I was invited to talk about interfaith issues by the Muslim Students Association of UCR, inviting Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu students at 5:00 - 7 pm, May 6, 2008. First I gave a lecture about why we need to promote interfaith understanding, dialogue, and cooperation in the U.S. and elsewhere. I reasoned that differences have not been appreciated by different religious peoples and commonalities have been surpressed. Differences have been stressed by many leaders and preachers to promote the self at the expense of the others. Thus, politics of identity became strengthened for the sake of self-identity, while the ultimate reality and substantive values such as peace, justice, equality, the well-being, getting job, being healthy, becoming educated and so forth have been ignored. Also, religion has been used for good and evil, but its positive and constructive roles have been undermined by the action of a handful of people of religious individuals and groups. Religion has been the important element in creating and perpetuating mutual mistrust, sectarian pride, racism, and chauvinism. Finally, I argued that global, regional, and national politics have overshadowed the serious learning and studying and teaching of various belief systems in history and today.
I came up with some suggestion about how we can do interfaith dialogue. First, scriptures have to be understood contextually, comparatively, and morally. Every single religious community has the ultimate claim about their sacred scriptures; therefore, there must be some truth on all claims. Secondly, religious communities have to emphasize partnership and competition in good. "O Mankind! We created you from a single pair of male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. God has full knowledge and is well-acquainted." (Al-Hujurat:13). I stressed the idea of "ye may know each other", and the idea of pluralism as God's plan. I also talked about how among God's signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the plurality of languages and colors (Qur'an: 30:22). Ethnic identity, national identity, religious identity are important for many, but universal brotherhood is no less important without necessary contradictions.
The students came up with very interesting questions, such as the meaning of prayer, the idea of tolerance despite the idea of mission in all religions (I discussed the verse on the da'wa: call to the way of God through wisdom, good lessons, and best dialogue), the idea of prophets before and after Muhammad, the concept of Trinity, the idea of forgiveness, the attitude of Islam toward Jesus as the savior of the world, the attitude of Islam toward non-theistic religions such as Buddhism, and the comment by a participant about how Islam is a great religion if it stresses humanistic values as exemplified in the Quran and Muhammad examples. I stressed that commonalities are numerous, and it is not human's task to judge other faiths based on his or her religious scripture. The differences in particular aspects of belief is to be judged by God alone because He is the only one who knows best. The task of humankind, of any faith, including of the disbeliever, is to strive in goodness.
I truly enjoyed the discussion, as some in the room said to me that they enjoyed this too.