Anthropologists tell me that the “human experience” of religion has been a phenomenon that has occurred in all people since the time of recorded history. In fact, many archeologists suggest that even those human beings of “unrecorded history” have left us artifacts that also tell us that a true part of our common human experience is that we creatures have always sensed an awareness of a greater whole and that “the whole” are aware and are dependent on “the One God” who created us and provides us with what we need. Before we had the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, and the Holy Qur’an, we sensed that there must be a God. It seems that “atheism” (the denial of God) is not a natural belief. Rather, it is a “created” belief by humanity and it is taught.
Social Anthropology and Religion
Social Anthropologists teach that we really are “one community” and before the last Ice Age (about 16,000 years ago), we did know each other. In the year 1492, we started to explore (or really re-explore) God’s world, we did not recognize one another. Instead of celebrating in a grand “family reunion,” we started fighting one another, stealing from one another, and plundering one another for wealth! This we were doing to one another long before we knew of that predatory economic system — capitalism — that many Western Christians must know is in the Bible — but it is not.
And so today, in 2016, we are still fighting with one another, stealing from one another, and claiming that my religion is right; so, yours must be wrong. I belong to God and you do not.
Pause for a moment. What is the one, common, human truth? It is this. God is One. God is real. God is the Creator. And we are the creatures.
Since 1492, we have been “reintroduced to one another” and we now have a concept of “World Religions” which are the “revealed religions.” Revealed Religions are given to us by Prophets. But before I give you a very brief summary of “Interfaith Dialogue,” I want to say something about Islam.
As you know, I am a retired clergyman in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I have a deep affection, love, and respect for the Qur’an, islam, and especially, Shia Islam. People who know me refer to me as a “Presbyterian Shia” and I love it! I take this as a statement of respect. In fact, this is what I believe that were Imam Ali (AS), with us today, he would say to me, “well done! This is what God wanted.”
Myth vs Reality
Now here is the point.
Islam promotes tolerance, respect, and understanding more than one would think.
This is true. Neither Judaism or Christianity do, have, or have done. In fact, their history (except Middle East Christians) suggest just the opposite.
The Holy Qur’an has such wonderful statements as
“…….let there be no compulsion in matters of religion…..”
“…….the nearest to you in affection are the ‘People of the Book.'”
The Prophetic Hadith reminds us that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) made treaties with Jewish people and also the Christians of Najran. We also see that ibn Mansur, the grandfather of John of Damascus, the last Christian saint, welcomed the arrival of Muslims. The read on being that Muslims gave more rights to Christians (dhimmi) than neither Greek nor Latin Christians were willing to do.
In Abbasid Baghdad, Syriac Christians such as Yahya ibn Adi (a student of the great al Farabi) made great contributions go Islamic Philosophy.
There is also a whole corpus of Shia Hadith that makes reference to the tolerant teachings of both Prophet ‘Isa (AS) and Imam Ali (AS). Most Christians are unfortunately unaware of this aspect of Jesus. In the past 20 years, I have been inspired by this great wealth of knowledge!
Which brings us to our brief discussion of the history of Interfaith Dialogue. I want to say first of all that I want to dispel a common teaching in the West, which is this;
“……Jews, Christians, and Muslims have been fighting since time began….!”
Age of Apologetics
In fact, the best interfaith Dialogue I am aware of took place in Muslim Umayyad Spain (721 – 1492 AD) and Abbasid Baghdad (750 – 1258 AD)! In these two Muslim civilizations, Jews, Christians, and Muslims had authentic Interfaith Dialogue respecting the truth and veracity of ALL THREE FAITHS OF IBRAHIM.
But then came the Latin Western Crusades (11th century AD) and the Christian Inquisition in Spain (1492). Unfortunately, the new Western Christian rulers had another view of “Interfaith Dialogue” –
to return to the “Age of Apologetics” by which you learn the basics of another religion so that you may destroy it.
The word “apologetics” comes from two Greek words. “Apo” means against and “logos” means the word. Hence, the discipline of apologetics suggests that “one religion” is used to destroy and replace a “secondary religion.”
