We live in a multi-cultural society that consists of various races, cultures, castes and religions. Since Muslims from different regions of the world immigrated to the UK, they have integrated themselves with the people of other faiths wonderfully. Their significant contributions to the neighbourhood and community - which they live in - have attracted many tributes and gratitude from numerous community leaders, MPs and law-enforcement personnel. Muslims have acknowledged the necessity of dialogue and have taken different measures and means in order to co-exist with the people of other faiths in harmony and peace. The following is an attempt to briefly explain the basic phenomenon of dialogue in Islam.
The word dialogue originates from the Greek dialogos, from dia, across, legein, to speak. In plain words, it means to share meaning with someone.
The authors of Dialogue in Islam defined dialogue as 'meaningful interaction and exchange between people of different groups (social, cultural, political and religious) who come together through various kinds of conversations or activities with a view to increase understanding'.
Why do we need dialogue?
It is against the human nature that all human beings would follow only one religion or ideology. The Holy Qur'an has asserted this fact in many verses. Some examples are as follows:
From these verses, this fact is ascertained that diversity is inevitable in this world, and it is a phenomenon that had prevailed in the past and will continue to exist until the day of Judgement. Now, in order to maintain social harmony and peaceful co-existence between the people of diverse cultures, races and religions, it is necessary that we understand each other; be aware of others' sensitive issues and traditions. Thus, it necessitates inter-cultural dialogue.
Dialogue and the Holy Qur'an
In the Holy Qur'an, Allah (subhanahu-wa-ta'ala) encouraged Muslims to engage into fruitful dialogue with non-Muslims. The following are some of the examples:
These two verses have firmly stipulated that Muslims should engage into dialogue with the people of the book, which subsequently renders the necessity of the dialogue with other faiths. The first verse also makes it obligatory that the dialogue must be conducted in best manner. In the both verses, Allah (swt) instructs us to call the people of the book not to associate anything with Him and not to take some of us as Lords instead of Allah; as we already share some common grounds: believing in the existence of God, believing in the messengers and the books sent by Allah (subhanahu-wa-ta'ala).
Dialogue and the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam)
As the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) is the communicator and the interpreter of the Holy Qur'an, it becomes obligatory upon every Muslim to look at the Sunnah of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) when seeking an interpretation of any verse of the Holy Qur'an. The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) had spent his whole life in dialogue with the non-Muslims. He used to visit places where non-Muslims would gather, like social clubs, markets and playgrounds. After the establishment of the Islamic state, he formed various kinds of treaties, agreements, friendly relations and commercial partnerships with the non-Muslims. He recognised justice and honour in the people of other faiths and maintained friendly relationships with those who displayed such qualities.
After the migration to Madinah, the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) signed a treaty with the Jews and polytheists living in Madinah, which is famously known as 'Madinah Charter'. On that time, Muslims made up only 15% of the population of Madinah. According to Madinah Charter, all different kinds of ethnic, religious and tribal groups living in Madinah formed one single nation. They all form a common social, political, economic, legal and military entity within which they peacefully co-exist while retaining their respective identities.
Once a group of Christians from Najran (a formerly Christian-populated region in Yemen), among them were religious leaders, tribal noblemen - arrived in Madinah. The purpose of their visit was to persuade the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) to accept Jesus as the son of God. The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) busied himself in an intense dialogue and debate with them: quashing their arguments and proving the trueness of Islamic doctrine. In the end, the Christians were silenced by a revelation from Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala).
Method of dialogue
We have quoted before a verse from the Holy Qur'an that stipulates that the dialogue with the people of other faiths must be conducted in the best manner. There are many other verses which set the framework of Islamic dialogue. The following are some of the examples:
From the above verses we can summarise the following points:
In summary, dialogue between different cultures and faiths is indispensable in order to maintain harmonious co-existence. Fruitful dialogue can eradicate a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings, bringing together the people of various cultures around one table and ensuring peaceful everyday life. As we have explained before that the Qur'an and the Sunnah have underlined the framework of dialogue adequately, now the burden falls upon Muslims, in general, to carry out that important task. This way we can confront Islamophobia and media propaganda against Islam and Muslims successfully and present the true picture of Islam to non-Muslims adequately.
Dialogue in Islam: Quran, Sunnah, History (2012), Ahmet Kurucan, Mustafa Kasim Erol, Dialogue Society
Mukhtasar Tafsir Qurtubi (2006), Sheikh Bassam An-Ni'mah, Daar Ibn Kathir
The Noble Qur'an, Sheikh Mufti Taqi Usmani