Multi-Faith collaborations from an Islamic Perspective; Prophet Muhammad’s involvement in multi-faith alliances

All praise be to Allah, the Eternal without a beginning and the Everlasting without an end. May the peace and blessings be upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), his purified family, his honorable companions and all the believers who follow them on the path of goodness.

“We have the guidance from Allah and we have the truth. We follow the path of the Prophet Muhammad and we are believers. We don’t need to get involved with other faith communities! They have their faiths and we have ours”. Thus, is one of the statements used by some people to manifest their disinterest when it comes to multi-faiths work. Unfortunately, many individuals and even organizations reject the multi-faith work to such an extent where they completely distance themselves from anything that has to do with it.

History shows that when we, Muslims exchanged our experiences with other faiths communities, particularly with the Jews and the Christians, our societies flourished. A good example would be the Muslim community during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Muslims of Andalusia and different communities during the period of the Ottoman Empire. In many of these Muslim majority societies, for the most of it, Jews and Christians lived in harmony and peace with Muslims. As a result, the whole society flourished. In today’s day and age, if we attempt to build healthy societies based on peace and mutual respect, we must all learn how to better connect and acquire from the experiences of one another.

When reflecting upon the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), one can clearly see that he encouraged his community to work with people of other faith communities. Being kind and just to other peaceful faith communities or non-religious peaceful communities, and even working with them was a practice from which he and his community were instructed by Allāh in His blessed Qurān:

لَّا يَنْهَىٰكُمُ ٱللَّهُ عَنِ ٱلَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَٰتِلُوكُمْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَٰرِكُمْ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوٓا۟ إِلَيْهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُقْسِطِينَ

Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes –  from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” Q. (60-8).

Nevertheless, it is essential for any Muslim worker who engages in multi-faith work to first have a good knowledge about Qurān, Hadīth and other Islamic disciplines in order to avoid mixing up different beliefs and rituals or even favor a specific doctrine from another faith when that doctrine may be already incorporated into Islam. It is also essential to have a good grasp of Islamic sciences, so one can give the adequate answers when asked about certain Islamic teachings, because borrowing from statements made by other religious clergies or answering based on one’s life experience, it won’t do the job. The questioner and the audience would like to hear the answer from the teachings of Islam and not speaker’s suppositions.

When engaging multi-faith work, some Muslims, as well as other believers from different traditions think that they have to compromise their religious teachings in order to cooperate with others from other traditions. Therefore, they consider multi-faith work as something forbidden. Indeed, if one gets engaged in anything where the religious teachings would be compromised, then there is no gain, but loss. However, a fruitful multi-faith work would be effective when members of different faiths don’t have to compromise their religious teachings and practices, rather, respect each other, try to always have a better understanding of each other’s traditions and work with their collaborators in joint efforts to minimize or erect common obstacles facing the community. For example: combatting extremism, reducing mass incarceration, protecting the rights of the emigrants and refugees, helping the poor, etc.

It is important to highlight that fact that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) not only engaged in peaceful dialogue with nonviolent religious communities at his time but he went steps ahead by guaranteeing peace and security to them in the lands where Muslims ruled. In 628 A.D, he wrote a letter in which he granted an agreement to the monks of the St. Catherine Monastery in Mount Sinai in Egypt. In the letter, it states, “This is a letter from Muhammad ibn cAbdillāh, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity. We are with them. They are my citizens. We will defend them.” Then he put some points which are as follow:

  • No compulsion is to be on them. (no one can force Islam on them).
  • Neither their judges are to be removed from their jobs and nor their monks from their monasteries.
  • No one is to destroy their house of worship or to damage it or to take anything from it to a Muslim’s house. (this is guaranteed safety)
  • No one is to force them to fight for Muslims. Muslims are to fight for them.
  • If a Christian woman is married to a Muslim man, it should not take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from attending her church to pray.
  • No one from my nation is to disobey the covenant until the Last Day (Day of Judgement).

When reflecting on his life, upon his arrival as an immigrant into the city of Madinah, among the first things the Messenger of God did, was to invent the historic Covenant of Madinah. This covenant entailed rules pertaining to the establishment of brotherhood between the emigrants of Makkah (al-muhājirūn) and the local helpers of Madinah (al-ansār). In addition, there were also rules pertaining to the rights of Jews of Madinah who were the minority. In regard to their rights in the covenant, it stated,

“The Jews of the tribe of Banī cAwf shall be considered a separate nation along that of the believers, with the Jews having their religion and the Muslims theirs. (There is no compromise of the religion simply because of a cooperation with Jews and Christians).  Moreover, if someone is guilty of some crimes and injustice, only the offender shall be punished. (No guilt by association for an act by an individual).

