By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Recent terrorist attacks have exacerbated the polarization of Jews, Christians and Muslims around the world. Causes for that polarization have shifted from theological to political differences, especially those over the freedoms of religion and speech. If interfaith dialogue is to reconcile Jews, Christians and Muslims in today’s world, that dialogue must proceed from a common word of faith and politics, especially since there is no separation of the two in Islam.
Neither Moses, Jesus nor Muhammad addressed the freedoms of religion and speech since they were not relevant to their ancient times. Libertarian human rights were introduced in the 18th century by Enlightenment thinkers like Thomas Jefferson who drafted the American Declaration of Independence and championed the freedoms of religion and speech in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus to be “the sublimest morality ever taught,” but he had little use for the “corruptions” of those teachings by the church and monarchs of his day.
In 2007 Islamic scholars offered the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Muslims and Christians, but political events have since raised doubts as to how that common word of love for God and neighbor relates to faith and politics: First, Who are our neighbors?, and second, How do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Most of the signatories to a common word are from Islamic nations that have recently experienced democratic upheavals and have chosen to retain Islamic law (Shari’a) as an immutable standard of law and politics, together with apostasy and blasphemy laws to protect the sanctity of Islam.
An immutable Shari’a that condones apostasy and blasphemy laws conflicts with the fundamental freedoms of libertarian democracy as well as international law. Until Muslims consider Shari’a a moral code compatible with the freedoms of religion and speech rather than a code of coercive laws, it will continue to conflict with libertarian human rights and further polarize Jews, Christians and Muslims, negating any common word of faith between them.
With religious polarization exacerbated by Islamist radicals, the need for interfaith dialogue is greater than ever, and to sustain that dialogue a common word of faith and politics is needed. To be effective interfaith dialogue must go beyond discussing arcane theological issues and exchanging pleasantries and address the contentious issues that divide Jews, Christians and Muslims today, and those issues are more about politics, morality and law than about theology.
The greatest commandment may provide a common word of faith, but unfortunately there is no common word of politics in the ancient scriptures. The greatest commandment does, however, provide a common principle applicable to modern politics. It is the principle of love for one’s neighbor—even one’s unbelieving neighbor. It would put love over law and abolish apostasy and blasphemy laws and other ancient religious laws as immutable standards of justice, and embrace the fundamental freedoms and secular laws of libertarian democracy. That is a daunting challenge for Muslims, but it is one that God/Allah has given to all who love Him.
Notes and References to Resources:
Thomas Jefferson selected those sayings of Jesus that he considered to be teachings on morality in The Jefferson Bible, and they are used in The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy (The J&M Book) as explained in the Introduction (pages 10-15). See End Note 2 at page 425 for Jefferson’s contrasting opinions of the "sublime" moral teachings of Jesus and “…the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man.”
On the fundamental freedoms of international law in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the contrasting standards of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights, see the blog on Faith and Freedom, posted December 14, 2014.
On The greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see the blog posted January 11, 2015.
On Love over law, see the blog posted on January 18, 2015.
A sampling of the lively debate between Islamic scholars over how their religion and Shari’a relate to modern politics and law can be found at pages 10-17 at Religion, Legitimacy and the Law. Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a signatory of a common word and author of a widely used text on Islam that illustrates the differences between the legal and political principles of Islam and those of libertarian democracy (see page 15 and end note 55 at page 31).
A Common Word (see http://www.acommonword.com/the-acw-document/) takes the greatest commandment from Mark 12:28-33. It is also found in the Gospels of Matthew (Matthew 22:34-40) and Luke (Luke 10:25-29), and Luke’s version answers the first question, Who is our neighbor? The story of the good Samaritan casts a Samaritan as the good neighbor to a wounded Jew, and that is significant since Samaritans were considered apostates by Jews of that day.
How do we love our neighbors? Muslim scholars have answered that in A Common Word:
LOVE OF THE NEIGHBOUR IN ISLAM
There are numerous injunctions in Islam about the necessity and paramount importance of love for—and mercy towards—the neighbour. Love of the neighbour is an essential and integral part of faith in God and love of God because in Islam without love of the neighbour there is no true faith in God and no righteousness. The Prophet Muhammad ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) said: “None of you has faith until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”xviiiAnd: “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself.”xix
However, empathy and sympathy for the neighbour—and even formal prayers— are not enough. They must be accompanied by generosity and self-sacrifice. God says in the Holy Qur’an:
It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in God and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and giveth wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the pious. (Al-Baqarah 2:177)
Ye will not attain unto righteousness until ye expend of that which ye love. And whatsoever ye expend, God is Aware thereof. (Aal ‘Imran, 3:92)
Without giving the neighbour what we ourselves love, we do not truly love God or the neighbour.
So it is that if we love God we should give our neighbors—even our unbelieving neighbors—what we ourselves love, and that includes the benefits of our political freedom, beginning with the freedoms of religion and speech. Those freedoms don’t exist in many Islamic nations today.