International Symposium on Cultural Diversity, the Quest for

Common Moral Ground and the Public Role of the Media

 

Is there a Common Moral Basis for Inter-cultural Understanding?

 

By

IMAM Dr Abduljalil Sajid

Chairman Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK

8 Caburn Road Hove BN3 6EF (UK)

Tel: 01273 722438 /299345 FAX: 01273 326051

Email: sajid@imamsajid.com

 

Bismillah Hir Rahma Nir Rahim (I begin with name of God the Most Kind the Most Merciful). I greet you with the greetings of Islam (Assalamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakathu (May God’s blessing and peace be with us all.)

 

I am honoured -- and deeply humbled -- to be invited to speak to you this afternoon. I brought the greetings of British Muslims and our national umbrella organisation Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) Secretary General Bother Iqbal Sacranie MBE

 

Let me begin from the very outset to clarify Islam from Muslim. Most people treat Islam and Muslims as synonymous and mutually interchangeable terms, often saying Islam where they ought to say Muslims and vice versa. In my opinion the word “Islam” should be used exclusively for the “Way of Life” based upon divine sources: The Book known as Qur’an, “the word of God” and Sunnah, “the proven practices of the Prophet” (peace and blessing of God be upon him). Muslims” as human beings are free to abide or deviate from Divine Guidance as they feel fit according to their own conscience. Islam has never claimed to be a new faith. It is the same faith that God ordained with the creation of the first man sent to earth. Islam confirms almost all Biblical and Hebrew Prophets as the Prophets of Islam and their messages as the messages of Islam as long as they are confirmed in the Qur’an, the Book of Islam. The moral and ethical code of Islam is similar to Judaism, Christianity and many other major world faiths. The only difference is in theology, concepts and practices, in the methods of worship of the One and the Only One God and methodology of how morality and ethics should govern all spheres and aspects of our human life.

 

Some Muslim might agree with the assertion, made by Daniel Johnson in The Daily Telegraph, on 12 September 2001, that Muslims are required by the Qur’an to believe that Jews and Christians will be “mustered into Gehennam.”[1] They forget that in the Sahîfat al-Madinah, also knwn as the Constitution of Medina, the Prophet Muhammad legislated for a multi-religious society, based on tolerance, equality, and justice, many centuries before such an idea existed any where in the world. Indeed early Muslim society is more pluralistic in a religious. Under the terms of this document each religious group enjoyed cultural and legal autonomy. The Jews and Christians were equal before laws with Muslims. There was no clause demanding their subjection. They were bound by the same duties as the other parties to the contract; together they formed a single community, or ummah, a word that is now used almost exclusively with reference to the Muslim community.

 

I must admit that Muslims have failed to publicise the pluralistic vision of Islam. As Murad Hofmann has said, “it is essential that the Western media and those who exert an influence on public opinion should be made aware of the true Islamic model of religious pluralism.”[2]

 

The Qur’an not only conveys a message of peace, tolerance, and compassion; it provides mankind with a global framework for co-operation and a charter for inter-faith dialogue. It repeatedly stresses that all peoples on earth have had their prophets and messengers, and that multiplicity of every kind — religious, cultural, or ethnic — is part of God’s magnificent design: “And among His wonders is…the diversity of your tongues and colours” (30: 22); “To each [community] among you have We appointed a law and a way of life. And if God had so willed, He could have made you one community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you…So compete with one another in doing good works, for to God you will all return, and He will inform you about that wherein you differ” (5: 48).

 

This means that prophetic guidance is not limited to any one community, period, or civilisation. So Muslims — if they are true to their faith — do not claim a monopoly of the truth, or a monopoly of revelation: “And indeed, within every community have We raised up an apostle [with this message]: ‘Worship God and shun the powers of evil’” (16: 36). Like Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad did not come to establish a new religion, but to recapitulate the teachings of those prophets, or messengers, who had preceded him. He came to remind us of our status in the divine scheme of things as God’s servants and deputies. As the Prince of Wales said, in “A Reflection on the Reith Lectures for the Year 2000,” we have failed to live up to this “sacred trust between mankind and our Creator, under which we accept our duty of stewardship for the earth.” [3]

 

The actions of a few Muslim fanatics have been interpreted as vindicating the old idea that Islam promotes violence. All too often in the media the word “terrorism” is coupled with the adjective “Islamic.” If Islam were really, as some suppose, a religion of fire and sword, why would “the true servants of the Most Merciful” be defined in the Qur’an as “those who walk gently on earth and who, when the ignorant address them, say ‘Peace’” (25: 63)? Why would Muslims be admonished to greet one another, on all occasions, with the words, “Peace be with you and God’s mercy and blessings”? It is clearly stated in the Qur’ân: “There shall be no compulsion in religion” (2: 256). This disproves the fallacy that Islam imposes on the non-Muslim the choice between conversion and the sword. According to the Qur’an, “God does not love aggressors” (2: 190), and war is only permitted in self-defence, or in defence of religion. If people did not have such a right, then, “monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques, in which God’s name is much remembered, would surely have been destroyed by now” (22: 40). This means that military action is justified against an enemy who destroys a place where God is worshipped. It is also said in the Qur’an that those who are oppressed, or who have been unjustly driven from their homelands, have a duty to fight.[4] 

 

However, when the opportunity for peace arises, Muslims are encouraged to be forgiving and to seek reconciliation, for mercy and compassion are God's chief attributes: “Whoever pardons [his foe] and makes peace, his reward rests with God.” (42: 40). This is why Muslims are taught to dedicate themselves constantly to God’s service with the words, “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” Since the word Islam means “submission,” from the same root as salâm, “peace,” a Muslim is simply a person who attempts to find inner peace by submitting to God’s will: “He guides to Himself all those who turn to Him — those who believe, and whose hearts find their rest in the remembrance of God — for, truly, in the remembrance of God hearts do find their rest” (13: 27-28). War in itself is never holy, and if the lesser jihad of war is not accompanied by what the Prophet Muhammad called “the greater jihad,” the struggle to control the lower instincts and the whims of the ego, then war may be diabolical.

