The Problem with Interfaith
Nadeem Abdul Hamid
And they indeed strove hard to beguile you (Muhammad, ) away from that wherewith We have inspired thee, that thou shouldst invent other than it against Us; and then would they have accepted thee as a friend. (Qur’ân 17:73)
Therefore obey not thou the rejecters;Who would have had thee compromise, that they may compromise. (68:8-9)
Most people nowadays believe that the world is round. It is not that everyone has personally investigated and experimented to find out whether this is true or not. It is a generally held belief based upon reports of famous scientists, stories of world adventurers, pictures from outer space, and it is not a fact that seems contrary to logic or reason. Now, suppose such a person (say, yourself, the reader) meets someone who sincerely believes the earth is flat. The two of you will argue with each other, trying as hard as possible to make the other person “see” the truth. Neither of you can accept that both beliefs are simultaneously possible, because clearly one negates the other.
Consider a more vivid scenario. You are walking along a path with a blind person. You come to a sign which says, “Danger: Cliff ahead. Proceed no further.” You can read the sign and you can even see that the path ahead seems to end suddenly with a sharp drop. However, your blind companion refuses to believe you. He insists that there is no danger here and that you should continue walking together with him. Clearly, you are neither going to continue walking with him, nor are you going to let him proceed. You will do your utmost to make him understand that continuing ahead will be a fatal mistake for both of you and you are not prepared to let him go any farther.
The topic of this article, according to the title, is not about the world being round. It is related, however, not only to that but also to walking down dangerous paths with a blind friend. From the viewpoint of a sincere Muslim, the “interfaith” movement is exactly the latter in a very literal sense. The interfaith movement is not a centralized campaign per se, nor is it something that has started within the last century. Interfaith activities usually consist of forums, panels, or prayer meetings in which Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and, unfortunately nowadays, “Muslim” leaders and activists of other beliefs come together to join in unified worship services and talk about working hand in hand for the betterment of society. On the surface this seems like a laudable cause and indeed, many times those who refuse to participate in such gatherings are looked down upon as intolerant, uncompromising, and fundamentalist. We will, inshâ Allâh, discuss more on this point later, but now let us consider the validity of such participation from an Islâmic point of view.
Islâm is not a joke. The central beliefs of Islâm are not some vague set of wishy-washy principles. They detail the realities of this world as well as the world hereafter. A Muslim believes in the oneness of Allâh and His attributes as He Himself has revealed them. A Muslim believes in the messages of all the prophets, but Islâm also demands belief in the finality of the prophethood and message of the Prophet Muhammad ( ) and its abrogation and overriding of all previous messages. Like the one who insists the earth is round, Muslims wholeheartedly affirm the beliefs of Islâm without necessarily having witnessed the subjects of those beliefs. Nor is this set of beliefs any less logically consistent than that of the earth being round. Furthermore, the entire life of a Muslim – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 12 months a year – is shaped by this creed. Islâm is not a “religion” to be practiced in private, or only on a weekly “holy day.” A Muslim firmly believes that success and salvation in the next world, which is the true Life, depends solely on serving Allâh exclusively in this life.
Thus, a Muslim, like the person in our scenario above who believes the world is round, cannot accept the beliefs of a Jew or Christian on an equal footing as his or her own. A Muslim cannot participate in an interfaith worship service because we believe quite simply that all methods of worship other than those taught by the Prophet () are wrong. In fact, participating in such gatherings is dangerous for a person’s imân (faith) because they involve clear-cut aspects of shirk. We cannot condone a panel where various individuals of other faiths stand up along with the “Muslims” and read from their corrupted and/or fabricated scriptures with the implication that their beliefs are as valid as ours. Beyond just religious groups, some Muslims across the country have lately been “standing united for peace” with such abominable and despicable groups as lesbian and gay organizations. In any other realm of life, we would never participate or cooperate in a forum in which we know that the information the other participants are presenting is wrong and dangerous for them and for ourselves. Thus, an attitude of “your religion is fine, my religion is fine, we will all live happily ever after” has no place in the creed and beliefs of Islâm.
As mentioned earlier, the “interfaith” idea is nothing new. That there are several verses of Qur’ân related directly to this issue bears witness to this fact. We know that when the message of Islâm started to spread, the disbelievers of Makkah tried many approaches to try and dissuade the Prophet () from delivering his message. One of their approaches was exactly the interfaith approach. Initially, the chiefs of the Quraysh (equivalent to the presidents and governors of our time) came to him and told him that if he wished money they would give him such a treasure that he would be the richest man in Arabia; if he wished women, they would allow him to select for himself the most beautiful girls he liked and they would be his; if it was leadership and position he was seeking, they would give him the highest rank in their nation with ultimate veto power over all decisions; nay, if he wanted to be the king and emperor, they would accept him as such – the only thing they asked was that he simply stop speaking against their gods and methods of worship. Imagine this scene! Imagine the desperation of the people to offer him such things! And what was the unswerving reply of our noble Prophet (), the best of Allâh’s creation? It was the timeless words:
“If they put the sun in my right hand, and the moon in my left hand, I will never give up this mission until Allâh gives me success or I die in the process.” [Hayâtus-Sahâbah: Bayhaqi]
In fact, the non-Muslims went further than that. They said, in essence, let us do interfaith: “For one day we will worship as you worship, O Muhammad ( ) and for one day you worship as we worship.” When this was not accepted, they went so far as to say, “For one entire year, we will worship as you worship. For one day only we ask that you worship as we do and we ask that otherwise you stop speaking against our gods and methods of worship.” It was upon this event that Surah Kâfirűn (109) was revealed. Hadrat Ibn ‘Abbâs ( ), one of the greatest commentators of Qur’ân among the Sahâbah, mentions that the second set of verses quoted at the beginning of this article also refer to the same issue [Ma’âriful Qur’ân], namely that the disbelievers were more than willing to compromise on their antagonism against Islâm if the Prophet ( ) would let up on his antagonism against their religions. Allâh warned him, and warns us likewise, to beware of this trap.
