Religious Freedom and Interreligious Relations in Islam: Reflection on Da’Wah and Qur’anic Ethics by Louay M. Safi
The second article from the Summer edition of The Review of Faith & International Affairs.
Safi, Louay M. “Religious Freedom and Interreligious Relations in Islam: Reflection on Da’wah and Qur’anic Ethics.” The Review of Faith and International Affairs (Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer 2011): 11-16.
This was a very interesting article that deals with the idea of the spread of religious beliefs to those of no faith or of a different faith.
Christianity and Islam, in particular, promote missionary and da’wah work aimed at bringing religious truths and understanding to the followers of other religious traditions. – Safi, 11.
This article tries to bring clarity to the question of sharing of beliefs in the Islamic tradition and the corollary question of changing your belief from one religion to another.
In this essay I outline the prevalent position in the Qur’an with regard to freedom of religion and religious conversion, and highlight the importance and limits of interreligious dialogue in the Islamic tradition. The Qur’an, I conclude, clearly teaches principles of compassionate dialogue and mutual respect that should govern Muslim thinking and praxis regarding da’wah and, more broadly, relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. – Safi, 12.
Safi sets out an argument that is full of Qur’anic references that string together the idea that sharing the message of Islam is a valuable action. Also, that forcing or pressuring people to accept that message should be shunned.
To be a true Muslim is by nature a personal choice to be made out of a free will without external pressure. – Safi, 12.
In Safi’s view the individual – and not the community – has the say over choices of faith and accountability. The individual is ultimately responsible to God for his relationship to him.
Safi then moves his discussion from Individual Conviction to how this works in regard to Religious Pluralism. Safi establishes four principles that should define relationships between Muslims and people of other faiths.
- Islam recognizes earlier revelation and acknowledges the truth brought by all biblical prophets.
- Islam emphasizes active faith instead of merely formal religious association.
- Islam asks people of faith to compete in goodness and defer judgment to God.
- Islam promotes a search for common ground.
These principles have value and help to advance the conversation. In practice though they produce more questions. From personal experiences and conversations there is a significant problem in regard to the first principle. While Islam does in a sense recognize the biblical prophets this does not account for very much if the message of those prophets is not actually believed. While I will not expound on it much more at this point – in my view – Islam does not accurately embrace the message of the Bible and the claim to acknowledge the Biblical prophets often clouds the conversation more than helps.
The other principles are extremely helpful in this conversation – and help to address the problem of the first principle – of dialogue between Islam and other faiths. Safi argues for Muslims to put actions to their faith – that verbal assent does not equate true belief – and to compete in acts of goodness.
The duty of the faithful is, therefore, not to judge others and look down on those who have different understanding and faith, but respect their choices and try his or her best to live an upright life and manifest the values of his and her faith through good work and good deeds. – Safi, 15.
In regard to his fourth principle Safi makes an important point that is often overlooked in the “interfaith dialogue” movement. He says:
Muslims are asked to seek common ground with the followers of other religions; this should foster a society in which people are free to worship God by any doctrine they choose. […] This respect does not mean that differences in doctrine and interpretation become irrelevant. Rather, it means that those differences must be addressed through free and open dialogue. – Safi, 15.
There are major differences in doctrine and belief between Christianity and Islam. There are points of convergence, yes. However, when it comes to the core tenants of faith – what Christians might call the “Fundamentals” or even more simply with regard to the Gospel – there is no agreement. However, these disagreements should be a cause for dialogue, for an explanation of Muslim theology and Christian theology. This can take place both in formal and informal settings. Safi goes so far as to say that Muslims have a “moral and religious obligation” to engage in such dialogue (Safi, 15).
This article is helpful for advancing the case of the value of dialogue between Islam and Christianity. The ideal described in this piece is far from the reality in many parts of the world. There are people striving to change this and that is a valuable effort.
His final thoughts are worth sharing:
This free religious exchange must be thorough and reciprocal, and it must acknowledge the freedom of all individuals to change their religious affiliations. – Safi, 16.
With regards to the nature of faith and religious freedom:
Faith is a matter of conviction, and all human beings, Muslims included, must have the choice to change their faith and embrace a different one. – Safi, 16.
Part 2 of my review of the Summer edition of The Review of Faith & International Affairs. Read the introduction to the series.
Part 1: Forced Faith↓