  • The Jews shall be responsible for their own upkeep and the Muslims for theirs. However, they shall be committed to support one another should anyone wage war on those who have entered into this agreement.
  • Should the parties of this agreement encounter any conflict or disagreement, as a consequence of which they fear that their unity will be threatened, the conflict shall be brought to God, Almighty and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
  • Whoever leaves Madinah and whoever stays therein shall be safe, (This is all-inclusive) except for those who have committed crimes or injustice (Establishing justice).

Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was valued and admired by Waraqa bin Nawfal, a well-versed Christian in The Old and The New Testament who happened to be the cousin of Prophet’s wife, Khadija. After hearing the details of the initial experience of the Messenger of God with angel Gabriel, he confirmed the prophethood (nubuwwah) of the Messenger of God. In the hadith book named Sahīh al-Bukhārī, it talks about this very meeting of Waraqa, Khadījah and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Waraqa asked, “O my nephew! What have you seen?” Allah’s Apostle described whatever he had seen. Waraqa said, “This is the same one who keeps the secrets (angel Gabriel) whom Allah had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your people would turn you out.” Allah’s Apostle asked, “Will they drive me out?” Waraqa replied in the affirmative and said, “Anyone (man) who came with something similar to what you have brought was treated with hostility, and if I should remain alive till the day when you will be turned out then I would support you strongly.” But after a few days, Waraqa died.

This occurrence shows that Prophet (pbuh) consulted with learned people of other faiths who had true knowledge of the earlier scriptures.

During the early phase of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) sent some of his companions to migrate to Habash, known as Ethiopia, which was not a Muslim country. Nonetheless, the Messenger of God sent his companions there, being utterly convinced about the excessive justice of Ethiopia’s Christian ruler, King Negus. The king was very impressed with Prophet’s companions and as a result of the effective dialogs with them he learned a lot from them and ultimately God guided his heart to Islam. Later, when Negus died, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in Arabia performed his Funeral Prayer on his absence. From this story, it is easy to come to a conclusion that without building bridges of dialogue, respect, and mutual trust, it would not have been easy or even possible for the companions to live peacefully and even thrive in Ethiopia.

Therefore, the effective way to live in peace with people of different faiths in a society is to get to know each other and commit to genuinely learn from the experiences of one another, despite our differences. In the Qurān, God instructs not only Muslims, but the entire humankind to recognize the fact that He created us all in different nations and tribes, so we can learn from the experiences of one another. He mentions,

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. Q (49:13)

In another instance, Ibn Ishāq narrates in his famous book “Sīrah Rasūl Allāh” the following, “The (Najrān) delegation came to the Messenger of Allah in Madinah and entered his mosque wearing robes and garments after he had prayed the cAsr prayer. They accompanied a caravan of camels led by Banī Al-Hārith ibn Kacb. The Companions of the Messenger of Allah who saw them said that they never saw a delegation like them after that. When their time of worship came, they stood up to perform their worship in the Prophet’s mosque. He said, ‘Let them (worship), and they prayed towards the east.” This illustration is another manifestation of Prophet Muhammad’s respect and tolerance towards other folks of different faiths.

By getting engaged in multi-faith work, we are building a better future for our youth who deserve to live a society free from hate and discrimination. Knowing the fact that hate crimes against Muslims are rising, engagement of Muslims in multi-faith work is not an option but mandatory. Together, with other peaceful religious communities, Muslims should stand for justice, freedom and human rights. This will only be achieved if we abide by building genuine relations through love, understanding and an open mind.

I don’t believe that multi-faith work will solve immediately major struggles of our ummah, like the case of Israeli and Palestinian conflict, but it can prevent such conflict to rise in other places. Benjamin Franklin mentioned, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

May Allah guide us to do the best thing and build a strong relationship with one another. May He forgive our sins on this blessed Friday, cure those who are sick and have mercy on those who have passed away from the ummah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

(Friday Sermon delivered by Imam Didmar Faja on April 26th 2018 at UICA)