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Last Updated: 2007/04/17
Summary of question
What are the challenges facing Islam – Christianity dialogue?
What are the challenges facing Islam – Christianity dialogue?
Concise answer

For an answer to the above question, we deemed it appropriate to draw your attention to a lecture delivered by Ayatollah Hadavi Tehrani in this regard.

There is a clear tendency towards religiosity in the present century whereas in the previous century a great deal of efforts was made to abandon and put aside the religion but successive failures followed by emergence and blossoming of some religious movements (with the Islamic revolution of Iran being at the top) caused the contemporary human being to experience clear changes and to become an advocate and a lover of religion, spirituality and truth.

For this reason, we have seen an increasing number of dialogues taking place among the religions in recent years. Many conferences have been held thus far, e.g. the Conference of International Association of Religious Leaders in the year 2002 in Thailand, the International Parliament of Religions in the year 2003 in Spain, the Conference of World Religions in Kazakhstan and finally the Conference of Abrahamic Religions on War and Peace in the Year 2006 in Italy. However, despite the increase in the efforts for dialogue among religions especially Islam and Christianity as the last Abrahamic religions, there still seems to be some challenges facing constructive dialogues between these two religions. Some of the challenges I can point out are:

1. Lack of real attention to the commonalities between these religions which the Quran makes mention of by saying: ‘Say: "O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah." If then they turn back, say ye: "Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah's Will).’[1]

There are a lot of common terms and shared points in terms of belief and morality between Islam and Christianity. Also, there is a possibility of interaction between these two religions for the administration of global society in a bid to achieve global peace and security.

This cooperation should take place in the framework of Tawhid (belief in divine unity). In addition, no side should ever try to impose lordship and domination over the other side whereas, in fact, we see that both of these two characteristics are missing in today’s world.

Belief in divine unity has been neglected and encroachment or transgression of the powerful ones on the weak sides has turned into a routine practice. We can see their behavior vividly in the event of Iran’s nuclear project.

2. Lack of awareness about the results of constructive and useful dialogues between the two religions because these dialogues serve as bridges towards in-depth and precise understanding of each other and expansion of scientific and practical capabilities in these two religions through comparative studies in various ideological and moral areas.

The definite result in this scientific cooperation is attainment to clear proposals for peaceful coexistence and effective cooperation among the followers of the two religions and also for putting out the flames of intellectual and economic war and finally reaching a secure atmosphere for growth and activation of human potentials.

3. Traditional thought existing in the governing thinking in every religion towards the other religion without that thinking being reviewed: Much of the impression by this traditional thinking towards the other side is based on the studies and investigations which lack authentic sources, or they are based on false sayings in a way such that the outcome in most cases is misconception followed by suspicions and wrong judgment about the opposite side.

4. Another challenge in the way of constructive dialogue is the existence of global powers that are bent on confronting the religions. The leaders of these powers see their vested interest in a war. Obviously, the war must have deep roots and the most important of these roots can be found in ideological differences. That is why they are bent on deepening those differences. The blasphemous caricatures that were seen in Denmark were some of the clear manifestations of this international conspiracy; otherwise there is no justification for those offensive and sacrilegious acts.  That ignorant act of insult and desecration of the best of creatures and the greatest divine personality of the world, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) chose Denmark for the occurrence of this crime. That is because the flag of this country has a cross on it.

They knew very well that Muslims’ reaction would take place through burning the flag of that country, an act which was later on interpreted as outrageous and desecration of the cross which would eventually result in the reaction on the part of the Christians. In a meeting I had with the Pope of Vatican, Benedict XVI eight months ago, I made reference to this point and I appealed to him to be mindful of this satanic plot and to tell his followers that burning the flag was not desecration of the cross but it is indeed a political move against a state in which the Great Prophet (S) had been insulted.

