The Commonalities – Worshipping a Monotheist God

Shalom and a Warm Welcome

Many verses in the Quran say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. One example is:

“And argue not with the People of the Book, except by what is best, save such of them as act unjustly. But say: We believe in what which has been revealed to us and revealed to you and our God and your God is One, and to Him we submit” (Al-Ankabul 29:46 Translation – Maulana Muhammad Ali)

Nevertheless, some Muslims believe that the Christians worship three gods, the Father, Isa or Jesus and Mariam or Mary. Their conclusions are based on some Quran verses such as:  

 And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah.?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). (al-Ma’ida 5:116a) (Translation Yusuf Ali)

The Christians do not worship Mary. Like the Muslims, most Christians, especially the Catholics, revere her. Why do some of the Quranic verses say that Muslims and Christians worship One God and then later contradict them by saying that the Christians worship Mary? Some scholars answer this question by pointing to the presence of the heretical sect Christians, such as Barbaraniyya and Collyridians, who worshipped Mary around 7th century. Thus, the Quran is right in refuting such worship as it is inconsistent with Christianity.

Christians believe in monotheist God. They hold to their hearts the commandment that was given to Moses in Torah which says:

Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deutronomy 6:4-7 NIV)    

This same commandment was taught by Jesus thousands of years later and is recorded in the gospel Injil in the book of Luke 10:27a and Mark 12:30.  

He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; (Luke 10:27a NIV)

What is the difference between ‘three gods’ and the Trinity God? The Trinity is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – Three persons in One. How can three be ‘One’? Professor Volf of Yale University explains this theologically in his paper, ‘A Christian Response to Muslims Allah and the Trinity God – A Christian Response on Muslims Allah and the Trinity.’ Another short writing relevant to this discussion is ‘The Trinity – Christian Doctrine in Islamic Context.’

Several surah that are relevant to the Trinity in Islamic context are given below. Note that all surah in Arabic as in (2) and (3) below, rebuke Christians for worshipping Tri-Theism or three gods. Indeed, Christians do not worship three gods but one God. The misunderstanding arises as some of the translation works interpreted or commented the Arabic word ‘Three’ to ‘Trinity.’  

When Muslims talk about worshiping One God as in Al-Ankabul 29:46, they meant to say that God is only One, the Creator who has 99 sifat (e.g. the knowledgeable, the powerful). This affirms the Christians belief in monotheist God. However, the Muslims believe that Isa al-Masih is fully man and that a man cannot be God and cannot be conceived into a human form.

The mainstream Christians believe that Isa al-Masih or Jesus Christ is fully man and fully divine. In Christianity, God is perceived as desiring to have a love relatonship with the creation, expressed by involving in every moment of the lives of the human being. A relationship works both ways and comes voluntarily. As God is perfect and human being is imperfect, the communion between human and God must first be restored in order for human being to have a relationship with God. This can only be done by God. The restoration is the greatest expression of God’s love and it was accomplished at the cross through the death and the suffering of Jesus Christ. A person who believes that God loves him or her eternally to the point of death of human Jesus Christ, receives the grace of salvation and the Spirit of God. This grace of faith bridges one’s relationship with God and the communion between one’s spirit with the Holy Spirit.  

The mystical Trinity: the Creator, Savior and Spirit, as One God is sometimes expressed by the Christians through the analogy of mind, body and spirit – three dimensions of one selfhood.   

Reading 1: https://ifeldp.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/volf_ccallah-trinity_2011-3-81.pdf

Reading 2: https://ifeldp.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/trinity-christian-doctrine-in-islamic-context/

1. Surah that affirm the Christians and Muslims worship the same One God.

 وَلَا تُجَادِلُوا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ إِلَّا بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْهُمْ وَقُولُوا آمَنَّا بِالَّذِي أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَأُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ وَإِلَهُنَا وَإِلَهُكُمْ وَاحِدٌ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ  – And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” (al-Ankabut 29:46)

فَلِذَلِكَ فَادْعُ وَاسْتَقِمْ كَمَا أُمِرْتَ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءهُمْ وَقُلْ آمَنتُ بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ مِن كِتَابٍ وَأُمِرْتُ لِأَعْدِلَ بَيْنَكُمُ اللَّهُ رَبُّنَا وَرَبُّكُمْ لَنَا أَعْمَالُنَا وَلَكُمْ أَعْمَالُكُمْ لَا حُجَّةَ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمُ اللَّهُ يَجْمَعُ بَيْنَنَا وَإِلَيْهِ الْمَصِيرُ – Now then, for that (reason), call (them to the Faith), and stand steadfast as thou art commanded, nor follow thou their vain desires; but say: “I believe in the Book which Allah has sent down; and I am commanded to judge justly between you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord: for us (is the responsibility for) our deeds, and for you for your deeds. There is no contention between us and you. Allah will bring us together, and to Him is (our) Final Goal. (al-Shura 42:15)

   

2. Various interpretations on al-Nisa 4:171 indicating how some translations use“three” and other use “Trinity.”

 يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لاَ تَغْلُواْ فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ عَلَى اللّهِ إِلاَّ الْحَقِّ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَى مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ فَآمِنُواْ بِاللّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ ثَلاَثَةٌ انتَهُواْ خَيْرًا لَّكُمْ إِنَّمَا اللّهُ إِلَهٌ وَاحِدٌ سُبْحَانَهُ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَات وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ وَكَفَى بِاللّهِ وَكِيلاً –

O followers of the Book! do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, Isa son of Marium is only a messenger of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Mariam and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His messengers, and say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one Allah; far be It from His glory that He should have a son, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His, and Allah is sufficient for a Protector. (Al-Nisa 4:171) (Translation Muhammad Habib Shakir: http://www.searchtruth.com/chapter_display.php?chapter=4&translator=3&mac=)

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His apostles. Say not “Trinity“: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah. Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. (Al-Nisa 4:171) (Translation by Yusuf Ali: http://www.mysticletters.com/quran-viewer/arabic-yusuf-ali/)

O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” – Cease! (it is) better for you! – Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender. (Al-Nisa 4:171) (Translation Muhammad Pickthal: http://www.searchtruth.com/chapter_display.php?chapter=4&translator=4&mac=)

O people of the Scripture (Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The Messiah ‘Îsa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, (“Be!” – and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (Ruh ) created by Him; so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not: “Three (trinity)!” Cease! (it is) better for you. For Allah is (the only) One Ilah (God),glory be to Him (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is All-Sufficient as a Disposer of affairs. (Translation Mohsin Khan: http://www.searchtruth.com/chapter_display.php?chapter=4&translator=5&mac=)

O People of the Book, exceed not the limits in your religion nor speak anything about Allah, but the truth. The Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, is only a messenger of Allah and His word which He communicated to Mary and a mercy from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you. Allah is only one God. Far be it from His glory to have a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. And sufficient is Allah as having charge of affairs. (Maulana Muhammad Ali, The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary (Ohio:Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Lahore Inc., 2002), page 242)

  

3. Do these verses reject Tri-Theism (Three gods) or Trinity?Please refer to Reading 2 to read on the explanation on these verses (the link isgiven above) 

وَإِذْ قَالَ اللّهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ أَأَنتَ قُلتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُونِي وَأُمِّيَ إِلَهَيْنِ مِن دُونِ اللّهِ قَالَ سُبْحَانَكَ مَا يَكُونُ لِي أَنْ أَقُولَ مَا لَيْسَ لِي بِحَقٍّ إِن كُنتُ قُلْتُهُ فَقَدْ عَلِمْتَهُ تَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِي وَلاَ أَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِكَ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ عَلاَّمُ الْغُيُوبِ  – And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah.?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden. (al-Ma’ida 5:116)

لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ إِنَّ اللّهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلاَثَةٍ وَمَا مِنْ إِلَهٍ إِلاَّ إِلَهٌ وَاحِدٌ وَإِن لَّمْ يَنتَهُواْ عَمَّا يَقُولُونَ لَيَمَسَّنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ مِنْهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ – They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. (al-Ma’ida 5:73)

مَّا الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ إِلاَّ رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ وَأُمُّهُ صِدِّيقَةٌ كَانَا يَأْكُلاَنِ الطَّعَامَ انظُرْ كَيْفَ نُبَيِّنُ لَهُمُ الآيَاتِ ثُمَّ انظُرْ أَنَّى يُؤْفَكُونَ – Christ the son of Mary was no more than an apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make His signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth! (al-Ma’ida 5:76) 

(The translations of the surah are from Yusuf Ali online translation of Quran unless indicated otherwise. http://www.mysticletters.com/quran-viewer/arabic-yusuf-ali/)

Advertisements

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

Shalom and Assalamualaikum

Muslims and Christians, the adherents of the world’s two largest religions, have co-existed for more than 1400 years. While both faiths teach peace and love, many lives and properties were lost over the years as a result of Muslims and Christians’ dispute on God and their religious practices.

Both faiths have so much in common but yet their adherents are very uninformed about each other and are not aware that the Quran says that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Some argue the literal interpretation of this passage as the divinity of Allah and Trinity is different, but one thing is true: both agree on worshiping monotheist God, the One and only God.

 “And argue not with the People of the Book, except by what is best, save such of them as act unjustly. But say: We believe in what which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him we submit”                                            (Al-Ankabul 29:46 Translation – Maulana Muhammad Ali)

 How true is this statement? or how can we interpret this verse? Professor Volf of Yale University attempts to unfold this mystical truth through a theological explanation. In the last paragraph of his writing ‘A Christian Response to Muslims Allah and the Trinity,’ he writes that this paper is directed primarily to the Christians and his goal is:

“to remind Christians that Muslims objections to the doctrine of the Trinity and the uncompromising of God’s oneness from which this objection stems are not in themselves good enough reasons for Christians to think that they have radically different understanding of God than Muslims. Unity of God doesn’t separate Muslims from Christians, it binds them together.”


Ref: Volf, Miroslav – A Christian Response to Muslims Allah and the Trinity

More of his writing on this topic can be read from his latest book on Allah. See: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Allah-Miroslav-Volf/

Quranic Texts – The Commonalities in Worshipping Monotheist God

The Christians claim that they worship a monotheist God while many Muslims say that the Christians worship three gods, the Father, the Son and Mary. Two verses in the Quran however say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God (e.g. Surah al-Ankabut 29:46 and al-Shura 42:15). In other verses, the Quran refutes the Christians from worshiping three gods (e.g. al-Nisa 4:171). How can we explain these contradictions?

1. Quran verses saying that the Christians and the Muslims worship the same One God?  

 وَلَا تُجَادِلُوا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ إِلَّا بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْهُمْ وَقُولُوا آمَنَّا بِالَّذِي أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَأُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ وَإِلَهُنَا وَإِلَهُكُمْ وَاحِدٌ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ  And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” (al-Ankabut 29:46)       

 فَلِذَلِكَ فَادْعُ وَاسْتَقِمْ كَمَا أُمِرْتَ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءهُمْ وَقُلْ آمَنتُ بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ مِن كِتَابٍ وَأُمِرْتُ لِأَعْدِلَ بَيْنَكُمُ اللَّهُ رَبُّنَا وَرَبُّكُمْ لَنَا أَعْمَالُنَا وَلَكُمْ أَعْمَالُكُمْ لَا حُجَّةَ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمُ اللَّهُ يَجْمَعُ بَيْنَنَا وَإِلَيْهِ الْمَصِيرُNow then, for that (reason), call (them to the Faith), and stand steadfast as thou art commanded, nor follow thou their vain desires; but say: “I believe in the Book which Allah has sent down; and I am commanded to judge justly between you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord: for us (is the responsibility for) our deeds, and for you for your deeds. There is no contention between us and you. Allah will bring us together, and to Him is (our) Final Goal. (al-Shura 42:15)

  

2. The Quranic interpretations on “ تَقُولُواْ ثَلاَثَة  is either “Say not three” or “Say not Trinity?” or “say not three (Trinity).” Which one is correct?

يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لاَ تَغْلُواْ فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ عَلَى اللّهِ إِلاَّ الْحَقِّ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَى مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ فَآمِنُواْ بِاللّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ ثَلاَثَةٌ انتَهُواْ خَيْرًا لَّكُمْ إِنَّمَا اللّهُ إِلَهٌ وَاحِدٌ سُبْحَانَهُ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَات وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ وَكَفَى بِاللّهِ وَكِيلاًO People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His apostles. Say not “Trinity“: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah. Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. (Al-Nisa 4:171) (Translation by Yusuf Ali: http://www.mysticletters.com/quran-viewer/arabic-yusuf-ali/)

 

 O followers of the Book! do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, Isa son of Marium is only a messenger of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Marium and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His messengers, and say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one Allah; far be It from His glory that He should have a son, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His, and Allah is sufficient for a Protector. (Al-Nisa 4:171) (Translation Muhammad Habib Shakir: http://www.searchtruth.com/chapter_display.php?chapter=4&translator=3&mac=)

 O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” – Cease! (it is) better for you! – Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender. (Al-Nisa 4:171) (Translation Muhammad Pickthal:http://www.searchtruth.com/chapter_display.php?chapter=4&translator=4&mac=)

O people of the Scripture (Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The Messiah ‘Îsa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, (“Be!” – and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (Ruh ) created by Him; so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not: “Three (trinity)!” Cease! (it is) better for you. For Allah is (the only) One Ilah (God),glory be to Him (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is All-Sufficient as a Disposer of affairs. (Translation Mohsin Khan: http://www.searchtruth.com/chapter_display.php?chapter=4&translator=5&mac=)

O People of the Book, exceed not the limits in your religion nor speak anything about Allah, but the truth. The Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, is only a messenger of Allah and His word which He communicated to Mary and a mercy from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you. Allah is only one God. Far be it from His glory to have a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. And sufficient is Allah as having charge of affairs. (Maulana Muhammad Ali, The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary (Ohio:Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Lahore Inc., 2002), page 242.

Yusuf Ali  and Mohsin Khan translations use ‘Trinity’ while Muhammad Habib Shakir, Maulana Muhammad Ali and Mohsin Khan use ‘Three.’ In Arabic,  ثلثة” is “three” and “ثالوث” is “Trinity.” Maulana Muhammad Ali commentary says that Quran does  not rebuke Christians for ‘The Trinity’ but for ‘three gods’ (). If we accept his comment, both the Quran and the Bible do have one important common ground, and that is, both say no to the worship of three gods.

Questions for discussion:

1. What are the possible reasons for the variations in the interpretation of the word ‘three’ and ‘Trinity.’?

2. How have the historical contacts between the Muslims and Christians influence the translation of the sacred Books and religious literature? How can a faith adherent gauge if a scholarly work truly represents the  essence of a faith and not a product of historical evolution or political agenda?

3. What are the ways to gauge that the core doctrines and values of a faith that are taught or preached are insulated from the continuously changing environment or human errors? Can faith evolves?   

 

Interfaith Initiative for Peace Building: A Case Study on Indonesia and Sudan

By: Norani Abu Bakar (12/10/2010)

Abstract

Muslims and Christians make-up about 55 percent of the world’s population and the peace between them impacts the future of the world. The first past of this paper gives an overview on the role and the importance of faith and then presents an argument to support the criticality of interfaith engagement between the Muslims and the Christians to the global peace. Several examples on outstanding interfaith projects that are carried out internationally and nationally are also presented to provide some understanding on the global community response towards this subject. This writing also refers to two case studies to illustrate how interfaith relationship moves from religiocentric to religiorelative and how this change brings positive impact to their countries. The last part of this paper will suggest some approaches that can be implemented in order to achieve sustainable solutions for peace.   

1.      Unity in Diversity and the Unleashing of Social Value of Faith Tradition through Engaging Relationship.

The adherents of the Abrahamic faiths have lived as neighbors since the day their spiritual great grandfather lived. Today, there are approximately 5 billion religious people in the world, i.e. almost 85 percent of the world population[1] and by 2050, it is forecasted that there will be 3 billion of Christians and 2.2 billion of Muslims[2]. What will the world be like if Christians and Muslims live beyond tolerance and engage one other for the betterment of mankind? What will happen if fear and war is transformed to love, cooperation and trust? After all, they do share many common values and that their faith is rooted to a historical tradition.

Many socialists, including Peter Berger who advocated on secularization theory which says religion will dissolve with modernization, affirms the resurgence of religion in the 21st century. This is good news only if faith adherents live in peace and that the emergence in spirituality promotes beneficent and benevolent. Some scholars say that hospitality in hermeneutics and human rights hermeneutics is emerging among modern religions[3]. Unfortunately, hermeneutics that produces sound scholarly work on religious ethics will not bring peace to the world unless these values are assimilated to the community at large.  This is a very difficult task, especially when one tries to imagine on how to bring the huge population of Christians and Muslims to partner and to engage towards global peace.

Instead of haunted by the impossibilities, the Muslim and Christian leaders from the areas where there is tolerance but lack of engagement, need to expedite their learning process by analyzing the lessons learnt from the experiences of religious scholars and practitioners like Douglas Johnston, Marc Gopin, Mohamed Abu-Nimer, Amal Khoury, Emily Welty, Sallama Shaker, Monica Duffy, Sulaiman Nyang, Abdul Aziz Said. These leaders have shared their experiences in Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan, etc. generously and in depth. ‘Prevention is better than cure,’ and integrating some of their findings into the local situation can prevent from unnucessary mistakes.

Each faith tradition has treasurable social capital value and transforming the relationship from tolerable level to engaging level and promoting this as the 21st century spirituality will bring out the best from each tradition. The unleashing and the utilizing of the avail and untapped social capital resources from each faith community can only happens when barriers are overcome and community strives together for common good. The result is the enhancement of the livelihood of a pluralistic society.

This proposal may sound very theoretical. Perhaps, the result from the Jubilee USA Network will awaken us from underestimating the power of interfaith unity in working towards common good. The Jubilee which is made-up of an alliance of over 75 religious denominations, faith communities and NGOs perseveres to work for cancellation of international debt owed by developing countries. As a result, today, more than 23 of the poorest countries in the world have received over $88 billion in debt cancellation[4]. This result stuns us. And there are more success stories to tell, but the journey is not going to be easy. However, analyzing how others did it will escalate the economies of scale in learning. This paper urges leaders from Abrahamic faiths tradition to recall and to claim the covenant of God to Abraham that God will bless his descendants and turn them into great nations[5]

2.      Interfaith Diplomacy, Work and Engagement in the 21st Century

Muslims and Christians can agree that the core of both faiths has many principles of fundamental human rights, including human dignity, tolerance, solidarity and equality which are founded on the basic principle of loving God and our neighbors. Numerous passages from the Qur’an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad testify to this. And similarly, many passages in the Bible and sayings of Lord Jesus Christ teach on these values. Two most relevant texts are:

So invoke the Name of thy Lord and devote thyself to Him with a complete devotion’ – Quran: Al-Muzzammil, 73:8

None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself’ – By Prophet Muhammad

 ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’This is the first commandment. / And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’There is no other commandment greater than these.”  By Jesus Christ sayings -Mark 12:29-31

These great values can only be shared when there is communication. Communication is important. It is the key to enter into engagement. And as love is the essence of both faiths, dialoguing with love and wisdom or ‘diplomacy’ is scriptural. It is diplomacy that brings a relationship from the level of tolerance to understanding. Diplomacy facilitates forgiveness, repentance, reconciliation and restoration. It transforms the relationship between two strangers to acquaintances, to casual friendship and then to love relationship. All these are parts of the teaching of Abrahamic faiths. The Quran communicates Allah’s command and the hadith pointed to the life of Prophet Muhammad as guidance in the life of the Muslims. The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnated Word, communicates the will of the Father, converses and lives among the people to show them the way of life. After his ascension, the Holy Spirit comes to the lives of the followers and interacts with them on the will of Trinity God. Diplomacy comes with both faiths. Only through the conviction that diplomacy is the will of God can both adherents embrace God’s beautiful plan for our coexistence.

The basic concepts and approaches to diplomacy also involve cognitive dialogue, whereby each faith group must first have correct information about other religion for there to be peace. This study is elaborated in great details in the book, Unity in Diversity. Today, many studies have been published on religious ethics, diplomacy, pluralism, conflict resolution, coexistence and inclusion. In the later part of this paper, the work of several Muslims scholars from Indonesia will be discussed. ‘Exclusion and Embrace’, a remarkable writing written by Miroslav Wolf is an invaluable scholarly work to help one to transform traumatisms from religious conflict and hurt into love and to forgiveness.

Another scholarly work in this area, speaks optimistically that that the process of religious engagement of human rights is now under the way in Christian, Islam, Judaic, Buddhist, Hindu and traditional communities alike[6]. In addition to this, some reports also mention that there is a momentum of transformation of religiocentric to religiorelative[7]. The former have caused many deaths and the latter brings hope and peace. This being known, leaders need to be proactive in persuading religiorelativism to their community and to be strategic in implementing it.  Our mind sets must be shifted towards preemptive collaboration where compassionate and fruitful interfaith engagement is not initiated because of crisis but simply because living ethically is a core to every faith tradition.

Evidence on one of the most remarkable religorelative efforts that has great potential to affect change radically is shown through the Muslim and Christian leaders’ initiative on loving God and neighbors that is encapsulated by ‘A Common Word’ collaboration.[8] This effort is supported by addresses and signatories from 138 Muslims; led by HRH Prince Ghazi of Jordan, dozens of grand muftis, an ayatollah and leaders of many Islamic countries and Muslims scholars and 102 Christians including His holiness Pope Benedict, patriarchs, clergies and academia.   This important breakthrough evidenced that it is possible for Muslims and Christians to work together towards reconciliation and peace building while acknowledging real differences between both faiths.

Unfortunately, this initiative is not free from critiques. Voices on dissatisfaction expressing that such diplomacy and gestures are not enough and that the mask of hypocrisy on the tension between Muslims and Christians must be ripped away and resolved in order for both to reconcile. While there is some validity to this voice, nothing can be achieved unless the leaders from both faith traditions set an example to the rests of the adherents on loving one another and extending hands for forgiveness and reconciliation prior to working on pragmatic matters. On the contrary to this pessimistic response, A Common Word initiative resonates to the hearts of many international and national religious leaders who were not involved with the founding of A Common Word initiation, including the non-Muslims and non-Christians.

One of the most significant outcomes from A Common Word is the launching of the World Interfaith Harmony Week, a UN resolution for worldwide interfaith harmony that will fall on the first week of February of every year that is aimed to promote harmony between all people regardless of their religion. This benchmark comes from the proposal and effort of King of Jordan, HM King Abdullah II and HRH Prince Ghazi of Jordan that was made recently this year following-up Prince Ghazi initiative on A Common Word[9].

On the national level, an interfaith project that is based on A Common Word is initiated officially in the Philippines by Magbassa Kita Foundation Incorporated (MKFI) and the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) with the hope to spread harmony and peace especially at the southern of Mindanao where tension exists among the Muslims, Christians and Lumad (a minority race with no specific faith tradition). Many of the projects run by this initiative focus on the improvement in education for the marginalized Muslim youths. The strong support that is received from the mayor of Zamboanga City, Mr. Lobregat who is of Catholic background, on the needs of the Muslim community, reaffirms a bright future for a harmonious society in Mindanao.

The earlier part of this writing also voices that interfaith engagement should be initiated even when there is no major crisis. The exemplary interfaith work and leadership of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) ‘walks this talk.’ Its interfaith wing has executed many interfaith projects decades before the September 11 incident. Their commitment is significant that in October 2010, it’s National Director for Interfaith and Community Alliances, Dr.Sayyid Syeed received the Interfaith Alliance President’s Award for his contribution on the improvement of interfaith relationships in America and his ability to persevere in the face of extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric. Two examples on the interfaith projects that were organized or participated by ISNA are; ISNA and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) collaboration in areas of poverty, education and anti-bigotry; and ISNA support to Interfaith Health Fair in Detroit where a litany of Muslim and Jewish doctors, nurses and social workers were on hand to provide health screening and meal for the homeless.

3.      Interfaith Initiative for Conflict Resolution in Indonesian

This segment will furnish readers with a brief background and some facts on Indonesia to facilitate deeper understanding on the conflict, the contributing factors and the impact of the crisis to the citizens. Later, an analytical discussion will be presented on the way the interfaith engagement was implemented prior to and after the conflict. This segment will also outline some of the policies that may have been developed as a result of the crisis.

