Apostasy, Blasphemy and Heresy

Christian-Muslim Dialogue and Criticism

40 The Review of Religions – January 2005 Man is a gregarious animal andcommunicates with other men. In the beginning, people lived in small families and tribes and shared values and beliefs. Individuals either abandoned their views under pressure from the mighty or the majority or separated from the family or tribe to live as hermits or form new alliances. Societies began to come into contact with other societies and as with individuals differences began to manifest themselves. It is strange that when it comes to trade and industry, science and education, health and food, freedom and human rights, democracy and politics, and to some extent concern for the environment, there is a freer acceptance of the unfamiliar but when ideologies and beliefs are involved, there is resistance. Is this because those who are put in charg e of such competing ideologies and beliefs do not understand their own ways and as a result their own rigidities dictate zero-tolerance? Or, is it ignorance of the other that breeds suspicion, resentment and even hatred? Sometimes differences are resolved by mutual reconciliation and compromise on values that are common and by abandoning some dearly held principle. The story is often told of the pedant insisting that two and two is four, the extremist insisting that two and two is six and the compromiser saying: ‘Let us not fight about it but agree that two and two is five.’ However, history does not record very many compromises of this form. In the sphere of religion, compromise has led to the making of something more legal and acceptable, apologies and defence, catechism or talks to hold further dialogue or i n t e r-faith participation. In its more basic form, inter-sect diff e r e n c e s within mainstream religions have ranged from fist-banging violent debates, further divisions, boy- Christian Muslim By Mansoor Ahmed Shah, UK Dialogue and Criticism 41The Review of Religions – January 2005 cotting or ostracising the minority, to banning orders and perhaps the latest trend is the appointment of ministers of religions (while all this time we thought that the term applied only to the clergy and not some cabinet member). However, now that man lives in what is known as the global village, is there any room for ignorance and the fear of the stranger? Has the climate changed sufficiently for moderation to prevail and tolerance to flourish? It is amazing that the people who claim that they are, arg u a b l y, the true descendants of the Patriarch Abraham, i.e. the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims, should sling so much mud at each other. In doing so they do not care whether they are attacking each other’s God, the holy founder of the faith or the sensitivity of an individual. It would appear that there is no room for compromise as the misguided followers of these people of the Book (and one assumes that they are therefore learned) battle it out in twisting history, misquoting and frequently levelling criticism from which they themselves or their beliefs are by no means free. There is plenty in Jewish literature attacking Christ( a s ) as an illegitimate child and alleging that Jesus( a s ) a n d M u h a m m a d( s a ) borrowed their teachings from the Judaic prophets and subjecting both of them to uncouth language. Likewise, Christian writers have not refrained from attacking Judaic teaching as austere and Islam as bereft of love and repeating misrepresented events borrowed from past Christian critics. As for the so-called Muslims, their defence was book burning or drafted in an un-understandable language and came across as anti-zionist or downright blasphemy. Blasphemy, by the way, is not a concept recognised by Islam. Its nearest equivalent is possibly the word ‘calumny’ but no Islamic state has the authority to punish this offence. Faiths that do recognise it as an offence curtail the freedom of speech and conscience and cannot as such be attributed to God. It is in this context that this article examines Christian Muslim response to each other. In November 1979, a conference was held on the Deliverance of Jesus from the Cross at the Royal Commonwealth Institute, London. There was considerable public interest leading up to the conference CHRISTIAN MUSLIM DIALOGUE AND CRITICISM 42 The Review of Religions – January 2005 but at the eleventh hour the British Council of Churches issued the following statement to dampen any hopes: ‘We are reluctant to make any public comment on the London conference. Orthodox Islamic authorities have for a long time repudiated as non-Qur’anic the Ahmadiyya claim that Jesus died a natural death after going to Kashmir: orthodox Muslims in London should, therefore, perhaps be the ones to do any necessary commenting on this London conference and its theme. Our reluctance also stems from our awareness that Christianity has often indulged in aggressive and negative attacks on the central tenets of other religions, attacks of a sort comparable to these Ahmadiyya attacks on the central Christian tenet: we do not wish to appear over defensive when such attacks are directed at us.’ That drew the following response from Hadhrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih III(ru): ‘I wish to make it quite clear that all Islamic sects, despite their differences, are united on the Unity of God, the righteousness of the Holy Prophet Muhammad( s a ) and on his being the Seal of the Prophets and the most exalted of them all. On the question of the unity of God and the doctrine of Trinity there is no d i ff e r e n c e . ‘…While we agree that Christianity has often indulged in aggressive and negative attacks on the central tenets of other religions in language which was often open to serious objection, we cannot agree that the belief of the Ahmadiyya Movement and its publication through a conference, or otherwise, that Jesus was an exalted divine messenger and that nothing should be attributed to him which should be inconsistent with his high status as a divine messenger, is an aggressive or negative attack like the Christian attacks against the tenets of other r e l i g i o n s . ’ Greatly smarted by this retort, in what seemed to be a hasty u-turn, the Central Committee of the Wo r l d Council of Churches recommended some years later: CHRISTIAN MUSLIM DIALOGUE AND CRITICISM 43The Review of Religions – January 2005 P reparation for dialogue • That Churches study and make known the World Council of Churches publication C h r i s t i a n Meeting Muslims: WCC papers on 10 years of Christian-Muslim d i a l o g u e (Geneva 1977) and the Vatican Secretariat for Non- Christians Guidelines for a Dialogue between Muslims and C h r i s t i a n s (under revision). • That Churches undertake catechetical preparation and pastoral and theological training of people of both young and old, laity and clerg y, for encounter with Muslims and people of other living faiths and i d e o l o g i e s . • That Christian and Muslim international, regional and local bodies be encouraged to continue planning bilateral conferences, planned and executed on a cooperative basis and involving both men and women, that further con- sideration be given to the possibility of arranging multi- lateral conferences between Muslims, Christians and others; and that real attempts should be made to involve young people in such meetings. Relationship between Christians and Muslims • That Christians and Muslims spare no effort to live and work with each other, and with others, towards reconciling conflicts and helping local communities to act upon their own choices in self- development towards a more just and participating society. (Extracts from N e w s l e t t e r published by the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian- Muslim Relations No.4 November 1980) On September 11, 2001, all such lofty principles went into hibernation. Islam began to be branded as a belligerent and barbaric faith. Muslims began to be classified as terrorists. Muslim women were spat on in the streets. ‘Go home, Bin Laden’ were the cries from the nationalists. Muslim men began to find it difficult to get a job. Muslims found it difficult to get visas, their e- mails and phones began to be monitored as if they were the pariahs. They were subjected to greater security surveillance than any one else. In this climate, there were u-turns on both sides. One camp retracted that the war on terrorism was not a CHRISTIAN MUSLIM DIALOGUE AND CRITICISM 44 The Review of Religions – January 2005 crusade against Islam. Another camp that had fought against communism and in doing so had promoted and financed terrorism was issued edicts that suicide bombing was not permitted in Islam as late as September 2004. The Jama’at Islami and its Wahabi principals began to do their utmost to shake off their recognition as the promoters of violence and unrest. These u-turns have unfortunately left us with a tangled mess where we cannot be certain whether the ‘Christians’ and ‘Muslims’ are attacking each other or shooting themselves in the foot. Despite this confusion, there have been other restatements of broadly the same objectives as set out by the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations quoted e a r l i e r. For example, the Institute on Religion and Democracy offers the following guidelines to individuals, churches, and Christian o rg a n i s a t i o n s: 1. ‘Seek to understand Islam and Muslim peoples. Most U.S. churchgoers know little about Islam. If our churches are to show Christ’s love effectively to our Muslim neighbours (near and far), we must clear away misconceptions and gain accurate insights into Muslim beliefs and practices. 