Tuesday, June 10, 2008

This thing called Interfaith

This past weekend the Raleigh Masjid played host to a small council of imams in the area, called the CIC (which I think stands for Carolina Islamic Council.) From what I can gather, it's comprised of the leaders of local Islamic communities, who meet a few times a year for a few lectures open to the community and alo other discussions they hold in private. I never really knew about it until they came here this weekend.

But one of the presentations was offered by a local brother on giving da'wah. And he described all the different kinds of da'wah we do at our masjid... which sounds really impressive if you're giving or listening to a presentation about it. In reality, it seems difficult to scrape up volunteers for all these activities we apparently do.

But one kind of activity which tends to draw criticism from the Muslim community is that which falls under the heading of "interfaith." In fact, our da'wah committee has a branch called "interfaith." But it's probably not what people might fear on the issue of interfaith--which is, an agreement among participants that everyone's religion is equally valid. But what is done here is actually rather limited--it involves coordination and communication between local churches, synagogues, and mosques, and some informational exchanges between them.

The flagship of this branch is an activity called One God, Three Faiths. Notice "three faiths," and not "interfaith;" while Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all teach belief in One God, the religions are different. The way it works is that each participating group--10 members from a church, synagogue, or mosque--hosts everyone else at their house of worship for dinner, and discussion. They rotate so each group gets to host, and everyone gets to visit the different places of worship.

In the process, they learn about the different religions, primarily through social contact. The presentations focus on a specific theme, each group presenting the view of their religion. For example, one theme was Abraham, and everybody got to explain the importance of Abraham in their faith, as the event progressed.

This kind of activity is of course an opportunity to give da'wah, because there is a willing audience, and the chance to explain Islam. But frankly that's not what was going on. More recently, however, some newer members are approaching the task with the greater obligation of presenting Islam as strongly as possible, pointing out the differences.

Some people might suggest that such an environment is more suited for highlighting similarities--and that is the trap of interfaith work, to avoid the distinctiveness, and when it comes to Islam and da'wah, that is really something to be focused on. By that, I mean tawheed.

At the conference, it was pointed out that the nature of this activity is not true interfaith, but more presenting Islam in an environment where other religions are also able to present their view, and was considered acceptable. I was glad to see the activity take a turn towards more aggressive da'wah in recent months, and hope that we as Muslims can summon the courage to discuss our deen in any setting. Because that is our obligation before Allah.

4 comments:

Jamilah said...

Sounds interesting Amy...

My masjid does a lot with groups coming into the masjid, but as far as I know we don't go 'out' very much. we have a public access TV show and some regular school groups that come in, but nothing really interfaith. Not sure why really.

brnaeem said...

AA- Amy,

"I was glad to see the activity take a turn towards more aggressive da'wah in recent months, and hope that we as Muslims can summon the courage to discuss our deen in any setting. Because that is our obligation before Allah."

Yeah, that's a very touchy subject when it comes to these interfaith dialogs. The basic assumption of all participants is to treat the others equally, i.e present your beliefs and accept the belief of others.

But how is that accomplished when our beliefs unequivocally declare their beliefs to be misguided?

Tough situation...

Amy said...

Salaam Naeem,

You've just presented the classic mistake of interfaith dialogue. It doesn't mean that anyone accepts the beliefs of others, it merely means that everyone listens to those beliefs.

Of course "we" think "they" are misguided, but so do "they" think "we" are misguided.

Allah SWT says in the Qur'an what can be translated as:

Say: "O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah." If then they turn back, say ye: "Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah's Will).

Jews and Christians do say that they believe in One God, so that is where to start, with pure tawheed vs. their shirk/kufr. Of course we don't have to accept what they believe, and they don't have to accept what we believe.

The point is just to say it.

You would be amazed at all the goofy things people think Muslims believe.

brnaeem said...

AA- Amy,

"It doesn't mean that anyone accepts the beliefs of others, it merely means that everyone listens to those beliefs. "

I stand corrected. Good point.