 

The following principles may be derived from the Qur’an.

 

First of all, Muslims should not ridicule the beliefs of others: “But do not revile those whom they invoke instead of God, lest they revile God out of spite, and in ignorance: for We have made the deeds of every people seem fair to them. In time, they must return to their Lord, and then He will make them understand what they have done” (6: 108).

 

Secondly, Muslims should not associate with those who ridicule our faith: “Do not take for your friends such as mock at your faith and make a jest of it…they are people who do not use their reason” (5: 57-58).

 

Thirdly, when Muslims address those who do not share our beliefs, we should speak with courtesy: “And do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in a most kindly manner” (29: 46).

 

Fourthly, Muslims should invite people to use their reason, appealing to the intellect to interpret God’s words, because there is no contradiction between faith and reason: “O People of Scripture, why do you argue about Abraham, seeing that the Torah and the Gospels were not revealed till long after him? Will you not, then, use your reason?” (3: 65).

 

Above all, within the bounds of propriety — no backbiting or blasphemy — there must be freedom of opinion and discussion both with those who hold other religious views and with those who share our faith  — for if we cannot appreciate diversity within our own religious community, we will certainly not be able to value religious diversity.[5] The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: “The differences of opinion among the learned within my community are [a sign of God’s] grace.” If Muslims were to follow these principles, they would become once again a“community of the middle way” (Qur’an, 2: 143), exercising moderation and avoiding all extremes.[6]

 

It needs to be said, however, that before one can begin to apply these principles there has to be the willingness to listen and to engage in dialogue, and there has to be some degree of mutual respect and equality between the two parties. When there is a gross disparity of wealth, power and privilege, such as exists between Israel and Palestine, dialogue is very difficult. In fact the arrogance and selfishness of the rich nations, and the ever-widening gap between them and the rest of the world, generate feelings of resentment and discontent. In Islam a rich man does not merely have a duty to distribute some of his wealth to the poor, but the poor have a right to a share in his wealth. The discrepancy between the rich nations and the poor is now so great that the wealth of the world’s three richest families is said to be equal to that of 600 million people living in the world’s poorest countries.[7]

 

We now have to make a choice — individually and collectively — between confrontation and dialogue, between destruction and construction, between war and diplomacy. True global cooperation will not be possible until we recover an awareness of the ecumenical, ecological and ethical principles that are at the heart of every spiritual tradition. In most of the world’s trouble spots — in Palestine, Kashmir, Gujarat, and Chechnya — Muslims have been massacred and tortured and denied their most basic rights – freedom, independence and dignity of life. In Iraq thousands of children have died of cancer as a result of international community’s sanctions, or as a result of polluted drinking water and malnutrition, and thousands more may now be in danger of losing their lives due to occupation of foreign armies. In Afghanistan thousands of innocent people died as a result of US bombing. Not unnaturally Muslims feel that they have been treated unjustly by what is euphemistically called “the world community.”

 

Those who see religious, cultural and ethnic diversity as a blessing, and who share the view of the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that “no one creed has a monopoly of spiritual truth; no one civilisation encompasses all the spiritual, ethical, and artistic expressions of mankind,”[8] must find the middle way between religious fanaticism and fanatical secularism. It is essential, as His Royal Highness Prince Hassan of Jordan has said, that we promote a dialogue of civilisations,[9] and that we should not allow extremists to highjack Islam or any other religion.[10] It is vitally important, especially in the light of current events, to refute those shallow secularists who regard religion itself as inevitably divisive, and to rediscover the ethical principles upon which all the great spiritual traditions are based. It is not simply a matter of respecting religious differences; we have to recover the practical spiritual wisdom that unites us and makes us human. As Martin Luther King said, “our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”[11] This vision of a just and peaceful multi-religious society can never be achieved without the active cooperation of the mass media.

 

The necessity of  mutual cooperation:

 

In my faith tradition the Holy Qur’an commands believers for interfaith co-operation “to come to common grounds” (3:64). As a Muslim I have been ordered to build good relations with all people of the world (49:13 & (16:40); work for peace everywhere and whenever possible with others (2:208) & 8:61); cooperate with others in furthering virtue and God–consciousness (5:2); seek and secure human welfare, promote justice and peace (4:114); do good to others (28:77) and not to break promises made to others (16:91). The Holy Qur’an tells believers that those who do good deeds and help others are the best creation (98:6). The Holy Prophet of Islam made it clear that “Religion is man’s treatment of other fellow-beings” (Bukhari & Muslim); and “the best among you is he who does good deeds in serving other people” (Ahmad & Tabrani).

The Prophet of Islam (May the peace of God be upon him) practiced this ideal for interfaith dialogue himself while talking to Jews, Christians and other faith traditions, as well as people with no faith on issues concerning life, death and relevant matters.  The Prophet of Islam confirmed this in writing explicitly in the Charter of Medina in 622 CE.  The Holy Qur’an not only recognized religious pluralism as accepting other groups as legitimate socio-religious communities but also accepting their spirituality. The preservation of the sanctity of the places of worship of other faiths is paramount in Islamic tradition (22:40).  The Holy Qur’an is full of many examples but time does not permit me to dwell on this.   

