("In Islam we are urged to make dialogue with all people and especially with the people of the book," Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi said in remarks Feb. 13, 2001, during the West Coast Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims. He is co-chairman of the group and is director of the Islamic Center of Orange County in Garden Grove, Calif. The dialogue group met at the Center for Spiritual Development in Orange, Calif. The Islamic leader said that "Islam has given us some directions and guidelines for dialogue," among them a call for honesty and clarity; "in dialogue one must speak the truth, be sincere and assume that the other person is also sincere and telling the truth." Dr. Siddiqi said that "in order to increase interreligious harmony, peace and cooperation, we must emphasize dialogue. We may differ on the issues of faith and practices, but we should never misrepresent each other's faith. We should not be involved in distorting the teachings of other faiths and defaming other people. We must not dub other faiths and its adherents as terrorists and fundamentalists. Let us deal with the problems instead of getting involved in propaganda." And, he said, "we must be practical and see what we can do to solve the real problems of oppression and injustice in different parts of the world." This text and introduction was first published in Origins: CNS Documentary Service 30, 41 [March 29, 2001], and appears here with the permission of Origins. Dr. Siddiqi's text follows.)
Peace be unto all of you.
We are indeed very pleased and honored to have you here this evening. We welcome you on behalf of our community in Orange County and in Southern California.
We consider this dialogue a very important step in building our relationship here. We thank the Catholic participants who took the initiative last year and invited us for two days' dialogue at their center in the city of Orange. Today we also met for the second time, and we had our discussions during the day.
The purpose of these meetings is:
To increase our communication with each other for better understanding, to remove stereotypes, hatred and violence.
To find ways and means of cooperation for the benefit of our communities and for humanity at large.
To promote justice and peace in the world.
To collaborate in programs and activities to promote values of goodness and virtue in the society.
Islam Urges Muslims to Dialogue
In Islam we are urged to make dialogue with all people and especially with the people of the book. Dialogue in Islam is not only permissible, but it is highly recommended and it is one of the best ways of communication with others.
Dialogue comes from our deep conviction that all human beings are one family. Allah says in the Qur'an: "O mankind! Be conscious of the Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from them twain scattered [like seeds] countless men and women; be aware of Allah, through whom you demand your mutual [rights] and [reverence] the wombs [that bore you]: for Allah ever watches over you" (Al-Nisa' 4:1).
Allah cares for all people. For their guidance he sent many prophets among all nations and peoples of the world. "For we assuredly sent among every people a messenger [with the command], 'Serve Allah, and eschew evil': Of the people were some whom Allah guided, and some on whom error became inevitably [established]. So travel through the earth and see what was the end of those who denied [the truth]" (Al-Nahl 16:36).
The coming of prophet Muhammad - peace be upon him - as the last prophet and messenger of Allah was a sign of Allah's mercy to the world. He was rahmatun lil-'alamin [a mercy to the worlds]." (Al-Anbiya' 21:107).
Allah did not force people to accept his prophets and messengers. The prophets were told to communicate the message to their people. Da'wah, Tabligh, Hiwar etc. are all ways to communicate the message. These are the basic ways of communication, and they are the only ways permissible. Aggression is never allowed in matters of faith.
The basic principle of dialogue is in the Qur'an: "Say: 'O people of the book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords and patrons other than Allah.' If then they turn back, say: 'Bear witness that we [at least] are Muslims [bowing to Allah's will]'" (Al 'Imran 3:64).
Proper Manner of Dialogue
Islam has given us some directions and guidelines for dialogue. The following points are based on the guidance of the Qur'an and Sunnah:
Honesty and sincerity: In dialogue one must speak the truth, be sincere and assume that the other person is also sincere and telling the truth. This develops trust between the partners in dialogue, and they can engage in dialogue with confidence.
Courtesy: One should also speak with courtesy. This means that one should give a chance to others also to speak. Speaking and listening both are important.
Understanding: One must try to understand the other. One must allow the other person to define himself and his position.
Positive criticism: It is not against the spirit of dialogue.
Obtain as much agreement as possible: If the other person does not agree fully, then try to obtain as much agreement as possible. One can build on positive foundations.
Patience: One must be patient when one sees the other person having difficulty in understanding one's position. One should answer the objections in a polite manner.
Pleasant and serious: One must be pleasant, but also serious.
A loving, kind, gentle and generous approach must be used in dialogue.
Prayer and sincere devotion to Allah: One should always keep Allah in mind and heart and seek his help and guidance.
Our Hope in Dialogue
It is important that we work for peace and harmony in the world.
But we must not forget that justice is essential for peace. There can be no lasting peace without justice. Our traditions teach us that no prayer is efficacious when there is injustice and oppression.
We must work to establish a system of justice and righteousness in social relations, in economics, in politics, in military buildups, in national and international relations.
The world today is facing some major problems: the breakdown of the family system, increasing immorality, racialism and the prevalence of the culture of violence. We must focus our attention to see how to revive moral values, traditional family values, how to bring peace and harmony among races and ethnic groups, and how to remove violence from all societies in the world.
In order to increase interreligious harmony, peace and cooperation, we must emphasize dialogue. We may differ on the issues of faith and practices, but we should never misrepresent each other's faith. We should not be involved in distorting the teachings of other faiths and defaming other people. We must not dub other faiths and its adherents as terrorists and fundamentalists. Let us deal with the problems instead of getting involved in propaganda.
We must be practical and see what we can do to solve the real problems of oppression and injustice in different parts of the world.
Thank you very much. May God bless this gathering and bless us all with wisdom and righteous actions.