Senior Cleric Underlines Importance of Positive, Constructive Interaction among Religions, Denominations
TEHRAN (FNA)- Director of Iran’s Seminaries Ayatollah Alireza Arafi said that positive and constructive interaction among religions and denominations is a prerequisite for the salvation of the global civilization and creating proximity among societies.
“Interaction and dialogue between religions is one of the most important and practical necessities of human and religious societies in the contemporary world. Extensive communications between people and their interactions with each other, along with peaceful coexistence, can advance human and humanitarian goals in today’s world, a world where there are more political, social and cultural complexities than ever before. In this regard, positive and constructive interactions between religions is one of the most important factors and prerequisites for saving the global civilization, and creating intimacy among human societies. It can also be the criteria for all relations in different areas,” Ayatollah Arafi wrote in an essay.
“The interactions of religions can have tremendous effects on their convergence, as well as on the human society. The common values of religions can easily fulfill human needs. The diversity and multiplicity of religions is a key opportunity for human society to deepen the understanding and vision of human society through religious dialogue and the exchange their achievements,” he added.
The full text of his essay is as follows:
In brief, we believe that political and social systems are not merely established based on different cultures, but rather based around common origins that enable cultures to unite. Dialogue based on this logic can include the entire world, as this issue is based on deep and fundamental human logic and includes human philosophy, the common legal and jurisprudential system as well as the moral system. However, mankind has yet to take steps towards reaching such dialogues based on rational, human and philosophical principles.
Positive and constructive interaction as a prerequisite for the salvation of the global civilization
“Say, ‘O People of the Book! Come to a common word between us and you: that we will worship no one but Allah, that we will not ascribe any partner to Him, and that some of us will not take some others as lords besides Allah.’” (3:64)
Interaction and dialogue between religions is one of the most important and practical necessities of human and religious societies in the contemporary world. Extensive communications between people and their interactions with each other, along with peaceful coexistence, can advance human and humanitarian goals in today’s world, a world where there are more political, social and cultural complexities than ever before. In this regard, positive and constructive interactions between religions is one of the most important factors and prerequisites for saving the global civilization, and creating intimacy among human societies. It can also be the criteria for all relations in different areas. The interactions of religions can have tremendous effects on their convergence, as well as on the human society. The common values of religions can easily fulfill human needs. The diversity and multiplicity of religions is a key opportunity for human society to deepen the understanding and vision of human society through religious dialogue and the exchange their achievements.
We live in a world in which culture, identity and tradition have undeniable and irreplaceable roles. The origin and the root of any change in our world is a change in culture and identity, while, an important part of this universal identity has been created by religions. Undoubtedly, all human values we live by are rooted in some of the world’s spiritual and religious traditions. Therefore, it can be clearly said that religion plays an irreplaceable role in human life and lifestyle. Each of the prophets and messengers, who were sent with a mission, tried to create a lifestyle based on monotheism, instill the spirit of love and affection in humanity and command their followers to love each other according to the needs of their society. By doing so, they took a few forward steps in the creating of a united and harmonious society.
Peaceful coexistence of religions from the perspective of the Glorious Qur’an
Islam and the Qur’an consider all the prophets as being a continuous line. They also hold that the divine books and scriptures manifest a complete system, and regard divine religions as the straight divine path that attained completion during the different stages of history. In the Glorious Qur’an, God Almighty has mentioned a single monotheistic front present throughout history, and the divine prophets have been considered as the leaders and pioneers of this front. Among the thousands of prophets, the Qur’an has named about thirty of them with admiration and sanctification. The goal of all divine religions has been human happiness, salvation and liberation in this world and in the hereafter. The spirit and foundation of the heavenly missions is the belief in monotheism, the unseen and the divine prophets (a), and the pursuit of high human and divine morality. In the view of the divine prophets (a), a human’s life in this world and in the hereafter are not separate from each other. His life in this world is a base and prelude to his life in the next world.
Divine religions have also drawn the general outline for human happiness in this world. The Resolute Prophets (a) are the apex of the history of the prophets, the owners of universal religions and divine books, and have many things in common. Abrahamic religions, especially Islam and Christianity, have many similarities and commonalities. The Qur’an emphasizes the close and kind bond between Muslims and Christians and, in addition to recognizing this great religion, advises a peaceful coexistence with its followers.
The Interaction of the Prophet of Islam (s) and Shiite Imams (a) with different religions
Throughout history, the role of the prophets (a) in creating unity and solidarity in society, has been undeniable. Each of the prophets (a), with the help of these teachings and many others, brought unity and solidarity to a large section of human society.
After the divine prophets (a), their successors and the scholars have an important role in ensuring the continuation of the prophets’ mission and path and the guidance of humanity. It is they who must fulfill their educational, moral-promotional, educational and social responsibilities in the best way. In intellectual institutions of the seminary, which are based on deductive thought and rational-philosophical thinking, there has been an emphasis on scientific discussion over ideas and between different schools of thought, deep scientific dialogue between religions and denominations, and avoiding baseless prejudices and extremism; and the present world needs these more than anything else.
