Dialogue With The People Of The Book

This article covers interfaith dialogue with the people of the book.

The attitude of believers is determined according to the degree of their faith. I believe that if the message is put across properly, then an environment conducive to dialogue will be able to emerge in our country and throughout the world. Thus, as in every subject, we should approach this issue as indicated in the Qur’an and by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. God says in the Qur’an:

This is the Book; in it is sure guidance, without doubt, to those who are God-conscious, pious. (Al-Baqara 2:2)

Later on, these pious ones are identified as follows:

Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them; and who believe in the Revelation sent to you and sent before your time, and (in their hearts) have the reassurance of the Hereafter. (Al-Baqara 2:3-4)

Fethullah Gülen visit John Paul II

Fethullah Gülen visit John Paul II

Using a very gentle and slightly oblique style, the Qur’an calls people to accept the former Prophets and their books. The fact that such a condition has been placed at the very beginning of the Qur’an seems to be very significant to me when it comes to talking about the establishment of a dialogue with Jews and Christians. In another verse God commands:

And argue not with the People of the Book unless it be in (a way) that is better. (Al-Ankabut 29:46)

In this verse, the Qur’an describes the method and approach we should use and the behavior we should display. Bediüzzaman said some extremely significant words in order to clarify this: “Those who are happy about their opponent’s defeat in debate have no mercy.” He explains the reason for this: “You gain nothing by defeating someone. If you are defeated and the other person is victorious, then you would have corrected one of your mistakes.”

Debate should not be for the sake of ego, but rather to enable the truth to appear. When we look at political debates in which the only thought is to vanquish the other person, there can be no positive result. For the truth to emerge in a debate of ideas, such principles as mutual understanding, respect, and dedication to justice cannot be ignored. As a Qur’anic rule, debate can only take place in an environment that is conducive to dialogue.

Reading the above verse (29:64) further, we notice that the condition “unless it be with those who disbelieve and inflict wrong (and injury)” is placed. Wrong is also mentioned in another verse:

It is those who believe and confuse not their beliefs with wrong—that are (truly) in security, for they are on (right) guidance. (Al-Anam 6:82)

Fethullah Gülen and Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron shaking hands during a visit aimed at developing inter-religious dialogue.

Fethullah Gülen and Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron shaking hands during a visit aimed at developing inter-religious dialogue.

According to the interpretation of this above verse by the Prophet, associating partners with God is equal to unbelief in the sense that one has contempt for the universe. The greatest tyranny is to silence all the voices in one’s conscience that express God. Tyranny also means committing an injustice against others, oppressing them, and imposing one’s ideas onto others. In that respect, as tyranny includes both polytheism and unbelief, it is the greater sin. Every polytheist or unbeliever may not be a wrongdoer in the sense outlined above. However, those who oppress others, who arm themselves in the name of committing evil, and who violate the rights of other people and the justice of God must be confronted within the framework of the law. See Tawhid (Unity), Arguments for Divine Unity, and His Existence and Unity

When dealing with People of the Book who are not oppressors, we have no right to behave violently against them or to think about how to destroy them. Such behavior is non-Islamic, contrary to Islamic rules and principles, and it can even be said that it is anti-Islamic. Elsewhere in the Qur’an it is stated:

God does not forbid you, regarding those who did not fight you on account of religion and did not drive you out of your homes, to show kindness and deal with them justly. (Al-Mumtahana 60:8)

This verse was revealed when an emigrant lady called Asma asked the Prophet if she should meet with her polytheistic mother, who wanted to come from Makka to Madina to see her daughter. The verse suggests that such a meeting was perfectly acceptable, and that Asma could also be kind to her mother. I leave it to your discretion as to what approach should be used toward those who believe in God, the Judgment Day, and the prophets.

Hundreds of Qur’anic verses deal with social dialogue and tolerance. But care must be taken to establish balance in one’s tolerance. Being merciful to a cobra means being unjust to the people the cobra has bitten. Claiming that “humanism” is more merciful than Divine Mercy is disrespectful to mercy and violates the rights of others. In truth, except in certain special cases, the Qur’an and the Sunnah always advocate tolerance. The shielding canopy of this tolerance extends not only to the People of the Book but, in a sense, to all people.

By M. Fethullah Gulen

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