Friday, March 6, 2009

Where Art Thou, Islam: From Interfaith Dialogues To Sufism (Part 4)

Moving Forward

The Qur’an set forth perennial principles of humane interfaith behavior. For example, in the Qur’an (5:48) ends with the following words: “For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way, and if God had pleased, God would have made you a single people, but that God might try you in what God gave you, therefore strive with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; to God you will all return, so God will let you know that in which you differed.” 

The notion of being different and to thrive in that difference has been embedded in Islam. Muslims have always seen themselves as engaging in dialogues as related through its history evidenced in the paper. Whether the relationships have been productive or disastrous, Muslims have defined themselves in dialogue. They have always understood – and constructed – their “Islam” in a context of pluralism. The move to suddenly express themselves in a particular construct post-September 11 bedazzled Muslims and put them at a crossroad. Never before have they been asked to explain themselves to the world, but the productive effect within the community is that they are made to critically examine themselves and their existence in this world community.

In many ways, Muslims being in the spotlight since September 11, have a huge role to play in the promotion of this peace. Muslims living in a country where Islam is a minority religious tradition are in a better position to create discourses and influence the rest of the Muslim world. In countries where Muslims are the majority, there are often restrictions and sometimes persecutions of other religious traditions – for example the Baha’is in Iran or the Christians in Pakistan. As an illustration, Muslims in Singapore can exist safely and are free to practice as Muslims in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society, and show the world that religion is not a thing which should divide humanity. In order to make interfaith dialogues a success, one must have not only a deep understanding of one’s own faith, but an understanding and appreciation of the faith of the dialogue partner(s). In that vein, Muslims committed to pluralism can also be an example to other Muslims in dialogue amongst various Muslim groups (for example, between the Sunnis and Shiites, or between the major sects of Hanafis, Malikis, Syafies and Hambalis) – all too often, a neglected aspect of religious dialogue.

These examples illustrate what Jonathan Z. Smith meant when he said that debates of religion revolve around experience and language – that they are inseparable: there is no experience without language because language ‘creates’ the world and does not merely reflects it (Smith 2004). Such sacred experiences only exist in its articulation through language – hence any human translation is necessarily inadequate as it is reductive in nature. But as translation is a relentless social activity, it is always opened to rectification, modification and improvement – a useful tool in enriching religious pluralism.

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