Importance of Interfaith in the Lives of Canadian Muslims

Importance of Interfaith in the Lives of Canadian Muslims

A Moment with Our Prophet, Muhammad (S) Day 178

By Imam Zijad Delic

Narrated by Jabir (r) that the Messenger of Allah (S) said: “The believer is friendly and befriended, for there is no goodness in one who is neither friendly, nor befriended. The best of people are those who are most beneficial to people.”

عَنْ جَابِرٍ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الْمُؤْمِنُ يَأْلَفُ وَيُؤْلَفُ وَلا خَيْرَ فِيمَنْ لا يَأْلَفُ وَلا يُؤْلَفُ وَخَيْرُ النَّاسِ أَنْفَعُهُمْ لِلنَّاسِ

Source: At Tabarani (in Mu’jamul Awsat)

Transliteration: “Al Mu’minu Ya’lafu Wa Yu’lafu. Wa La Khaira Fiman La Ya’lafu Wa Khairun Nasi Anfa’ahum Lin Nasi.”

Loving your God and loving your neighbor; these two basic and enduring principles are at the heart of the world’s great religious faiths!

At the early stages of this new century, I am struck by the realization that at no other time in history have we been more deeply and urgently challenged to live these two principles fully – not only within our distinctive faith communities (intra-faith), but just as importantly, to live them in relation to those with whom we differ with (interfaith).

Spiritual and intellectual leaders of the world should be urging that sincere and renewed efforts be made to achieve mutual understanding and openness among all faiths, for the benefit of the entire human family.

As members of that global family, all Canadians share an obligation to work for the common good, to do justice, act in solidarity, and – sometimes the hardest of all – to forgive one another’s failings and shortcomings.

In fact, all of the foundational scriptures of world religions stress those four obligations as essential to our collective well-being.

And today, we are especially challenged by the obligation of forgiveness which, as Pope John Paul II have suggested, is a vital component of our present and future relationships.

But rather than asking us merely to forget the sins and tragedies of the past, the late Pontiff developed and interwove the core themes of peace, justice and forgiveness in his memorable 2002 message for the World Day of Peace.

His theme was visionary in its scope: No Peace without Justice, no Justice without Forgiveness!

In the spirit of John Paul II and other enlightened peace-messengers of our era, I fully believe that our respective religious traditions do have the necessary resources and collective will to overcome past and present misunderstandings and foster true mutual friendship and understanding among all peoples.

In fact, our challenge goes far beyond the cliché of “forgive and forget”; we are doubly challenged to forgive and remember, so that we will not repeat our past failures and injustices.

Our religious traditions – their prophets, scriptures, and teachers — are all clear on this!

The prophets of God stirred human memories to guide our conscience, not our revenge.

But are we clear as we stand here at the crossroads at the end of second decade of the 21st century?

It is up to us now to translate these traditions into substance…into action items that the Creator will be pleased with.

This new opportunity of forgiving, remembering, overcoming, and collaborating does not imply giving up your tradition (faith), suppressing, or diluting our distinct religious identities; far from it.

Rather, we should embrace our future as a shared journey toward new discoveries, growth, common respect and common good.

Actually, more I am rooted in my own faith; more I will be open towards others – since I am confident and secure.

Through collaboration we can learn a deeper understanding and respect for one another as members of the global human family and appreciate the values that bind us together in spite of our differences.

As God Almighty declared in the Qur’an: “O humanity! We created you from a single (pair) … male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Truly, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous [among] you … God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (Qur’an 49:13)

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

Anas bin Malik (r) reported that the Prophet (S) said: “”None amongst you believes (truly or has a perfect faith) until he/she loves for his/her brother/sister” – or he (S) said “for his/her neighbor” – “that which he/she loves for himself/herself.” (Muslim)

عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ لاَ يُؤْمِنُ أَحَدُكُمْ حَتَّى يُحِبَّ لأَخِيهِ – أَوْ قَالَ لِجَارِهِ – مَا يُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِهِ

So, what are the principles that guide me in relating to my brothers and sisters from other religious traditions?

