Sunday, 12 December 2010

Role of Prophet Muhammad Peace be upon him in Inter Faith Relations

Professor Tariq Ramadan on Prophet
Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) Role in
Inter Faith Relations

Dr. Mozammel Haque

On the occasion of Inter Faith Week 2010, The Muslim Council of Britain’s (MCB) Interfaith Relations Committee celebrated the week by organising a meeting at the House of Lords on Wednesday, 24th of November, 2010 and Professor Tariq Ramadan was invited as a keynote speaker to lecture on “Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) Inter Faith Relations”.

Dr. Tariq Ramadan is a Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. He has been involved in interfaith dialogue for 25 years and he is among the leading Islamic thinkers in the West, with a large following around the world. Professor Ramadan has written an exceedingly beautiful book on the life of the blessed Prophet, entitled The Messenger: The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad (Penguin: London, 2007).

Messenger’s life
Professor Ramadan at the very beginning of his speech said that for us, as Muslims, it is very important to come back to the essence of religion and for us, the best example is our Messenger, Peace be upon him. He said, “For us, as Muslims, the best example is the Messenger peace be upon him and to come to this essence is to come to the Seerah which is not only the verses of the Qur’an and the message but the way he understood and implemented during his life. For us, all the Muslims, the Messenger’s life is an example, and we have to follow up the footsteps of the Messenger, to be witnesses; because at the end of the day he said something which is important.”

Faith should be visible
“We are all talking about faith; we are all celebrating faith; it is important. We very often speak about faith is something which is in our hearts;” said Professor Ramadan and added, “but when you follow the Messenger faith should be visible; it should be visible. Prophet came with revelations to make faith visible into our understanding but also of behaviour. So this is why it is important for us to understand that.”

Final message, diversity is our faith, our destiny
Professor Ramadan mentioned, “From an Islamic viewpoint, it is very important to understand what he said about the previous scriptures, about the previous Messengers and messages. The final Messenger is saying that it is not the only message; the final message and the Messenger respects all the Messengers. This is something which is central to the last Messenger who is telling you that you have to deal with diversity. Diversity is your faith; diversity is destiny and after diversity you have to learn first to understand and know yourself and to know the other. The verse quoted here means, ‘We made you tribes and nations for you to know each other.’”

Professor Ramadan also mentioned, “In between the conflict and knowledge there is humility. Diversity to understand that you do not understand the whole truth. Truth does not belong to you but you belong to Truth. You are trying to express the Truth. You can get that understanding from the very beginning and it is very important thing. Then also for our consistency out of this behaviour to get another understanding what the message is saying about other traditions; for other religions and for other messengers, it is very important.”

Tolerance is not enough
Professor Ramadan said that when he went through Prophet’s life and he wrote Book on “The Messenger: The Meaning of the Life of Muhammad”, he just realised two or three things which he put into two main important lessons; “first one is that through this life what you get is that tolerance is not enough; tolerance is a rational positioning; is that I tolerate your presence with my mind because I have no means to remove you from the picture and the very essence of tolerance is suffering of the presence of the other.”

Accept the Will of God
“This is the very meaning of tolerance from the Islamic viewpoint; you will find exactly the same in Christianity, in Judaism, in Hinduism and in Buddhism. You have to even accept beyond that,” said Professor Ramadan and added, “The acceptance is to accept the Will of God and God wants the diversity. He wants the diversity as your destiny; so you have to go from acceptance towards respect and the difference between acceptance and respect that you have to personally committed to this presence of the other, meaning respect is based on the knowledge of the other.”

Knowledge, listening and talk
It is important to understand every single step of the Prophet’s life. Professor Ramadan said, “It is not only to accept what God is showing but your deep acceptance through the spirituality to go towards knowledge, to know the other and to know the other is not for you to talk only but is for you also to listen, based on knowledge; listening what the people has to say. Dialogue is not I talk and you listen that talk; but I will listen.”

