The Importance of Dialogue The Importance of Dialogue
Prof. Marzouk Aulad Abdellah
Professor of Islamic Studies and Researcher at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Free University of Amsterdam)

Dialogue is inevitable as it represents a human, religious and communicative necessity that renders people able to get to know, understand and respect each other. Usually, it is claimed that religions may negatively affect relations among people of different origins and beliefs albeit the fact that religions enshrine numerous positive aspects, sometimes, if not well understood, they may bring about negative and subversive repercussions. People may, in the name of religions, be unjust or destroy one another. Conflicts among people cannot be attributed to one factor, in the way some people deliberately delude and mislead others; however other cultural, social and ethnic aspects correlate to stoking conflict fires. In other words, religions fuel these flames of conflicts if not well grasped. A specialist in the science of religions once said that there is no peace among religions unless there is dialogue.

If it had not been for dialogue among religions, peace would have never existed. Thus, let's think of our world or society if there had not been dialogue among followers of religions. I mean here Muslims and non-Muslims or Muslim and Western minorities.

Towards foundations of dialogue

Based on the above-mentioned, what are the basics of this dialogue? What are the foundations of talking to and understanding each other?

The first foundation: We are all humans in spite of the differences and difficulties we face in understanding religion and culture of one another. Despite our differences, we must engage in dialogue since we exist in our domestic as well as international communities and have common interests.

Regarding Muslims and Christians, there is a lot to be said concerning dialogue. We all believe in One God (The Unique, The One, The Compassionate, The Merciful and The Just). Despite having various viewpoints on the One God, we can start a dialogue on this basis.

This brings us to posing the following question: What are the principles and content of dialogue? 

The first principle: To endeavor to have reciprocal understanding of the other in the same way we wish the other would understand us.

This is not easily attained since this means that we all must acknowledge and learn from our mistakes and absolve ourselves of prejudgments as well as stereotypes.

The second principle: Not to compare our paragons with theirs; some Christians claim that Christianity is the religion of peace and love, while Islam is the faith of violence and wars. However, if we reflect on Islam we will affirm that Islam is the religion of peace as well. We will also know that the history of Christianity is full of violence between Christians themselves and among others as well. Thus, relying on this methodology, while holding dialogues, is basically incorrect.

The third principle: Parties engaging in a dialogue must view the best aspects in each other's religions and disregard defects in each other's religions.

The fourth principle: Before lashing on the other, we must scrutinize our actions and thoughts as well.

What are the objectives of dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims?  

Objectives of dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims can be summed up in the following points:

-Dialogue itself is considered an ultimate objective.

-To get together for the sake of dialogue.

-Not to live in isolation from the other.

-To achieve mutual respect and strive for understanding each other.

-Not to rely on prejudgments as a means of dialogue with the other.

-To self-criticism; we can be better off through constructive criticism of ourselves and others.

-To acknowledge and correct our mistakes.

-To lay the foundations of the concept of knowing each other among all humans.

-To reach mutual understanding concerning some domestic and world issues.

-To lay the foundations of principles of religious dialogue among religious people.

-To encourage dialogue among people for reaching much mutual understanding.

-To firmly believe in the importance of dialogue between nations and peoples.

-To exchange experiences and ideas concerning dialogue and how to apply them effectively.

-To overcome psychological barriers among Muslim minorities, the West and humanity.

-To exchange religious experience among followers of each faith.

-To challenge stereotypes about each other through engaging in dialogue.

-To prepare those engaging in dialogue to accept and respect the views of the other and open discussion with him with evidence.

-To make it clear that dialogue is not intended to derogate rights of others but to reach much mutual understanding.

I hope this short brief would contribute, even on a limited scale, to providing the basis for dialogue. "Ar-Ruwaq Magazine" ,through its applied communicative policies on the domestic and foreign turfs and communicating with its writers and graduates worldwide and giving them space to express their opinions and thoughts from their countries proves that al-Azhar ash-Sharif headed by Prof. Ahmad Muhammad at-Tayyeb adopts the concept of dialogue with the other. This springs from the essence of our faith and at-Tayyeb's realization of the world role that al-Azhar, the academic Qiblah for Muslims in the East and the West, should play in connecting bridges of communication in terms of religion, civilization and humanity for the sake of serving peoples and nations. I noticed myself this attitude when I used to visit at-Tayyeb in his office when he was the President of al-Azhar University. While in office, he was keen on giving due care and communicating with Muslim minorities in the West. He was also fully aware of everything that would serve Islam and Western communities. Without doing this, Muslim minorities would become a burden in the countries where they live. Muslim minorities must contribute to the welfare of the countries they live in.

Based on the above-mentioned, it is abundantly clear that al-Azhar ash-Sharif, the high Islamic beacon, is not only an exclusive property for the Egyptians, it also belongs all Muslims wherever they are found. Thus, the role of al-Azhar must not be only confined to Egypt but also be extended to encompass all countries. Therefore, it is the right of all Muslims to look up to the leading role that al-Azhar should play on the domestic, Arab, Islamic and world levels.