Previous posts in this discussion:
PostISLAM: Interfaith Dialogue, Separation of Mosque and State, Tolerance in the Qur'an (Vincent Littrell, Belgium) (John Eipper, USA, 05/11/06 9:05 am)
Vincent Littrell writes: I've stated in past postings it is my opinion that positive interfaith dialogue and the finding of common ground between faiths is essential for humanity in advancing the process of overcoming interreligious acrimony and violence. I've also stated that historical scholarship through examination of the earliest sources in terms of geographic and temporal proximity to the founder of a religion to further determine the truth of a religion is important as a facet of truth-seeking. However, it is also my view that such scholarship, if presented in such a way that it appears to be deliberatively undermining of interfaith harmony, can be problematic indeed. In regards to Islam in particular, those intelligentsia who devote tremendous energy towards polemic that disputes the idea that Islam is a tolerant religion for purposes of advancing an agenda not in concert with interfaith harmony or respect of the beliefs of Muslims (even if that polemic is derived from material that withstands certain types of scholarly scrutiny as to historical or academic credibility), despite the fact that so many high-minded and well educated Muslims believe their religion is tolerant, in my view can very much contribute to, rather than mitigate, the strategic problem of Muslim world/western tension.
I have myself in this forum made statements that might be construed as working against my own goal of interfaith harmony, such is the difficulty of this endeavor of interfaith dialogue. For example, I have in a past posting supported the notion of a separation of "mosque and state" in regards how the constitutions of Muslim countries are written. I have since found that such a statement without deeper explanation can be highly offensive to many even liberal, westernized, scholarly Muslims. I have, since my posting quoting and lending support to Columbia University Persian Studies Professor Hamid Dabashi in which he states that in order for Islam to survive metaphysically it must let go of political power, read Western Muslim scholars who (at least as I read them) consider such a statement arrogant and overly pro-Western and certainly not conducive to positive interreligious/intercultural dialogue. I have in past postings discussed the issue of "Seal of the Prophets" and how Muslim governments have a serious issue on their hands in regards how they treat post/extra-Islamic religion in light of the dogma of the finality of prophethood in regards the Prophet Muhammad. I believe the treatment of religious minorities in general by Islamic states is an issue of deep concern. I do believe that traditional notions of Shari'a and interpretations of Qur'anic Surah 33:40 ("Seal of the Prophets" Surah) within Islam are highly problematic in today's globalized society. However, I can see where a Muslim might take my comments about separation of "mosque and state" to mean that I support current en-vogue in the west interpretations of the concept of separation of established religion and state which many Muslims, even liberal ones (relative to traditional conservatives or Muslim neo-fundamentalist puritans), find morally problematic. When I advocate Islam's detachment from the reigns of political power, I personally am not necessarily advocating a complete separation of religion and state as is so decisively put forth in US Supreme Court Justice Black's 1947 decision in which he set forth the "metaphorical wall" paradigm of separation between the establishment of religion and state. I think interpretations of this Supreme Court decision though useful in many contexts from a purely national perspective, can get in the way of meaningful interfaith dialogue when such a metaphorical wall does not exist in the Muslim world (not even it might be argued in Turkey either despite the influence of Ataturk's view towards governance). I think there are multiple ways in which a separation of "mosque and state" or church and state might be viewed that does not necessarily support the notion of a metaphorical wall so emphatically put forth by Justice Hugh Black.
Many people confuse theological dogma, which I do believe should not be a part of governance, with essential morals that are the same in all the great faiths. Acknowledged essential morals might have a place in formal consideration by governing bodies and political decision-makers. Of course working through (for purposes of standardization) where the line exists between dogma and essential morality is a major and necessary objective of interfaith dialogue in my view. This confusion of dogma with essential morality in religion and even governance causes much human suffering, even today. In my thinking, the idea that essential morals might be more acceptable as having a place in influencing governance without actually violating the notion of established religion (read clergy and/or institutional religion and/or religious law) actually governing is one that more people should dialogue seriously on. Essential morality, in my view, as derived from religious thought that is supported by interfaith/secular humanist agreement might have a play (though not coercive or binding play) in political processes of the future. A secular governance that uses religious and secular humanist moral, dialogically influenced thought to bring about better decision-making is something in my view at least worth discussing. I would think such might find acceptance amongst many who believe current American and other "enlightenment" influenced notions of separation of religion and state to be immoral thereby alleviating tensions that have strategic implications. Some sort of formalized interfaith/humanist philosophy council given recognition by national organs of governance as well as the international community and major religions might be an idea worth exploring. Such inclusion of moral thinking in a consultative/formal opinion though non-binding or coercive sense into the processes of decision making in governance, might well ameliorate Muslim general (though not necessarily always true) perceptions of westerners' lack of religiosity and overall immorality. This perception is an obstacle to better east/west relations and currently a major public diplomacy challenge for the United States.
Muslim scholars utilize the Qur'an to show that Islam is not adverse to interfaith dialogue. Despite the verses of the Qur'an that enjoin Muslims to fight others, including peoples of the book (such verses have to be read with historical context in mind and even esoterically) there are a large number of Qur'anic verses that enjoin tolerance, spirituality, and even interfaith dialogue according to many interpretations. I did state in a past posting that the entirety of the Qur'an, according to one eminent Muslim scholar whose lecture I attended, cannot be understood without understanding the first line of 113 of the 114 Surahs which states, "In the Name of God, The Compassionate, The Merciful."
Muslim scholar Dr. Reza Shah-Kazemi is one of many who presents Qur'anic verses that support the notion of interfaith dialogue and Islam's tolerance towards other religions. In his article "The Metaphysics of Interfaith Dialogue: A Qur'anic Perspective" (to be found at the following link: http://www.iis.ac.uk/view_article.asp?ContentID=101259) Dr. Shah-Kazemi quotes the following Surah as representative of Islam's inherent tolerance:"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)." (Surah 49:13) Dr. Shah-Kazemi presents the above Surah as proof-text of Islam's tolerance, divine ordainment of human diversity, necessity for dialogue, and the principle of peaceful co-existence. Dr. Shah-Kazemi ties the following Surahs to Surah 49:13 to amplify his point.
"To God belongs the East and the West; whithersoever ye turn, there is the presence of God. For God is All-Pervading, All-Knowing." (Surah 2:115)- "He is with you wherever ye be." (Surah 57:4) "Is He not encompassing all things?" (Surah 41:54) "He is the first and the last, the outward and the inward." (Surah 57:2)
Dr. Shah-Kazemi points out that the above Surahs have deeply spiritual connotations that at one level may be interpreted as emphasizing the absolute unity of God. Thus a metaphysical unity that transcends any notion of religious pluralism exists. God is in all things and beings. Thus the principle of God's unity alone requires man to look beyond the surface and to recognize the divine in all. Thus Muslims are to have a profound respect for the other as the divine is present in that other. Dr. Shah-Kazemi says that it is in the above verses that the spiritual foundations of courtesy are to be found, that "tolerance is organically related to the divine presence in all things, an apprehension of the inner holiness of all that exists."
When I read Sufic literature (especially the writings of Jalaluddin Rumi whose humility and respect towards members of other faiths is legendary) and Muslim spiritual writings as well as the Qur'an, I find a tolerance and spirituality that does not match others' use of the Qur'an as proof-text of Islam's lack of tolerance. The spiritual depths plumbed or heights reached by the Qur'an are themselves, in my view, indicators that the historical sources pointing to the intolerance and lack of fairness of the historical Muhammad are at the very least questionable, and frankly in my view, incorrect.