The teachings of the Quran and hadiths, as well as the history of Islam, especially during the time of the Infallible Imams (a), are replete with interactions with different religions. Especially during the life of Imam al-Rida (a), because of the expansion of the borders of the Islamic world, the connections between religions and the interactions between cultures and civilizations increased. This resulted in ideas from the world of Christianity and Judaism, as well as from Roman, Iranian, Egyptian, Indian and Chinese civilizations to gradually enter the Islamic world.
During this period, in order to prevent Muslims from absorbing non-Islamic ideas, the true leaders of the Muslim community correctly presented pure divine teachings. Imam al-Rida (a) lived in the era where the culmination of the confrontation between cultures, civilizations and ideas occurred. So, if we were to refer to his extensive dialogues, especially in the years of his presence in Merv, his vast activities in the face of other religions can be seen. With exemplary charm, he (a) presented pure religious teachings and, in the face of other religions and other Islamic schools, as well as confronting the Shiite Waqifiyya deviation, presented an attractive model of dialogue and interfaith interaction and demonstrated the proper logic and method of dialogue with people of different religions.
Critique of the postmodernist and rationalist view of interaction between religions
The teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) contain a set of pre-religious and pre-human principles, now interpreted as independent intellectual properties and common intellectual and philosophical concepts, but, at the same time, it does not accept the concept of absolute relativism, for doing so will block the way to correct understanding. Absolute relativism, especially postmodern relativism, does not have a strong and acceptable rational and philosophical logic. Postmodernism relies on the logic of relativism and makes dialogue expedient and superficial; however,in a logic based on intellectual and philosophical principles, dialogue is based on rational and human commonalities and it would be much deeper.
In religious and rational dialogue, divine religions have a common philosophy of law and ethics that provides a greater possibility and stages for religious dialogue; but of course, the level of commonalities is much higher than it seems today, and we recognize religious and human dialogue at all levels to be rooted and true.
We believe that political and social systems are not merely based on different cultures, but are based on common origins around which different cultures can unite. Dialogue based on this logic can include the whole world. This issue is based on deep and original human logic, and includes both human philosophy and the common legal and jurisprudential system, as well as the moral system. Mankind has yet to take steps to reach such dialogues based on rational, human and philosophical principles.
All religions and denominations of the world are organized on the basis of rationality, the focus of which is the purposefulness of the world and society. The set of religions, even human-made and non-Abrahamic religions, have sought to understand the relationship between human being, himself and existence, and at least within the framework of rationale and common-sense, tried to provide a correct and realistic interpretation of human being and existence.
In fact, all religions have tried to form their relations within the framework of rationality, the effects of which makes a human’s life meaningful and improves it in practice. Accordingly, religion should be considered related to human rationality. For example, one of the hallmarks of human rationality, formed as an independent intellectual, is justice and equality; because, reason judges the goodness of justice and the ugliness of oppression. It is in this context that human rationality manifests itself in the form of goodness of peace and the ugliness of aggression, bloodshed and war. Therefore, it can be said that all religions and schools are formed based on justice and peace, and manage and guide society within this framework. Of course, this rationality dictates that man must be anti-oppression and must defend the oppressed. Thus, seeking justice and peace, and fighting oppression are endorsed and emphasized in all religions. No security, peace and tranquility will be possible without peace between religions. We believe that human-made and non-divine religions also benefit from a kind of rational and behavioral inclusiveness that lies within their rationality; because, all religions belong to noble human beings, who have benefited from human rationality or, beyond that, they have been in direct contact with the Universal Intellect of existence, who is the Almighty God. Hence, in all of them, there is “a common word” that has a rational origin, and it is this rational origin of religions that prepares us for achieving proximity, dialogue and acceptance of basic human principles.
The interaction of religions and denominations based on a deep logic, not formalities or necessity
There is another fact, that the interaction of religions and denominations is not based on formalities or necessity; rather, it is based on a deep logic. Religions and denominations in the world today can have a common front in the world based on common principles in philosophy, law, values and jurisprudence. Along with this fact, humanity has always struggled with issues such as the need to restore the spirit of love, spirituality, justice and peace, based on justice and equality of human beings. Regardless of their political nature, these issues are first and foremost religious in nature, and religions play an important role in explaining and realizing them. How peace can be established based on justice, how human rights can be observed, or how human societies can build their relations based on their mutual duties, responsibilities, obligations and rights, are among the issues religions must resolve through thinking and exchanging their principles, standards and experiences, and guide communities. Hence, the world today needs to learn the etiquettes of dialogue between different religions and denominations. Islam and Muslim scholars have always emphasized on the wise interaction among human beings and on the dialogue between divine religions and respecting their sanctities. If all divine and human-made religions come together and obey the rule of reason, they will invite human beings to “happiness”, the main elements and components of which are “peace and comfort”. Thus, whenever thinkers and religious scholars engage in dialogue, they eventually revolve around the “common word” and thus there will be no division or disagreement between them.
