Inter-religious cooperation is a must not a choice
By Imam Yahya Hendi
Since the tragedy of Sep 11 th, I have started watching more closely the response of our religious communities. Some have gone to the far extreme suggesting that America is a country of exclusively one religious community. This voice believes that Islam, the religion of the Arabs (although only 20% of Muslims are Arabs) does not belong in America. Many Muslim immigrants were asked to go “back home”. For 54% of American Muslims America is where they came from and back home could be Boston, Austin or Greenville. However, this voice is still that of a very small minority in the United Sates. President Bush spoke very well in defense of American Muslims and Islam. Many leaders in religious communities spoke louder than ever before about the need to be united in the face of a terrorism that has no religion and a hatred and violence that has no faith.
Religious freedom has always been at the core of American life and should continue to be a part of the way Americans engage in domestic and foreign relations. This country has made significant efforts in this area. Such efforts have led America to be a place where people worldwide come to seek a better life, more opportunities and to experience profound respect for human integrity. One must keep in mind that many immigrants have not come here only for better jobs but also to be able to practice their religions freely and without fear. These people were on the run escaping religious persecution in their own country. It is America’s duty to protect religious freedom for all people and keep the dialogue between its citizens going to better understand who we are.
Every man is a potential adversary, even those whom we love. Only through dialogue are we saved from this enmity toward one another. Dialogue is to love as blood is to the body. When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born. But dialogue can restore a dead relationship. It can bring a relationship into being, and it can resuscitate a relationship that is dying. There is only one qualification to these claims for dialogue: it must be mutual and proceed from both sides, and the parties to it must persist relentlessly.
Dialogue brings us face to face with truth in a relationship of love. As each person speaks and responds honestly to the other, each moves toward the other and includes him. This kind of meeting between fellow citizens cannot occur without an implicit meeting between God and us. We must first believe that to see another is to see God, and to love another is to love God. When we are truly known by another God knows us, and to be truly loved by another is to know the love of God. Dialogue is communication in which we are informed, purified, illumined, and reunited to ourselves, to one another, and God. Islam teaches that God loves those who love others. Prophet Muhammad said: “He who shows mercy to God’s people is shown Mercy by God and those who visit the needy, poor and the patient will find God with them.”
The fruits of religious convictions and our love of God are not achieved in a vacuum. They are achieved and found in the context of human relationships. The fruits of religious conviction are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Unfortunately, however, we are apt to think of these fruits in the abstracts, as achievements apart from the process, which produce them. Love, for instance, is not a ready-made, easily purchased product. Indeed, we cannot understand love except as we see it striving on behalf of all its enemies. Peace accepts strife as part of its responsibility. Patience or long-suffering has meaning only in relation to the conflicts, distortions, and misrepresentations of life. Gentleness is not weak but strong, and has forged out of temptation to be hostilely aggressive, to use compulsion as a way of achieving one’s own will.
When a man and a woman, for example, achieve a sense of deeper love that unites them more closely than ever, they know and can recall the conflicts, bitterness, and misunderstandings of one another through which they had to work in order to be reunited more deeply in love.
All of us Americans, in general, and committed Jews, Christians and Muslims, in particular, must find within their own traditions sound reasons to value other faiths without compromising their own. They must realize that what happened on sep 11 th cannot divide us. We should not tolerate voices of divisiveness. We must use sep 11 th to explore the best in each of us. Let us keep in mind that Diversity is in itself not a bad thing provided it occurs within unity, cooperation and coordination. So let us all chose to be united with all of our differences for the best of this nation and all of humanity.