Dialogue in The Muhammadan Spirit and Meaning
I do not like to make claims and I have a poor memory, but in spite of this I can recite tens of verses, one after the other, that are concerned with forgiveness, dialogue and opening one’s heart to all. This demonstrates the all-embracing nature or universality of Islam.
For example, the Qur’an states, “peace is good” (An-Nisa 4:128). The verse does not necessitate its being particular to a certain event, meaning or framework. The rule is general. Moreover, does not the root of the noun “Islam” express soundness, surrender, peace, safety, and trust? Then it is not possible for us to be true Muslims without fully representing and establishing these characteristics. In addition to this, underlying the meaning of this sacred name is an essence that incorporates embracing all and approaching everything with love. But if we do not approach the subject in this spirit, then we cannot be considered as having understood Islam or having made its call or having represented it.
In addition to rules that guarantee peace and security, there are also verses in the Qur’an related to attitudes that should be taken against criminals and people who cause anarchy and terror; for such people there are legal sanctions, punishments, and retaliations. However, whether regarding verses and hadiths on these subjects or their implementations, if we do not take into consideration the conditions, if we do not separate the essence from the detail and the goal from the means, if we do not evaluate the verses in the context of the situation both before and after they were revealed, then we will always arrive at false conclusions.
I can and do say that peace, love, forgiveness, and tolerance are fundamental to Islam; other things are accidental. Yet, it is necessary to give priority to basic Muslim issues according to their degree of importance. For example, if God gives importance to love, if he has informed us that He loves those who love Him, and if he has given to the person He loved most the name “Habibullah,” i.e. one who loves God and is loved by Him, then we have to take this as a fundamental principle. Rules like jihad against hypocrites and unbelievers are secondary matters that are necessitated by circumstances. Rules are tied to various reasons and conditions. If there are no such reasons, then the rules will not be enforced.
Rules regarding things like execution, exile and war have been tied to various reasons. What is essential here is explaining and conveying the principles of Islam with kind words and gentle behavior. Also, peace, justice and stability are essential in Islam, war being a by-product of circumstances and dependent on certain conditions. Unfortunately, those who ignore the essence and do so without taking into consideration the reasons for the secondary rules and regulations, those who (by reading the Qur’an in the manner of a crude kind of Zahiris1) emphasize violence— these people have not understood the rules, the reasons for them nor their source, nor have they understood Islam.
When the relevant reasons appear, of course the rules necessitated by the reasons become operative. For example, when foreign enemy armies attack our country, we will, of course, not be expected to sit passively in a corner and say to the attackers, “How nice of you to come.”
Look at the world in which we find ourselves! According to some news recently reported in one of the newspapers, “bloody wars” are continuing in 56 places in the world. There are still floods of tears and blood flowing in many parts of the world. In many of these wars, some of the countries that defend democracy and human rights are on both sides. In that case, opposing war means opposing a human reality. For this reason, the moment someone touches our democratic rights and freedoms, we are, of course, going to defend ourselves and fight when necessary. But as I mentioned at the beginning, these are secondary things. The basis of Islam is peace and embracing humankind with love.
A Call to the Common Word
Another aspect of establishing and maintaining dialogue is the necessity of increasing the interests we have in common with other people. In fact, even if the people we talk with are Jews and Christians, this approach still should be adopted and issues that can separate us should be avoided altogether. For example, when the Qur’an calls the People of the Book, it says,
“O People of the Book! Come to a word (that is) common between us and you.”
What is that word? “Let us not worship anything but God.” Because real freedom is realized only by being saved from being someone else’s slave. When someone becomes a servant of God they are rescued from being anyone else’s slave. So come and let us unite on this matter. The Qur’an continues,
“Let us not take some of us for Lords.” (Al-Imran 3:64)
What is meant here is that our primary common point is belief in God; mentioning the Messengership of Muhammad has not even been mentioned yet. In another verse:
“Say to those who believe: Let them forgive those who have no hope for the afterlife.”
What is being said here is let those who do not believe in the afterlife and resurrection after death be forgiven, because “God only rewards or punishes a people with what they have earned,” (Al-Jathiya 45:14) i.e., if someone is going to be punished, then God will punish them and this matter does not concern anyone else.
Another clear example of this issue is related in particular to our Prophet who received a mild warning from God regarding the time he prayed against some guilty pagans. According to a report, a Bedouin Arab tribe requested that the Messenger send them teachers of the Qur’an. The Messenger sent them some, but they were ambushed and cruelly martyred at Bi’r Al-Maunah (the well of Al-Mauna). After this event, God’s Messenger prayed to God for their punishment. However, God revealed the following verse:
Not for you, (but for God), is the judgment concerning My servants: whether He turns in mercy to them, or punishes them because they are indeed wrongdoers. (Al-Imran 3:127-128)
Today there is an interest in religion all over the world. In my opinion, representing faith with its true values has gained an even greater importance than before. Today there is a need for people who are virtuous, self-possessed, cautious, sincere and pure of heart, people who do not steal or think too highly of themselves, and who prefer the well-being of others to their own, and who have no worldly expectations. If society can educate people with these characteristics, then it means that a much better future is imminent.
By M. Fethullah Gülen
1 Zahiris approach the Qur’an and the Sunna only from the perspective of their outward meaning, devoid of insight and proper perception. They are very few in number.