3.1 General background on Indonesia and the crisis in 1999 – 2000

Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world. There demography of its religious population is identified as 88.2% Muslim mainly Sunni with slightly over one million Shi’a, 5.9% Protestant, 3.1% Catholic, 1.8% Hindu and 0.8% Buddhist and 0.2% other[10]. The Indonesians came in contact with Arab traders that were doing commerce with Indonesia in the fourth century CE. However, Islam began to assimilate only from the beginning of the eleventh century through intermarriages and the movement of Sufism.  In the earlier days, Islam in Indonesians retained much of the previous blend of Hinduism, Buddhism and animatism.

Christianity arrived in Indonesia during the sixteenth century through two means: Catholic missionaries brought by the Portuguese, and Protestant missionaries brought by the Dutch. The latter colonized Indonesia from the 17th century to 19th century and increase in missionary efforts and growth of both Roman Catholicism and various Protestant denominations took place from the 20th century onwards. The Dutch supported pre-existing Islamic governance structures in order to have good diplomatic relationship so that it can continue its trading business in this region. Their non-intervention on Islamic religious matter gives room for the authority of rural Islamic boarding schools and mystical leaders to grow stronger. These leaders later became the founders for independence movements, which in the twentieth century merged around either Muslim or popular nationalist parties.

Since Indonesia’s independence, there has been an increased in observance and less culturally-influenced and universal form of Islam. This country is not an Islamic state even though it is predominantly Muslims. Today, the largest Muslim organizations in Indonesia are the “traditionalists” (Nahdlatul Ulama) and “modernists” (Muhammadiyah). In the post-colonial Indonesia, several presidential regimes – most notably President Sukarno (1945-1967) and President Suharto (1967-1998) – created public policies that favored some religious groups. President Sukarno established the Pancasila or Five Principles as the foundation of its new constitution, “Belief in the One and Only God; just and civilized humanity; the unity of Indonesia; deliberation for consensus; and social justice for all of Indonesia’s people.” Later, under President Suharto, the government officially recognized five religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Pancasila, the influence of shari`ah in national policy, and the position of official national religions are still debated in contemporary Indonesia. Some Islamic groups demand for more compliance between official law and shari`ah and advocate for a completely Islamic state. However, Muslim proponents of pluralism and liberal Islam, as well as members of other religions, favor the freedom of religion and the secular state. The largest Muslim organizations in Indonesia, Muhammadiyah (1912) and Nahdlatul ‘Ulama (NU) (1926), coming from the modernist and neo-traditionalist movements respectively, are committed to upholding Pancasila and not instituting a Muslim state and promoting a pluralistic democratic state. Organizations such as the Liberal Islam Network (1999) are dedicated to advancing liberal Islam and fight for civil liberties such as freedom of expression, minority rights, women’s rights and freedom of religion. Although there are several political parties that have been founded on religious grounds, elections routinely demonstrate the general population’s support for Pancasila and for continuing a history of tolerance and diversity for the many religions co-existing in Indonesia.

Indonesia guarantee religious freedom to six officially recognized religions, however, frequent conflict happens and the largest scale of religious violence happened in 1999-2000. Some of the riots were between Muslims and Christians. In Sulawesi, more than 1000 people are believed to be killed. In 2006, the government executed three Christian ministers that incited the religious violence in Poso, the place where the violence triggered by a brawl between Christian and Muslim gangs in December 1998 sparked the religious violence in 1999. Many protested the execution of the three Christians and criticized the government for not punishing Muslim instigators in the same fashion.

            After the 1999 -2000 event, a peace agreement was signed between two parties in 2002 and some sporadic incidents still happened after that. Between March 1996 and August 2005, about 180 churches were destroyed, burned or closed by force. Among the churches that were closed, more than two dozen churches in West Java were closed by force by the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) in 2003; the imprisonment of believers from the “Sang Timur” Catholic School; the conflict between Muslim residents and members of a Christian Batak Church; and violent attack against followers of the Muslim Ahmadiyah sect.

The Christians were not the only people that were attacked. In Ambon city, the provincial capital of Maluku, both Christian churches and mosques were burnt down along with hundreds of houses, banks, shops, stalls, vehicles and government buildings. Around 20,000 people were forced to flee their homes and take refuge in military headquarters, houses of worship and other facilities[11]. The list of the outbreaks, the number of people being injured, properties being burned down, people seeking refuge at worship places, schools being destroyed and people tortured to death is very long. In short, all suffer and are at lost. In this fight, the Muslims and the Christians look at each as ‘you verse me’ and not as us Indonesians or us, the Abrahamic faiths adherents who share many common values. This version of religiosity is articulated by scholars as religiocentric.  

While some media coverage tried to portray the core reason to the unrest as the violence between the Muslims and the Christians, religion was not the main contributing factor to the unrest. It was the scape goat to Indonesia economics crisis which was badly impacted by the financial crisis that hit Asian economics beginning July 1997. Before the crisis, the exchange rate between the rupiah and the dollar was roughly 2,600 rupiah to 1 USD.  The rate plunged to over 11,000 rupiah to 1 USD in January 1998. The currency devaluation contributed to a sharp decline in purchasing power as the rise in the price for basic goods outpaced wage increment. The impact of lower real wages pushed many poor people below the poverty line. The sharp recession caused contraction of GDP by 13.1 % and only 0.8% growth in 1999[12]. The situation got worse when agricultural, the economic sector that employed most Indonesians, had its output affected by poor weather, natural disasters, and civil unrest. This tension was vented by rioting and nationwide unrests pressured the public forced President Suharto to step down after 30 years in power. Consequently, political turmoil exuberated.

Rising prices, food shortages, devaluation of rupiah and massive unemployment widened the gap between the rich and the poor and this led to greater tension. Many of the privately owned commerce and wealth entities were Chinese-Indonesian-controlled. Even though Chinese Indonesians comprised of only 3 to 4 percent of the population, they have influential wealth position and disproportionate control of the Indonesian economy. The Chinese came to Indonesia during the period of Dutch colonization and taken up business and professional employment. Historically, they faced great discrimination, prejudice, and even violence and were once purged during the anti-communist movement that took place under Suharto governance in 1965. Many of them are Christians, Mahayana Buddhists and Confucians. Their financial status contributed to resentment causing the outbreaks of the anti-Chinese violence. Soeharto’s son-in-law, Gen. Prabowo Subiyanto, helped fuel anti-Chinese sentiment by labeling them “traitors” as they who fled with their money abroad. After the riots in the cities of Jakarta, Solo, and Surabaya, this situation was exuberated to the emergence of mass rapes and other forms of sexual assault against ethnic Chinese women in a systematic, organized fashion.

 

3.2 Interfaith Initiative Before and After the Conflict and Analysis on the Initiatives

The turmoil in 1999-2000 is contributed by politics, economics, social and religion. Even though faith seems to have the least influence, religious communities were very impacted from this unrest. As Indonesian culture is rich with hospitality, it is hard for one to imagine that there can be lack of engagement between the faiths tradition that the pressure from the economic crisis wiped away their harmonious community life. Furthermore, interfaith initiative is not new in Indonesia. The first formal inter-religious conference was documented to take place in November 1967. It was sponsored by the government to develop some strategies for resolution towards religious related social problems. In this conference, the participants were asked to propose a concept of inter-religious harmony which can foster engagement so that every religious community can live together peacefully and respectfully [13].  

In 1969, the government issued a joined-decree of the minister of religious and internal affairs about preserving harmony among the members of religious communities. This decree was renewed in 2005. The decree mandates government leaders in each provinces and districts to take part in sustaining harmony among religious communities and to support the communities to establish a forum called Inter-Religious Harmony Forum (Forum Kerukunan Umat Beragama – FKUB). Its aim is to build dialogue among religious leaders, accommodate aspirations from religious organizations and communities, and to give recommendations to the government about the feasibility of erecting places of worship. Members of this forum are religious leaders from the various traditions.

The unrest in 1999-2000 and the sporadic religious problems that continuously take place in Indonesia until today indicate that there is still a lot of room for improvement that must be in place. There are many reasons to the weakness in the system and this situation can first be improved by studying the available reports. Unfortunately, many reports are not properly documented, making it difficult to evaluate. Many cases, especially the violence towards the ethnic Chinese women have not been thoroughly investigated. There are many reasons to this unavailability of information.

One possibility could be an inadequate infrastructure to support the execution of tasks that were mandated to the government leaders of each province and district. This infrastructure needs to include training for the religious leaders to run the Inter-Religious Harmony Forum and systematic documentation and reporting to the central governance. The fact that the country comprises of 17,000 islands with about 243 million population makes any management overarching a widely disperse geographical area and diverse population extremely difficult.  Under these circumstances, a decentralized system as such can function well with the empowerment and competency of the leaders in si-tu which can only be made possible through proper training. It is understandable that this task was unmanageable during turmoil. However, as Indonesia economic has recovered and the political environment is stable, the renewed decree may have greater potential of success with good management.

Today, the number of local NGOs dedicated to interfaith and pluralistic concerns has increased. This could be an indication of a positive outcome of the initiatives that were launched in 1967 and 1969 by Indonesian government. This evidence that the common vision to cultivate a harmonious pluralistic society does resonate to the public. Perhaps in the next decade, especially, with President Obama speeches on Indonesia as a model for religious tolerance in November 2010[14] and the improvement in media technology and the inclusion of the studies on pluralism in learning institutions, the interfaith initiative in Indonesia will grow exponentially.

One of the leading interfaith organizations is Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) and the organization lists another 51 organizations throughout the country that are considered interfaith organizations. All have similar activities; organizing interfaith forums, dialogues, and events, and promoting pluralism and cooperation among the different faith adherents. Some of the  interfaith organizations are; Indonesian Peace Building Directory, which support interfaith and religious minority organizations; Institute of Human Assistance of Interfaith Community, founded by leaders of Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism and Hinduism; Liberal Islam Network which focuses on gender equality and interfaith dialogue; and Society for Interreligious Dialogue, the second oldest Indonesian organization involved in inter-religious dialogue that was established in 1996 aiming at Indonesian religious leaders and youth.

The Pluralism Project of Harvard University did a study on ‘Religious Pluralism in Indonesia’ through its ‘International Portrait’ chapter and a report by Agus Hadi Nahrowi described in great length on the activities that are organized by each interfaith organization. Interestingly, none of the description on the activities cover by the NGOs include restoration of the dignity, forgiveness and healing. The report from Oslo written in 2002 also had no record on these events as taking place in the interfaith initiative. Scholars however suggested that the primary distinction between an interfaith diplomacy (IFD) and other identity-based dialogues is that the IFD becomes a religious experience itself[15]. The book, Unity in Diversity writes that a successful IFD is transformative, it transform strangers into an interdependent relation with one another as a member of the community. For both faiths groups to be interdependent to one another, forgiveness and healing must first take place. The collective memory from the past cannot be erased simply through this exercise. However, this is the stepping stone prior to addressing the commonalities on justice and human rights and partnership in building better communities. Between the Muslims and the Christians, the painful history from ‘crusade’ or ‘jihad’ still lingers in the heart of the adherents and this pre-existing tension may emerge during discourse. Only forgiveness helps. Some scholars also suggest that discourse may begin with prayer in a way that is most comfortable to the participants.   

The scale of the death figures from its religious conflict is relatively low compared to many countries with much smaller population. Sudan, which has about 40 million people today, had 2.5 million deaths in its last 20 years of conflict. For such a big country with huge diversity of races and religion, Indonesia has been able to maintain a very high religious tolerance. This was affirmed by President Obama in his speech on the 10th November 2010 during his visit to Indonesia. No country is without imperfect, but acknowledgement should be given to its national scholars, some who paid a high price to voice their insights on religious pluralism and interfaith engagement. Among the leading scholars in this area are; H.A.Mukti Ali, a modern Islamic thinker, who pioneered the idea of inter-religious harmony in 1960 when he was the minister of religious affairs (1971-1978).  Mr.Ali developed a model of inter-religious harmony that was based on Islamic principles of justice, absolute freedom of conscience, the perfect equality among humans, and the powerful solidarity in social interaction, which was referred to when dealing with inter-religious issues.

