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It Is only Islam that Has a Political Theology of Co-Existence with Non-Muslims

Of all the religions that I have studied it is only Islam that has a political theology of co-existence with those who are non-Muslims, said Abdulaziz Sachedina in an interview with Ijtihadnet.

What follows is an interview with Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, Professor and IIIT Chair in Islamic Studies at George Mason University in Fairfax:

Interviewed by M.J.Ostadi

Nowadays everyone talks about the dialogue in the Muslim world. Due to the Islamic approach, what is your definition of dialogue?

The term DIALOGUE is overused, since in many instances it is only MONOLOGUE.  The precondition in any dialogue is the acknowledgement of the two “dialoging” parties to be equal and mutually respectful.  My observation during my long years’ experience is that most of the dialogues are initiated by the parties that want to assert their equality or even superiority to the other party.  Hence, it does not achieve the goals organizers have in mind.

Why the dialogue is so important?

Dialogue is important because it gives all the parties involved a sense of equality.  When former president of Iran, introduced the “Dialogue of Civilizations” it had similar objectives.  But the West never acknowledged the equality of Muslim world with the West.  The usual political divide between the North (civilized world) and the South (developing world) became even sharper.  Hence the dialogue failed to achieve its goals.  Lot of money was wasted in putting up the “show” without achieving anything meaningful.

What are the requirements for dialogue formation?

Dialogue must have an objective of building “bridges of understanding” without engaging in superiority/inferiority claims and counter-claims.  Dialogue is an opportunity to voice differences without being aggressive or demeaning to other parties.

What is the main purpose of dialogue among different Islamic movements? What are the outcomes of the dialogue?

I have always maintained that Muslim “internal” dialogue has not begun in earnest.  It is highly politicized and every group is trying to score points against rivals groups, discrediting them and even “demonizing” them as “kuffar”.  We are still awaiting sincere and truthful dialogue to happen between different “mazahib” in Islam; between Shia and Sunni; between radicals and moderates; between serious men and women to respect each other and recognize the principle” “Live and let live!”

Dialogue is a social and communicative category. What is the impact of intra-religious dialogue on the social and communicative spheres of the Islamic world?

Unfortunately, there is no truthful and sincere conversation and communication between groups.  I know of several European countries, including Vatican, bringing together religious leaders from all religions and talk about the commonalities and “brotherhood” among world traditions and cultures.  But nothing gets percolated to the average believer in a community.  These believers continue to have exclusionary claims of salvation and deep hatred of other sects and religion.  Little wonder why things in Sri Lanka or Burma are not working for the average faith community.  Dialogue needs institutionalization and serious commitment on the part of the leaders to have an impact on the average follower of their tradition.

What is the Islamic doctrine upon dialogue (as a culture)?

Islam developed in the world of religious pluralism and taught its members to act morally upright and respect all human beings as “equal in creation” (*nazirun laka fil-khalq).  Of all the religions that I have studied it is only Islam that has a political theology of co-existence with those who are non-Muslims.  The principle is laid down in concrete terms in Sura Hujurat that no individual or community has a right to deride and look down upon another community or individual.  No religion is better than another in the eyes of God.  All human beings shall return to the same God who created all humanity.

Today, dialogue has been badly damaged among Islamic movements. What is the solution to this problem?

The solution is to stop “politicization” of the dialogue movement.  Let us stop using such occasions for conversation into a political platform to claim the superiority of one culture over the other.  Let us admit in all honesty that we need to sit in “self-critical-assessment” of ourselves before we criticize others (hasib nafsak qabla tu-hasib ghayrak).

What is the relationship between ethics and dialogue?

Ethics is the heart of dialogue.  It is ethics that can stop “politicization” of this noble institute in furthering better human relationships.  It is ethics that can prevent us from “dehumanizing” and “demonizing” those with whom we disagree.

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