TOWARD AN ISLAMIC THEOLOGY OF INTERRELIGIOUS FRIENDSHIP

 Toward a Muslim Theology of Inter-Religious Friendship

Timothy J. Gianotti, Ph.D.

IISF Director & Principal Teacher

 

March 28, 2013

“None of you is a true believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”

¨ the Prophet Muhammad, on the authority of Anas

I.           INTRODUCTION

This presentation marks a sincere attempt to formulate a faithful and intellectually honest Muslim framework for building friendships between individuals of different faith traditions, beginning with the Qur’anically-identified traditions of Judaism and Christianity and expanding beyond them to include other faith traditions, most of which are not explicitly identified in the Qur’an.  Of course, the wider question of Islam’s relation to other religious traditions is one of considerable complexity, and so it should come as no surprise that “different periods of Muslim history have generated different interpretations of the Qur’an in consonance with the social and political conditions that the community faced.”[1]  This may also be said of specific cultural and political realities within the same global, historical moment.  It must be acknowledged, then, at the very outset, that the questions pertaining to inter-religious relations and interfaith friendships remain controversial in parts of the Muslim mosaic today; some of the reasons for this are explored toward the end of the talk.  The present discussion, while acknowledging the real complications and tensions within both the foundational sources and the contemporary world, offers a way to work through and beyond these perceived obstacles by paying careful attention to the specific contexts and scopes of particular Qur’anic passages as well as to other passages, principles, and themes that loom large within the Qur’an, the Prophetic traditions, and the post-prophetic religious literature.

II.         A TRIBUTE TO INTER-RELIGIOUS FRIENDSHIP

                    Michael Elias Marmura (1929-2009)

                    Janis Orenstein (1948-2010)

III.       FRIENDSHIP WITHIN THE QUR’ANIC AND PROPHETIC FOUNDATIONS:  FRIENDSHIP AS “BROTHERHOOD” OR FELLOWSHIP

IV.        THE QUESTION OF INTER-RELIGIOUS FRIENDSHIP

V.          MEDIEVAL MUSLIM REFLECTIONS ON FRIENDSHIP

                    Spiritual Friendship as Revelation in Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)

                    Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201-1274) on The Indispensability of Virtuous Friendship

 

VI.        OBSTACLES TO INTER-RELIGIOUS FRIENDSHIP IN HISTORY AND WITHIN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD

VII.      EXAMPLES OF INTER-RELIGIOUS FRIENDSHIP, PAST AND PRESENT

VIII.    FINAL REMARKS IN SUPPORT OF A MUSLIM THEOLOGY OF INTER-RELIGIOUS FRIENDSHIP

 IX.      DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Have you ever experienced what you consider to be an interreligious friendship?  If so, how did that friendship influence your personal relationship with your faith?  Did it make you more or less religious?  Why?  Did it give you new insights into your      own tradition?
  2. Are there unique challenges for today’s Muslims when it comes to building inter-religious friendships?  Do those challenges differ within different societies and political environments?  Why or why not?  How might Muslims and their inter-religious friends work through and/or around those unique challenges?
  3. Acknowledging that Islam is a proselytizing religion, do Muslims have a duty to try and convert their friends of other faiths or can Muslims simply encourage their inter-religious friends to be more committed and more faithful to their own beliefs and sacred texts?  Is there a necessary tension between these two paths?  Which is more faithful to the Qur’an?  Why?
  4. Can a religious person be the friend of an atheist or a person with no faith?  If so, would this be a form of inter-religious friendship?
  5. Do you believe that interreligious friendship can turn the tide of the “religious” conflicts that rage between Muslims and Christians, Muslims and Hindus, Arabs (Muslim and Christian) and Jews, Hindus and Sikhs,  Tamils and Buddhists, etc?  What might our study and practice of interreligious friendship offer to those traumatized and injured by such conflicts?
  6. What might the lessons of interreligious friendships offer inter-gender friendships, intergenerational friendships, and other friendships that bridge a meaningful difference of identity, experience, orientation, or  walk of life?


[1] Abdelaziz Sachedina, “The Qur’an and other Religions” in The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an, Jane Dammen McAuliffe, ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 291-292.

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