Constructive Interaction between the World Religions – Part 1

Constructive Interaction between the World Religions: A Framework for World Order[1]

By Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli
Translated by S. A. Mirza

Read Part 2 Here

Perpetual praises are due to God all-eternal; salutations without end are in order upon God’s holy prophets—particularly his Eminence, the Seal of prophethood; boundless benedictions are owing upon the immaculate family— especially his Eminence, the Seal of sainthood, the promised Mahdi. We wish to near ourselves in friendship to these sacred souls and distance ourselves from their nefarious foes. Having welcomed the prominent figures and authorities of the world’s religions and schools of thought, we would like to honour the presence here of all noble guests. We would like to thank the conveners and sponsors of this important conference—the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, the Assembly for the Rapprochement between Religious Sects and Factions, and the Office of the Governor of Isfahan.

The world today is like a single city and all individuals are the virtual citizens of this assembly. Tranquillity and peace of mind for all [in this global village] comes about in the wake of mutual respect and balanced interactions. A lasting and apposite mutual understanding cannot be arrived at without a penetrating intellectual and metaphysical basis. For, those things which fall outside the human disposition are not only various and variegated, but are contradictory and antithetical as well; and everything that is external to the essential human self is not only different in relation to other such external things, but in fact it is inconstant and mutable in relation to itself as well. It is apparent that that which is not only variegated but rather antithetical, and that which is not only different but rather mutable as well, can never be the source of unity and the basis of unification. Hence, language, features of time and place, particularities of race and region, cannot form the rationale for reasonable interaction. That thing which can be the driving motive for world harmony and order and which can play its part in removing the dirt of [discrimination arising from] differences and [caprice coming from] mutability and changeability will by presented to the respected audience in the course of a number of principles:

First Principle: Human nature, something that informs the entire identity of man, is immune from changeability and protected from discrepancy. That is to say, the disposition of every man—vis-à-vis its general principles and its all governing human ideals—is neither mutable in itself, nor is it different from those of other men. Hence, not only do human natures not oppose one another, but they are also not different from each other. Moreover, differences in body types, changes in geographical climes, or the like, cannot affect established and accepted principles such as the principles of freedom, independence, security, and justice. Regarding human nature, its uniqueness, and its purity from any type of alien influence, the Creator of man and the world (and the Lord of the bond and tie between these two) has said:

فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَكَ لِلدِّينِ حَنِيفًا ۚ فِطْرَتَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا ۚ لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

So set your heart on the religion as a people of pure faith, the nature of God according to which He originated mankind. There is no altering God’s creation; that is the upright religion.[2]

This nature, so long as it is not clouded by pollutants and when it does not become the underling of carnal desires, takes pleasure in pure thought as well as in clean motives. Every man can experience this truth in his inner self and can see its effects in others. Hence, human society is composed of a permanent and established principle, that is [human] nature, and a mutable and variable secondary aspect, which is characterized by physical, temporal, and regional particularities and their like.

Second Principle: Man, who has an immaterial spirit and a fixed [human] nature, is never overcome by the bitter experiences or unresolved situations of life. Nothing obliterates the spirit and it always exists by the grace of God. The ascendancy of man in his encounter with death lies in the fact that it is he that kills death and abolishes dying; death does not destroy him. The Holy Qur’an, that truthful and trustworthy narrator of reality, in judging the encounter between man and death has this to say:

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ

Every soul shall taste death.[3]

That is, the soul of every man is a taster and death is that which is tasted. What is clear is that the taster remains and that the tasted thing is eventually digested and eliminated. From this perspective, that which takes place on the daunting fields of the encounter between man and death is the perseverance of man and the degeneration of death. What the “death of death” means is the termination of the [natural] course of degeneration and mutability and the accession to the throne of permanence and immutability. Jalal al-Din Muhammad Mawlawi has encapsulated this sublime point in exquisite Persian verse as such:

From that which cripples run afar;
On long, rocky roads—lame you are.
If Death dares and now comes to me;
I will hug it firm lovingly.
While I draw from it life unmarked;
From me pulls a carcass all marked.
Disdain you its polish and scrape;
Be a mirror rusty and drape.[4]

The quintessential point of spiritual anthropology and the sacred deposit of all of God’s prophets is that in dying, man comes out of his skin and not that he decays with it; or alternatively, that by dying, man only shuffles off this mortal coil and not his soul; and again, by dying man soars to new heights and does not sink to the dark depths.

Third Principle: Man’s true identity, according to the two above mentioned principles, is the same at all times and in all places, and will continue to be so. All prophets, especially of the Abrahamic lineage, who are the true owners of the hearts of the monotheists, have taught these two matters to man so that by acquiring this divine science he will not be inclined towards the left, nor will he frequent the right—because both have deviated far from the straight path. Imam ‘Ali (‘a) says, “The right (path) and the left (path) cause one to go astray; the middle path is the (right) way.”[5] The approach of the “common principle” makes possible deliverance from differences and discrepancies, and augments equitable interactions amongst the people of the world—especially the followers of the monotheistic religions and doctrines. In this regard, the call of heaven and the voice of revelation is:

وَقُولُوا لِلنَّاسِ حُسْنًا

…and speak kindly to people.[6]

The meaning of speak here is “all interaction,” including all speech, writing, behaviour, and actions, and not just speech by itself. It can be concluded that the reasonable or logical mutual understanding between religious communities has an ontological basis and hence has the capability of going from the level of conceptual knowledge to the level of concrete reality.

Fourth Principle: Equitable and balanced interaction between the followers of various religions and faiths is not possible without the establishment of a legal code. The convening of such scholarly symposiums as this one is a precursor to that legal code and constitution. The composition of the legal code is prior to the ratification of its clauses and the formation of a catechism. This is because a secondary without a primary principle is absent of cognitive content and is not founded upon any base of knowledge. The value-laden articles of the legal code are procured by clauses pertaining to justice, freedom of speech and expression, independence, public safety and security, human rights, democracy, non-violence, anti-terrorism, and their like. But the mentioned concepts go to form the underlying foundation of the legal code and are in no way to be considered as its sources. This is because each and every one of the mentioned notions has various interpretations and due to the discrepancy that exists between these interpretations it is not possible to arrive at a single and universally accepted covenant or international agreement. Hence, for the sake of the theoretical consistency and practical stability of the reasonable interaction between monotheistic believers, it is necessary to derive the legal code from sources that are both immutable and common. This weighty affair calls for the prior apprehension of what this common source is and its ability to give rise to those specific founding legal precepts as have the ability to inform the legal code in question.

This article was published in Al-Taqrib Journal, Volume 2, Number 3, Winter 2008


[1] The article is the text of the paper delivered by his Excellency, Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli, at the conference on Constructive Interaction between the World Religions – A Framework for World Order, which was convened on March 18-19, 2006, in Isfahan, Iran, and was attended by prominent leaders of the living religions of the world.

 

[2] Qur’an 30:30

[3] Qur’an 3:185

[4] Diwan-e Shams-e Tabrizi, poem 1326.

[5] Nahj al-Balagha, sermon 16.

[6] Qur’an 2:83