I am pleased – in this lovely meeting which gathers an elite of intellectuals and scholars from the two countries the Finnish and the Lebanese who are here to take care of issues regarding religions and human beings- to welcome all the attendees hoping to achieve in this meeting some of what we aspire of understanding and coexistence between people in the love, cooperation and peace.
The dialogue between people and nations is a sign and an attribute of the traits and characteristics of the era of civilization and progress and it is the ideal in human relations that we believe to be the essence of the divine (heavenly) messages, where the axis of the Messages and Messengers was the human being, for without human being the world would have no need for Messengers and Religions.
The more developed regimes and people (nations) become, the more crucial becomes the need for a serious dialogue which avoids the risk of human developing into a devastating war machine. Because it is the serious dialogue which dispels fear from among States and people, and religious values which are rich in directions and guidance, are capable of directing that Man who has a machine which possesses mass destruction, to a Man who makes a positive contribution and cultivates harmony and peace. For it is such values and principles which removes from oneself the elements of evil, and takes him away from domination, exploitation and the love of control.
So from my belief, dialogue between people of religions must be kept away from issues that are now a matter of history and religion was not the cause of its existence. As mankind after the advent of Christianity and Islam, lived centuries of disputes and conflicts in the name of Islam at times and in the name of Christianity at other times, and these conflicts occurred and cannot be denied. However what could be denied is the association of religion with such issues, because the Holy Books that represent religions reject all these bloody conflicts between members of human society. The Holy Bible, which says (Thou Shalt not kill) then how is the Holy Bible accountable for the killing! And the Holy Quran which says (But Allah loveth not mischief) and how is the Holy Quran responsible for the attacks! It is the responsibility of the individual who mistakenly understood the religion. It is the responsibility of the individual who used the holy religion for his own ends, turning it to a tool for mobilizing the souls of hatred and animosity to reach his own non-sacred objectives of control and domination over others and their fortunes. And as a brief word, these wars that took humans to tragedies were an express of the aspirations of the leaders that were filled with the love of power and expansion at the expense of others, and some wrapped it by the holy religion to hide some of their non-sacred goals which they sought to achieve and have absolute access to it.
Therefore, I believe that religion with all its heavenly messages had been the victim of political and military conflicts. Conflicts that were searching for prevail and expansion for any price.
Christianity as a heavenly religion, is not responsible for the tragedies that took place among humanity in the first and second world wars, yes there were political and military leaders that belonged to the Christian religion outwardly [not practically] and hereditary and therefore are responsible for these tragedies. Islam the religion was not responsible for tragedies that occurred from the wars carried out by the Ottoman Empire in Eastern Europe and Asia. Yes there were political and military leaders that belonged to the Islamic faith in word and heredity and are responsible for the ambitions of domination and control and expansion at the expense of others.
From this point I see that issues of religious dialogue must be kept away from past stages and their negative impact they had which is not relevant to us today. This was not related to the religion in the past and we say as stated in the Quran: (That was a nation which has passed on. It will have [the consequence of] what it earned, and you will have what you have earned. And you will not be asked about what they used to do).
The important act in starting the process of a serious and effective dialogue, is by going back and searching for the religious texts in the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran to search for the common denominators which are many certainly, because of the heavenly messages which come from one creator who is God (Allah) Almighty and revolves around a single (one) axis which is the human being.
This means that the heavenly messages are one in the source which is God Almighty and one in the target which is the human being.
In addition, the messages should be complementary and not contradictory and different in their essence. In the Holy Bible it refers to this meaning: (do not think that I have come to destroy the law, but I came to fulfill it), similarly in the Holy Quran: (He has ordained for you of religion what He enjoined upon Noah and that which We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what We enjoined upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus – to establish the religion and not be divided therein).
And what we understand from these texts, that religion is a combination factor between human beings. It is not factor of differentiation and variation that is found between the laws and other beliefs. It is the divergence in the curriculum and the way, however all roads lead to God Almighty and as is said (All roads lead to Rome).
The heavenly messages, in being numerous, represent the plurality of methods and ways. But the wanted truth by those methods, and the lead of these ways are one purpose, the purpose which wants from us the spiritual and moral stimulation and wants us to accomplish all kinds of benevolent including the general good of all mankind. The Holy Quran refers to this form of schism: (To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ).
God has given us a common denominator through which we enter into the essence of religious messages as emphasized through his saying: (so strive as in a race in good deeds). This verse which we emerge successfully from the examination of the formal difference referred to in the verse itself: (Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation, but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you. To Allah is your return all together and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ). Do not waste time on subject variation such as the differences in religious laws and the curriculum (religion method) which is not important. What is important is to make good deeds for the human society and to remove poverty and deprivation and to make for it safety and peace. This is what is important that you should achieve and compete for. Whereas for the differences in forms, God will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ because to Allah is your return.