In a talk long ago in Cairo, Bishop Kenneth Cragg stressed the importance of openness with “others”: an open door, an open hand, an open heart, an open mind and, yes, an open creed.

I could not agree more fully with his insight.

Let me explain myself!

OPEN DOOR: The open door, for me, represents hospitality — something I have experienced from the very first day I set foot in Canada amid the mosaic of all differences among all brothers and sisters in humanity – all Canadians.

An open door suggests that meaningful interfaith dialogue can happen when each partner feels secure and trusted enough to freely extend, and receive, the other’s hospitality.

That spirit of security and trust comes from the experience of self-knowledge, strong identity, and confidence in one’s own faith and principles.

On the other hand, when one’s sense of security and identity is lost, the doors to genuine dialogue close.

So, I am convinced that the more at-home and confident I am in the principles of my own faith — that is, the more deeply I understand and am rooted in my formative Islamic beliefs — the more open and hospitable I can be to my brothers and sisters of other religious traditions.

Conversely, the less securely I am rooted in my formative Islamic principles (or the less I know and can act upon them), the less open and hospitable I will be to others.

The same logic applies to the people of other faiths.

OPEN HANDS: When hands are open in greeting, others are immediately put at ease.

For me, open hands symbolize honest intentions, a gesture to show you that I have no hidden agendas; no desire to trick you, harm you, or hurt you.

My open hands also show that I am not afraid to be vulnerable; to give myself over to you in a moment of trust.

What greater test of faith can there be?

OPEN HEART: And what about the open heart?

When I attend interfaith meetings or talk to Canadians of other faith traditions, even to those who do not adhere to any faith, I work hard on building trust by being as honest and transparent as I can.

I become very uncomfortable with those who say one thing in our meetings as colleagues, but another in different company, among different friends.

Such duplicity, or fragmented identity, generates only suspicion; it can only impede the progress of our dialogue and intentions toward the betterment of this great country.

OPEN MIND: Then there is the continual struggle to maintain an open mind.

In life, we must learn not only what to think, but how to think.

And for this to happen we need more than mere knowledge or data about our faith and beliefs; we need true wisdom.

We need leaders who are dedicated to “walking the talk,” according to the core teachings of their respective scriptural texts.

In Bosnia we used to say: “Before cutting, measure three times!”

Similarly, I would earnestly suggest to our leaders: “Before saying anything, think three times!”

OPEN FAITH: Finally, a few words about having an open creed.

The broader and deeper our understanding of faith becomes, the better and more open human beings we can be.

Faith opens our eyes and clears our vision; we see others through a more empathic lens, from a more attuned spiritual perspective — which is in complete accord with what the will of God Almighty desires for us.

Ignorance and misunderstanding about our respective faiths close the doors of dialogue, co-operation and ethics.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught something very similar to the Christian “golden rule” when he said: “Love for your brother/sister (others) what you love for yourselves and you would attain the status of the best believer; be good to your neighbor, and you will be the best Muslim.”

In our present era of rapid globalization and the ever-expanding information highway, one powerful tradition of Prophet Muhammad (S) guides my daily thoughts and actions.

Jabir (r) reported that the Messenger of Allah (S) said: “The believer is friendly and befriended, for there is no goodness in one who is neither friendly, nor befriended. The best of people are those who are most beneficial to people.” (At Tabarani)

In Canada, we have a far greater opportunity and potential for achieving genuine openness and of doing “good” to others than in perhaps any other place on earth today.

What could be more challenging and hopeful as we stand at the end of 2020 and the dawn of a new year?

That is why we chose to make our home here in this magnificent country!

Ya Rabb! We ask of you to guide us understand our faith so that we could live it fully, as you intended! And we ask of you that we become the most useful to all brothers and sisters in humanity!

Allahumma Amin!