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 The Dialogue between Islam and the West

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PostSubject: The Dialogue between Islam and the West   The Dialogue between Islam and the West Icon_minitimeMon Nov 19, 2012 2:09 am



Sheikh Ali Gomaa published an article titled “The Radical Middle Way: Building Bridges between the Muslim and the Western Worlds” in the UN Chronicle, the official magazine of the United Nations, in its October issue. The UN Chronicle is a world class magazine which is published and distributed in more than 180 countries across the globe. This month’s edition was dedicated to the theme of dialogue among civilizations and cultures. Sheikh Ali Gomaa’s article in the UN Chronicle is a precedent as he is the first Muslim scholar to write in such prominent magazine.

He opened his article by vehemently refusing the circulation of the infamous theory of “Clash of Civilizations” which pictures the world as a war zone among different cultures and civilizations with sharp dividing lines leaving no hope for finding commonalities. Sheikh Ali Gomaa acknowledged that some factors have contributed to severing the relationship between Muslims and the Western world such as the war on Iraq and Afghanistan and the interminable conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The heinous terrorist attacks played a part in creating tension between both sides along with the senseless rising of Islamophobic sentiments which led to irresponsible acts of burning copies of the Quran and marginalizing the Muslim communities which form some of the minorities in non Muslim countries. Matters are worse when the string of Islamophobia is being abused by politicians for minor political short lasting victories in polls. A fact which gave rise to far right extremist political parties which started to have a political weight and steer the course of public opinion through instigating fears of Muslim minorities living among non Muslims.

Though the seemingly gloomy landscape of the relationship between Islam and the West, Sheikh Ali Gomaa reiterated his optimism in creating a new environment of pro activity to turn hostility into friendship, and animosity into alliance. He profusely praised the UN for its active role in bringing people from different cultural and religious backgrounds to the table in order to engage in genuine intercultural dialogue which is always commendable.

Sheikh Ali Gomaa offered his Islamic insight of the meaning and the purpose of dialogue. In Islam dialogue is not a favorable option which Muslims might turn to whenever they feel like it. It is rather a creedal obligation and a global necessity. God has emphasized in the Quran that the ultimate reason behind creating people from different racial, cultural and religious backgrounds is that we may know one another. Knowing one another requires a high level of appreciating differences and entertaining commonalities. In Islam dialogue with others does not aim at converting them to Islam or defeating their religious doctrine, it is rather about melting the icebergs which are usually erected out of lack of proper knowledge about the other party.

The concept of conviviality or living in harmony with one another is a necessary requisite for world peace which Muslims are asked to promote for and disseminate world wide. Sheikh Ali Gomaa explained how dialogue in our modern time is a form of jihad as it is well emphasized in the Quran and find its roots in the prophetic example. The Islamic history as well bears witness to the importance of dialogue which allows for diversified ideas and beliefs to flourish.

Sheikh Ali Gomaa set criteria which identify fruitful dialogue to first of all to have equal and equally willing partners on both sides. Constructive dialogues needs to remain respectful and does not seek to inflame hostilities or dominate the other; a dialogue which is based on a deep respect of cultural diversity and religious plurality; a dialogue which does not aim at defeating others but rather understanding one another.

Once this constructive dialogue is underway, it would be counterproductive as Sheikh Ali Gomaa stated to only restrict it among academic elites in a scholarly guarded environment. This would be sort of preaching the choir. The ultimate aim of dialogue should be always about building bridges of understanding among people from different civilizations.

Sheikh Ali Gomaa mentioned one crucial factor in achieving success in dialogue is to cultivate a deep sense of appreciation for the position, commitment and background of the other party. This can be theorized into a viable intellectual approach which can take myriads of forms each tailored to the particular circumstances of the dialoguing parties. An emphasis can be made on the proximity of the religious or intellectual traditions and their relationship to each other in global affairs.

Sheikh Ali Gomaa cited Egypt as an example of how this intellectual approach can be applied. He always emphasized on the historic, geographic and religious commonalities between Muslim and Coptic compatriots. When it comes to the wider Muslim world and with the unfortunate comeback of a rising trend of sectarianism, he has signed along with many other distinguished scholars from East and West an important document titled “the Amman Message” sketching the Islamic principles and fatwas and opinions from previous renowned scholars to urge Muslims and Shia’s and all other denominations and orientations to set their differences aside and work towards a common good realizing that their differences are but secondary matters which should not impinge on the fundamentals of a common faith.

He ended his article by explaining the concept of alternative modernities in which new understanding of modernity is defined. This new term allows religion to play a central role in the life of the modern Muslims without having to be placed on the sideline as an obscure old fashioned outdated phenomenon. The modern Muslim scholar is the one who remains faithful to the long standing religious tradition and benefit of the methodological approaches used by previous luminary scholars in dealing with issues of their concern without turning a blind eye of the ever changing circumstances which need new solutions and modern approaches to be solved. So alternative modernities can very well be representative for the diversity of the world in encountering new realities.

The rebellious and eccentric attitudes which have been repeatedly associated with Islam is a sheer offense to the humane tradition of learning that characterizes Islamic history. One of the epidemics of our modern time faced by world religions is the issue of authority. We witness around the world the rising trend of lay people without sound foundation in religious learning have attempted to set themselves up as religious authorities lacking both religious scholarship and scholarly qualifications for such high sensitive post.

These self claimed scholars with their poor interpretations of the Islamic doctrine and morality lead to extremism in interpreting the Islamic text. It is worth mentioning as Sheikh Ali emphasized that none of these extremists have been educated in the renowned Islamic learning centers, they are rather the result of troubled environments and subscribed to distorted and misguided interpretations of Islam that have no basis in traditional Islamic doctrine.

Sheikh Ali concluded his article by reiterating that for his dream of a peaceful world to come true, participation of world leaders both religious and otherwise is a must. He emphasized on the importance of faith and trust as essential elements for all of us to work together. He believes that no better weapon to counteract the plague of extremism than authentic knowledge and right education.

http://www.ali-gomaa.com/?page=news&news_details=140

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