2. ‘Open ourselves to talk with all varieties and stations of M u s l i m s . Of course, we recognise that some Muslims will decline the invitation to dialogue. But we must let them make that choice… 3. ‘Give testimony to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is our duty to do so… 4. ‘Make sure that the Christians entering into dialogue with Muslims have a firm grasp of an orthodox faith in the mainstream of the Christian tradition… Churches do no favour to the Muslims by sending out Christian “repre- sentatives” whose own faith is uncertain, confused, self- contradictory and who are unable to distinguish between confessional essentials and their own idiosyncratic views. 5. ‘Endeavour to have the Christian side of the dialogue represent not just the U.S. churches, but also the global CHRISTIAN MUSLIM DIALOGUE AND CRITICISM 45The Review of Religions – January 2005 Christian community. It would be preferable to have persons in attendance who could address Islam from an African or Asian Christian perspective – particularly Christians who have lived as a minority group within predominantly Muslim nations. … 6. ‘ A ffirm some points of theology and morality that Islam and Christianity have in common… 7. ‘Address the deep differences between Islam and C h r i s t i a n i t y. Most basically, these relate to the person of Jesus Christ, who is at the centre of our Christian f a i t h … . In addressing these d i fferences, Christians show themselves wiser and more winsome when they place their emphasis on positive a ffirmations of their own Christian faith… 8. ‘ Work together with some Muslims on certain public issues in which we and they may have similar concerns (for instance, free exercise of religion in the United States, opposition to abortion, and promotion of refugee resettlement)… 9. ‘Find ways in which our churches might practically show the love of Christ by being of service to our Muslim neighbours, here in the U.S. and internationally… 10. ‘Discuss concepts of democracy, human rights, and religious freedom, as promulgated in international covenants to which most Muslim nations have sub- scribed. U.S. Christians should discuss how we find these concepts in accord with our Christian faith, how western societies developed these concepts historically, and the benefits that they have brought our societies. 11. ‘Allow the open expression of concerns, fears, and grievances regarding the other party in the d i a l o g u e . A dialogue cannot advance very far unless it addresses the problems that each side perceives in the o t h e r. U.S. Christians must expect to hear Muslim complaints about the medieval crusades, modern western CHRISTIAN MUSLIM DIALOGUE AND CRITICISM 46 The Review of Religions – January 2005 imperialism and contemporary American society… Muslims must take primary responsibility for their own societies, as the historian Bernard Lewis argues. 12. ‘Intercede for fellow Christians (and other religious minorities) who suffer persecution or restriction in predominantly Muslim nations. P a r t i c u l a r concerns relate to bans on religious proselytism or conversion, state attempts to restrict or control religious activities, attempts to subject Christians to Islamic s h a r i a, and other legal and political structures that treat Christians as second-class d h i m m i… Christians in Muslim nations ought to enjoy the same freedoms that Muslims do in the West…’ In Christian-Muslim dialogue, it is inappropriate and damaging to: 1. ‘Attempt to meld Christianity and Islam, pretending that they have the same basic teachings and that the diff e r e n c e s between the two are merely trivial points of theology. 2. ‘…If Christians do participate in inter-faith org a n i s a t i o n s , these should be merely forums for dialogue and channels of limited cooperation – not bodies that pretend to a false unity where none exists. 3. ‘Try to formulate and celebrate common acts of worship… 4. ‘Expect that all blame for Christian-Muslim conflicts can be assigned to parties in the dialogue. The conflicts are too complicated and long-standing, and the dialogue too incom- plete, for this assumption to h o l d . As Paul Marshall observes, “The Muslims who actually participate in dialogue are not usually the ones engaged in murder, kidnapping or the rape of Christian women” (Their Blood Cries Out, p. 220)… We must not imagine that the differences between Islam and Christianity can be reduced to particular clashes. 5. ‘Speak of the world as if it were neatly divided into spheres of influence, Muslim and Christian (and other), with no overlap or movement between the spheres. ..We cannot accept CHRISTIAN MUSLIM DIALOGUE AND CRITICISM 47The Review of Religions – January 2005 the notion that there is an “Islamic world” in which western Christians have no right to “meddle”… 6. ‘ Talk only to elite Muslim scholars and religious officials who present a ‘textbook version’ of Islam. It may be even more important to know the “popular Islam” as it is practised on the street. We may learn more, and have a more fruitful conversation, by going to the local Muslim grocer than by going to the imam at the mosque. 