By Saqib Akbar
The message of the Quran is clear and unambiguous regarding living together harmoniously on the basis of common grounds with the possessors of the Scripture (or people of the Book).
The Quran says:
قُلۡ يَـٰٓأَهۡلَ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبِ تَعَالَوۡاْ إِلَىٰ ڪَلِمَةٍ۬ سَوَآءِۭ بَيۡنَنَا وَبَيۡنَكُمۡ أَلَّا نَعۡبُدَ إِلَّا ٱللَّهَ وَلَا نُشۡرِكَ بِهِۦ شَيۡـًٔ۬ا وَلَا يَتَّخِذَ بَعۡضُنَا بَعۡضًا أَرۡبَابً۬ا مِّن دُونِ ٱللَّهِۚ فَإِن تَوَلَّوۡاْ فَقُولُواْ ٱشۡهَدُواْ بِأَنَّا مُسۡلِمُونَ﴿۶۴﴾آل عمران
Say, "O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is common between us and you - that we will worship none but Allah and not associate any partners with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah. But if they turn away, then say, "Bear witness that we are Muslims [submitting to Him]."
In this verse, there are a few points to reflect on. One among them is the term Ahl al-Kitab (possessors of the Scripture). Jews and Christians were referred to as Ahl al-Kitab in the land on which the Quran was revealed and no other group was referred to as the Ahl al-Kitab in the Arabian Peninsula in that era. When the Muslims came out of the Arabian Peninsula and had to deal with other nations, then the term Ahl al-Kitab was also used for these nations as well. For example, as per Islamic traditions, Zoroaster was also a prophet and the book "Avesta" attributed to him is also a holy scripture. Thus the Zoroastrians were also accepted as Ahl al-Kitab and therefore they were not only entitled to Islam’s call of cooperation and unity but also to special privileges meant for the Ahl al-Kitab.
When the Muslims came to India they had to deal with a big nation, the Hindus. Apparently they were idol worshippers. But when their basic books were translated and Muslim scholars thoroughly studied them then a lot of ulemas expressed the possibility that the founder of the Hindu religion was also the bearer of the divine teachings. As other religions were influenced by ravages inflicted by humans, Hinduism also suffered the same. Against this backdrop, a number of thinkers opined that the Hindus be also included in the Ahl al-Kitab. For example, the names of contemporary prominent Sunni scholar, Dr Mohammad Tahir-ul-Qadri and Shia scholar Syed Qamaruzaman Khan can be mentioned. Some Muslim scholars have also expressed good feelings about the founder of the Buddhism. They have declared him a person believing in One God and said that his teachings were based on humanism. These two things are among the basic teachings of the divine religions.
In the above mentioned verse of the Quran, the word ڪَلِمَةٍ۬ سَوَآء meaning common word, has three elements:
(1) We do not worship anyone except Allah.
(2) Not associate any partner with Allah.
(3) Not take one another as lords instead of Allah.
Taking a look at it we can say that the same thing has been described in three different aspects. Not to worship anyone except God certainly means that He does not have any partner and this is the pure form of worshipping Him. Practical results of monotheism (declaring God to be one) and negation of shirk (attributing partners to Allah) in a human society are that all nations and all people are equal because all are equivalently servants of God. Nobody is servant of a particular individual or a nation and any individual or any nation cannot even think of assuming the position of Rab (God or Protector). The negation of this very idea means that all nations should treat each other equally and humanly.
The reality is that lot of people who believe in religion have become oblivious to social and human aspects of monotheism. The negation of polytheism and believing in monotheism in a society means that being servants of God all humans are equal implying that nobody is a servant of any individual. Allama Iqbal had grasped this meaning of monotheism when he said:
وہ ایک سجدہ جسے تم گراں سمجھتے ہو
ہزار سجدوں سے دیتا ہے آدمی کو نجات
For Iqbal, worshipping God means that nobody but Him is worthy of being worshipped. For peaceful co-existence between nations and individuals it is important that all nations should respect each other and not make attempts to enslave other nations.
For Allama Iqbal, it is sign of human equality that Khana-e-Kaba (House of God) made by Hazrat Ibrahim is accepted as the symbolic center for all human beings. It is such an equality in which discrimination or superiority on the basis of colour and pedigree is not recognized. Iqbal says:
غبار آلودہ رنگ و نسب ہیں بال و پر تیرے
تو اے مرغ حرم اڑنے سے پہلے پر فشاں ہو جا
The above mentioned Quranic verse at the end gives answer to the question: What we have to do if any nation does not accept our call and is not ready to live together on ‘common grounds’? The answer is: If they turn away from the call, then still you tell them that you accept this call for unity and cooperation or not, we acknowledge the truthfulness of this doctrine and our call is there for every such person who is ready to live harmoniously with us on the basis of ‘common grounds’.
It is encouraging that even today there are Muslim scholars around the world who are actively working for communicating the Quranic message of peaceful coexistence to Ahle Kitab (people of the Book). By doing this they are displaying their strong commitment not only with their wisdom and consciousness but also with the divine message. In this regard an important letter written to Christian elders by noted Muslim scholars of different countries on 13 October 2007 can be referred to and کلمة سواءبیننا و بینکم (a common word between us and you) itself was the title of the letter. The summary of the letter is:
The basis for peace and understanding exists there. Love for One God, and love of the neighbor is an important part of the foundational principles of both the faiths. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred books of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God and the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between these two religions.
Although Islam and Christianity are obviously two different religions and some formal differences between the two religions cannot be minimised. But it is clear that the above mentioned two greatest commandments - love for One God, and love of the neighbor – are an area of common ground and a link among the Holy Quran, the Torah and the New Testament.
Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite dialogue between selected religious leaders. Christianity and Islam are two major religions in the world and in history. Combined followers of these two religions are more than 55% of the world population. Most important benefit of a relationship between these two religious communities is that it will help in creating a meaningful peace in the world. If Muslims and Christians are not at peace with each other, the world cannot be at peace. With the horrifying weaponry of the modern world, and with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.
And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony.
So let our differences not cause hatred and discord between us. Let us compete with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.
Influential religious scholars and leaders from different countries including Tunisia, Turkey, United States, Kuwait, Syria, Oman, Egypt, Ukraine, Jordan, Nigeria, India, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Britain, Malaysia, Chad, Bosnia Herzegovina, Algeria, Iran, Russia, Brunei, Sudan, Crotia, Mauretania, Yemen, Palestine, Gambia, France, Belgium, Canada, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Kosovo, Italy, Germany and Indonesia were among the signees of the letter. Many Christian intellectuals from different countries are also among those who have signed the letter.
The letter received widespread acclaim in the Christian world. Besides the Pope of Rome and the head of the Church of Canterbury, the heads of all important cathedrals and notable Christian scholars as well as leaders praised and welcomed the move. A website has been launched which contains the text of the letter and its translation in different languages. It also contains the record of the world-wide response and widespread reaction of global Christianity. Website is: http://www.acommonword.com.
Seeing this positive response Allama Iqbal, the great philosopher and poet, comes to mind who says:
دل سے جو بات نکلتی ہے اثر رکھتی ہے
پر نہیں طاقت پرواز مگر رکھتی ہے
What comes from the heart has its effect. It does not have the wings but it has the power to fly.