We have a message, There is one God
Professor Ramadan reminded the stories of Moses. According to the Qur’an, when Moses is facing the Christians, they are asking him: are you going to speak first or us? Show me what you have to say. Professor Ramadan said, “Even in the dialogue, the very beginning is to listen. So we get this overall understanding. When we come to the life of Messenger here we have message and we have behaviour. We have a way of dealing with it; we have a witness of this; we have an example and we have a model. What is important here is for us, that the Prophet peace be upon him was repeating and that comes a new message, what was coming before and for us the essential thing that was there that there is one God, the one God, it is the central, the Tawheed. This is why it is understood Ahlul Kitab, the people who were following Book that was revealed, are following this very message that there is one God.”

There is meaning in our life
“And there is one God means that there is meaning in our life. Professor Ramadan wanted to stress on this. He said, “Very often in our interfaith dialogue, Islah, life has a meaning. We are coming from God and to Him we are going back; so it means that we have a responsibility to keep this meaning. When Prophet peace be upon him came to Madina, what he did in Madina? In Madina when he was dealing with society is not just doing the is doing in the night is to change during the day. So there is a connection here between the spirituality and faith in action.”

Seerah of the Prophet – humility
What teaching we get from diversity? From this diversity what should we do and why it is important? Professor Ramadan said, “The first teaching of diversity that we had is the important of Seerah of the Messenger, the Prophet peace be upon him is really humility; is at the same time to belief that you have the Truth and you follow the Truth; because you are the believers and that this is the Truth that He is the Truth. So following something that I deeply belief in Truth but the Truth is telling me there are other religions and the other ways; so you have to deal with this diversity that it will help you to be better yourselves.”

“Someone telling us I am not learning despite of respecting, despite of their differences because they are different, your differences help me to be better. So the fact that you are helping me to know who I want to be,” said Professor Ramadan and added, “So the difference is an asset, as it could be if you don’t have faith, if you don’t have some understanding, something could be a liability, a problem and a challenge per se.

Confirmation of faith
Then Professor Ramadan mentioned some of the teachings we learned from the very beginning is that when the Messenger was first trying to get them answer; he left the people and went to Hera and he was asking God to give him an answer. “The first confirmation just after the first revelation that there is something what you are saying right, there is something what you got;” mentioned Professor Ramadan and said, “So confirming the very essence of faith and saying something that you will never and we should never forget, because something you are coming with Truth, as oath and love and you are going to be loved by people. Face animosity, face enemy. We have to be clear on that. We should spread peace knowing that some responses as we can see today are not outgoing with full of love. So this is the starting point.”

Face animosity, face enemy
Professor Ramadan also reminded, “It’s a Christian telling to a Muslim, the last Messenger that the people are going to reject what you are coming with because some people are moved by interest, money, power. Know that your responsibility: if you are coming with meaning is to resist this obsession of power, this idolatry. Idolatry is exacting this. So you got this from the Christian. The Messenger did not understand at the beginning; he said: ‘Are they going to reject me?’ He said, ‘yes, this is the fate of the Messenger.’ So it’s a Christian teaching and just telling that you are following the steps of a long tradition.”

Question of meaning
Then oppression really and eventually came and after the oppression, what did the Messenger say and what did he do? Professor Ramadan said, “Wahi, this revelation, this inspiration coming from God, ‘Go to the Christian ruler; he is working with justice,’ saying to the Muslims it is not a question of love; it is a question of meaning, go and he will protect you; because he is a believer and he is acting as a just ruler.”

Halful Fadul Pact
Professor Ramadan mentioned another agreement, Halful Fadul pact which was made before the arrival of Islam. Professor Ramadan said, “Remember that when after years the Prophet got the revelation he said one day I was in a home and in this home was a jadal; we had a pact - the pact of the future, the Halful Fadul. It was all about justice; it was before Islam; but if now myself as a Muslim, I had to come back to this Pact, I will come back to it; why? Because it was before Islam but it is Islamic principle; telling you that it was not you follow only what is coming from your religion, because some principles are coming from outside; they are rooted in your tradition but coming from other people.”

Principles are principles from wherever they come
“You can find them in Christianity, you can find them in Judaism, you can find them in Jewish, Christian people, Hindu people, Buddhist people and even non-religious people and non-believers sometimes they abide by principles that you will find them what we are losing; this diversity could help you and this is what he was saying about Halful Fadul telling to Muslims: be careful principles are principles from wherever they come,” said Professor Ramadan.

