20/03/2006 A.D. 20/02/1427 H.
Translated by: ManalSamhat
The spiritual leader of a number of American congressmen, American Priest Douglas Coe, once held a dialogue with the late Religious Authority, His Eminence, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah. He paid the Sayyed a visit in his house in Lebanon, seeking to learn about the real Islam amid all the misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding it, as well as all the practices committed [falsely] in its name.
After greeting and welcoming his guest, Sayyed Fadlullah said the following:
Understanding between peoples
We believe that such meetings are fruitful for both sides as they help in building the foundations of understanding over several vital issues among different peoples, especially when it comes to America and the Arab and Muslim worlds. Many of the problems happening actually occur due to some kind of misunderstanding between both sides or by one side, where they judge the other based on their own understanding or conclusions without any solid basis whatsoever.
We always call for understanding between peoples. Actually, these are the teachings of the Holy Quran that call on us to follow the path that changes a person from being an enemy into being a friend: “And not alike are the good and the evil. Repel (evil) with what is best, when lo! He between whom and you was enmity would be as if he were a warm friend” (41: 34).
Based on that, we love being friends with all the people in the world, to understand them and be understood by them. Every people have their own singularities. In a Hadith by Prophet Muhammad (p.), he says: “We prophets were ordered to address the people according to their level of understanding”.It is a call for us to reach out to people’s minds and understand their way of thinking, and address them based on that.
The value of Islam lies in that it recognizes all [Heavenly] religions, as we recognize Judaism and Christianity, as well as their respective Holy Books: the Torah and the Bible. The Quran is the Holy Book of Allah and it taught us to look for points of agreement and meeting with the other religions: “Say: ‘O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah” (03: 64).
When we engage on a dialogue with the People of the Book, both the Jewish and the Christians, the Quran calls on us to address them, using civilized methods that bring us together, and do not drive us apart. Therefore, we call for cultural and spiritual peace, as well as practical peace on the ground.
And with this spirit, we welcome you here.
The voice of Islam in America
Coe: How can we bring all our friends in America, especially the congresspersons, to hear all what you have just talked about?
Fadlullah: You can do this through the book “Al-HiwarFil-Qur’an Al-Kareem” (dialogue in the Holy Quran), which was translated into English under the title “Islam: The religion of dialogue”.
Coe: We, in America, know only a little about Islam and Muslims, and we rarely meet someone who truly understands Islam and its reality the way you do. So, the reason of our visit was to benefit from any information you might provide.
Fadlullah: You are very welcome, and we are ready to talk with you on anything, for we believe that there can be no taboos in dialogue and that a dialogue should include everything, which is what enables people to understand each other. In the light of this, we would love to be friends with the American people. Based on our concern for this people and out of our respect for man in general, I was the first Islamic to condemn the 9/11 attacks, as I issued a statement four hours after the attack in which I clearly said that such an attack cannot be accepted and tolerated by any mind, law or religion. Indeed, we do differ with the American Administration with regards to the political issues, but we do not fight America in such a way that directly targets the American people.
Actually, America is home for millions of Muslims and Arabs, and we believe that they live peacefully in America, even though we have been noticing lately the emergence of some laws that impose restrictions on the Muslims in your country. People are starting to regard them as suspects, although we know that the American Muslims have not committed any negative acts against their fellow citizens. In my letters to them, I have always called on them to preserve the general order of the countries they live in. Moreover, I have always called on them to integrate with the American people and to live their concerns and share their vital issues, just as they live the concern of their issues and affairs. The reason is that I believe that when we live in a certain country, we ought to maintain good relations with our fellow citizens in that country and act as true citizens whilst preserving out identities.