In Search of a Common Ground

Much controversy arises or is made out of the question of values; what is meant by 'values'? Which values are good and which bad, if any? Which values are to be tolerated even if their rightness is controversial? Has one a right to express and teach values? Can any science or doctrine be neutral with regard to values? These are key issues of psychic and social development, not facts merely to observe and describe. The essential goodness of human nature is ultimately something for us to reach out to together, through discovering, experiencing and further developing it personally. Progress in this direction invokes many kinds of feedback from others in one's personal sphere of experience, which strengthen the conviction that, despite all, values are a human heritage, while anti-values are but the result of ignorance as to our this heritage and shortcomings in so far discovering and pursuing our true destiny, whether individually or collectively.

The question that preoccupies us as implied by the theme is this: Can we find a common ground on which Muslims and non-Muslims stand comfortably in a democratic and pluralist society? My answer is a resounding yes.  The Qur’an directs the Muslims to find a common ground with other religious communities. This common ground is expressed as a mutual respect of the freedom and autonomy of different religious communities. That none should appropriate to them the right to impose their way of life on other religious communities. The Qur’an is also clear that there can be no force in matter religious. The Qur’an urges Muslims to seek a political order based on peaceful cooperation and mutual respect, and warns them against placing religious solidarity over covenanted rights and the principles of justice

Religious conflict, particularly between Islam and Christianity in the past, or more recent conflict between Israel and Palestine, more often than not rose out of human excesses and the desire to stir religious passion to support political goals. It is true that these Abrahamic religions (Islam / Judaism / Christianity) advance a slightly different conceptualisation of God and of humanity’s relation to the divine, but doctrinal differences are not limited to inter-religious relationships. One can find more doctrinal diversity within each of these world religions that between them.

Muslims, Jews and Christian share similar core values of respect of human life and dignity, and profound commitment to charity and the common good.  There are five common values in all major religions and faiths of World. That honesty and sincerity, compassion and love, sacrifice and selflessness, a sense of justice and a sense of fairness, patience and perseverance are values which all religions cherish is to state the obvious. Likewise, there is no religion that does not regard human dignity and mutual respect, modesty and humility, moderation and restraint, a sense of balance, and a sense of propriety as vital aspects of a flourishing civilisation. Industry and diligence are important attributes. So are kindness and courtesy. The world has become a fairly stable multi-religious society as a result of political, economic and cultural policies and arrangements which have sought to accommodate the interests and aspirations of the different communities. But there are new challenges which demand new strategies for bridging the chasm that separates the communities. Harnessing the common values embodied in the religions of the nation is one such strategy that deserves our consideration.

Golden Rule:

 

"Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself". It is noteworthy that most religions base their moral code on the highly effective Golden Rule:

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful (Udana-Varga 5:18)

Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)

Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you. (Mahabharata 5:1517)

Confucianism: Surely it is the maxim of loving kindness: Do not unto others what you would not have them do to you (Analects 15:23)

Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not god for itself. Good thoughts, good words and good deed are the bases of good life.

The Christian faith actually uses two complimentary rules: The (ineffective) Biblical "Golden Rule" which proclaims: "All things whatsoever ye would that man should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets" (Matt 7:12). However, the (effective) Ten Commandments are framed in the negative, as all moral codes must be in order to be effective.

Islam: “No one is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” (Sunnah) This moral code is also a version of the Golden Rule. It is very ineffective. It is obeyed very selectively and ambiguously. Clearly, it is based on the unrealistic assumption that your brother has precisely the same needs and wants as you do.

If we wish to live in harmony with others and never give rise to a conflict with others, we must convert the "Golden Rule" into practice:"Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to yourself"..

Good deeds and Moral values:

 

As a Muslim I believe that faith in the broadest sense includes all that is good in life, and Islam emerged as a moral challenge for humanity to respond to the call of the faith with active submission to Divine Will, with a commitment to obey the Creator in providing welfare to all beings in the society without any consideration to race, gender, language, colour, culture, physical build or ethnic origin. The goal of Islam - of its concepts, worship and teachings relating to values, attitudes, morals and behaviour - is to create an Islamic personality of an individual Muslim preparing himself for a wider role in this life. Belief in Islam is not a simple assent to a dogma. All Islamic beliefs have a reference to an action. Good actions become a part of Islamic faith, which leads to a more virtuous life. Man is thus accountable for his own actions and behaviour. Humans have the responsibility to choose and implement a moral and righteous life in obedience to God's commandments for common good

 

The Quran and teachings of the Prophet of Islam strongly suggest that Faith without the backing of good deeds is meaningless. Faith based on Aqida (belief system) leads towards good deeds and good deeds prepare a man for a full Islamic personality. Islamic concepts of Taqwa (God Consciousness), Falah (well being) and Hayat Tayyibiah (good life) facilitate the realisation of an Islamic personality - when a Muslim seriously pursues the broader goals of the creation believing that mankind is but one community and striving hard with others for freedom, justice, and peace. It is upon an individual Muslim to build Islamic qualities, values and morals such as brotherliness, sincerity, honesty, truthfulness, pursuit of knowledge, responsibility, integrity, fair dealing, keeping promises, discipline and self-control, humility, patience, courage, thankfulness, modesty, honour and self-respect, warmth and lovingness, generosity, hospitality, charitableness, kindness, helpfulness, respect, tolerance and mutual understanding, obeying the commandments and abstaining from the prohibitions. These attributes transcend religious belief.

 

Collectively on a community level, a Muslim's obligation is to establish what is right and eradicating what is wrong; Strive for an Islamic identity supporting, promoting and protecting a Muslim way of family life; Dealing with health and educational issues and for the creation of a condition wherein perseverance of mutual compassion and well-being prevail for the benefit of the individual. On national and international levels a Muslim must work towards a better and peaceful world. With their own actions and deeds they can dispel myths and misunderstandings about Islam and Muslims. The Muslim community has a great responsibility in promoting the teaching of Islam and its values as a part of a global Muslim Ummah (World Community). Muslims must squarely confront the reality of British secular trends and adopt a different approach in their strategy in a minority setting of Darul Ahad (Domain of alliance and treaty agreement) from the majority setting of Darul Islam (Domain of Peace) where Muslims have power and authority over their own affairs.