Asking the Christians to come
Professor Ramadan mentioned some of the things which need education and understanding. He said we can get this from the life of the Prophet peace be upon him. He said, “We can get this teaching from his life and then also some of the stories that we had asking the Christians to come and the verse was just quoted now, Ya Ahlil Kitab, O, People of the Book, come to the common world; we have to talk and we want to listen. Then access is this that there is one God; but let us come together. It was said in some of the Traditions that you pray within the Mosque. It was allowed that the prophet and there was discussions mainstream is saying it happened this respect towards Christianity; and look at this because you are referring Khalifa Omar to Jerusalem and al-Quds; he refused to pray in the Church; why?”

Prophet allowed Christians to pray in Mosque and
Omar refused to pray in Church
Professor Ramadan narrated, “The Prophet peace be upon him welcomed the Christians and he let them to pray within the Mosque; but when Omar went to al-Quds he refused to pray in the Church and he said people after me win here and they will agree to destroy the Church; sending the message that we value the very essence of what the Church is, he knew human beings. The human beings are sometimes distorted memory and distorted respect. Here we have again story coming with someone who was Companion of the Messenger and telling us how we have to act and more than that.”

Madina Agreement with Jews – equality
Then Professor Ramadan also mentioned about the Madina Covenant with the Jews. He said, “When the Messenger arrived in Madina and he said to the Jewish tribes that he wanted to come into a common agreement; equality, respecting them; la ikraha fith deen; I am not going to convert people; respect who you are; so we have a common agreement. So this would be something which has to do with the rule of law; that we abide by the same law; same rights and the same duties at the same time.”

Political struggle
“Even after this, in some of the struggles with some of the Christians or Jewish tribes, the Messenger was able to differentiate between political reasons and the essence of mutual respect protecting some of the Jewish tribes while having problems with other tribes but he was not confusing,” mentioned Professor Ramadan and said, “It is very important for us not to confuse political struggle and not respecting the freedom of religion of the other. So I think this is something which is coming from his life and to end with this example in Madina and this is very essence of diversity and equality.”

Self-critical is important
Professor Ramadan said, “Self-critical is important. We are not coming back to the past to forget the failures of the present; we are coming back to the past to know our responsibility to change the present; it is the past to change the present and it is not the past to forget the failures of the present. This is something which is quite important in the critical thinking that is very important as Muslims.”

Secular society
Speaking about secular society, Professor Ramadan said, “We have to reach out, we have a responsibility to reach out within our society and to stop of talking about secular society which is not concerned with religion. Secular society does not mean that there is no religion; secular society means there is a neutral space where we respect each other, it is not disappear. So the people who are transforming a secular society into an ideology of secularism you have to disappear; it is dangerous for all of us.”

Love and Family
Then Professor Ramadan mentioned about his experience in South America when he met people who are connected to the Roman Catholic Church. Professor Ramadan said, “We are talking about love. If you love God, at the end of the verse is, God will love you. When you look at the Messenger and the Prophet, peace be upon him, it is all about loving God. It is just to serve Him because he loves Him. We have to come with this.”

Professor Ramadan also spoke about family. He said, “Come back to the centrality of family and I don’t know what you feel about this; but Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, we all care about the very essence of family life in our society and its future. We are following into the footsteps of people who told them: be careful about your wives, your husbands, your kids.”

Superficial of understanding of Religion
Professor Ramadan mentioned his dialogue recently with someone who wrote a book saying God is not Great. “Which kind of meaning? What are you attacking?” said Professor Ramadan and added, “Sometimes it is very much a question of people of misunderstanding and the very superficial of understanding of religion. People sometimes are rejecting religion because they have a very superficial understanding and we have to come to our principles to say this.”

Final word on Interfaith
Professor Ramadan said the final word on interfaith dialogue is “We have to work on this. Interfaith dialogue is not speaking about the common values, it is to put in the middle, challenges, projects and we have to be involved together and to come us together with our respective values.”

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