Abdurrahman Wahid, well-known as Gus Dur, who was also the fourth president of Indonesia and a past chairperson of NU was also one of the greatest Muslim intellectuals. Gus Dur inspired NU youth to be critical with the government and its policies, and to demand equal representation from the non-Muslims and the left wing. Gus Dur is committed to the freedom of religion and his expression that “reducing religious freedom is a crime”[16] cannot be ignored. He is also a prominent international figure and resumes high responsibility in some of the interfaith organizations. The known father of Islamic modernist in Indonesia, Nurcholish Majidh or Cak Nur produced remarkable scholarly work on “inclusive theology.”[17] Cak Nur’s liberal thinking broadened the issue of pluralism and democracy from the standpoint of his neo-modernist view of Islam. Many of his followers continue to carry on his “inclusive theology.” Some of them are Syafi’i Anwar, the executive director of the ICIP. He described that the greatest contribution of Cak Nur was his commitment to pluralism and his advocacy for Muslims to study other religions.  Th. Sumartana, a Protestant, founded the first interfaith organization in Indonesia. Together with Gus Dur and Cak Nur, he is considered a pioneer of the interfaith movement in Indonesia. He also attempted to open the windows of consciousness about the importance of understanding other religious theologies. Today, 13 of the State Islamic Institutes (IAIN) teach religious diversity and comparative religion[18]. H.A. Mukti Ali and Nurcholish Madjid were among the students of this institute.  

In studying the progress of interfaith engagement in a country, an analysis should also be made by reading reports from external parties such as the reports written by US International Religious Freedom Report (2006) and External report from The Oslo Coalition (2002). The latter wrote that the general impression left with its delegation was that of a strong and confident co-operation between the leaders of the mainstream churches and the dominant Muslim networks of NU and Muhammadiyah[19]. During Oslo visit to various Islamic Boarding School in the rural NU-context of Jombang, when asked about their opinion on the current shari‘a-debate, the teachers responded that they were against the inclusion of shari‘a in the constitution, since “Indonesia is pluralistic”. They also reported that many Muslims volunteered to protect churches during Christmas and Easter celebrations from being burnt.

Oslo report and various writings voiced the same tone that the development of the interfaith initiative in Indonesia looks very promising.  The interfaith activists, scholars and religious leaders have reached another milestone since 1999. However, a few writings voiced out that while the government generally respects religious rights, at some occasions, there is still religious discrimination and restrictions for unrecognized religions.  Another weakness mentioned is that the government also sometimes tolerated abuse of religious groups by individuals, or failed to punish the perpetrators. For example, some of the interreligious violence has been instigated by factions in the military and allowed to spread due to the lack of police and law enforcement.

4.      General background on Sudan and its Conflict

Sudan is the largest country in Africa by area, with a population of 43.9 million. It shares borders with nine countries is considered amongst the most diversified nations in the world with more than 250 local tribes and languages. The country has 70% Sunni Muslim, 5% Christian and 25% indigenous belief. As for its ethnic group, Sudan has 52% black, 39% Arab, 6% Beja, 2% foreigner and 1% other[20]. The coming January 2011 election in Sudan will determine the future of the republic as one unified country or two separate countries; the Northern and the Southern.  The projected image of the war, especially by the media, has been the “War between the Muslim North and the Christian South” as the Northern area is populated mainly by the Sunni Muslims who speak Arabic and the Southern area is populated mainly by the Christians, who speak English, and the animists. However, there are some Christians who live in the North and some Muslims in the south. The label of “Muslim North versus the Christian South” war does not really depict the true picture of the conflict as there is only five percent of Christians in Sudan. The indigenous belief people and the minority Muslims in the South are also impacted by the war. In total, two million people died and four million people were displaced. Today, another two million people are living in camps due to the on-going Darfur conflict. 

The issues are complex and this election will not guarantee peace and solution to the Sudanese conflict of self and national identity. The history of enslavement, inequality, marginalization, poverty and lack of representation are some of the internal contributing factors in this conflict. Internal matters on religion, politics, economic are all intertwined with each other. The war is also fueled by external contributing factors such as military support from foreign countries to both, the government military and the southern fighters. In addition to these, there are issues that are deeply rooted in faiths and languages which began ever since the invasion of the Muslim Kingdom of Funj in 1504 and the Catholic presence in Khartoum in 1848.[21] As faith is very influential in the life of the Sudanese and is an older concept than the nation state, resolving religious conflict is critical.

Sudan became independent from Britain in 1956.  A year before its independency, the escalating conflict in Sudan received international attention. In 1969, Jaafar Numairi took over the country through the “May Revolution” military coup. In 1972, the Addis Ababa Peace agreement between the Anya Nya movement and the Northern government, allowed the south to become a self-governing region. This stopped the war. Unfortunately, the government failed to fulfill its promise and this gave rise to distrust amongst the Southerners to the North. The discovery of oil in 1978 in the Southern of Sudan sparked fight over the control on the new economic resource. The tribes that live in that area were at the forefront in this war and this led to eventually a widespread ethnic turmoil.

In 1983, President Numairi announced the implementation of Shariah Law. As protests from Muslims and non-Muslims from those who prefer a secular government intensified, President Numairi leadership was defeated by a bloodless military coup led by the National Salvation Front in 1989. The leader was Omar Al-Bashir who is now the President of Sudan. In 1991, Al-Bashir introduced penal code based on Shariah and the monetary system followed the Islamic banking system. He improvised the existing governance and declared that South Sudanese were exempted from Shariah Laws. As the jurisprudence structure was not ready to substitute the Shariah Law, judges continued to use the Shariah Laws. The repeated failure for the Northern government to keep their promises and the lack of structure in the South made the Southern Sudanese felt that their rights were not protected by the government. As a result, the South rose up to what they believe as their rightful duty to protect their land, people and to preserve their culture, religions and traditions.    

4.1 Interfaith Initiative Involvement in Sudan Conflict Resolution

Religion is at the core of the life of the people in Sudan. In everyday life, the Sudanese Christians and Muslims live side by side, at work places, schools, neighborhood, public facilities and festivities. Intermarriage between Muslims and Christians women is also common and legal under the African Rights (July 1995). 

Unfortunately, both, the regimes of Numeiri and Turabi, used religion through their Islamist movement to gain political power. Both focused on the fight as “us versus them.” This changed the Sudanese political upfront and disrupted the harmony of the community. Numeiri fueled conflict by enforcement of Shariah Law from 1983 to 1985 and Turabi forced Islamization and jihad to the South during the1990s in order to accomplish his vision for an Islamic state. This approach, what is described earlier as reliocentric, was the way Islam being projected to the Sudanese. However, Muslims are not the only faith adherents that are fueling the war. Several religiocentric Christian groups from abroad were also indirectly involved, such as the Norwegian People’s Aid organization which supplied Southerners with weapons hidden in bibles who added fuel to this war. There were also voices of moderate Muslims in Sudan who believed that jihad is not to be waged against their own people.[22] In 1997, an Imam in his Friday prayer denounced government repression, publicly asserting, “Islam does not accept suppression and confiscation of the rights of the people and the suppression of the freedom of expression,”[23]

Having the voices that opt for peace heard and convincing religious leaders and politicians to refocus from religiocentric to religiorelative are one of the key actions necessary to resolve the Sudan identity crisis.  The refocusing of religiocentric to religiorelative had its first breakthrough in 1972 when mediation efforts by World Council of Churches (WCC) and the All-Africa Council of churches of Addis Ababa Accords managed to end the conflict for a short time period[24]. This treaty was nullified by Numeiri. Consequently, the conflict was resumed. During this turmoil, the Sudan Interreligious Council (SIRC), an independent NGO was established as a result of the International People’s Friendship in collaboration with the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) in 2000. Its general assembly consists of 23 Muslims and 23 Christians. Both groups represented different sects and denominations. SIRC approached the conflict pragmatically, by focusing on practical matters while maintaining its main purpose; establishing co-existence and religious tolerance. One of the main achievements of SIRC was to launch a program which voice out that ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ in March 2004. This is aligned with its Sudan constitution in 1998 that stipulates religious freedom for all Sudanese.

Following this program, two conferences and inter-religious dialogue was organized in Sudan in 1993 and 1994, with more 40 countries participating. Unfortunately, the critique indicated that the agenda was leaning toward the Muslims side and some church leaders shared that they almost walked out of the floor. Most of the papers presented were reported as presenting Islam and there was lack of room for interfaith diplomacy. These well-funded conferences were organized by the Ministry of Justice of Sudan under the Advisory of Human Rights of the UN. Analyzing this issue, a few possible reasons could be the source of its weaknesses. First, the Ministry of Justice may not have enough representatives from the South to ensure all speakers would be presenting paperwork that promotes peace in religion. SCC as well as some Muslim speakers, for example, refused to distribute its paper works for containing some intolerance content. Secondly, there weren’t enough experience scholars and practitioners to council the ministry. The empowerment was premature.

At national level, several community oriented interfaith initiative for dialogue and workshops on coexistence were carried out. One of them was two week youth program where Muslim and Christian youths lived together. This was organized by SCC and its purpose is to bring them under one roof so that they can learn about each other. This is an excellent program. Both were hostile towards one another at the beginning but their relationship grew as they focused on what was common among them; sports, music and fashion. Another initiative was organized by the head of Sudanese Coptic Church, Father Filo Theos, who taught about Islam and the culture of the Muslims to his church members. Father Theos has published many publications on views on Muslim society and likewise. Even though the scholarly work among the Sudanese has not developed as much as in Indonesia, such effort did contribute in bridging the two communities.   

The Sudanese ladies have also contributed to the interfaith engagement significantly. In March 1996, the Women’s Action Group (WAG) was founded with a group member of 30 women, Muslims and Christians. The first lady of British embassy in Khartoum, Dr.Lilian C.Harris helped in building bridges by running a program “promoting mutual venting of negative emotions: feelings of anger, pain, confusion, helplessness from war, displacement, social prejudices, religious dogma, and social transitions.” In the Listening Sensitivity Workshop, the women experienced emotional healing as they are being listened. In one of the dialogues, they were asked to share what they like and dislike about the others. Such engagement approach is highly supported by many IFD scholars. In Unity in Diversity, affective dialogues where participants share personal stories and compare narratives often go beyond religion. This self-discovery and secure environment allows everyone to feel comfortable to venture into sensitive topics which they felt uncomfortable to talk about in the past. WAG success in engaging the ladies brought them to organizing many workshops such as the in Ahfad University for Women under the theme “The differences that Unite Us,” in 1996. In Peace Protocol in 2002, they appealed for women’s right to the Sudanese government and in December 2003, eight of them from north and south officially represented “Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SUWEP)” to Naivasha peace negotations.

Many international interfaith activists or bodies also contributed towards the peace in Sudan. The United States government, for example, sent Senator John Danforth to convince the fundamentalist Muslims to work towards religiorelativism. His effort was fruitful, leading to the signing of another peace treaty in 2005. This event that took place in Kenya contributed tremendously in the ending of the 20 years of civil war. This achievement was made possible only with the help of SIRC under the leadership of Professor Al-Tayib Zain Al Abdin and 6 committed representatives from each faith group. It is however not easy for external parties to facilitate and to be trusted by the Sudanese, especially the fundamentalists. For example, the USA involvement through the envoy led by Danforth can be questioned as having four possible intentions; first, to curb terrorism, second to respond to the pressure from Christian organizations that protest on human right abuse, third USA interest in oil and fourth USA control and responsibility in the weaponry market in that region. Senator Danforth therefore, had two barriers to overcome, resolving internal religious conflict and earning the trust from Sudanese that he is genuinely inspired by his faith and is not using religion as a legitimation for USA political and economic agenda. Such a distinction is difficult. After a discouraging beginning, his perseverance in trusting that the religious people in Sudan could play a positive role together and make it possible for Sudan people to live with one another, the Sudanese religious leaders including the Islamic fundamentalists began to take him seriously. Muslim fundamentalists would not have respected someone who did not fear God and would not have wasted any time talking to them[25]. They also highly regarded Danforth’s openness about his faith, his position as a priest, and religious commitment.