The September 11th incident is also one of those conspiracies hatched by the US.  In view of the ample evidence, we know that a plot was going on; the incident was nothing but a conspiracy. The Twin Towers in New York City were destroyed by planes and missiles and the purpose behind it was to launch and expand the wars against Muslims and to revive the crusades – as was pointed out by the US president of that time.

In my opinion, the recent action by the Pope of Vatican is one of the manifestations of the global conspiracies against the religions. He used to underline the importance of inter-faith dialogues, especially dialogues among Islam and Christianity eight months or even one month before the speech[2]. He issued a statement regarding the Conference of Christianity – Islam Dialogue in Assisi. The question is: Why did he become negligent of these incidents uttering words that are far off his rank and status.

5.  Lack of knowledge of the realities of these two religions is another challenge facing inter-faith dialogues. There are a lot of examples to give in this regard. Perhaps, the speech delivered by Pope Benedict XVI could be the most important example in this regard. I will mention some of the points in his speech:

A) The confusion between the term “Jihad”, which is an Islamic term, and the word holy war which took place in the Christian history. Pope says: “The emperor started the subject of Jihad or the holy war” Jihad is an attempt about eliminating the hindrances of guidance and easing the way of divine adoration; this war is a war against those who stand opposed to worshipping God preventing His servants from knowing Him and being guided by Him. This is the very minor Jihad. Sometimes, Jihad is used to refer to one’s endeavor to know and reconstruct oneself. This is called Jihad against the Nafs (soul) whereas the term ‘holy war’ is used to refer to dominating Christian populace and to forcing them to convert to Christianity.

If we look at the history of the Armenians in Iran, Lebanon and other countries, we will come to know that they have admitted that other religions did endeavor to change the religion and religiosity of the Armenians but Muslims did not take even a single step.

B) Lack of awareness about the history of the Quran and the occasions of the revelation of the Quranic verses:

He says, “Certainly, the empire knew that the verse 256 of Sura al-Room of the Quran says that “there is no compulsion in religion…” and this Chapter is the first of the chapters of the Quran which relates to the time when Muhammad (S) had no domination and force and was simply powerless…” whereas in fact this verse is among the Madani (Medinite) verses and it was revealed at a time when the Prophet (S) had established a government and there was no danger threatening him. Indeed, the narrations in this connection mentioned under the same verse elaborate as such: One of the Muslims converted to Christianity due to propagation by a Christian trader who had gone to Medina and propagated Christianity. His father went over to the Holy Prophet (S) and requested that his son be forced to return to Islam. The Prophet (S) refrained to do so and thereupon the (above) verse was revealed.

However, there is a context which shows that this verse was not revealed in the early period of the prophethood because a part of the verse says that the “truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error.” Obviously, such a meaning has been revealed in the recent years of the prophethood not in the early years.

3. In a part of his speech he says: All of a sudden the emperor turned to the person whom he was speaking to…the main question for us is the relationship between religion and violence generally. Then he continued: Show me anything new, if Muhammad (S) has brought down whereas you do not see anything except spreading his inhuman and absurd command by sword!

There is no fairness in this saying. Some of the Christian contemporaries have written books for Christians to read.  These books show that Christians can remain as Christians and yet they can benefit from the light of the Holy Prophet (S) and his seerah (lifestyle).

We will come to know through a cursory look into the history of Islam as to what sciences, teachings and lofty values it has presented to human community. Islam promoted divine teachings in monotheism and created a philosophy the like of which cannot be found anywhere. This philosophy is embodied in Mulla Sadra’s transcendent philosophy and it acquired a special status thereof. Moral values have blossomed and been perfected in Islam and a long way towards spiritual wayfaring has been covered.

Shari’ah which is the perfect legal system in Islam shows that it enjoys a special status in Islam. Islam has combined between the world and the Hereafter and it has presented very lofty spiritual concepts in politics, economy and education.  Muslims have also played a very important role in the history of human civilization. Most of the inventions have been from the Muslims. The roots and basics of most of the sciences such as chemistry and physics were discovered by them. They played a key role in the development of sciences such as medicine.