Perhaps the value of the United States of America lies in that the different groups of its society, whether at the national or religious level, still preserve their own identities in their private communities, and we cannot but appreciate and respect that. We believe in the necessity of holding a Muslim – Christian dialogue, and I have published a book entitled “Fi Afaq Al-Hiwar Al-Islami Al-Maseehi (In the horizons of the Muslim-Christian dialogue)” years ago. As a matter of fact, this book summarizes my experience in the field of dialogue, and I have called on all Muslims and Christians to set out from their common and mutual grounds. We regard Jesus Christ as sacred, and we believe that he is the Spirit of Allah and His word which He breathed into Virgin Mary. Moreover, we regard Virgin Mary as sacred, and we believe that Allah has chosen her and preferred her over the women of the worlds. We also believe in the Torah and the Bible that the Quran mentions and confirms their Divinity.
Religion of peace, not violence
Coe: The problem in our country is that we do not know Islam well, and some are driving us to believe that Islam is comprised of violent Salafi (fundamentalist) trend and Takfiri (one who accuses others, even Muslims, as disbelievers) groups who reject the others and even kill them. What do you say about that?
Fadlullah: We consider that these are completely distant from Islam, its spirit and its goals, when they practice what you are pointing at. Islam is the religion of mercy that respects the peaceful human being and that calls on us to coexist with him on the basis of justice and kindness. We consider whoever exercises terrorism and Takfir under the slogan of “fundamentalism” as terrorists, for they spare no life, even the life of Muslims, as what is going on in many countries of the Muslim world, especially in Iraq, as well as in Saudi Arabia and Morocco. Just because the others belong to a different sect or school of thought or have a different thinking, they deem killing them lawful. Therefore, We consider that the SalafiTakfiri groups are actually acting against Islam, for Islam orders man to be peaceful with whoever is peaceful with him. Actually, this is apparently manifested by the greeting the Muslim uses to greet the other: “As-SalamuAlaykum”, meaning peace be upon you. By this greeting, it would be as if the Muslim is saying I am peaceful with you and I am not in a state of war against you; thus, I will preserve your life, money and all your affairs… Even the Quran states that the greeting of the dwellers of Heaven is peace, for Allah says: “And ‘Peace’ will be their greeting therein!” (14: 23). We cannot picture Islam as a religion of war, as it does not call for forcing people into believing in it by coercion or force, for Allah says: “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation” using human civilized wording” (16: 111). As for the wars that were waged, they were like any wars the break out between peoples on the basis of political, economic or other situations…
The Quran mentions fighting for the sake of self-defense in the face of anyone who declares war on us and fighting for the sake of lifting injustice off the downtrodden and the oppressed. As for those who are in peaceful terms with us, we should be peaceful with them and respect their freedom and life.
Alienation from Christianity
Coe: In the Christian community where we grew up, we notice that the Christians (the Catholics and the Protestants) are fighting each other, and they are all divided. At a time Christ said that there is only one church, we find that the Christians who believe in Jesus Christ have founded hundreds of churches, yet they wonder why they detest each other despite their common belief in Christ.Our children in the USA are not particularly enthusiastic towards any of the different Christians churches. Although the parents say they are Christians, the children know nothing about Christianity!
Fadlullah: I believe that the problem is that they are not living the true spirituality of Christianity summarized by Jesus’s words: “God is but love”. Being Christian means that you ought to love all people, as Jesus Christ says: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. As such, religion calls on us for unity in the name of Allah, and the Muslims love Allah and want Allah to love them back, and so is the case with the Christians and the Jews. That is why we ought to come together on the basis of the love of Allah Who created us all.
The disagreement between the Sunnis and the Shiites
Coe: Why are there Sunnis and Shiites? What is the problem between them?
Fadlullah: there is a difference in opinions with regards to a certain topic. One group of Muslims (the Shiites) says that the Prophet (p.) entrusted Imam Ali with the caliphate, while the other group of Muslims do not believe in this caliphate or Imam Ali’s guardianship. On this basis, differences and fanaticism infiltrated into the matter; thus deepening the disagreements, even though they are entirely intellectual.
The problem of religions is that fanaticism, not logic, controls the disagreements. Perhaps some of the things that happened between the Protestants and the Catholics have actually happened between the Sunnis and the Shiites. This is the real problem of religions. They are supposed to call for love and peace, however, the differences in religions and sects call for enmity, hatred and war.