The empowerment of his leadership by the USA government and President was also important to his success. Both have to work side by side. Interfaith initiatives will not lead to conflict resolution if the supply of weaponry from Kenya and Uganda arming the rebels was not also stopped. In resolving this issue, Danforth negotiated with the presidents from both countries to cease their weaponry supply. Perhaps, they were also obliged to support him due to the fact that the USA had helped their armies during terror crisis by providing a large package of non-lethal support from 1995 to 2000[26]. Pressure on these governments regarding their military intervention, except for peacekeeping troops, is extremely critical to any peace effort. While this has been controlled, war intensified as Sudan continued to receive its largest supply of arms and military related items from China. This being said, Danforth’s commitment to interfaith peace initiative alone will not resolve all problems. Key players in politics, economics, administration, transportation and infrastructure must cooperate with each other.

5.      Interfaith Engagement towards Sustainable and Lasting Peace

Based on the studies done on various reports and discussions on Indonesia and Sudan and the research on the interfaith initiatives that take place in areas where Christians and Muslims, the recommendations for a long haul engagement initiative between Muslims and Christians may consist of the followings:

  1. Educating the youths – this requires a systematic development of educational materials and pedagogy that allows conversation in a secured environment. The youth camp, such as the one organized by SCC is a good example of an educational tool to reaffirm the lesson. In addition to the common activities that the Sudanese youth have had, inclusion of community service to the needy Sudanese regardless of their faiths will be an important lesson to enhance the education.
  2. Training interfaith initiative religious leaders on how to run an interfaith discourse that allows the sharing of spiritual experience in addition to finding solution to conflict resolution and building the trust for interdependency towards one another. This initiative can be done by local governments or NGOs.   
  3. Developing partnership between religious leaders and all key parties to the conflict resolution, locally and internationally. This may include the fundamentalist groups too, in addition to the partnership with the media which tend to create sensational image to the general public.
  4. Educating religious teachers and clergies on Islam and Christianity, especially on the ‘hospitality in hermeneutics’ of the Bible and Quran and contextualized research work. Facilitate their personal relationship development with adherents of other faiths.
  5. Teaching and coaching the community members, perhaps through a centralized community center, on appreciation of others culture and religion. Such initiative can be edified by inviting the communities to organize an event together, for example, by celebrating the national day or other festivities.
  6. Supporting the provision of the basic needs of the both community members, such as having a shelter, food, basic health care and education, including hygiene and home economics and management.
  7. Developing interfaith related policies and competent team to implement the policies.
  8. As Abrahamic faiths adherents believe in God, honor and respect each other’s spirituality and religious practices.  

Conclusion

The core of the Abrahamic faith holds spirituality that outpours the benevolent and beneficent way of religiosity. These values are the treasure of Christians and Muslims. Sharing these commonalities in all discipline of life, politics, and economics will bridge members in pluralistic community from being tolerant to being engage with one another. This relationship is to be cultivated in our daily life, with or without crisis. At time of conflict, coming together in resolving conflict by adhering to the common values and applying tactful wisdom, knowledge, efficient strategies, patient and love, and developing partnership with right key parties, including the fundamentalists, will be the best approach to crisis management. Long term solutions should be the motivational factors to interfaith initiative in every conflict resolution. At the same time, the approach and engagement should always give room for each other to celebrate own spiritual experience when walking through the journey.

 

Bibliography 

Abu-Nimer, Mohammed and others. Unity in Diversity – Interfaith Dialogue in the Middle East. Washinton: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2007.

Appleby, R.Scott. “Retrieving the Missing Dimension of Statecraft: Religious Faith in the Service of Peacebuilding.” In Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik, edited by Douglas Johnston, 236-56. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Besançon, Marie L. “Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Senator Danforth as Special Envoy to the Sudan.” Kennedy School of Government case no. CR14-09-1905.0 (2009): 1-27.

Donnely, Jack. Universal Human Rights – In Theory and Practice. USA: Cornell University Press, 2003.

Johnston, Douglas. Faith-Based Diplomacy – Trumping Realpolitik, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Mayer, A.Elizabeth. Islam and Human Rights – Traditions and Politics. USA: Westview Press, 2007.

Metz, Helen. “Sudan: A Country Study” Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, http://countrystudies.us/sudan/

Norris, P.  Inglehart, R. Sacred and Secular – Religion and Politics Worldwide. New York: Cambridge Press, 2004.

Nyang, Sulaiman and Johnston, Douglas. “Conflict Resolution as a Normative Value in Islamic Law – Application to the Republic of Sudan.” In Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik, edited by Douglas Johnston, 210-227. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

United States Department of States. “Sudan: Special Envoy Speaks on His Recent Visit to Juba and Khartoum” Washington DC, http://allafrica.com/stories/201009160021.html

Witte, J. God’s Joust God’s Justice – Law and Religion in the Western Tradition. Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006.

World Christian Trends, Gordon Conwell University,  http://www.gordonconwell.edu/lifelong_learners/worldchristiantrends

Jubilee Debt Campaign (2010), http://www.jubileeusa.org/

The Pluralism Project, Harvard University, http://pluralism.org/reports/view/32

Islamic Society of North America, http://www.isna.net/interfaith/default.aspx

CIA The World Fact Book – https:// www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/su.html

Kerukunan Umat Beragama: Pengantar,  http://www.humasdepag.or.id/kerukunan.php

“Obama louds Indonesia as a Religious Tolerance country,” see http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/11/09/indonesia.obama/


[1] World Christian Trend, http://www.gordonconwell.edu/lifelong_learners/worldchristiantrends (accessed October 2010)

[2] World Christian Trends, http://www.gordonconwell.edu/lifelong_learners/worldchristiantrends (accessed October 2010)

[3] See, e.g. An-Naim, Toward an Islamic Reformation…., 77

[4] Jubilee Debt Campaign (2010), see http://www.jubileeusa.org/ (accessed Dec 2010)

[5] See Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, Genesis Chapter 15-17

[6] John Witte, God’s Joust God’s Justice – Law and Religion in the Western Tradition. (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006), 77

[7] Pippa Norris, Rogel Inglehart, Sacred and Secular – Religion and Politics Worldwide, (New York: Cambridge Press, 2004), 4

[8] A Common Word is an initiative is a groundbreaking step towards reconciliation between Islam and Christianity led by Muslim and Christian leaders as a result of Muslim leaders’ invitation to peace in 2007.  

[10] Harvard University see http://pluralism.org/reports/view/32 ( accessed 3rd December 2010)

[13] “Kerukunan Umat Beragama: Pengantar” see http://www.humasdepag.or.id/kerukunan.php

[14] “Obama louds Indonesia as a Religious Tolerance country,” see http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/11/09/indonesia.obama/ (accesses 5December 2010)

[15] Mohamed Abu Nimer, 15.

[16] “Mengekang Kebebasan Agama, Gus Dur: Itu Kriminal”, see http://gusdur.net/indonesia/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2461&Itemid=0

[17] “Pribadi Unggul Semakin Hilang”, Kompas, Dec 18, 2005

[18]  The 13 IAIN/UIN are: IAIN Ar-Raniry in Aceh, IAIN Sumatera Utara in Medan , UIN Syarif Hidayatullah in Jakarta, IAIN Sunan Ampel in Surabaya, IAIN Walisongo in Semarang, IAIN Imam Bonjol in Padang, IAIN Sulthan Syarif Qosim in Pekanbaru, IAIN Raden Fatah in Sumatera Selatan, IAIN Raden Intan in Lampung, IAIN Sultan Gunung Djati in Bandung, IAIN Antasari in Kalimantan Selatan, IAIN Alauddin in Sulawesi Selatan, and UIN Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta.

[19] Report from The Oslo Coalition Report on Freedom of Relgion or Belief in 2002, see http://www.oslocoalition.org/html/project_indonesia/indonesia_project_report.html (accessed 5 December 2010)

[20] CIA The World Fact Book – https:// www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/su.html (accessed 3 November 2010)

[21] Marie L.Besancon, Blessed are the peacemakers: Senator Danforth as special envoy to the Sudan, (Cambridge: Kennedy School of Government Case Program – Harvard University, 2009), 2

[22] Interviews Sudanese clerics, Muslim Brother, Khartoum, July 2007 reference to footnote in Marie L.Besancon, Blessed are the peacemakers: Senator Danforth as special envoy to the Sudan, (Cambridge: Kennedy School of Government Case Program – Harvard University, 2009), 6

[23] “Sudan Moslem Prayer Leaders Criticize Government,” Agence France Presse, November 22, 1997, available in LEXIS, Nexis Library, ALLWD File.

[24] Douglas Johnston, Faith Based Diplomacy – Trumping Realpolitik (USA: Oxford University Press, 2003), 212

[25] Interviews: Sudanese Christian Clerics, August 2007 reference to Marie L. Besancon, “Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Senator Danforth as Special Envoy to the Sudan,’ Kennedy School of Government case no. CR14-09-1905.0 (2009), 16.

[26] Marie L. Besancon, “Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Senator Danforth as Special Envoy to the Sudan,’ Kennedy School of Government case no. CR14-09-1905.0 (2009), 13

A Response on The Trinity – Christian Doctrine in Islamic Context

By: Norani Abu Bakar (04/28/2011)

Muslims and Christians have engaged in centuries of polemic on the divinity of one true God. This paper summarizes and reflects on the course reading materials and the content of the lectures that are relevant to the doctrine of Trinity according to Islamic context.

Some scholars, who claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, justify their stance through Quran texts (e.g. 29:46 and 42:15)[i]. Others, like Cumming, reaffirm the claim on this commonality by agreeing with al-Quran texts that refute heretical, sect Christians such as Barbaraniyya and Collyridians, for worshipping Mary (e.g. 5:116)[ii] and for tri-theism (e.g. 4:171 and 5:73).[iii] Cumming also highlights that these texts do not explicitly speak against the doctrine of Trinity, and he justifies this by pointing to the Arabic word used to forbid the worship of a non-monotheist god in 4:171b and 5:73 as “ثلثة” or “three” and not “ثالوث” or “Trinity.” Other Christian polemicists may disagree with him and instead hold to the theory that Muhammad was misinformed and Quran erred. One potential argument is that, the Quran, for example in Surah 29:46, is ambiguous about the divinity of the God of the People of the Book.

This dialectic evokes two questions; first, can Muslims agree that the three persons (hypostases) – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – that subsist in one divine being is monotheist[iv]. Second, can Muslims who acknowledge Isa al-Masih or Jesus as a messenger (e.g. 5:75)[v] agree that Jesus Christ is two distinct natures in a single hypostasis and that his human nature is the exact representation of his divine nature (Hebrew 1:3)?[vi]  In a glance, the former looks like three beings and the latter looks like two.

In understanding the Trinity in Islamic context, Christians need to first clarify what they mean by “God has begotten a son” and the hypostasis natures of the Son. The Muslims prompt response to this is, “Allah does not beget nor is he begotten” (112:3).  “Beget” to the Christians is a metaphor for the begetting of the Word, i.e. Jesus Christ (John 1:14)[vii] and not a physical act between male and female divine beings to birth a divine offspring. Is there any intersection between the Word or logos, as in John 1:1-4, with “Jesus as the word” in the Quran? Cumming’s explanation that, “the Greek term ho logos which is often translated into Arabic as al-kalima, can equally well be translated to al-kalam[viii] will help us in exploring the answer to this question.

Quran indeed says that God created things through His command by saying “lo” or “be” (e.g. 36:81-82)[ix] and that Jesus is His word or al-kalam (3:39, 3:45, 4:171a)[x]. In kitab al-Luma, al-Ashari writes that “God is eternally speaking and that the Word must be either eternal or temporally created, and if it is temporally created, then God would have had to create it in himself or subsisting in itself or in something else.”[xi] Based on these Quran texts and al-Ashari’s doctrine, some scholars purport that Islam agrees on Jesus being created and Jesus as uncreated, i.e. Christian Chalcedon Doctrine on two natures in one hypostasis, as mentioned earlier.

