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DIALOGUE AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION IN ISLAM – (PART 1)

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

“Islam offers dialogue as the just and sure way of resolving conflicts!”

Humanity has come a long way. Huge strides in various fields have been taken. Unthought-of frontiers have been opened. Fantastic discoveries in the fields of science, technology, information and communication have been recorded and significant progress in these and other fields made. Today, we are living in a global village.

One important progress made is in the sphere of international relations. After centuries of bloody wars and conflicts, today at the threshold of the 21st century, humanity is searching for new ways of resolving conflict between its various components. In this search, men are turning to universal traditions for inspiration. One of these traditions, which have a lot to offer in this respect, is Islam. And this paper is a modest attempt to explore what this complete way of life, which not unjustifiably, has the greatest claim to peace, has to offer.

Islam offers dialogue as the just and sure way of resolving conflicts. To begin with, Islam is a faith of dialogue and its Holy Scripture, the Noble Quran, is also a book of dialogue. A cursory look through the pages of the Book, reveals the highest form of objective, constructive and beautiful dialogue between all manner of people and at all levels of human relationship.

There are examples of dialogue between Allah Himself and His creatures (angels, prophets, pious men and women etc); between prophets and their people (believers and non-believers alike); between upright men and women who struggle in the cause of truth and justice and their people who strive in falsehood and transgression, and so on. We even find in the Noble Qur’an lengthy dialogue between Allah, the Exalted and Satan, the accursed. Below are a few examples for verification.

In Surah Al-Baqarah, we find the following dialogue between Allah (SWT) and the Angels:

And (remember) when your Lord said to the Angels:

“Verily I am going to place (mankind) generations after generations on earth”. They said: “Will you place therein those who will make mischief therein and shed blood while we glorify you with praises and thanks and sanctify you?” He said: “I know that which you do not know”. (2:30-31).

In Surah Hud, we read the following dialogue between Prophet Noah and the leaders of his people who opposed his mission:

And indeed we sent Noah to his people (and he said):

“I have come to you as a plain warner. That you worship none but Allah, surely, I fear for you the torment of a painful Day.” The Chiefs of the disbelievers among his people said: “We see you but a man like ourselves, nor do we see that any follow you but the meanest among us and they (too) followed you without thinking. And we do not see in you any merit above us, infact we think you are a liar.”

He said, “O my people! Tell me if I have a clear proof from my Lord, and a mercy (Prophethood) has come to me from Him, but that (mercy) has been obscured from your sight, shall we compel you to accept it when you have a strong hatred for it.” (12:25-28).

In the same Surah, there is further dialogue between no less than five other prophets and their people, including Hud, Salih, Lut and Shu’aib (12:50-60; 61-69; 77-83; and 84-95).

In an extreme instance, we find dialogue between Allah (SWT) and the lowest of his creatures, Satan! When Satan disobeyed his Lord’s command to prostrate to Adam, the following dialogue ensued:

(Allah) said: “What prevented you that you did not prostrate when I commanded you?” (Satan) answered: “I am better than him; you created me from fire, and him you created from clay.”(7:12)

The foregoing is but a minimal example of the lively and constructive dialogue presented by the Qur’an to its readers so that they may learn the culture of listening to the other view.

ETHICS OF DIALOGUE:

Islam accords dialogue ­- any type of dialogue – a high position of respect. First of all, it considers the principal tool of dialogue – the word – as very important and worthy of attention. This is clear from the following parable in which a good word is portrayed as a fruit-bearing tree.

See you not how Allah sets forth a parable? A goodly word as a goodly tree, whose roots are firmly fixed, and its branches (reach) to the sky. Giving its fruits at all times by the leave of its Lord and Allah sets forth parables for mankind in order that they may remember. And the parable of an evil word is that of an evil tree uprooted from the surface of the earth having no stability (14:24-26).

Indeed, in Islamic symbolism, the religion itself, is portrayed as a word, so also are the Qur’an, Allah’s commandment and His inspiration to his prophets.

And (He) made the word of those who disbelieved the lowermost, while it was the word of Allah that became uppermost, and Allah is All-mighty, All-wise (9:40).

Islam has laid down guidelines for dialogue, especially between people of different faiths and culture. It insists that all talks aimed at convincing the other must have the best of intentions and be conducted in a good manner. In calling people to the faith, Islam directs:

Invite (mankind) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair preaching and argue with them in a way that is better. (16:125)

Concerning Christians and Jews in particular, the Qur’an instructs:

And argue not with the people of the scriptures (Jews and Christians) unless it be in (a way) that is better (i.e., with good words and in a good manner). (29:46)

Islam also emphasises on the points of agreement between diverse cultures and beliefs as a way of ensuring compromise and reconciliation. Consider how the Qur’an puts this idea so beautifully:

Say (O Muslims): “We believe in Allah and that which has been sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and to al-Asbat (i.e., the 12 sons of Jacob) and that which has been given to Moses, Jesus and that which has been given to prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to him we have submitted.” (2:136).

And more emphatically:

And say: “I believe in whatsoever Allah has sent of the book (i.e., all scriptures) and I am commanded to do justice among you, Allah is our Lord and your Lord. For us our deeds and for you your deeds. There is no dispute between us and you. Allah will assemble us (all) and to him is the final return.” (42:15)

This calm, fair and unbiased argument is designed to create an atmosphere of ease and trust as a prelude to convincing the other party and securing agreement on just and equitable terms.

Justice is another indispensable element in any successful dialogue. Therefore, Islam urges its followers to be just and fair to all, irrespective of whether they are friends or foes. Justice is a value to be sought for its own sake, and it must be applied and seen to be applied, in every given situation especially when it involves people of different faiths, culture or nationality. Allah, the most high, says:

O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah even though it is against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor.(4:135)

In another verse, He says:

O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah and be just witnesses and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just, that is nearer to piety (5:8).

Objectivity in argument has the positive effect of calming nerves and creating a relaxed atmosphere conducive for level–headed discussion. Its principal ingredients include humility, steadfastness and a readiness to give a fair deal and accept the truth from whatever source. Equally important, opposing parties must negotiate from a position of equality; not in a master–servant situation. Islam is vehemently opposed to cultural imperialism and forceful assimilation of people, a situation that leads to European type of “final solution” or to America’s “You are either with us or against us.” The object of Islamic dialogue is not to dictate terms or impose views, but to achieve understanding and reach compromise and reconciliation. Human beings will continue to differ and to hold diverse opinions, and to force men to tow a single line is but sheer arrogance. Allah says:

And if your Lord has so willed, He could surely have made mankind into one nation, but they will not cease to disagree, except him on whom your Lord has bestowed His mercy. (11:118-119).