Religious Foundations for Diversity and Pluralism:

 

Through my reading of the sacred text of the Qur’an and Sunnah, I have come to conclusions that are relevant to the application of the Qur'an to contemporary society, particularly with regard to democracy and pluralism. First, one of the core principles of Muslim belief is shura, which means consultation. This was how the Prophet consulted with his companions on making decisions for his society. In the Qur'an, shura is mentioned twice, as a fundamental belief, just like prayer, and as a practice, according to the time in which one lives. In our times, genuine shura means genuine pluralism of points of view, and democracy. Second, this view of shura changes the concept of Jihad, which we hear so much about from the fundamentalists.

 

The foundations out of which an Islamic perspective on any topic should arise are nothing less than the authentic sources of Islam, the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him). Both the Qur’an and the Hadith embrace and affirm Ikhtilaf, i.e. differences in belief, perspectives and viewpoints, as being natural and an essential part of the human condition. A denial of the right of others to hold beliefs and views, which are different and incompatible to one’s own, is tantamount to a denial of Allah himself. In the Holy Qur’an, chapter 10, verse 99, Allah, the Sublime, declares:

 

“If your Lord had so desired, all the people on the earth would surely have come to believe, all of them; do you then think, that you could compel people to believe?”

 

And again in Qur’an, chapter 11, verse 118, Allah, the Sublime, declares:

 

“And had your Lord so willed, He could surely have made all human beings into one single community: but (He willed it otherwise, and so) they continue to hold divergent views.”

 

Both of these verses establish the principle of freedom of belief, thought and expression in Islam. At the conclusion of the first verse, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is himself reproved for transgressing this principle by being over-enthusiastic in convincing others with regard to the truth of Islam. Thus the Qur’an stresses that the differences in beliefs, views and ideas of humankind is not incidental and negative but represents an Allah-willed, basic factor of human existence. The challenge which the principle of freedom of belief and thought in Islam holds for us is to develop clear ethics and find mechanisms to manage and deal with the differences of beliefs and theologies that exist. This is the challenge that religious pluralism holds for us. All basic freedoms (freedom of Religions, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from fear (prejudice and hatred) and freedom from want (hunger/starvation) have been guaranteed by God Al-Mighty to all creations irrespective of their place of birth. Islam plays great importance to human dignity and civil society based on rule of law.

 

Peace and Justice:

 

Islam is a religion of peace. This fact is borne by both Islamic teachings and the very name of “Islam.” The term Islam essentially means to submit and surrender one’s will to a higher truth and a transcendental law, so that one can lead a meaningful life informed by the divine purpose of creation, and where the dignity and freedom of all human beings can be equally protected. Islamic teachings assert the basic freedom and equality of all peoples. Islam stresses the importance of mutual help and respect, and directs Muslims to extend friendship and good will to all, regardless of their religious, ethnic, gender, cultural, linguistic or racial background.

 

Islam, in fact, makes of peace at every greeting, which Muslims exchange whenever they meet by saying, "Peace be unto you" (Assalamu 'Alaykum). The Muslim also utters this statement at the end of every ritual prayer. From its inception, the Qur'an emphasized peace as an intrinsic Islamic value. In fact, the terms "Islam" and "Peace" have the same root, salaam. Furthermore, God has chosen the word peace (salaam) as the Muslim's greeting to remind believers as one of God attributes.

 

Islam commands Muslims to be just and fair in all circumstances even if it may go against oneself or their next of kin. The universe is constructed on what the Qur’an calls the mizan, or a balance. That balance is justice. The Glorious Qur’an says: “And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice), In order that ye may not transgress (due) balance, so establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance” [Al-Qur’an 55:9] Justice is essential to maintain the balance of the human mind. Whenever any human being is deprived of justice, the mind is inclined to imbalance. The greater the injustice, the greater is the likelihood of imbalance. That is the reason the Glorious Qur’an warns against allowing hatred to cloud one’s judgment and sense of justice. The verses of Qur’an confirm the uncompromising stand on Justice: "O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do." (4:135). For the Declaration of World Muslim Leaders Summit held in Jakarta in December 2001 see Appendix 3

 

Forgiveness: A different outlook and a new start:

 

In Islamic history one may find an outlook of a different nature. When the Romans conquered any country, the first thing they would do is massacre. When the Muslims entered any country, they would give guarantees of life, property and honour to all the non-belligerents. Even in war Muslims are not allowed to kill an old person, a woman, children, or those who are crippled or disabled. Not only that, even trees are not to be cut and crops are not to be burnt. The entirety of Islamic history does not know of the concept of mass killing or massacre of enemies. One cannot find one single example of any Inquisition or ethnic cleansing on the name of Islam

 

I draw your attention to look to the actions of the Holy Prophet of Islam when he entered Makkah as victor. Everyone was offered amnesty and complete forgiveness. When Caliph Umar entered Jerusalem he was not even prepared to pray in a Church for fear that those who came after him may treat the place as a mosque and take it away from the Christians. But when the Crusaders took the city of Jerusalem there was a total massacre of the population. What happened in Spain? Not a single Muslim or Jew was left unexecuted or un-exiled. It was the same in Sicily where all the mosques were demolished. Even in the last century the same practice was adopted in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya and many other parts of the world.

