As one of the first people in Australia to bring interfaith dialogue into schools and one who has been doing interfaith for over a decade, I feel we have come to a saturation point. Unfortunately, interfaith groups are ‘preaching to the converted’ and what seems to be the trend is to spend large amounts of resources and funds on conferences and forums which attract very small audiences and do very little to move faith communities closer together.
Luckily, Australians are a very easy-going lot and interfaith or faith as a general experience does not rate highly on their priorities in life. Yet, Muslims and Jews who felt under siege took it upon themselves to make contact with other faith groups, particularly Christians (Catholic and Uniting Church) to build bridges to understanding.
But it is time to go beyond dialogue.
Muslims must stop pandering to the mainstream and apologise for the actions of others within their faith community.
Muslims must stand up for themselves and take a strong position on the various issues. Interfaith is acceptable as long as it is done without compromising your principles and your own faith.
As Muslims we must acknowledge the ‘People of the Book’ and to show them respect and acceptance just as we would expect them to do the same for Muslims. But when issues are placed on the table we must take a strong position and speak up against injustice and oppression.
Let me give you a few examples;
On the issue of Iraq and Afghanistan, Australia has no right to be in that country as an occupying force supporting shameless American aggression (which has killed 200000 people to date). When we speak to other Christians in the spirit of love and respect, we need to know that they do not support such oppression otherwise how can we even sit in the same room or share a meal when we know that one side supports the murder of other people?
On the issue of women’s rights. Many people criticise Muslims for their stance on the dress code for women and their roles within society. Yet, others have no problem with the objectification of the female body and the continued industry that supports body image and commodifies women’s bodies and their self-image.
Or the biggest issue that Muslims have ignored for so long is the injustices placed upon Palestinians by Israel. The acceptance of Israel’s oppression of Muslims and the continued usurpation of their land, food, culture and identity is an indication that we have sold out the Palestinians. When we meet with Jews we should not only ask each other “What does your faith mean to you?” But we should ask, “what does your faith say about oppression, human rights, kindness?”
There are many groups out there who are justifying their existence on the back of a “need” for interfaith dialogue. When in reality, there is no real need but just one side trying to justify themselves to others. In recent times Islam has become the talking point so every man and his dog wants to be seen talking to Muslims. But why do we allow ourselves to be used by these people?
The old saying goes, “Look at yourself before you look at others”
Muslims have to take a good long hard look at themselves in the mirror and ask why am I doing this? Is this pleasing Allah (swt)? Is it of benefit to my community and to my faith or is it in fact detrimental to my people? Am I doing an injustice to those who do not have a voice (such as in Palestine, Bosnia, East Turkestan and Iraq)? Am I promoting other faiths and am I justifying their exploitation and oppression of other Muslims by sharing the podium with them?
The bottom line is that we cannot compromise our principles and we must always maintain our integrity and stand up for Islam and Justice!