The need for interaction and dialogue between divine religions and denominations
Interfaith dialogue has been one of the most important questions and concerns of religious thinkers and scholars in the last two decades, not because of doubts and hesitations about the necessity of dialogue itself, but rather in order to clarify the requirements, necessities and benefits of religious dialogues. There are numerous epistemological, ontological, theological, and interactive necessities that have made religious dialogue inevitable in today’s world. Obviously, through interfaith dialogue, a clear and close understanding of the teachings of other religions can be obtained, and many notional and attitudinal misunderstandings are removed and the way is paved for belief, value and behavioral convergence.
Seminaries can regain their historical and main role when they know the current and future conditions of the world and the needs of the people of the world, and continue the individual and collective movements of related institutions and in a comprehensive and measured way, acquaint their students with the real and objective world today. The seminary can speak to its audiences when it is familiar with their language, literature, way of thinking, concerns, issues and problems. The seminary must know how its audience thinks and what they expect from it. This great mission will be properly realized when the history and geography of these audiences are studied with the right tools and in the right manner, with a principled method and by competent persons, and all the effective means, processes and content of the message are considered. The presence of seminarians in various international arenas for scientific and cultural activism will not be possible except through the empowerment and promotion of their level of knowledge and insight.
There are several theories about the proximity and interaction of religions and denominations:
In the first theory, some seek to merge religions and denominations to achieve one religion. We oppose this theory, because it is both philosophically impossible and incompatible with external realities. The second theory is religiosity without adhering to a specific religion, which is also proposed in the West today. In this view, we must set aside the distinctions of religions and pay attention only to the commonalities amongst religions, which is also impossible. The third theory is pluralism and the belief that all religions and denominations are right. This view is also philosophically unacceptable, because not all views can be considered right. Muslims and followers of the school of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) believe in a fourth theory. In this theory, we respect and value the commonalities of all religions. According to this view, we should not believe that everyone except us is an infidel and deserves death. So, we must neither wield the sword of slaughter, nor do we say: “All but us will go to hell”, but rather we shall debate over the points of difference.
Today, the Islamic world faces challenges such as the doctrinal-intellectual, moral and collapse challenges of the value system, turning the war between Muslims and arrogant powers into a Shiite-Sunni war, revival of nationalist ideas, disintegration of Islamic countries, Islamophobia, Shiaphobia and Iranophobia, replacement of the discourse of the Islamic Revolution with the dogmatic Talaban Islam or the compromising liberal Islam, and breaking of the resistance front. The seminary, by recognizing the epistemological geography of the world, will take steps towards responding to these challenges through its religious interactions.
There are other necessities for interaction between religions. Such as, introducing the views of seminary scholars in scientific societies for religions and denominations at the international level; the presence and knowledge of the seminarians on international issues related to other religions and the ways of interacting with their scholars; the need for interaction to better understand religions; studying the sociology of religion, history and the current state of religions; observation, design and compilation of international researches in order to introduce pure Islam; explaining the necessity of developing the grounds and culture for the effective entry of seminarians into various international arenas; cooperation, consultation and reflection of religions on problems that threaten the interests of all humanity; the need for religious innovation in today’s world to fill the void of human spirituality; the need for developing networks of elites, institutions and activists in the field of religions and sects in order to work in the international arena of religions and denominations; the need to get out of the passive state and be active in the fields of interfaith interactions and interactions between denominations and to promote the discourse of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) in the face of other religions and denominations which are some of the most important of these needs.
Given the existing needs in the field of religions, the seminary is determined to approve the general policy, goals, priorities, strategies, regulations and related long-term, mid-term and short-term religious activities of the seminaries within the framework of primary and fundamental documents and study of the mechanism of interaction of seminaries with governmental and non-governmental international institutions in the field of religions. In addition, it is also necessary to perform macro and process monitoring of these activities, with proper implementation of the steps and performance of the organization in the line and staff levels in order to achieve plans for a timely presence of the seminary in important events about religions at the international level.
( As it is mentioned in verse 25 of surah Hadid, “Certainly We sent Our apostles with manifest proofs, and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that mankind may maintain justice”
 For example, in verse 64 of surah Nisa’, it is said, “We did not send any apostle but to be obeyed by Allah’s leave.”
 For example, in verse 82 of surah Ma’idah, it is said, “…and surely you will find the nearest of them in affection to the faithful to be those who say ‘We are Christians.’ That is because there are priests and monks among them, and because they are not arrogant.”)