 

Islam condemns and rejects all forms of terror, killing without due process of law, injustice, corruption, tyranny and oppression. There is no justification for the usage of terms such as ‘Islamic terrorists’. As a Muslim we must take account of our deeds by other Muslims on the name of Islam. I feel ashamed when I hear that Muslims are breaking the Law of Islam. I sincerely apologise to those who have suffered due to any senseless actions of so-called Muslims. I seek forgiveness from Allah for any mistake done and ask forgiveness from my fellow beings.  However, we must find the root causes of the challenges of Terrorism, hatred and hurt.

 

Diversity recognised, appreciated and celebrated:

Islam presents the concept that all human beings are equal and we are equal because we are all creatures of God with no distinctions of colour, race or country, or tribe or clan or anything else. One would find that fanaticism is generated in the last analysis either from any of these false prejudices, when you try to group humanity into certain watertight compartments. One cannot change the colour of his skin; one cannot change his place of birth. If one believes in any of these standards, then rational fusion of the human race is not possible and you become intolerant towards others.

In Islam, the rational fusion is possible for whatever tribe, you come from, from whatever race you come, whatever colour you may have, whatever territory You might be born in, whatever language you speak, you are one, you can be one. You belong to one race the human race, the one family the human family. You belong to one brotherhood. Diversity among fellow human beings must be recognised, appreciated and valued in all aspects of life. The majority community is always judged by the way it treats its minority community.

Ends cannot justify means:

Another point is that Islam is very unique and firm in asserting that the ends cannot justify the means. The source from where fanaticism and intolerance have most often come from is the mistaken belief that the ends justify the means. This means that to achieve even good ends you can resort to evil means. The principle that Islam has enunciated is that "Good and bad are not equal. Replace evil by good". ( The Qur’an 41:34)

If you fight falsehood with falsehood it is falsehood that prevails. If you replace vice with vice, it is vice which triumphs. If you change evil by evil, it is evil which is victorious. Islam says that evil is to be eliminated by good. If you pursue this technique then you would only be able to fill the earth with goodness, justice, peace and feeling for humanity. Islam has struck at the roots of fanaticism. If you reflect upon the system that Islam has given, you would find that fanaticism has no place in it and that idealism is the lifeblood of it. In the Qur'an it has been mentioned that the mission for which this Muslim nation has been created is that you call people to goodness. As far as the wrong (munkar) is concerned, you are permitted to eliminate it. But as far as the truth and virtue (ma'ruf) is concerned, it is not to be enforced by power.

One can very easily see that Islam has clearly discriminated between idealism and fanaticism. It has done everything to generate in us a real, noble, virtuous idealism, and to protect us from the evil influences of fanaticism. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has said that Islam is a religion of the middle path.

The Qur'an has called the Muslim nation 'Ummat al-Wusta', the people of the middle and model nation, the people who maintain balance and equilibrium in all their affairs. Adhering to idealism, protecting and avoiding the extremes of fanaticism - this is the middle path and it is this path which Islam invites to all humanity. Through education, diplomacy, dialogue and firmness Muslims are urged to deal with extremism and fanaticism in the world.    

We are dealing with here is a very serious problem of hatred, fear and prejudice. Deep-rooted hatred can only be fought with dignity, diplomacy, education, understanding and dialogue. Unless the roots of hate are addressed there will be irrational people who will continue to commit such heinous evil crimes against humanity. Let all sensible people stand for peace, justice and make concerted efforts to eliminate all injustices and exploitations in their part of world. I believe that without a revival of moral values, nurturing a shared sense of forgiveness and understanding may be we face an even greater challenge. We must pray to overcome hatred and violence in ourselves. Let us rededicate ourselves to peace, human dignity, and the eradication of the injustices that breed rage and vengeance. It requires multi-religious co-operation of all decent people from all shades and all sections of our communities from all over the globe.

Global Ethics and Interfaith Dialogue:

In 1993, the Parliament of World Religions adopted a declaration called Towards A Global Ethic, affirming that a common set of core values is found in the teachings of the world’s religions and that this core should form the basis of a global ethic. The principles of the global ethic include:

·         No new global order without a new global ethic,

·         A fundamental demand: every human being must be treated humanely,

·         Commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life,

·         Commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order,

·         Commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women,

·         Transformation of consciousness.

The final principle is quite interesting and deserves some additional attention. The declaration describes this point as follows:

“Historical experience demonstrates the following: Earth cannot be changed for the better unless we achieve a transformation in the consciousness of individuals in public life. The possibilities for transformation have already been glimpsed in areas such as war and peace, economy, and ecology, where in recent decades fundamental changes have taken place. This transformation must also be achieved in the area of ethics and values. Every individual has intrinsic dignity and inalienable rights, and each also has an inescapable responsibility for what she or he does or does not do. All our decisions and deeds, even our omissions and failures, have consequences.”

Human Rights, Civil Society and Rule of Law:

 

As Muslims, our starting point lies in revelation, which is addressed to humanity in its entirety.  The Qur’anic paradigm acknowledges human diversity (Qur’an 49:13) but insists that human beings are born with an inner propensity (fitra) that, if appropriately nurtured, drives each and every one of us on a perpetual quest for truth and beauty. Islamic Law (Shariah) exists to facilitate our individual and collective quests to realise such truth in our lives.  Its core aims, as with all morally responsible legal frameworks, are to protect individuals and society from harm and facilitate their individual and societal development in all that is good. This translates into certain key social objectives that aim to safeguard and promote core human rights, namely:

 

 

These basic human rights, whether arrived at through secular rationalistic modification of natural law (as is the case with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) or through a faith-based approach (as is the case with the Universal Declaration of Islamic Human Rights), reaches broadly similar overall conclusions. Some of the major ideas associated with democracy and human rights are in harmony with Islamic thought. The rule of law, a cardinal principle of democratic governance, is central to Islamic jurisprudence. Centuries ago, Islam recognised that all decisions, acts and procedures of public authorities at `all levels cannot be valid or legally binding save to the extent they are consistent with the law'. This is, of course, linked to the concept of `due process'. As in any society based upon democratic norms and procedures, Islamic law states that “you cannot deprive a man of life, liberty or property except by due process of law”. The emphasis given to virtuous, honest and upright Rulers themselves should not obscure us to the other side of Muslim history.

