Dr Liyakat Takim
(Denver, United States)
One of the major obstacles to an understanding of the other is when we compare our ideals with the realities of the other. Viewed in this context, the violence perpetrated by members of one party is often contrasted with the ideals of peace and love of the other. A more appropriate basis of comparison is to contrast our ideals with theirs or our realities with the realities of those we dialogue. When communities compare their respective realities, they often discover that both of them have been unjust to each other, and, in the name of religion, have committed atrocious acts. Indeed, disputes between groups often arise when one party believes that it is the only injured group or victim and refuses to accept its role in the conflict.
Dialogue provides the challenge and opportunity for both Muslims and non-Muslims to acknowledge that they have both inflicted and suffered much pain. For this to occur, dialogue needs to go beyond merely understanding the other; it has also to provide the platform for people to acknowledge and experience the pain of the other. As a friend of mine commented, “Dialogue should make me see the other as a brother.”
Muslims in the West need to take a stand with their co-religionists and speak out against injustices perpetrated by various Muslim governments against minorities. Muslims must also be more vocal against all acts of terrorism in different parts of the world and the suppression of the rights of women. They need to articulate a theory of human relations that will incorporate notions of dignity, freedom of conscience, rights of minorities, and gender equality. Muslims must also insist that their non-Muslim partners speak out against injustices to various Muslim groups, the occupation in Palestine, and the suppression of rights of Muslims and civil liberties in America after 911. It is on these occasions that we can know inform the others of the atrocities committed against Muslims and the need to pressure their governments to radically alter their policies toward Muslims all over the world. Indeed, in today’s world, such outreach programs provide the best platform to inform and reform “the other.”
Historically, Islam has exhibited much tolerance to members of other faith communities such as in Spain, India, the holy lands, Turkey, Africa, and Indonesia. The tendency to view Islam through violence and militant lens distorts the view that Islam has a rich cultural heritage and precepts that necessitate co-existence with the other. For much of Islamic history, Muslim societies have been remarkably open to the outside world. Spain is a great example where Muslims not only co-existed peacefully with Christians and Jews, but also protected them and shared their scientific achievements with their counterparts.
It is essential that we move away from defining ourselves over and above an enemy “other.” This is an important measure to establish peaceful relationship. In this sense, I believe, that we need to go beyond tolerating or understanding the other. More than ever, there is a need to embrace the other. This suggests a different function of dialogue, one that can bring the hearts – not just the minds – of the people together.
Given the realities after the events of September 11, 2001, dialogue can no longer be confined to a room where partners talk about peace and understanding. It must also confront the realities of hate, discrimination, and violence in society. Collaborative actions have become more important since September 11, 2001 as Muslims have realized that conversations with their non-Muslim friends ought to lead to shared commitment so as to address humanitarian issues that concern both communities.
The challenge for Muslims in contemporary times is to recover the tolerance and means for peaceful coexistence through the Qur’an. As they engage in a re-examination of traditional exegesis, the point of departure for Muslims has to be the Qur’an itself rather than the multi-faceted and multi-layered scholarly discourse that has accumulated since the eighth century. This re-interpretive task demands that Muslims undertake the task of re-evaluating the classical and medieval juridical corpus.