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Editorial: Whither ‘interfaith dialogue’?

ICC Note: This is an intriguing article from a more secular newspaper in the very Islamic country of Pakistan that explores Islam’s difficulties with inter-faith dialogue.

7/18/08 Spain (Daily Times – Pakistan) – Saudi King Abdullah has inaugurated an interfaith dialogue conference in Spain by declaring that “most of the dialogues between religions have ended in failure”. He hoped, however, that the new effort being launched will succeed by emphasising the common link between all religions: belief in God.

Western culture has replaced faith; in the Muslim world, however, religion is still in the process of destroying culture. It is in culture that humanity has found tolerance and peaceful coexistence. The West embraced modernity; but Islam is in conflict with Western notions of modernity. Modernity as an idea believes that the present is discontinuous with the past and that life in the present is fundamentally different from the past. But tradition as an idea believes that the present is continuous with the past and that it repeats the forms and meanings of the past.

There is a time-lag that must be considered too. Religious fanaticism in the West is symbolised by Roman Catholic Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the British parliament because it had sanctioned a break from the Church of Rome. That was in 17th century England. Today, in the Kurram Agency in Pakistan, Sunnis are killing Shias; in the Khyber Agency, Sunnis of one brand are killing Sunnis of another brand. The only thing modern about them are their weapons.

Judaism and Christianity live in states that do not recognise the theology of their clerics. (Israel has no constitution and is not a declared religious state with an enforced sharia.) The Church and the Synagogue are reformed and powerless. But Islam has no Church and a plethora of clergy that is growing by the day. This Muslim clergy lives in societies that are by and large alienated from the state and government. In the West, religion lives on the margins of highly organised states. But the driving force behind the “foreign policy” of the Islamic clergy is dawa or invitation to Islam, based on the idea that the preceding monotheisms have been superseded. This kind of thinking cannot lead to productive non-conflict dialogue.

Interfaith dialogue has been a non-starter because of this fundamental lack of calibration between two systems of faith. There is, of course, the big political gulf too that prevents communication. This emanates from the prevalent and justified sense of injustice among the Muslims living under the current global order. Injustice and extremism feed upon each other to produce a dominant religious discourse in Islam that appears immoderate and irreconcilable with the world outside and with the embattled moderates within… [Go To Full Story]