 

The tension however lies in the societal manifestation of such rights and freedoms.  In liberal cultures, such as those found in the post Judeo-Christian west, the plane of emphasis is primarily on safeguarding the rights of individual expression.  More traditional societies, in which religion still exerts greater authority, will tend to emphasise the importance of protecting societal interests (cf hisba Qur’an 3:104 and 3:110).  This latter phenomenon is of course hardly surprising since the term ‘religion’ is linguistically derived from the Latin ‘religio’meaning ‘to bind’.

 

It should thus be possible, irrespective of our starting points, to agree on many areas of common co-operation.  These include, above all, a commitment to seeking truth, respecting the right of individuals to hold the beliefs that they do and a commitment to promoting peace and mutual understanding.  The media, as perhaps the most powerful force in the world today, can and must be central to driving forward this common agenda.

 

I am reminded of the words of Professor Hans Kung “No peace among nations without peace among the religions and no peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions”. I add “No peace without Justice and no Justice without forgiveness and compassion”.  Dialogue and agreement must be conscientiously applied and maintained, so to create bonds of love, care, trust and confidence. Its prerequisite is proper education and learning from one another.  We must speak and act truthfully with compassion. We must treat others as we wish others to treat us. Every human being must be treated, fairly, humanly and with dignity without any fear or discrimination. A group of concerned Muslims and non-Muslims on the invitation of Prince Hassan Bin Talal, Professor Rajmohan Gandhi and Dr Cornelio Sommaruga met in Caux on 26-29 July 2002 at Mountain House, Caux (Switzerland). Please see The Caux Dialogue: Peace, Justice and Faith: An honest conversation. See www.caux.ch

 

I admire the work of Prince Hassan El Talal over the years for promoting better understanding between different faiths and advocating dialogue for resolving conflicts. His short book “Continuity, innovation and Change” is a must read for every Muslim. I not only share his vision but also say that he represents true Islamic scholarship in the current debate on the issue of World peace. The building of peace requires an attitude of sanctity and reverence of life, freedom and justice, the eradication of poverty, dissolution of all forms of discrimination and the protection of the environment for personal and future generations. The ideals of peace include fundamental and global directives such as:

 

*Do not kill i.e. have respect for life;

*Do not steal i.e. deal honestly and fairly;

*Do not lie i.e. speak and act truthfully;

*Do not commit sexual immorality i.e. respect and love one another.

 

I confirm that Islam is faith of moderation and girder of unity for all mankind and blessing for mankind because Muslim model communities where:

 

*All of God’s creation – whether human, animal or the environment – is valued and respected;

*Where people want more to serve others than to get what they can for themselves;

*Where no one has too little or too much;

*Respecting the right of others to disagree with us;

*Being sensitive and courteous to all.

 

Human dignity is an acknowledgement of the divine presence in each and every one of us and unites us into a single family. We believe in “Thinking globally but acting locally.”  We live in an increasingly inter-netted world where it is now possible, thanks to the development of mass media, to communicate across language, cultural and religious barriers to the extent that has never previously even been imaginable.

 

Yet, the paradox of our time is that despite these remarkable developments in IT and communication, there are important gulfs that separate people and in so doing, as recent international developments have shown, threaten the stability and security of our world

    

It has been argued that from an Islamic viewpoint, there must be a common moral basis for mutual understanding both in general terms and in relation to the role of the media.  For Muslims, there is an imperative to understand the reasons underpinning diversity, recognise that this diversity is inherent within the Divine plan, commit to searching for truth and upholding justice, respect for the rule of law, engage in dialogue and, finally, where differences cannot be resolved through these means, to respect differing viewpoints.

 

Such a framework is, I believe, in essence common to all refined moral codes. The world will not change for the better unless the conscience of individuals is changed first.

 

It is imperative that these differences or tensions are not buried out of the fear of political correctness.  There is a need for us all, to do more to understand the standpoints of those of other traditions and this is unfortunately very true of many Muslims today who simplistically and often unfairly reject the western world and its media as being immoral and decadent.  This is something that we in the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) are trying hard to change – and this underpins our motto – of ‘seeking the common good’.  For further details see www.mcb.org

 

Europe and the question of Muslim Identity:

 

The Muslim presence was a constant factor in European history from the 7th Century (CE), after the origin of Islam. The new Muslim presence, however in the Western Europe dates back sixty to seventy years due to the international situation soon after two world wars and international migration of population. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe now had a prominent Muslim population. There have been many Muslims in Eastern Europe for some centuries; it’s not the same in the West where large numbers of immigrants arrived during the last sixty to seventy years or so. According to the latest statistics, France has about 5 million Muslims, half of them French citizens. Those who don’t become citizens of their host countries are mainly Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians. In Germany, there are 4 million Muslims, of whom 3 million are Turks. Belgium has about one million and the Netherlands about the same number. Great Britain estimates its Muslim population to be about 2 million, almost all with British nationality. They come from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and the Near East. Sixty-five percent hold British nationality and citizenship. In 1987, Spain had 150,000 Moroccans plus many other foreigners. In 1999, the number had risen to about 250,000, the majority of whom came in through the back door. Italy‘s most recent statistics: a total of 522,000 immigrants. 130,000 come from Morocco, 59,000 from Albania, 48,000 from Tunisia, 33,000 from Senegal, 25,000 from Egypt. Available statistics concerning the number of Muslims present in Italy, don’t take into account the illegal immigrants coming from North Africa, naturalised foreigners, and Italian nationals converted to Islam. Countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary and ex-Yugoslavia have had Muslim communities ever since their occupation by the Ottoman Empire. Please see attach Appendix on Europe’s Religious population attached at the end of this paper.

