The peaceful and honest meeting of religious minds from different faith streams is, to my mind, mostly a good thing. It is something that sometimes reduces tension between groups or puts an end to rumour about the beliefs and practises of the other group.
There have been some spectacular success in interfaith relations, especially since the end of World War II. Groups such as the Council of Christians and Jews have done wonders in reducing the tensions between what are, theologically at least, mutually antagonistic faiths. For a Jew the idea that the Moshiach or Messiah has already visited Earth is as offensive as would denying the divinity of Christ be for a Christian. Yet these two groups can still find common ground, can still work together on charitable projects, and can still call each other ‘friend’. That this as occurred,is not just admirable, it is, when you examine the long history of Christian anti-Semitism, a miracle.
Over my lifetime I’ve also seen Hindus working with Buddhists, Jews working with Hindus, Sikhs working with Christians, all for the common goal of seeing the person behind the religious belief and co-operating to protect the rights of each other.
I believe inter-religious dialogue, I’ve seen it work, so why do I feel uneasy about entering into dialogue with Islamic groups? Why the big anomaly in attitude?
First up is the undercurrent of violence that exists in Islam, it does nothing to foster a sense of mutual respect. If the Islamic person you are entering into dialogue with has the ‘big stick’ of communal violence behind their back then that fact cannot be easily dismissed. Like dealing with a smiling gangster it is difficult to only see the smile and not the henchmen behind the gangster. The violent undercurrent of Islam dissuades non-Muslims, especially weak-minded ones, from asking the difficult questions of Islam, and it should not be forgotten that asking difficult and often painful questions is a vital part of interfaith dialogue.
Secondly, it’s the intolerance. Islam is intolerant to a degree far, far beyond that between Catholic and Protestant during the Irish Troubles. As an ideology it is intolerant of women, gays, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheists and even other Muslims who ask awkward questions. To expect to enter into honest and open religious dialogue with the representatives of such an intolerant ideology is as pointless as a Rabbi trying to enter into meaningful dialogue with a dyed in the wool neo-Nazi. It is difficult if not impossible to do so.
Thirdly, it’s the lying words that come out of the mouths of the representatives of Islamic groups. Those of us who have had the dubious experience of seeing Mosques book speakers of the most hateful type, and then deny that they booked them, or make empty promises not to book them again, have grown tired of the blatant dishonesty of Islamic groups. Every time some Imam or Mullah or other Islamic personage spins the line ‘Islam is a religion of peace’, then events around the world show this statement to be a complete lie. Even out of the theological field Islamic groups routinely lie. They lie on planning applications for mosques when it comes to expected numbers of attendees and issues regarding parking and often lie about the Islamic theological paths that these mosques will follow.
So we have violence, intolerance and dishonesty, what’s not to like about that? The answer is not a lot really. Because of these factors, among many that others will be able to find, I believe that it is almost impossible to have honest, respectful and meaningful dialogue between Muslim and non-Muslim. Although it is possible to speak with honesty and mutual respect to some of the more liberal currents of Islam, such as the Ahmediyya, the fact that such liberal groups make up a tiny proportion of Islamic adherents should not blind us to the fact that the majority of Islam is a violent, intolerant and dishonest ideology.
Because of the considerable amount of negative content in Islamic foundational texts, especially when it comes to attitudes to non-Muslims and the bad behaviour of too many Muslims throughout the world, it is plain to see that Islam doesn’t have either the ethical or theological foundations that successful interfaith relations are built.
All those Vicars, Priests, Rabbis, Swamis and other Holy men and women who think that by getting onto the ‘bagel and bhaji’ interfaith circuit with representatives of Muslim organisations will bring peace and justice are mistaken if not completely deluded. Such people have forgotten a basic life lesson and that is do not listen uncritically to what people say, examine what they and those like them act. The acts of Islamic savagery throughout the world should tell us all that Islam is not a religion of peace, but a religion of war and oppression and as such should be excluded from the gatherings of those who wish polite, peaceful but honest dealing between different faith communities.
It is impossible to coexist with those who smile at you and call you ‘friend’ whilst they are inwardly wishing that you, and those like you, were dead.