Proximity between Muslims and Christians
Coe: What are in your opinion the means of proximity between the Christians and Muslims who are in disagreement with one other and among themselves?
Fadlullah: The first main thing is to educate the people and bringing them up on grasping the religious facts and truths based on the mind and reason and not emotions and instincts. The problem is that instincts drive people to take negative stands from each other, but when we present the religious concepts to the people and ask them to think about them and interact with them; they will start to understand the true meaning of religion.
Religion of mercy
Coe: A statement in the Bible reads: “True religion is to have an open heart”, what do you say about that?
Fadlullah: Indeed, the Quran also calls for adopting this fundamental ethical principle: “And charge one another to show compassion” (90: 17), meaning that we ought to be compassionate and merciful with the orphans, the poor, the needy and the people in general. Mercy is not just a feeling; it is a practice. We ought to practice this mercy aiming to solve people’s problems and trying to alleviate their harsh conditions.
The Quran also describes Prophet Muhammad (p.) as: “And We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds” (21: 107), for Allah sent him as mercy for all people. Moreover, it describes him as having a kind heart, with no place for cruelty and harshness in it and as speaking only nice words. When he was living with his people, he felt their pains, shared their grief in whatever problems they faced and was compassionate and merciful to them. Moreover, the Quran describes Jesus Christ as having a heart flourished with mercy towards all people. We consider that there is not any problem between Prophet Muhammad (p.) and Jesus Christ (a.s.), just as we reject the way they describe Prophet Moses as being violent and cruel, for the Quran describes him as the prophet of love for Allah and all the people.
We call on all peoples to come together over the notion of love for Allah and the people. It is narrated in a noble tradition: “No one is a true believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself and hates for him what he hates for himself”.
A heart flourished with love
Coe: We love your heart and soul that is open to all people…
Fadlullah: And I feel that Allah has commanded us to open up our hearts to the others’ hearts, so that we will be united over the love of Allah and the love of people. We want the people to feel each other through their hearts and to reach out to each other and engage in a dialogue through their minds, for once the heart and the mind come together, civilization will blossom and good will prevail. In this way, civilizations will come together and open up to each other instead of clashing.
Religion is for all people
Q: In the West, they teach us that the Christ came to establish Christianity and so he did. Moreover, all the Christians in America believe that Muhammad is the one who founded the Islamic Message and religion. However, when looking into the Bible, as well as the Old and New testaments, we will find that the Christ did not talk about anything called Christianity. We believe that it was not Christ who established Christianity; rather, it was the people who did so 300-400 years later. In the same sense, an Iranian religious authority said that the same thing applies to the Messenger of Allah, saying that he did not establish the Sunni and Shiite schools of thought.
Fadlullah: I believe that Jesus Christ (a.s.) did not aim for an institution that has followers; rather, he conveyed to the people the spiritual principles and values so that people would breathe them in the way they breathe in air. As such, Jesus Christ did not establish any institution in the materialistic sense. He did not establish any church or papacy or any such thing. He used to address people in a humanely spontaneous manner; so that they would feel that he is speaking their language and expressing their emotions. And so did Prophet Muhammad (p.). He did not establish an institution for a group of people; he came as mercy to all people. Actually, I believe that Islam and Christianity were not sent to be confined locally. Rather, they were meant to spread everywhere, so that the spiritual aspect would join the humanistic aspect, so that man would learn how to be a real human being who loves his fellow humans.
The best forty minutes of my life
Coe: I feel that these were the best forty minutes I have spent in my life.
Fadlullah: I too have these feelings whenever I meet friends… we call for dialogue between religions and their meeting, as well as for dialogue between religion and secularism. I have once addressed the late Pope and said: “Let us agree on two rules: the first is to call on the people to join the path of Allah and love him, and the second is to stand against the arrogant and the oppressors with the downtrodden and oppressed. This is the message that Jesus Christ and Muhammad brought along. We want peace on this land to live peace when our souls ascend to Allah. Let us work for the sake of peace and all the nations, as well as their understanding, meeting and mutual love. We wish you the best luck in your spiritual quest and call to what is the best of entire mankind.