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Dialogue with the People of the Book (Jews and Christians)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Fethullah Gülen's Speeches and Interviews on Interfaith Dialogue

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Believers determine their attitudes according to their faith. If the message is put across as it should be, I believe that in our country and even throughout the world, a very good environment for dialogue can emerge. Thus, as is true for every subject, we should approach this issue as indicated in the Qur'an and by the Prophet.

At the beginning of the Sura al-Baqara, God says: This is the Book; in it is sure guidance, without doubt, to those who fear God (2:2). Later on, these pious ones are identified as those: Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them; and who believe in the Revelation sent to you and sent before your time, and (in their hearts) have the reassurance of the Hereafter (2:3-4). Using a very soft and slightly oblique style, the Qur'an calls people to accept the former Prophets and their books. Having such a condition at the very beginning of the Qur'an seems very important to me when it comes to establishing dialogue with Jews and Christians.

In another verse God commands: And don't dispute with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation) (29:46). In this verse, the Qur'an describes the method and approach we should use and the manner we should display. Bediuzzaman's words has some extremely significant words to say about this: "Those who are happy about their opponent's defeat in debate hace no mercy." He explains the reason for this: "You gain nothing by defeating someone. If you were defeated and the other person was victorious, you would have corrected one of your mistakes."

Debate should not be for the sake of your ego, but to enable the truth to appear. When we look at political debates in which the only thought is to beat the other person, there can be no positive result. For the truth to emerge in a debate of ideas, such principles as mutual understanding, respect, and dedication to justice cannot be neglected. As a Qur'anic rule, this can only take place in a good environment for dialogue.

Reading 29:46 further, we notice the condition unless it be with those who inflict wrong (and injury). Wrong is mentioned: It is those who believe and confuse not their beliefs with wrong that are (truly) in security, for they are on (right) guidance (6:82). According to the Prophet's interpretation, polytheism is equal to unbelief in the sense of contempt for the universe. The greatest wrong or oppression is silencing all the tongues in one's conscience that express God. It also means doing injustice to others, oppressing others, and insisting on having one's way. In that respect, because wrong or oppression includes both polytheism and unbelief, it is a greater sin. Every polytheist or unbeliever may not be a wrongdoer in the sense outlined above. However, who oppress others, who arm themselves in the name of committing evil, and who violate the other people's rights and God's justice must be confronted within the framework of the law.

When dealing with People of the Book who are not oppressors, we have no right to behave violently or to think about how to eliminate them. Such behavior is non-Islamic, contrary to Islamic rules and principles, and even anti-Islamic.

Elsewhere, in sura Mumtahana, it is stated: God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loves those who are just (60:8). This verse was revealed when Esma asked the Prophet if she should meet with her polytheistic mother, who wanted to come from Makka to Madina to see her daughter. The verse suggests that such a meeting was perfectly acceptable, and that she can do good for her as well. I leave it to your understanding as to what approach should be used towards thos who believe in God, Judgment Day and the Prophets.

Hundreds of Qur'anic verses deal with social dialogue and tolerance. But care must be taken to establish balance in forbearance and tolerance. Being merciful to a cobra means being unjust to the people the cobra has bitten. Claiming that humanism is more merciful than Divine Mercy disrespects mercy and violates others' rights. Thus it is not necessary to refrain from making God known in the search for tolerance and dialogue. In truth, except for certain special cases, the Qur'an and Sunna always advocate forbearance. The shielding canopy of this tolerance extends not only to the People of the Book, but in a sense to all people.