By Anwar Elshamy
IRRESPECTIVE of the differences, the course of dialogue should not be abandoned but instead strengthened and intensified for peaceful co-existence in a multi-religious world, speakers told a session at the Fourth Doha Religions Dialogue.
Addressing a session held as part of the conference, Prof Jacob Pender of the US said: “We live in an age when war has replaced negotiation, terrorism has replaced tolerance and ignorance replaced understanding. It is an immense tragedy that we do not want to explore a period when Muslims and Jews lived in peace.”
He also blasted the clash of civilisations theory. “As Prophet Abraham broke the idols, I would like to break the idea of the clash of civilisations,” said Pender, an expert in religions in the Middle East.
“After 9/11, I have begun working on a documentary film on the most influential philosophers of the medieval ages - Averroes, Moses Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas - who were the good representatives of reason and revelation in Islam, Judaism and Christianity, respectively.”
Speaking of the film, Pender said he would like to encourage greater interfaith understanding by looking back at the cross fertilisation between Abrahamic faiths in the middle ages and to counter the anti-Muslim stereotypes and prejudices spreading widely in the Western media.
“I would like to demonstrate that at the core of what is now called Western civilisation, there is an Arab and Muslim foundation,” Pender explained.
He denounced the idea of “clash of civilisations”, saying “it’s a crime against memory and a deliberate distortion of the history of Islam”.
“Those who believe in this idea proclaim that the West and Islam have always been and will always be enemies at war,” he said.
“Those who occupy the White House believe that all means are to be employed to protect Americans, even if this required torture and preemptive wars.”
Rabbi Ronald Malton from the US, another delegate, spoke on Religion and Globalisation in which he introduced himself as a “globalised human being” because “I am an American who was born in Argentina and my forefathers came from Aleppo, Syria”.
Some believe globalisation has reached alarmingly destructive levels and must be stopped at all cost, he said.
“It is unstoppable and it will continue to expand because it has vast and important benefits.
On what is needed from religious leaders to advancing peace and enhance the process of globalisation for the good of humankind, Malton said that religious leaders must seek to impose morality on the forces of the market as well as fight tribal mentality which is based on the “us against them” paradigm.
“The Jewish suffering during the Holocaust is still a taboo for some of us while the suffering of the Palestinian people is taboo for some others,” Malton concluded.
Mohamed Hassan Tabrian, a representative of the Iranian Ayatollah Mohamed Ali Taskhiri who is head of the International Centre for a Rapprochement between Islamic Sects, stressed that values and interest could be a base for relation between the people of Abrahamic faiths.
“The collapse of the former Soviet Union and the Iranian revolution among others have motivated some super powers like the US to reconsider its strategy and enforce the law of jungle in settling disputes. The Islamic renaissance has renewed the hostile intentions of the West against Islam.”
Blaming intellectuals like Huntington, Bernard Lewis and Fokayama, he said that they have developed a mistaken analysis of the conflict between the West and Islam.
“They believe that Western civilisation must prevail and that Muslims must give up their Islamic values,” he explained.
“However, there is a wide difference between Islam as a set of values and Muslim nations. Similarly we cannot regard the Western values as a representation of Christianity.”
According to him, the disputes between Islam and the West is not an insurmountable obstacle to co-operation.
“The two parties can co-operate in fighting poverty, diseases, ignorance, and all types of terrorism.”
Metropolitan Safwat al-Bayadi, head of the Protestant Church in Egypt, stressed the significance of dialogue between religions.
Prof Moalla Saljuk, dean of Lalahiyat college, Turkey, spoke on the new role that could be performed by religious education. “Traditional methods of religious education is now obsolete and do not meet the new requirements of communities.”
Prof Moalla said that the sacred texts should be interpreted in its historical perspective. “Religious education should contribute to the culture of social peace and democracy,” she added.