By Duston Barto
“And certainly We raised in every community a Messenger saying, “Worship Allah and shun whatever is worshipped other than Allah.” So there were some, among them, whom Allah guided and there were others who were destined to be misguided. Travel in the land then, and see what the end of those who rejected the divine Message was.” (Qur’an 16:36)
The Qur’an compels me to work with interfaith in my community. Interfaith is a powerful tool for dawah because it communicates a mutual respect on a human level. Since I have begun working in interfaith, more doors have been opened for me to speak to people about Islam in churches, schools, and community halls. Why me? Because they trust me. Why do they trust me? Because I am willing to listen to them first.
In the passage above from the 16th Surah, Allah reminds us that every community in humanity was sent a messenger. Allah’s Messenger, Muhammad (SAWS) has told us that there are over 124,000 messengers. The Qur’an only reveals the names of 25 of them. Who was the messenger to the Japanese? The Cherokee? None of us know. What I believe is the lesson we Muslims should take away is that all faith comes from the .
We know this to be true in the Biblical texts, we are told that the People of the Book are Jews and Christians. However, the Qur’an also instructs us that things were changed and the Qur’an exists to abrogate the Biblical text and to correct the mistakes. However, the Qur’an does this with all belief systems.
Interfaith dialog begins when you accept that your neighbor’s faith has the same right to exist as your own. It begins when you respect your brother in humanity and respect their faith even if you disagree with it. Allah commands us in the Qur’an 6:108 “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.”
What is amazing to me, is that if you take down the wall of resistance and listen to what other people actually believe, you can find the threads that connect their faith back to Islam. It is a beautiful thing as a Muslim to hear a Pagan priest talk about his views of the afterlife and hear threads of connection to what Islamic doctrine teaches us. But none of that can happen if you keep that wall up and insult others whose beliefs are strange.
Many times I have been told by other Muslims that interfaith is dangerous, that it is the work of shaytaan and we must convey Islam without listening to others. My biggest challenge to people who think that way is simply this: If I don’t know where a person currently is, how can I give him or her directions to where they need to go?
Yes, as Muslims we must convey Islam, but we must “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided.” (Qur’an 16:125) It doesn’t say that YOU will know who is rightly guided, it says that Allah will know. We have to stop thinking about the world only in the way our eyes can see and our ears can hear. All we need to do is share Islam in a way that is kind, in a way that is open, honest and caring. Allah will open hearts and minds as He wills.
Duston Barto is the Co-Director of Foothills Interfaith Assembly