(Incidentally, following the approaches described above, the non-Muslims of the time embarked on a systematic campaign against Islâm that is uncannily similar to the campaign which America, Israel, and their allies are waging against Muslims today, and the Tâlibân in particular. The campaign of the Quraysh consisted of nothing less than harassment, torture, armed attacks, boycotts (i.e. imposing sanctions), seizing of the land and property of believers (i.e. freezing their assets), and a barrage of propaganda, so effective that people would actually put cotton in their ears out of fear of being “bewitched” by the Muslims reciting Qur’ân! May Allâh open our eyes to history and strengthen our imân in these present times.)
Those who speak against participation in interfaith activities are inevitably labeled as intolerant fundamentalists by the non-Muslim propaganda machine. In truth, however, there is a large difference between tolerance and interfaith. Islâm is the embodiment of tolerance. Out of the many verses of the Qur’ân in this regard, we will suffice here with mentioning two:
There is no compulsion in religion… (2:256)
Allâh forbids you not those who warred not against you on account of religion, and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allâh loves the just dealers. (60:8)
There is nothing wrong with working together with non-Muslims towards peace or other noble causes, as long as the underlying principles and practices of such enterprises are based solely upon the teachings of Islâm. In addition, whereas Muslims will not condone, support, or cooperate in un-Islâmic beliefs and activities, they absolutely do not stand in the way of anyone else who wishes to practice such. The history of Islâm is so replete with instances of this fact that there is hardly any need to describe them here. One only has to look at the centuries of Islâmic rule in India and Spain to see that never did the Muslims suppress any another religion under their rule.
Returning to our second scenario described in our initial introduction, consider how insistent you would be if you were the person escorting the blind man. Knowing that the path he is following will undoubtedly lead to his destruction, how painful would it be to see him continue along despite all our pleas that he stop and follow us. This is our exact attitude and feeling towards those who cannot or will not accept the path of Islâm. The pity and sorrow we should be feeling in the depths of our hearts for such people (rather than participating in interfaith activities where “everyone’s faith is fine”), was exemplified by the second khalîfah, Hadrat ‘Umar Fârűq ( ). It is related that once he passed by the dwelling place of a monk. When the monk was informed that the Amîr-ul-Mu’minîn was going by, he came out of his hermitage. The signs of great toil and hardship due to the monastic style of life and worship were very evident on the body of the man. Upon seeing him, Hadrat ‘Umar’s ( ) tears began to flow down his cheeks. When the people asked him why he was crying over a Christian, he replied, “I do so feeling pity over his condition, since the Qur’ân says regarding such people (i.e. who endure such hardships but do not accept Islâm):
On that Day (i.e. the Day of Judgment), some faces will be downcast; (having) labored hard and weary, they will enter the Burning Fire… (88:2-4)
[This narration is found in Bayhaqi and other collections as quoted by Hayâtus-Sahâbah and Ma’âriful Qur’ân.]
It is not for the Muslims to join happily with such people in what they are doing. Rather, it is our duty to warn them the best we can, and deliver our message that will save them from the brink of destruction on the Day of Reckoning. May Allâh give us the wisdom and ability to do so.
The Current Situation: Problem and Solution
In the light
of the terrible and tragic events that have occurred recently, it is a hard
thing to resist participation in “interfaith” and “unity” events being
promoted all over the country. More than ever, we are looked down upon with
suspicion and even hatred for not doing so. Muslims need to be clear about and
make clear to others our stand on this issue. The tests and trials for Muslims
are coming from all directions. On the one hand, we have nothing to do with
terrorism. On the other hand, we have nothing to do with America’s proclaimed
Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: “Our Lord is Allâh”… (22:40)
One of the most important facets of the Islâmic creed is belief in the Qadr (Decree and Foreknowledge) of Allâh. That is, more than 50,000 years ago, Allâh had already written that the events of recent weeks would take place. These events happened only with His will and permission. And furthermore, these events were brought about for one reason and one reason only:
(Allâh, in Whose hands is all Sovereignty, is the One) Who has created life and death that He may test you, which of you is best in conduct; and He is the Mighty, the Forgiving. (67:2)
Disasters and calamities do not happen so that we who call ourselves Muslims scramble to try and make our religion subservient to the American political and power machine, neither to mix our beliefs into the secular melting pot of interfaith. Allâh has sent these as a test for us. The solution for this test is very simple: we must establish Islâm wholeheartedly in our lives. Those Muslims especially who are living in the West need to start practicing the religion, not compromising it. When we start dressing like the Prophet () and his companions and followers: when we start wearing our topis or kufis (caps), ‘amâmahs (turbans), hijâbs and beards; when we start reforming how we obtain and spend our income, how we deal with ourselves and other people, what we feed our families, what we teach our children; in short, when we start acting as Muslims and give up chasing the lures of Shaytân: then, not only will our condition be improved, but our example will be a beacon and guiding light for those who have not yet accepted Islâm. And Allâh knows best.
Allâh has promised such of you as believe and do good works that He will surely make them to succeed in the earth even as He caused those who were before them to succeed; and that He will surely establish for them their religion which He has approved for them; and will give them, in exchange, safety after their fear. They will serve Me. They will ascribe nothing as partner unto Me. And those who disbelieve henceforth, they are the corrupt miscreants. (24:55)
May Allâh bless us with firm imân, unwavering yaqîn, and bounteous reward in this world and the hereafter. Âmeen.