One thing is still ambiguous. Why does Quran in 5:17 say “They indeed disbelieve who say: Surely Allah – He is the Messiah, son of Mary…”? Volf writes that Christians often say “Christ is God” and not “God is Christ” and interprets the surah 5:17 as saying that Allah cannot be the son of Mary, a human, who ate and died. Cumming’s tries to unveil this ambiguity by approaching the reading of the text diachronically. One suggestion, which somewhat echoes various Quran commentaries, says that Islam identifies the two natures of Jesus (Chalcedon doctrine), and not just one nature (Monophysite) due to Muhammad’s interaction with Christians from Yemen who mainly uphold Chalcedon doctrine. Muhammad and the Yemen Christians referred to those who disbelieve the divine nature of Christ as unbelievers. Unlike Cumming some Christian polemicists, such as Richardson (e.g. in his book “The Islamic Anti-Christ”) literally interpret 5:17, 10:68 and 5:73 as “anti-Christ.” What Richardson fails to mention is that the Muslims revere Isa al-Masih and often wish “peace be upon him” whenever Isa or Jesus’s name is mentioned, while some Christians habitually curse in his name.

With the reasoning given earlier, it is hard not to be convinced that the Quran and the Bible are consistent in their perception of the person of Jesus. In the Quran, the fully human Jesus is described as; created of dust (3:59), ate (5:75) and died (3:55)[xii] and the fully divine Jesus is al-kalam, (4:171) i.e. uncreated. Acts 2:36[xiii] affirms surah 3:59 that God made Jesus, i.e. his human person, but the Bible goes another step toward unveiling the human nature of Jesus who submit to the will of the divine, i.e. “not my will but thy will’ (Luke 22:42, Matt 26:42)[xiv]. The predicates shared between the created human Jesus with the uncreated divine Jesus are listed in the Communicatio Idiomatum. The correlation of Communicatio Idiomatum, kalam nafsi and kalam lafzi and Jesus Christ, one person who is fully human and fully divine is difficult to comprehend and thus require further explanation.

Briefly, one can agree with Cumming that Luke 22:42 and Matt 26:42 are coherent to 3:49 and 5:110[xv], i.e. Jesus only creates by God’s divine permission. However, in both verses Jesus is conversing with the Father. What is unclear in his analogy whether “God” in these two biblical texts is the divine Jesus or the Father? If they are subsistent to one another, does this mean that the divine Jesus is also “without confusion … without separation” with the Father as much as human and divine Jesus being one person “without confusion … without separation”? If we say that the relationship of Jesus to the Father in Luke 22:42 is the same as Isa and Allah in surah 3:49, can we also equate the Father to “Allah” in the Quran? It will be interesting to explore this question as “Allah” was used even before Islam was founded, perhaps since around 1250 B.C. when the Arab was mentioned as a clan of Judah (Joshua 15:52). The other question is if the exposure to Elohim and YHYW affects the Arab tribes’ and later the Muslims’ perception on Allah as having similar essence to YHYW and to the person of the Father in the Trinity?

This paper does not discuss on the Holy Spirit or ruh al-kudus in the Islamic context as the topic is not covered yet in the lecture, but one can find many relevant verses in Quran such as 2:87 “We supported Jesus with ruh al-kudus..,” and 4:171, 5:110, etc. Up to this point, this writing focuses on the commonalities on the three natures of Trinity, the Father as the godhead, the Son begotten from the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. In his writing on sifat al-dhat in Al-Ashari doctrine of God, Cumming attempts to relate seven eternal predicate of sifat al-dhat of Allah; knowledge, power, life, speech, will, sight and hearing, to the hypostases of Trinity God, predicated as the power, will and knowledge. While this analogy seems bridgeable, it is hard to comprehend how the seven sifat of Allah, each is equal and uncreated can be parallel with three mode of Trinity, especially when the human part of Jesus is created.

The last question for this reflection exercise is, if the academic work on Trinity in Islamic context will change the global Muslims misunderstanding? My personal answer to this is, “no.”  Unlike Christians whose problem solving often depended upon reason, most regional Muslim cultures tend to form conclusions based on observation of social action or human behavior. The act of praying to Mary instead of directly to God and bowing to statues will continue to stump most Muslims. This misperception exists ever since the day Prophet Muhammad demolished the statues in Mecca. Ironically, Christian inter-religious discourse on this issue seems silence. One can agree that the framework for organizing knowledge and a search for a common ground through scriptural reading and reasoning will enhance understanding and peace. However, the verbal communication and proactive action from the Christians’ side has to happen in order to affirm the observation that Trinity is not tri-theism.


[i] Al-Ankabut 29:46And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): But say, “We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is One; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” And Al-Shura 42: 15b “.. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. For us are our deeds and for you your deeds. There is no contention between us and you. Allah will gather us together, and to Him is the eventual coming.” Maulana Muhammad Ali, The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary, (Ohio:Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Islam Lahore Inc., 2002), 793.

[ii] Al-Maidah 5:116And behold! Allah will say: O Jesus, the son of Mary, didst thou say to men, take me and my mother for two gods besides Allah?’ He will say: ‘Glory to Thee! It was not for me to say what I had no right to (say). If I had said it, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy mind. Surely Thou art the great knower of the unseen.” M.Ali, 282.

 [iii] Surah al-Nisa 4:171 “ولاتقولواثلثة…, ” in English, “and say not, Three Desist.” Surah al-Maidah 5:73 “certainly they disbelieve those who say” Allah is the third of the three..” or “..  “لقدكفرالذين قا لوا ان اللة ثالث ثلثة  M.Ali, 241, 270

 [iv] James Carmody, Thomas Clarke, Word and Redeemer – Christology and the Fathers (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1966), 3

 [v] Al-Maidah 5:75The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a messenger; messengers before him had indeed passed away. And his mother was a truthful woman. They both used to eat food. See how We make the messages clear to them! Then behold, how they have turned away!” M.Ali, 271

 [vi] Hebrew 1:3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by powerful word. After he has provided for purification of sins, he sat down at the majesty in heaven.” NIV

 [vii] John 1:14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” NIV

 [viii] Refer to footnote “x” below, the Arabic words used are kalima and not kalam. Cumming explains that al-kalima can be equally translated to al-kalam, the same word used to describe the uncreated Quran. Cumming, Kalam Allah in Islam and in Christianity, (Yale: REL 649 Course Material, 2011), 1

 [ix] In these three surah, the “command” uses “ya kula” and not the word kalima or kalam . Other surah are Al-Rum 30:25, 16:40.

Yasin 36:81-82 “إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُ إِذَا أَرَادَ شَيْئًا أَنْ يَقُولَ لَهُ كُنْ فَيَكُونُ . أَوَلَيْسَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ بِقَادِرٍ عَلَى أَنْ يَخْلُقَ مِثْلَهُم بَلَى وَهُوَ الْخَلَّاقُ الْعَلِيم” Translation, “Is not He who created the heavens and the earth able to create the like of them? Yea! And He is the creator (of all), the Knower. His command, when He intends anything, is only to say to it, Be, and it is.” M.Ali, 876

[x] Al-Imran 3:39, “فَنَادَتْهُ الْمَلآئِكَةُ وَهُوَ قَائِمٌ يُصَلِّي فِي الْمِحْرَابِ أَنَّ اللّهَ يُبَشِّرُكَ بِيَحْيَى مُصَدِّقًا بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنَ اللّهِ وَسَيِّدًا وَحَصُورًا وَنَبِيًّا مِّنَ الصَّالِحِينَ”Translation, “So the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: Allah gives thee the good news of John, verifying a word from Allah, and honorable and chaste and a prophet from among the good ones.”  The Arabic word used for “a word” is “كَلِمَةorkalima”.

Al-Imran 3:45, “إِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلآئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَجِيهًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ” Translation “When the angels said” O Mary, surely Allah gives thee good news with a word from Him (of one) whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, worthy of regard in this world and the Hereafter, and of those who are drawn nigh (to Allah,”) The Arabic word used for “a word” is “كَلِمَةor kalima”.

Al-Nisa 4:171a, “يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لاَ تَغْلُواْ فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ عَلَى اللّهِ إِلاَّ الْحَقِّ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَى مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ فَآمِنُواْ بِاللّهِ وَرُسُلِه” Translation  “O People of the Book, exceed not the limits in your religion nor speak anything about Allah, but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only a messenger of Allah and His word which He communicated to Mary and a mercy from Him.” The Arabic word used here is “كَلِمَتُهُ” for “a word” or kalimatuhu.” M.Ali,148, 241.

[xi] Abu Hassan al-Ashari, “Kitab al-Luma fi’-l-Radd ‘ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa-l-Bida”, edited by Abd al-Aziz Azz al-Din al-Sirwan, (Beirut: Dar Lubnan li-l-Tiba’a wa-l-Nashr, 1987), 99.  See Cumming, Kalam Allah in Islam and in Christianity, (Yale: REL 649 Course Material, 2011), 3

 [xii] Surah about Jesus Christ made of dust Al-Imran 3:59, “The likeness of Jesus with Allah is truly as the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust, then said to him, Be, and he was,” Surah about Jesus Christ ate Al-Maidah 5:75The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a messenger; messengers before him had indeed passed away. And his mother was a truthful woman. They both used to eat food. See how we make the messages clear to them! Then behold how they are turned away.” And the surah about Jesus Christ died Al-Imran 3:55, “When Allah said: O Jesus, I will cause thee to die and exalt thee in My presence and clear thee of those who disbelieve and make those who follow thee above those who disbelieve the day of resurrection. Then to Me is your return, so I shall decide between you concerning that wherein you differ.” There are several interpretations on “cause thee to die” in this surah, but one of it is physical death. M.Ali, 154, 271.

 [xiii] Acts 2:36Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” NIV

 [xiv] Luke 22:42Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  And Matt 26:42 “He (Jesus) went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” NIV

 [xv] Al-Imran 3:49And (make him) a messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you out of dust the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah’s permission, and I heal the blind and the leprous…”  and Al-Maidah 5:110, “When Allah will say: O Jesus, son of Mary, remember my favor to thee and to thy mother, when I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit; thou spokest to people in the cradle and in old age, and when I taught thee the Book and the Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel, and when thou didst determine out of clay a thing like the form of a bird by my permission, then thou didst breath into it and it became a bir by my permission…heal the leprous by my permission, …raise the dead by my permission..but those of them who disbelieved said: this is nothing but clear enchantment.” M.Ali, 150, 381

 Bibliographyُ

Carmody, Clarke. Word and Redeemer – Christology and the Fathers. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1966.

Cumming, Joseph. Sifat al-Dhat in Al-Ash‘ari’s Doctrine of God. Yale: REL 649 Course Material, 2011.

Cumming, Joseph. Kalam Allah in Islam and in Christianity. Yale: REL 649 Course Material, 2011.

Cumming, Joseph. What is the Meaning of the Expression “Son of God”. Yale: REL 649 Course Material, 2011.

Cumming, Joseph. Quranic Verses on Christian Doctrine. Yale: REL 649 Course Material, 2011.

Cumming, Joseph. Christology Chart (Adapted from Sebastian Brock). Yale: REL 649 Course Material, 2011.

Cumming, Joseph. Communicatio Idiomatum. Yale: REL 649 Course Material, 2011.

Muhammad Ali, Maulana. The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary. Ohio:Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Islam Lahore Inc., 2002.

Richardson, Joel. The Islamic Anti-Christ. California: WND Books, 2009.

Said, Funk. “The Role of Faith in Cross-Cultural Conflict Resolution,” In Interfaith Dialogue and Peace Building, Edited by Smock, David Ed. United States: Peace Institute, 2007.

Volf, Miroslav. A Christian Response to the Muslims – Allah and the Trinity. USA: Christian Century, 8th March 2011.

Welcome

___________________

Men and women are the stewards and stewardesses of this world

What do we make of this world?

Peace War Love Hatred?

Video: The Aurora by Terje Sorgjerd/TSO Photography & Music 

Al-Ghazali – His Life (450-505/ 1058-1111) and His Personal Crisis

By: Norani Abu Bakar (04/29/2010)

Introduction

Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali’s is a legendary Sunni thinker and writer who made a significant contribution to scholarly work in Islamic religious sciences in the eleventh and twelfth century. His renowned systematic works cover multiple areas; philosophy, theology, law and Sufi mystics. Al-Ghazali is well reputable in the Muslim and the non-Muslim world, but he was an extraordinary man who undergone phases of crisis in life and continuous evolution of thoughts, just like others. After the journey of self-discovery and healing, al-Ghazali prolifically authored great volumes of writing which reflected the renewal of his thoughts. His work, especially on Sufism, carries significance scholastic values and is highlighted until today. 