 

The Muslim presence in Europe will produce in time a truly ”European Islamic Culture“ disengaged from the Arabic culture of North Africa, Turkey and Indo-Pakistan, although it is okay to refer to them for inspiration. This new culture is just in the process of being born and moulded. As is the case in Europe, through thoughts relating to dress code to artistic and creative expression, a whole new culture is being mobilised with a European energy while taking into account national customs and simultaneously respecting Islamic values and guidelines. Some Muslims in certain associations of some European countries had been receiving the message that toleration of their presence comes at the price of their religious practice. This rhetoric, mainly from the political personas and the media appeared to confirm such a conclusion. So they conclude that it is better to be isolated. It is only very recently that through analysis, debates, external and internal discussions that it became apparent that nothing in the letter or the spirit of the European legislation was in opposition to a peaceful and complete practice of the Muslim religion. The laws do not say what some would like to say or interpret. Essentially, what the practicing Muslims wanted was to protect their faith and to be assured about their right to practice their religion.

 

An increasing amount of Muslim associations are committed to transmitting a civic awareness to their members. Some citizen training programs are in the process of being internally structured or in collaboration with certain institutions that specialise in this area. Whoever makes the effort to discover the initiatives and come into contact with the work of the Muslim associations will notice the consciousness, maturity and energy, which drives a great number of these Muslim associations. They have gone beyond any obstacles without compromising their religion to achieve a true citizenship, which commits them to becoming truly aware of their obligations and rights in the European setting. Relationships are strengthening with other social and political players on the local level and discussions are being organized. Such initiatives are new, growing and frequent, especially in France, Holland, England, Italy, Belgium and Germany.

 

Unity, Diversity and Hope:

 

We have seen that history has not ended and civilisations have not clashed even after 11 September 2001 and Gulf War I or II. Institutions, nations, groups and all decent individuals must work together and shape the modern world as peaceful place. It is our collective responsibly to give the hope and make this happen. 

 

We should pledge to increase our awareness by positive thinking in understanding one another. We must pledge to be courageous defenders of peaceful teachings and interpretations of Islam, and to be exemplary peacemakers in our personal, family and social conduct of our lives in order to socially beneficial, peace fostering, bridge-builder and nature-friendly way of life.

 

Remember, Remember, Remember. Evil is not in the body. Evil is in the mind, therefore harm nobody. Just change the mind.

 

Lord You said and your word is true! Love is stronger than hate. O God Almighty You are peace and from You peace comes. Bestow upon all of us your peace and make our final destiny in your eternal abode of peace. Let there be respect for the earth, peace for is people, love in our lives, and delight in the good, forgiveness for our past wrongs and from now on a new start.

References

 

Holy Qur’an and various Books on Sayings of the Holy Prophet’s Ahadith

 

Ahmed AS. Postmodernism and Islam: Predicament and Promise.  London: Routledge,1992: 222-265

 

Bullock A, Trombley S (eds.). The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought.  Human Rights.  London: Harper Collins, 1999.  

 

Craig E.  Relativism.  In: Concise Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.  Routledge, 2000.  

 

Kamali MH.  Freedom of Expression in Islam.  Cambridge, Islamic Texts Society, 1997.

 

Sheikh A.  Dealing with ethics in a multicultural world.  Western Journal of Medicine 2001;174:87

 

Appendix 1: European Religious Population

 

 

World Conference on Religions prepared the above chart of European Religious Population for peace (WCRP) Europe in connection with the inauguration of WCRP EU Religious Leaders Council on December 2002 see www.religionsforpeace.org. For British Religious official Census please see www.statistics.gov.uk

 

Appendix 2: Some Useful Websites:

 

Muslim Council of Britain (www.mcb.org.uk) for a wide range of comment and useful statistics

 

Muslim Directory (www.muslimdirectory.co.uk) for substantial lists of contacts and links

 

Muslim News (www.muslimnews.co.uk) for a substantial archive of news items, articles and comment

 

Muslim Voices pages at the Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk/muslimvoices) particularly for views of international affairs

 

The Honest News site (www.honestnews.com) has substantial discussions of Islamophobia in the media.

 

On Islamophobia, the first port of call is the Forum Against Islamophobia (FAIR) at www.fairuk.org.uk. Amongst other things FAIR has a valuable news service whereby subscribers receive free of charge, several times a week, a selection of news items.

 

Runnymede Trust (www.runnymedetrust.org) there is extracts from the 1997 Islamophbia report

 

Islamic Foundation (www.islamic-foundation.org.uk)

Islamic Solutions (www.islamicsolutions.com) 

Islam Online (www.islamonline.net)

Islam for Today (www.islamfortoday.com)

Islam in the United States (www.islam-usa.com

Council on American-Islamic Relations  www.cair-net.org

Muslim Heritage (www.muslimheritage.com)

Muslim Family Network (www.al-usrah.net)

Ummah (www.ummah.org.uk/what-is-islam)

Ummah News (www.ummahnews.com)

Virtual Classroom ((www.thevirtualclassroom.net)

The Interfaith Network for the UK (www.interfaith.org.uk)

 

Faith Communities Unit (www.homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk)

 

Local Government Association (www.lga.gov.uk)

 

Inner Cities Religious Council (www.odpm.gov.uk)

 

Young Muslims UK (www.ymuk.net)

Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (www.femyso.com)

 

Soul for Europe: E-mail: soul@cec-kek.be    www.cec-kek.org

 