The golden Islamic period is replete with such instances. The question is: How is it that he becomes oblivious of these facts and simply repeats the sayings of his predecessors who were ignorant or pretended to be so?

4. He says: “The emperor explains in detail that spreading the religion through violence and rigorous behaviors is against the reason….”

He says these in a way such as if spreading and preaching the religion has been based on violence and astringency. The fact is that this was the practice of the Roman church. You will know it, if you refer to the history of this church. However, Islam is the religion of science, knowledge, will and free choice. God has invited all the people and encouraged them to acquire knowledge by saying: “Are those who know and those who do not know equal…?”[3]

Prophet Muhammad’s prophetic mission started with recitation: “… and recite in the name of your Lord Who created. Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood”[4]

“Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,- He Who taught (the use of) the pen,- Taught man that which he knew not.”[5]

“And (as for) those who keep off from the worship of the idols and turn to Allah, they shall have good news, therefore give good news to My servants,  Those who listen to the Word, and follow the best (meaning) in it: those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding.”[6] “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner; surely your Lord best knows those who go astray from His path, and He knows best those who follow the right way.”[7]

The religion of Islam is the religion of wisdom and exhortation; it is the religion of reason and logic.

He quotes the emperor further and says, “Violence and astringency of such nature are opposed to the nature (essence) of God and soul is the very nature. God does not like blood. Irrational actions are against the essence of God. Faith is the result of the soul not body.”

This saying matches with Christian history especially the catholic Christianity.

5. He says: “According to Islamic belief, God’s will is not absolute but this understanding of divine will is neither coherent with our teachings nor is it acceptable to reason.”

Then he makes reference to Ibn Hazm’s saying in his commentary (Tafsir) book: “It is not obligatory on God to make recourse to His Words and sayings and nothing compels Him to make us understand the truth, and if man wants, he can worship the idols.”

This is saying of the Pope is good evidence showing that he did not refer to theological and philosophical sources in the Islamic culture. The Islamic philosophical sources state that divine will is absolute and His essential will is the same as His knowledge and His essence.

When it comes to God’s practical will, it manifests itself in His actions. The evidence which he presents from Ibn Hazm’s sayings is perhaps because of cultural weakness for Ibn Hazm’s religion is isolated and abandoned in such a way that it has no followers or proponents today. In the school of Ahlul-Bait (A.S.) which is a living school today, the role of knowledge, reason and will in belief and faith is very tangible. The Holy Quran has also pointed out the role of ‘will’ in belief and says: “And they rejected those Signs in iniquity and arrogance, though their souls were convinced thereof.[8]

Refutation with certainty means that ‘will’ has no role in faith. In view of the Islamic philosophical and theological discussions, we can prove that even knowledge also does not necessarily end up in faith. When it comes to Ibn Hazm’s saying who negates any kind of obligation on God, his saying is based on the negation of rational good and evil whereas the Shia philosophers have substantiated rational good and evil. Contrary to Shia, the Ash’arites do not believe in rational good and evil.

A dialogue consists of logic and framework.

The logic of dialogue is based on two elements:

1- We must consider it probable that the saying of the opposite side is true and correct.

2- We must consider it probable that there is a problem or difficulty with the other side.

However, the framework of a dialogue which in Hermeneutics is called ‘horizon’ means an area of discussion shared by the two sides. Thus, it is not possible to have a useful dialogue unless we use the above logic and framework.


[1] - Aal-e Imran, 64.

[2] - In my meeting with him during the Conference of Abrahamic Religions about War and Peace.

[3] - Az-Zumar, 9.

[4] - Al-‘Alaq, 1-2.

[5] - Al-‘Alaq , 3-5.

[6] - Az-Zumar, 17 -18

[7] - Nahl, 125.

[8] - Naml, 14.


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