This paper discusses how al-Ghazali’s life contributed to his personal crisis, causing him to pursue about two years of intentional isolation in order to seek deliverance from his doubt. This writing is divided into three sections. The first section presents an outline to his biography. The second section discusses his personal crisis and the last section presents an evaluation on the recovery from his crisis after the retreat.

 

Outline of the life of Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (d. 1058–1111)

The biography of al-Ghazali is often expounded based on two main primary sources; Abd al-Ghafir al-Farisi’s (written in 1113) and al-Ghazali’s own autobiography, Deliverence from Error (written in 1108).The former was about 13 years younger than him and was known as his fellow student and teaching assistant. His writing was based on several of his interviews with al-Ghazali and the report he gathered from others. There is slight inaccuracy in his account and this will be explained later. However, Griffel and McCarthy agreed that al-Ghafir’s writing is the one that stands out the most among the classical biography written on al-Ghazali.

Other writings on al-Ghazali’s biography in Arabic language can be retrieved from al-Karim al-Uthman publication of Sirat Ghazali, a compilation of the principal Arabic biography on al-Ghazali by various authors such as Ibn Asakir (1175), Abu l-Faraj son of al-Jawzi (1200), al-Subki (1369) and al-Zadibi (1790)[1]. Among them, the more recent biography tends to be longer and in most cases the less informative. The chronology of Ghazali’s biography can be found from various writings such as of Margaret Smith (1944), Watt Montgomery (1963) and Frank Griffel (2009).

Al-Ghazali was born in Tabaran, in the district of Tus in northeast of Iran around 1058 AD. When his father died, he left his two sons and daughters in poverty. Having his own dream to raise his sons to be Sufis, he confided his Sufi friend to take care of Muhammad and Ahmad. Both then stayed with him and received their education from Imam Ahmad al-Radhkani. There was no date given for the earlier part of his education but as the normal age to school was eleven, one may assume that he was eleven in 1069.[2] During this period, the teaching of the instruction in the “Islamic Science” in the mosques that was given at no cost to the Islamic community was shifted to institutional learning called Madrasah. Many of the Madrasah gave free food and lodging to the students. Ahmad and Muhammad then left for Madrasah in Gurgan in 1073 when the financial support left from their late father was depleting. Ghazali was around 15 years old then.

After their education in Gurgan, Ahmad and Muhammad al-Ghazali and a few youths from Tus went to Nishabur in 1077. Gurgan was about 300 miles from Tus while Nishabur was fifty miles away, and was on the road passing to Gurgan. During his studies at Tus, Gurgan and Nishabur (i.e. prior to attending Nizammiya Madrasah), Ghazali followed the standard curriculum of Islamic higher education which carried mainly legal viewpoint from the study of the Quran and Traditions and their commentaries. The emphasis was on Traditions and jurisprudence.

The first Madrasah was founded in Nishabur before 960. The movement of religious education through Madrasah was actively supported by Nizam al-Mulk, the great Seljuq wazir (in power from 1063 to 1092). Al-Mulk first came in power during the reign of Alp Arslan and later during Malik Shah. He founded at least nine Nizamiyya Madrasahs which scattered in various cities including Baghdad. Al-Mulk offered al-Juwayni, the most outstanding Muslim scholar of his time, an authoritative scholar in the Muslim law and theology to become the main chair of Nizammiya Madrasah in Nishambur. Being the first Muslim theologian who studied the works of Muslim philosopher Ibn Sina or Avicenna in 1037, his fame attracted many youths, including al-Ghazali. After being acquainted with the teaching of Al-Juwayni, also known as Imam al-Haramayn as he was the Imam of the sanctuaries in Mecca and Medina, Ahmad and Muhammad al-Ghazali began to attend Nizamiyya Madrasah in 1069. Al-Ghazali’s initial motivation in studying philosophical began here as the studies of philosophical literature was apart of the al-Juwayni’s higher curriculum.

In that period, it is to be expected that the level of education attained in Nishabur would be the highest in the Islamic world. While al-Ghazali was acquiring the best theological education in Nizammiya and was considered by al-Juwayni as a very intelligent student, he commented that al-Ghazali tend to rush towards judgment. He was often observed as being imprecise in his quotation and use of the Traditions. His knowledge in the Traditions was influenced by his teachers in Traditions whom al-Juwayni considered as ordinary people who were well informed in their faith but rather simple. Al-Ghazali’s first book, The Sifted (al-Mankhul) was composed in 1080, and it was most likely written when he was studying at this school. Al-Ghazali was a faithful student to al-Juwayni and left the Madrasah only after his death in 1085.

In 1091, al-Ghazali appeared in Mu’askar, a political and military base in Isfahan, Seljuq capital and was officially welcomed by al-Mulk. The Mu’askar military base was also a stopping place of the ulamas. There al-Ghazali had many encounters tough adversaries and had many debating with the distinguished that his name became known. His teaching delighted many people. Al-Mulk was also one of al-Ghazali’s students and he appointed him to teach at the Nizammiya Madrasah in Baghdad. In 1091, at about the age of 32, al-Ghazali attained one of the most distinguished positions in the academic world of his day.

The information on what he did for about six years, from 1085 to 1091, after leaving Nishabur to the time he arrived in Isfahan was very little. Al-Ghafir’s account gives only a single sentence covering the period from the time al-Ghazali stayed with al-Juwayni to his death, and that he left Nishabur afterward and then became part of the traveling court and of the assembly of scholars that Nizam al-Mulk kept around him.[3] Al-Ghafir wrote that al-Mulk took interest in al-Ghazali because of his excellence in disputation and his command of expression.[4] He was also the Imamate of Khurasan and later became the Imam of Iraq. During this period, his interest in philosophy continued and from late 1091 to 1094, Ghazali fervently self-studied philosophy. Nizam Al-Mulk was assassinated on October 1092 by his political rival, the Ismailis.

In November 1095, a few months after he completed his second book, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, his identity crisis became more apparent. It began with speech impediment which he thought was primarily caused by religious matter, and occasionally led to inability to eat and to drink. He intensely continued self-studying in Islamic philosophy and Sufism but doubt began to take over his life. This struggle went on for about five months until he reached a point that he decided to pull back from the academic scene around the end of 1096. Al-Ghazali needed to seek certitude as the underpinnings of his intellectual knowledge. Blessed by Ahmad, he left secretly by saying that he was going for Hajj and gave-up his academic career. With the assurance and the peace that his family financial needs would be taken care off when he is gone, he left for Damascus.

Al-Ghafir wrote that al-Ghazali went for intentional isolation in Damascus for about ten years long. He was actually there from November 1095 to May-June 1097,[5] about two years. The word “uzla” or seclusion was used by al-Ghazali when he described about his life after 1095. The fact that he taught at the zawiya, travelled around and published his book indicated that he was not fully separated from the outside world. He was also not alone when travelling, as Abu Tahir al-Shabbak who studied with al-Juwayni together with him too often accompanied him. Occasionally, al-Ghazali did isolate himself in the minaret of the mosque in Damascus, a dwelling place for the Sufis, to pursue the mysticism of the purifying his soul. Griffel explained in great length that the word isolation or seclusion that was used by al-Ghazali merely means not serving in a public office or not being engaged in state-sponsored school such as Nizammiyas.[6]

In Damascus, al-Ghazali was hosted by Abu l-Fath Nasr, a well known Sufi and taught at al-Fath’s Madrasah called Zawia al-Fath, which name was later changed to Ghazaliyya Madrasah. During this isolation period, he went to Jerusalem, Mecca and Medina and did his Hajj. On his way to do his Hajj in 1096, he stopped in Hebron and visited the tomb of Abraham, where he vowed not to take any money from the government, never again to serve a ruler and never again to enter into scholastic disputations.[7]

During this period he composed his most famous work, Ihya ulum al-din “The Revival of the Religious Sciences,” which advocates Sufi spirituality as the fulcrum of Islamic religion and other books that branch from this teaching such as The Forty (Chapters). Al-Fath passed away in January 1097, and a few months after that, al-Ghazali left Damascus and went to Baghdad somewhere between May to June 1097. There he stayed at a Sufi convent right opposite of Nizammiya Madrasah and read his book The Revival of the Religious Sciences. Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi who documented his second visit in Baghdad wrote that many people came to listen to him and the content of his book was unusual in his time. He was there for about six months and used similar reason to leave as two years before to avoid others from following him.

After Baghdad, he went to Khorasan and on is journey, al-Arabi who was now his student, met him. He recorded in June 1097, that al-Ghazali was already a practitioner of Sufism for five years and that he accepted Sufi path roughly in 1093 and renounced all groups and put himself in seclusion. The questions that are raised from al-Arabi’s account will be discussed later. Eventually, Al-Ghazali’s went back to his family after they waited for him in Tus and pledged him to come back home. There, close to his house, he taught at a private Madrasah (zawia) and built a place of dwelling sojourn for the Sufis (kanqah). The latter was a relatively new concept at this time. The place was for the Sufis to stay there and pursue ascetic lifestyle in the company of likeminded peers.

Al-Ghazali settled down in Tus until 1106, and according to him, he was ordered by the Seljuq Sanjar and his wazir, Fakhr-al-Mulk, to teach at the Nizammiya of Nishabur. He wrote that he had consulted with a group of people with pure heart who advised him to leave uzla or isolation to lead the much needed religious renewal and the temptations of false belief. Al-Ghazali “was taken” to Nishabur[8] and had no choice then to break the vow he made at Abraham’s tomb. Some scholars commented that he wrote Deliverance from Error around this period, summer 1106, to explain his stance. Later in the same year, the Ismailite assassinated Fakh al-Mulk.

During this period he was also accused for refuting the founding figure of a Hanafite’s school, Abu Hanifa. A fatwa was released demanding his execution and since Sanjar was a Hanafite, this accusation took him into Sanjar’s court trial. His students defended him. In 1110, al-Ghazali was offered the same teaching position in Baghdad that he left fifteen years ago but he declined in a widely publicized letter. Al-Ghazali continued teaching at the Nizammiya of Nishabur occasionally while he continued staying in Tabaran and centering his life on tawba and studying hadith. Shortly after that, he died in peace in the kanqah witnessed by his brother, Ahmad and was buried in his hometown in Tabaran, Tus in 18th Dec, 1111.

Al-Ghazali’s Personal Life Crisis

Al-Ghafir described al-Ghazali’s crisis simply by saying that “he was overwhelmed” and that “he began to battle against own self.” His writing on al-Ghazali’s crisis does not differentiate its significance compared to other episodes in his life. In fact, the bitter relationship between al-Ghazali and al-Juwayni carried greater volume in his account. Al-Ghazali’s emphasized on his crisis and self-analysis in Deliverance from Error, written years after the retreat, was possibly because of his intention to maneuver the audience towards certain conclusion. He wrote what he wanted the readers to read. Indeed, he was quite successful as many scholars attributed the uniqueness of his scholastic work to his identity crisis and self-imposed isolation from the fame of a celebrated scholar’s life in Baghdad. Nevertheless, his identity crisis is historical fact beyond doubt with no evidence on the contrary.

The contribution factors to his crisis won many debates. One’s well is a consequence of accumulated factors over his or her life time and it cannot be analyzed subjectively. For simplicity and systematic approach, this paper speculates the internal and external influential factors to Ghazali’s personal crisis. The internal factors are matters related to one’s soul; the heart, the spirit and the body, consistent to what he elaborated in his book “The Book of the Marvels of the Heart”. The external factors are the political, social and economical environment.

 

Internal factors influencing his crisis – The soul: heart, spirit, mind and body

Al-Ghazali was deprived from a normal childhood life due to circumstances. His biography did not mention anything about his mother, whom one would assume will care for the children upon the death of her husband. The “militant” approach of academic pursuit where children were separated from their parents and immersed into a strong academic discipline without parental care can easily exhaust the youth emotion. There is very little chance that the children who outnumbered the numbers of teachers or guardians while living at the boarding rooms provided by the Madrasah will receive the equal amount of love that their parents can give at home.

