The Review of Religions – January 2005 should be executed jointly by their followers. By so doing, they would be breaking whatever barriers that inhibit their desire to partner each other for their collective development. Revered Chairman, here in Ghana, some conscious efforts have been made in this direction and it must be pointed out that it started with sincere collaboration between the Catholic Church and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission. It was in Kumasi in the 1980’s that after a symposium organised by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission and addressed by representatives of Hinduism, Budhism, Christianity and Islam, emphasis was placed on the commonalities between all these major religions. There and then, an idea to set up a Council of Religions was mooted. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Peter Akwasi Sarpong, Archbishop of Kumasi, through Rev. Fr. Lefirink, of blessed memory, and I worked together and encouraged representatives of other faiths to join hands in creating inter- religious peace in this country. The effort was blessed with the birth of the Forum of Religious Bodies which has finally culminated in the formal inauguration by His Excellency the President of Ghana of GCRP (Ghana Conference of Religions for Peace). As if to show appreciation for what the Catholic Church and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission have done for inter- r e l i g i o u s harmony in this country, religious bodies in this country met and graciously elected His Eminence Peter Cardinal Appiah Turkson, as Chairman and my humble self as Vice Chairman for GCRP for a period of one year, after the expiration of which term, there will be fresh elections, Insha’Allah – if Allah permits. The Cardinal, I must say, is a fine man, highly polished, respectful, tolerant and fully committed to Christian-Muslim dialogue. He inspires great confidence in religious circles of this country. 39 MESSAGE FROM HEAVEN The Review of Religions – January 2005 Conclusion We must be thankful to the Almighty for this development, for Ghana is one of the few countries in the world where leaders of various religions do sit together to discuss matters a ffecting the nation, sign joint pastoral letters and speak to the entire nation with one voice. It is in Ghana that by the grace of the Almighty, leaders of various religions have met to formulate together policies on the fight against HIV/AIDS and called for com-passion towards those living with HIV/AIDS. It is in Ghana that religious o rganisations lend credibility to Presidential and Parliamentary elections by jointly observing such elections after which they prepare reports on their findings. Revered Chairman, it is agreed on all hands that the relative peace that we enjoy in Ghana today, which is so crucial for development, can be attributed to religious tolerance that Christians and Muslims have consciously cultivated and promoted in this c o u n t r y. It is important that our two religious communities appreciate the value of what we have achieved, through the sheer grace of the Almighty, in the area of inter-religious harmony, mutual respect and cooperation and hold fast to it. We have every right to congratulate one another for this. We need to glorify God and give thanks to Him for His favours upon us. We also need to constantly remind ourselves of this precious gift of God and jealously safeguard it. It is our sincere prayer to the only Power Who not only listens to prayer but also accepts it, to accept, out of His grace, our humble supplications. Amen. Thank you and I wish you most successful deliberations.