When I was a graduate student at the University of St Andrews, I read the many, many books on “Comparative Religions,” and “the Philosophy of Religion.” Although these books claimed to be guides to Interfaith Dialogue, they were from from it. Instead, they were “Western Imperial Religious guides” to conquest, occupation, and exploitation. They wanted to replace the local religion with Western Imperial Christianity.” This is false, devious, unfaithful, and WRONG!
The late Dr. Ali Shariati helps us to understand the essence of what Imperial Christianity was attempting o accomplish in Apologetics. Dr. Shariati gave two important lectures in the Iranian city Tehran during the 1950s. The two lectures became his famous work called “RELIGION VS RELIGION.” He argues that “….every battle which involves ‘religion vs irreligion’ is essentially a battle of two different religions in which one wishes to destroy the other….”
This is what happened in the first Christian century. In the first century BC, the Roman orator Cicero foresaw the destruction of the Roman Republic. He was correct. In 43 BC, the Roman Republic gave way to the Roman Empire. Cicero believed that the Romans had abandoned the traditional gods. Hellenistic (Greek thinking) Judaism was taking hold in the emerging Roman Empire. Religious fervor caused the assembling of large crowds which was something that the Romans feared.
In the first century AD, the Jewish sect of the “Nazareans” became the new Christian Religion in which “Prophet Jesus” was transformed into “the Divine Savior.” Once this occurred, Christian Apologetics was born. The early Christian Apologists could not gather in crowds, so they wrote, argued, and dialogued. The “fought” the religion (in Shariati’s terminology) of Pagan Rome, Judaism, Greek and Latin Philosophy (the North African Christian Apologist Tertullian famously asked ‘what does Jerusalem have to do with Athens’), and any other religion that got in their way.
In 313, Christian Apologetics could take a rest. Constantine was Emperor and Latin/Greek Christianity was now the Imperial Religion. What that meant was that Church Doctrine would now be decided by Imperial Church Councils. Imperial Christian Rome now “conquered” pagan religions as well as non Western Christian Religions. Augustine would employ the Roman Military to conquer that North African Berber Donatist Church. About 200 years later, the Donatists welcomed the Muslims who freed them from the Latin Church. Less than 50 years before the coming of Islam, the Byzantine Greek Christian Emperor Justinian was told the following by Deacon Ageptetus: “…..you, sir, are the likeness of the Kingdom of God on earth…..”
That is what occurred to the West African Muslim slaves who were stolen from their homeland and forced to work in the New World. The supporters of the slave trade sought to crush the Islamic Faith of the West Africans and replace it with a “false religion” which was called “slave Christianity.”
As bad as this was, I think that it is true to say that African Americans today still remember that time in which they were first Muslims.
Christian Apologetics came to an end in 661 and not a shot was fired. The tolerant Muslims were welcomed as “liberators” by persecuted Christians. The rulers of Islam gave protection status to non Western Christians. What this meant was, thanks to Islam, true Interfaith Dialogue began to take place!
In closing, let me tell you something that Western Christians ought to know. In the New Testament, we find the Gospel of John. The fourth chapter provides us with the longest teaching discourse of Jesus. It is the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. This text has been grossly misinterpreted in that it has not gone far enough in the interpretation.
Yes, it does speak of the rights of women, the Unity of God, the truth that God is Lord of all. But where it falls short is that it also gives to Christians both a theology and a basis for Interfaith Dialogue — the authentic dialogue that we should all undertake.
You see, Samaritan Religion and Judaism were both Religions of Ibrahim just as Islam and Christianity are both Religions of Ibrahim. History teaches, however, that both fought, argued and neglected to see the common roots that they both had. In fact, Jesus fid what most observant Jews would not do. He set foot in Samaria. He made his point to the Samaritan women. God is one, Jews and Samaritans are one people, and true worship of God could be anywhere!!
This passage gives us a blueprint for Interfaith Dialogue. The “Muslim Jesus” is the Jesus that Christians must get to know. If we do this, we will all rediscover one another and move to that place that God so desires.