7. ‘Play political games inside the Muslim community, elevating leaders that we Christians favour and ignoring those that we dislike. 8. ‘Assume that dialogue, in itself, is the solution to the theological and political issues between Christians and Muslims. Dialogue may clarify the real issues and remove some imagined issues. It may enable Christians and Muslims to work together more readily on matters where cooperation is possible. Mutual ignorance is a problem between Christians and Muslims; however, it is not the deepest problem. As Paul Marshall remarks, “The [extreme Islamist] people engaged in persecution are neither stupid nor u n e d u c a t e d … . We will not understand persecution if we think it is a mere mis- understanding to be resolved through more education and chatty conferences” (T h e i r Blood Cries Out, p. 220).’ One can see that these guidelines have very many miles to go yet because they do not engender a healthy dialogue but allow the positions of the participants in a dialogue to continue to maintain their own views with extreme r i g i d i t y. This is the preservation instinct of the caveman that we mentioned earlier. Then the concept of reciprocity assumes that what happens in some Arab states is representative of Islam whereas they have their own political agendas for preserving their governments. Reciprocity also begins to re-identify Christianity as a religion of the We s t and Islam as a religion of merely the Middle East although even within the Arab world, there are Arab Christians and Arab Muslims. CHRISTIAN MUSLIM DIALOGUE AND CRITICISM 48 The Review of Religions – January 2005 Man likes praise but he is averse to criticism no matter from which angle it hails. It seems that everyone enjoys ridiculing the Muslim, his beliefs and what he stands for. Some of these include Muslims themselves who because of their misguided notions about Jihad possibly pose the biggest threat to Islam today. There has been a flood of books and articles and internet pages which have unfortunately reduced the tiny thread that seemed to exist and that could possibly have promoted Christian- Muslim dialogue to breaking point. Living under the canopy of the only superpower there is, many Christians and Jews have begun to recycle the most irresponsible rubbish attacking the teachings of the Holy Qur’an or the life and character of the Holy Prophet of Islam( s a ). For example, in H i s t o ry of Islam, Muhammad, Muslims, Jins and the Koran (p.4) o n w w w. b i b l e p r o b e . c o m it says, ‘The Koran teaches that the world is flat. This doctrine is believed by Islamic scholars even today.’ Also that, ‘Mohammed was in fact a terrorist, criminal and murderer whose entire life was based on victimising innocents and indulging in mindless violence, carnage and massacre.’ (Ibid, p.10) [We spare our readers the rest of this article.] Is this the form of responsible dialogue that can promote understanding between two of the world’s leading faiths? In view of these expressions, some have begun to question whether there can be any meaningful dialogue between the dominant and the subordinated. When it comes to ideology, Islam does not consider itself in any form inferior to any other religion ( C h . 4 : V.126). It openly claims that it is a universal religion whereas others are not (Ch.7:V159; C h . 1 0 : V. 5 8; C h . 2 2 : V. 5 0; C h . 3 4 : V 2 9 . It claims that it is based on the truth and truth must triumph. Islam claims that Muslims are the best of people ( C h . 3 : V. 111). Therefore, it must certainly be able to stand up against any allegation or falsehood no matter from which quarter. Unfortunately, that is not a lesson that Christianity, despite its dwindling flocks, has yet learnt. Attacking a wounded lion is a dangerous strategy. How should Muslims respond in this climate? The Holy Qur’an had forewarned the Muslims many centuries before: You shall be surely tried in your possessions and in your persons and you shall surely hear many hurtful things from those who were given the Book before you CHRISTIAN MUSLIM DIALOGUE AND CRITICISM 49The Review of Religions – January 2005 and those who set up equals to Allah. But if you show fortitude and act righteously, that indeed is a matter of stro n g determination. (Ch.3:V.187) Muslims are urged to tolerate things with patience but to be vigilant and not drop their guard: (The God-fearing) supre s s anger and pardon men.’ (Ch.3: V.135) And revile not those whom they call beside Allah, lest they, out of spite, revile Allah in ignorance. (Ch.6: V.109) O ye who believe! Be steadfast and strive to excel in steadfastness and be on your guard and fear Allah that you may prosper. (Ch.3:V.201) Then the Muslims are urged to have a party of people who can respond to the attacks of the enemy in a responsible manner: And let there be among you a body of men who should invite to goodness, and enjoin equity and forbid evil. And it is they who shall prosper. (Ch. 3:105) So when Islam talks of co-operation amongst other faiths, it is on the principles of goodness, enjoining equity and forbidding evil and there is plenty on this score where religious leaders can come together and create a better world society. A solution of how to respond to false allegations is perhaps best provided by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad( a s ) of Qadian (1835-1908) who claimed that he was the Messiah and Wo r l d Reformer awaited by people of most faiths. His contemporaries were busy issuing memoranda and memorials to the British govern- ment following the publication of the scurrilous U m m a h a t u l M o m i n e e n making some vile accusations against the wives of the Holy Prophet( s a ). The Promised M e s s i a h ’s( a s ) a rgument was that such memorials were self defeating and an admission of weakness on the part of Muslims. He argued that it was equally unwise that each person should begin to issue a retort against this book and instead he recommended that the person who responds should possess CHRISTIAN MUSLIM DIALOGUE AND CRITICISM 50 The Review of Religions – January 2005 qualities which are paraphrased very briefly as follows: 1) The person should command such expertise in the Arabic language that in any con- frontation, he should put to shame his opponent. He must be superior to his opponent in the understanding of God’s words and preferably should be acknowledged as an expert in Arabic in his country. When he enters into a debate with an opponent, the audience would at once recognise which of the two speaks with authority and who commands respect. 2) The person should not merely know a few Hadith (traditions), Fiqh (jurisprudence) and Tafseer (commentary) or be known as a Maulawi (priest) but he should be equipped with the God-given qualities of research, deliberation, sharp- wittedness, prompt response and adducing indisputable proofs. He should be a wise and pious person. 3) He should have reasonable knowledge of science, medicine, astronomy and geography because when pre- senting wonders of nature, such knowledge is indis- pensable. 4) He should be able to quote in Hebrew from that part of the Bible which deals with prophecies etc. A person who is conversant with Arabic should not find it too difficult to learn Hebrew. 5) The fifth condition is that the person should have a real contact with God and be sincere and loyal, and should be the beloved of God with sincerity, outward purity, high morals and wholly devoted to God because knowledge of the religion is from on-high and it is closely associated with righteousness, cleanliness and the love of God (Ch.56:V.80). 6) The sixth condition is know- ledge of history because this knowledge is very helpful in a debate. For instance, very few Muslims would know that Jesus(as) had five brothers born from the same mother, yet they did not believe in Jesus(as) and on the contrary had severe reservations about his truth. CHRISTIAN MUSLIM DIALOGUE AND CRITICISM 51The Review of Religions – January 2005 7) He should have some ability in logic and be eloquent in the art of debating because by their combination, the mind is sharpened. 8) The eighth prerequisite for written or oral debate is that the person should possess or have access to a vast treasure of books that are reliable and generally accepted for their authenticity and can shut the mouth of any clever and deceiving opponent. 9) The person should be free from other pursuits and be devoted to the service of his religion because it is difficult for one person to handle two things at the same time. 10) Finally, the tenth condition is that he should possess miraculous powers because in pursuit of true light and complete satisfaction a person is hungry for seeing miracles, e.g. through the acceptance of his prayers, these represent the final decision manifested in the presence of God Almighty. (A l B a l a g h or F a ryad Dard b y Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Promised Messiah, Ruhani Khazain Vol. 13 pp. 370-375) The Promised Messiah(as) stated that these memorials served the interest of the Christian priests who wanted that the Muslims should not act on their teaching: Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation and argue with them in a way that is best. Surely, thy L o rd knows best who has strayed away from His way; and He knows those who are rightly guided. (Ch.16:V.126) One hopes that the century that has just dawned on an enlightened man but has unfortunately started on the wrong foot as far as religious dialogue is concerned, shall quickly move away from the arguments and methodologies of centuries past. If the sheep has to drink from the same fountain as a wolf, then inter-faith dialogue must be based on recognising and respecting differ- ences and not attacking founders of religions with the same stick that we have used in the past. CHRISTIAN MUSLIM DIALOGUE AND CRITICISM