I hope this finds you all well. Today, we will be speaking about social relations among followers of different faith traditions.
Thanks to high speed developments in technology, the world has literally shrunk to the size of a village. In a settlement as small as a village, everyone is a neighbor. The most important definition of the residents of this village is their being neighbor – no other identity or affiliation can surpass this quality. Such a small settlement places believers with followers of different faiths or with people of no faith next to one another. So, how are we then going to engage with those who are otherwise “the other”? How are we supposed to develop relationship with them?
The quick answer is: like everyone else does.
We will treat the world as our village, as our home. And everyone else is our neighbor, if not brothers or sisters.
The first thing we need to know about followers of other faiths is that they are also human beings and there is absolutely nothing wrong with interacting with them. Let alone interaction, a Muslim should respect others and treat them as honorable members of our human family. Among famous examples from the life of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the one in which the blessed Prophet rose up to honor a funeral which was passing. His Companions said that the deceased was a Jew, he was not a Muslim. The Prophet replied, “But he was a human.”
In a similar vein, Ali (ra), the fourth Caliph, wrote to his governor in Egypt that his people are either his brothers and sisters in faith or his equals in being human.
Secondly, it is in the nature of almost all faith traditions, not least Islam, to be welcoming to all and to be globally relevant, unless they wish to be exclusive. It would be egotistic and self-contradictory for believers to claim to know a truth and not to share it with others in a civilized manner. This does not mean to pour over what you believe to be true onto others disrespectfully; it means to be actively and sincerely present, and be right there where there are opportunities of companionship, solidarity, and service, or just for the sake of a friendly conversation or even a hug.
Believers cannot remain indifferent to people around them, regardless of their religious traditions. Heavenly-sent religions assume believers to be responsible citizens and neighbors, and to look after the weak and the poor. We have to remember here that the Prophet said “The best among you is the one who is useful to others.”
Thus, believers should be in warm engagement with everyone regardless of their religious or racial identity.
Thirdly, believers have a responsibility to represent their faith in the best way possible. This can happen only if the faithful shows up in relevant contexts. If we keep ourselves confined to our own neighborhood, and intentionally avoid opportunities of engagement with others, then we are allowing prejudice and misleading inaccurate news to shape their mindset about us.
Fourthly, there is so much we can learn from others. Well, followers of any faith might think theirs is the ultimate truth, so what can possibly be out there to learn from others? To be frank, one can learn anything from others, and this may include even one’s own faith! A great majority of participants of interfaith activities profess that such activities have been useful not only to learn about other faiths, but perhaps more importantly to discover their own tradition.
Exchange of knowledge and skills is a natural aspect of being human, and this does not have to be within the same faith. After the Battle of Badr, remember that the Prophet Muhammad sallallahu aleyhi vesellem told the prisoners that they would be free if they taught Muslims how to read.
We have to be aware of the fact that our being different is a Divine will. As we read in the Holy Qur’an, JA’ALNAKUM SHUBEN VA KABAİLE Lİ TA’ARAFU where Allah Almighty says He made us “into tribes and families” so that we may “know one another,” not so that you may take pride in your differences of race or social rank. The very same verse follows İNNA AKRAMAKUM İNDALLAHİ ATKAKUM, which means “surely the most honorable of you in God’s sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God.”
This is the path where we should be leading, together with our neighbors.