Al-Ghazali did not object Madrasah life for many reasons, such as peer pressure, life style and basic needs. A quotation from al-Ghazali himself said that they went to Madrasah, not for the sake of God but for the sake of food.[9] His recollection of memoir on his conflict in the purity in life with God obviously went as far as his early childhood period.  His difficulties to embrace life circumstances during his early childhood may have increases his susceptibility to life crisis during adulthood.

Al-Ghafir and al-Ghazali did not write much on al-Ghazali’s personal relationship that could have contributed to the needs and the wellness of his emotional being. The absence of such information could also mean that these elements were not highly valued in their cultural context.  Al-Ghazali’s emotional and material impoverishment built-up years back since his father’s death could have inflicted his adult’s life. It is justifiable then to say that al-Ghazali’s lack of experience in quality family life and values too caused him not to hesitate to leave his wife and daughters for two years during his isolation period. He did express that his family’s matter pressured him to quit, nevertheless, he remained. This questions his view on the relationship between one man with the other, the responsibility to one’s own family and how that relate to the purity and the holistically of one’s soul? With his childhood and militant pursue of academic life and scholarly fame, al-Ghazali could be diagnosed as someone who suffered lack of emotional support and after many years, this led to his burn-out.

Al-Ghafir was al-Ghazali’s Sufi student, so one can assume the tendency for him to side on al-Ghazali. However, he disqualified this hypothesis by writing on al-Ghazali’s excessive pride. His disrespectful attitude towards al-Juwayni as written by Ibn al-Jawzi also confirmed the quality of his character was not a rumor.[10] Engaging in heated discussions to defense his theological and philosophical work was unavoidable. Al-Ghazali was described as having many arguments with others and in spite of his great achievement; he occasionally exaggerated on his work. Prior to giving up his teaching in 1095, he wrote a letter to Sanjar informing him that he had finished writing seventy books.[11] Many historians, such as Maurice Bouyges and George F.Hourani who worked on the dating of this writing, are skeptical on this claim. In his other letter to Sanjar in 1091, he boasted by saying that ‘he has dived in the sea of religious scholarship and reached a point where his words are beyond the understanding of his contemporaries”. It is unbiased then to say that with his success and intellectual brilliance, comes accumulation of miserable dispute and pride in personal achievement, which is conflicting with his own consciousness. This inner conflict was akin to his crisis.

 

External factors influencing his crisis – political, social and economical

Being a scholar, one would presume that al-Ghazali’s bears no special role with politics and his involvement was very minimal. This is not quite true. No historical record evidenced his involvement in any military or frontline warfare, but his writing and religious activity brought direct impact to the political environment especially after the assassination of Nizam al-Mulk. Sixteen month after his assassination, many deaths and upheaval followed. The disorder and confusion were the result of failed attempt by Terken Khatum, one of Malikshah’s widows, to bring her son, who was at minor age, to come into power. The instigation by the so-called Nazimmiya, also added to the political chaos in that time. Al-Ghazali who supported Caliph’s position that Islamic law did not allow a minor to take-up governance power read this in a khutbah, whereby the highest military office and wazir position was also spelt out. None of the scholars supported the novel of such khutbah reading. Al-Ghazali was so involved in this matter that he was sent by the Caliph to meet Terken Khatum to explain the law. Surprisingly, she agreed with him and together with her son left for Isfahan for good.

How would al-Ghazali reflect his involvement as a religious person and an Islamic scholar in such political affairs? In a letter he wrote ten years later to Mujir al-Din, who was a wazir to Sanjar, he cited that the death of the four wazirs; Nizam al-Mulk, Taj al-Mulk, Majd al-Mulk and Muayyad al-Mulk as a lesson from which to learn. He bluntly informed the wazir that those who collaborate with tyrants will themselves be judged as evildoers in life hereafter.[12] His personal conviction after own self reflection for intermingling religious with the state and political affairs must have been lingering in his mind prior that he vowed not to work with the government and to isolate himself from the state affairs at Abraham’s tomb in 1096. This should explain the source of his fear over divine matter which he encountered during his identity crisis as written by many biographers.

Another political factor that captured the most debate on the cause to his crisis was the fear of assassination from the Ismailis. This theory came from D. MacDonalds in 1899. Many scholars relate his fear to the assassination of Nizam Al-Mulk and Fakhr al-Mulk’s to the Ismailis. Al-Ghazali’s main political involvement with the Ismaili was his writing on the instruction of Caliph al-Mustazher (1094-1118), refuting to Nizari Ismaili who engineered the assassination of  al-Mulk in 1092. He studied their doctrine and wrote “The infamies of the Batanites and the virtues of the Mustazhirites” clearly indicating his stance on the hidden dangers in their deception and their dupery, and their slipping out of the noose of Islam and their abandoning and being stripped of Islam.[13] After the released of this writing to the leaders of the Ismailis, Al-Ghazali neither escape nor hide his family, instead he continued teaching in Baghdad until he left in 1095 for retreat, alone. He continued to oppose Ismailis’ doctrine (also called the Batanites’ doctrine or Talimism) in Deliverance from Error which he wrote after his two years retreat. Other writings of al-Ghazali refuting the Ismailis were “The weak position of the Esoterics” and “Straight Balance” and one his work was written after the assassination of Fakir al-Mulk. Had there been real fear to Ismailis’ reprisals that may lead to assassination from his writing and activity, he would have stopped. This then brought us to the conclusion that it was not Ismailis’ threat but the fear to the divine for not keeping the religious purely free from political agendas that led al-Ghazali to his retreat.

Al-Ghazali wrote in the Deliverance from Error on his observance that faith of the children were molded by parents and claimed that this was not the case for him. He had broken from such fetters of tradition and freed himself from hereditary beliefs since childhood. Such profession (i.e. breaking from religious traditions) was supported through his confession in his later writing, The Jewels of the Quran, that he was once part of the followers of philosophy[14] who rejected the duties of Islam, namely the acts of worship and ritual purity, and belittling the devotions and ordinances prescribed by the divine law.[15] This writing evidenced that at that point of life, al-Ghazali was not very fearful towards the judgment from God. His realization on his failure frustrated him. He failed in finding the fundamental truth and to live that truth out with full conviction, in spite of being a great scholar in theology and philosophy and someone who was well versed with Quran and Traditions. 

Al-Ghazali wrote in his autobiography that in July 1095, he began to study the writing of Sufis as al-Junayd, al-Shibli, al-Harith al-Muhasibi, Abu Yazid al-Bistamani, and Abu Talib al-Makki. He learnt though their work on individual experiences of having their soul being completely soaked in mysticism and was convicted that religious tenets are irrelevant as life after counts after one’s action. This made him He realized that his application of sciences were useless if it was not directed fully to God and confessed that he was motivated by the quest of fame and prestige and was about to fall into Hell unless he mend his ways. During this period, al-Ghazali lost the ability to speak and later in ability to have regular dietary.[16]

The reflection he had from reading the Sufis work as mentioned earlier may have triggered disturbing thoughts that needed to be processed in solitude. Leaving the prestigious and busy life in Baghdad was the solution. The mystical Sufis’ life can only be fully experienced by doing and this could have been viewed as a promising path for al-Ghazali to achieve an esoteric relationship with God and to receive healing. Abd al-Latif Tibawi, a Palestinian historian suggested that al-Ghazali also went to Damascus to seek guidance by Abu l-Fath Nasr whose reputation was well known in the area of austerity, asceticism and Sufi teachings and was a prominent Shafiite and a Sufi. His departure to live with him could also well explain al-Ghazali’s character that love to pursue greater experience and knowledge, in addition to his determination live fully as a Sufi.

Abu l-Fath Nasr was also known for refusing gifts and payment from teaching. He lived on the income from the land he owned in Nubulus[17] and was known for earning his living legitimately according to Islamic law. Abu l-Fath commitment in trying to live a pure life, including in the area of finance to the point that he ate only a loaf of bread a day had challenged al-Ghazali’s integrity. His tension on the subject of purity in income was enhanced by the fact that some pious scholars refused to teach in Nizammiya of Baghdad due to the sources of finance that supported the school[18]. By isolating himself in Damascus and living with l-Fath, he could resolve his fear of such impurity. This also allowed him to disconnect from the Seljuq government’s Madrasah system in the most peaceful way.

 

Al-Ghazali’s recovery from crisis after the retreat (1105 – 1107 AD)

            Some scholars argued that al-Ghazali did not fully recover from his doubt and crisis after the isolation but continued to live with episodes of doubt and crisis. Others argued that his transformation is evidenced by the changes in his teaching content and writing after 1095. He did have numerous positive changes. His writing work continued to flourish. In his later life, Al-Ghazali was more interested in tawba or repentance, being close with his family, studying hadith of Muslim and al-Bukhari and having solitude in kanqah. He was able to decline the reputable teaching position in Baghdad even though he could not escaped from being forced to teach at Nizammiya of Nishambur and continued teaching at zawias. Al-Ghafir described that the late al-Ghazali had completely changed and had recovered after “he had been mad”.

Watt did not consider his crisis as valid historically, but accepted that his conversion to the mystical life as genuine. Some critics questioned that the fact that he found answer on this renaissance through Sufism after using theological and philosophical was a pretense to illuminate Sufism? Al-Arabi wrote that al-Ghazali was already a Sufi in 1093. This means that most likely had presumed that Sufism was the eventual solution to his life misery. However, his two years time in Damascus gave him the opportunity to justify himself by exploring the result of bringing his exoteric versus and esoteric life together. It is possible that this was attained under the guidance of Abu al-Fath. As a result, his practice of ascetic life in Sufism became more apparent after 1097 even though he might have knowledge on Sufism much earlier. The establishment of kanqah close to his house was a significant indication in the evolution of his Sufism practice. Al-Ghazali definitely had found what he was looking for when he left for Damascus and this discovery had healed him.

 

Conclusion

Al-Ghazali’s legacy is unique due to his adventurous move in turning his life crisis into a journey of life learning. He pursued the challenge to prove his own faith and implement his own theoretical discovery into a life style. The merging of his exoteric and esoteric life through his Sufi experience, his study of philosophy, theology and above all, his authentic heart of a seeker, led him to become a leading scholar in Islamic world. Al-Ghazali had bravely altered the course of his life and had his soul healed and perfected. One can only be perfected by walking through an imperfect journey but the greatest achievement is to bring out the best throughout that experience. Al-Ghazali’s life was an exemplary to this.

 

Bibliography

  1. Griffel, Frank. Al-Ghazali Philosophical Theology. New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 2009

  2. McCarthy, R.J. Al-Ghazali-Deliverance from Error. Canada: Twayne Publishers, 1980

  3. Watt, W.Montgomery. The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazali. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1970

  4. Watt, W.Montgomery. Muslim Intellectual-A Study of Al-Ghazali. Edinburgh: University Press, 1963

  5. Gerhard, Bowering. Encyclopedia Iranica. http://www.ghazali.org/articles/gz-iranica.htm, 2004

 

 

 

[1] McCarthy, 14

[2] Kraus, Abi Bakr…Raghensis Opera Philosophica, 18 (Source: Watt, Muslim Intellectual, 21)

[3] Frank, Al-Ghazali and the AshariteSchool, 39-42 (Source from: Griffel, 32)

[4] McCarthy, Deliverance from Error, 15

[5] Griffel, Al-Ghazali’s Philosophical Theology, XII

[6] Griffel, 51

[7] Van Ess, 61 (Source: Bowering, Encyclopedia of Iranica)

[8] Griffel, 54

[9] Landolt, Ghazali and Religionswissenschaft, 39 (Ref: Griffel, Al-Ghazali’s Philosophical Theology, 26)

[10] Griffel, 34

[11] Kukkonen, Possible Words, 495-96 (Source: Griffel, 35)

[12] Griffel, 39

[13] McCarthy, Deliverance from Error, 153

[14] Griffel, 31

[15] Treiger, Monism and Monotheism in al-Ghazali, 14-16 (Source from: Griffel, 31)

[16] Griffel, 39

[18] Tibawi, “Al-Ghazali’s Sojourn in Damascus and Jerusalem,” 70 (Griffel, 44)