Oxford Centre for Interfaith Studies: oxfordcentre@interfaithstudies.org  www.interfaith-center.org

 

World Faiths Development Dialogue: wfdd@btinternet.com  www.wfdd.org.uk

 

World Fellowship of Inter-Religious Councils: upasana-dr@satyam.net.in

 

World Council of Muslims for Interfaith Relations: raoirfanahmad@yahoo.com   www.cpwr.org

Appendix 3: The Summit for Muslim World Leaders
Islam and a Future World of Peace
Jakarta, Indonesia — December 21 - 23, 2001

 

In the name of Allah, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful

Jakarta Declaration 1422 H/2001

Preamble

 

We begin by invoking the blessings of Allah on this effort and with salutations on the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)

 

We, the participants and guests of the Summit of World Muslim Leaders gathered to reaffirm the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), under the theme Islam and a Future World of Peace, on 6 - 8 Shawwal, 1422 (20 - 23 December, 2001) in Jakarta, Indonesia.

 

We affirm that:

 

Islam is a religion of peace and justice. From its core values emanate respect for life and human dignity, affecting all ideals and actions that guide the day to day life of the Muslim.

 

Our understanding of religion and spirituality grows from the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). These resources provide the basis for resolving all challenges of this and every age, as well as all social circumstances.

 

The universality of the teachings of Islam affirms the sanctity of humankind, and thus enjoins on us an enduring dialogue of faiths and civilizations.

 

Deliberations proceeded along three lines of inquiry: Religion and Spirituality, Civic Responsibility in Political Society, and Interfaith, Intercultural, and International Relations.

 

1.       Religion and Spirituality

 

We affirm that:

 

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was sent as mercy for all humankind. The message he delivered aims to produce peace and prosperity, promote love, compassion and forgiveness, and create a humane society. It is an important source of guidance in a changing and shrinking world and must be recognized as such.

 

To fulfil the ideals of the Prophet (PBUH) Muslims must recognise these teachings and his example as a guiding principle of their moral and spiritual development.

 

Islam rejects violence in any form against the innocent. In fact, it promotes justice and exhorts Muslims to be just even it be against their own selves, their parents, or kinfolk. Thus implementation of justice for and by the Muslims will be the single most important factor in the elimination of violence and terrorism.

 

To be just is the spiritual obligation of all faiths and nations.

 

Muslim leaders and scholars are responsible for, and have a moral obligation to teach and promote knowledge about the fundamental ethics of Islam, thus providing the foundation for peace and peaceful coexistence and harmony in the world.

 

2.       Civic Responsibility in Political Society

 

We affirm that:

 

Muslim nations must devote their energies toward education of their masses, and improvement of economic opportunities for their people. They must enhance their interaction with other Muslim countries in joint projects for the welfare of their populations.

 

All nations of the world must apply their energies to conflict resolution globally, and be consistent at both home and abroad in their concern for justice, freedom and human rights.

 

In any system of government, the protection of the freedoms and rights of the citizens is paramount.

 

3. Interfaith, Intercultural, and International Relations

 

We affirm that:

 

Dialogue toward harmony and understanding is a Muslim religious responsibility. As a consequence, Muslims encourage people of all faiths to acknowledge, accept, promote, respect and appreciate the diversity among their different faiths and cultures.

Interfaith dialogue for the purposes of removing fear of the unknown, generating good will, and establishing mutual trust, should occur at all levels including at the level of individuals, faith groups, larger communities, and globally.

 

Intellectual and spiritual leaders are obliged to establish enduring structures of dialogue to prevent conflict among people of differing religious commitments and opinions. These leaders of all faith must convince their constituencies to work harmoniously with other groups and influence their elected or appointed leaders to promote peace and justice as the cornerstone of their agenda, policies, and practice.

 

May Allah bless this effort and forgive our shortcomings.

 

Jakarta                                                                        23 December 2001

 

 

 


IMAM Dr Abduljalil Sajid JP

Chairman Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony

Member Muslim Council of Britain’s

(MCB) Central Working Committee

8 Caburn Road Hove BN3 6EF (UK)

Tel: 01273-722438 / 299345 FAX: 01273 326051

Mobile: 07971 861972

email: sajid@imamsajid.com

5 November 2003

 

 

 



[1] “War to the death between America and Islamic terrorists,” The Daily Telegraph, 12 September 2001, p. 18.

[2] Murad Hofmann has been cited from a forthcoming collection of essays by different scholars on Islam and religious pluralism that Roger Abdul-Wahhab Boase has edited (unpublished)

[3] Temenos Academy Review, 4 (2001), 13-18, at p. 13.

[4] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Traditional Islam in the Modern World (London: Kegan Paul International, 1987), pp. 27-33.

[5] Bhikhu Parekh made this point was with reference to cultural groups in Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory (Basingstoke: Palgrove, 2000), p. 337. Much of what he says about multiculturalism is also true of religious pluralism.

[6] See Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s essay on “Extremism” in Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook, ed. Charles Kurzman (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp.196-204; and the chapters on “War and Peace in the Qur’ân,” and “Tolerance in Islam” in Muhammad Abdel Haleem, Understanding the Qur’ân: Themes and Style (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 1999), pp. 59-81.

[7] Cited in Rumman Ahmed, “My Identity and Me: An Exploration of Multiple Identities and their Contribution towards a Faith Position,” World Faiths Encounter, 28 (March 2001), 50.

[8] The Dignity of Difference (London: Continuum, 2002), p. 62.

[9] Speech given at a conference on “Islamic Responses to Terrorism,” given at the Al-Khoei Foundation, London, 25 October 2001.

[10] See interview with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson in The Guardian, 8 Oct. 2001.

[11] Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), p. 190.