So the religions are of one essence no matter how different the methods and shapes are, it does not matter how we worship God, but it is important that we worship Allah (God) and God has been worshiped by all of us in accordance with laws and platforms which are different from the other. However the fact is the worship of the One God which does not vary even if our ritual worships and forms did. Hence, we say that it is not important how we worship God in the mosque or the church and in different houses of worship but the importance is that we worship God and he is the common denominator (concerted) that we must be gathered around to worship and obey. And this developed meaning emphasizes the practical side of the religion and is the other dimension in the process of faith in God because faith in God has two real aspects and one is person’s relationship with his God.
The second of which is a person’s relationship with his brother in humanity, as was stated in many phrases of religious commandments which emphasize human relationships with one another, so there is no meaning of having faith in God when a one abuses others, persecute and enslaves them.
The second question which arises as part of the second dimension of believing in God is with regards to the human relationship with his human brother, Is the question of what the other works and how he works? In other words, the one thing which I care, am concerned about and take care of is how to deal with the other and not the question of what he believes or what he worships, because the religion in its other side is the treatment as stated in the religious text when questioned about religion, he said: “religion is treatment (dealing)”.
So as treatment can only be done with other party (the other is the human being), as well as religion does not give off its good fruits, only with the good treatment with the other human being.
So the first dimension of faith in God which is ones relationship with his God, does not get affected by the relationship form, but must be reflected positively in the person’s relationship with his human fellow and this is a practical ambit to the process of faith and belief. For what is the value of having faith in Gods heavenly justice if we did not achieve justice among us on earth?! And what is the value of faith and belief that God is goodness and mercy, love and peace, if we did not seek to achieve these meanings in our lives so we grace each other and love one another in this world, as stated in the Gospel of Matthew: (Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy; Blessed are the pious and they shall see God and Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are called sons of God).
I therefore reiterate that dialogue must be based on religious texts in the holy books (Bible and the Quran). Thus, it becomes easy for us to understand each other and we might be able to change many of the customs and traditions which contradict with the religion through the return to the religious texts.
We cannot understand Islam and Christianity in isolation from religious texts, because a lot of Muslims and Christians do not practice the teachings of the religion in an accurate way.
Inter-religious dialogue must be based on acceptance of the other as they are and not as a dialogue with missionary aims to convince the other by parting his religion and beliefs. But the true objective of dialogue must be to understand each other, to achieve vigorous interrelations to take place in a hale way between our nations, stemming and coming out of respect to the other and his right to choose to reside on his beliefs. In doing this we would be laying the foundations of human brotherhood based on the exchange and diversity far away from the thinking to cancel the other, or control him, as one poet once said:
“As long as you respect my right, you’re my brother Whether in God you believe or in stone”
The dialogue and encounter between Christianity and Islam is essential to dispel fear and remove hazards and to establish a world system based on the principles of respect and justice.
And in order to bring out the serious dialogue to the yard of reality, I reiterate my proposal submitted to the rule of His Eminence, Dr. Yukka Parma, the Archbishop of Finland and Turku, which is the establishment of a common religious institution in which we study Christianity and Islam together and to concentrate on extracting the common beliefs –and plentiful they are- and study them, where the Pastor and the Sheikh sit on one seat and study in one school and then proceed to the world for guidance and dissemination of religious awareness among nations and peoples, through mutual understanding and co-existence in one institute that generates and creates co-existence and common understanding between sects and people.
And I strongly hold onto this proposal of the (common religious institute) as it is a serious step in the launching of the dialogue process forward. And I have found that a lot of the intolerance that is located among many of the clergy (scholars) and their followers, arises from the lack of education and knowledge of others and their beliefs properly. And it is well known that intolerance is a manifestation of ignorance that does not disappear unless by education and knowledge because there is no intolerance with knowledge which rejects closed forms and formulas but calls for understanding and openness.
The meeting/ conversation was held on: – 11/17/2000 at the Institute of Imam al-Sadr for Islamic Studies – Tyre with the Finnish canonical delegation with an invitation from H.E Sayyed Ali El-Amine.
In which scholars and religious figures of both the Finnish – Lebanese took part in. Where it was a continuation of the dialogue of religions in which the Grand Scholar had been invited to, in Helsinki – the Finnish capital to deliver a lecture under the title (Islam and Modernism) at the University of Helsinki in 1999.
Published in the Journal of Media Observatory free number 56-11 June 2005, several newspapers and magazines during the meeting.
Translated by M. Wehby, Revised by : H. El Amin