Dialogika Resources

Shia Muslim Address to Synod on the Middle East

As a representative of Shia Islam, Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi, professor at the Faculty of Law at the Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran and member of the Iranian Academy of Sciences, delivered the following address to the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.

During the past few decades, religions are faced with new conditions. The most important aspect of this is over-extended confusion of their disciples in real scenes of social life, as well as in national and international arenas. Before the Second World War, and in spite of technological developments, the followers of different religions, more or less lived in their own national boundaries. Neither the enormous problem of immigration existed nor did exist such expansion of communication that connects so many different social groups together. Neither the world had become such a “global village” that “connects” so many destinies together! But today we witness the great changes that have occurred in the past half century and that this transformation continues with an incredible pace. This not only had a qualitative effect on the rapport between religions but also affected relationships between different segments of religions and even with their own followers. Certainly no religion can stay indifferent toward this rapidly changing state.

At the end of the second millennium, multi-culturalism within societies was more or less accepted worldwide. Up until then, understanding of a multi-cultural society was much different than what we experience today. And the newly entered culture into a society could have only been accepted as "the new Culture" and not on the basis of its own merit and excellence. But today there are less and less societies and groups who would defend a monolithic cultural society. The Balkan experience proved that cultural and ethnic dominance of one group over others could not be defended while disregarding other existing groups within that society. This is an important factual necessity and not an isolated intellectual perception.

In societies where different ethnic groups with their own languages and religions have been placed, for the sake of social stability and ethic sanity, one is required to respect their presence and their rights. Concordance of interests and social welfare on national and international levels is as such that no one group or country can be disregarded. And this is the reality of our time. As described, mutual understanding between religions reflects this newly positioned status, and in the future will necessarily have to take these new conditions into consideration. All will be sharing each other's destinies. Today, this idea is being shared by many opinion leaders and gradually more and more of masses of people are siding with this reality. A prerequisite for this kind of thinking is to put aside our formal classical and conditioned viewpoint on other religions and cultures in order to be able to have a more objective vision. We have to look with understanding, respect and sympathy to other cultures.

At the same time it is undeniable that there still exist biased and reactionary viewpoints which are derived from a historically prejudiced, expansionist and supremacist political and cultural system of thinking. But I believe that in the long term, this kind of discriminatory and chauvinistic thinking is diminishing and bound to fade away.

Besides these transformations, other cultural and intellectual changes have been shaped, although mostly in the sphere of Western and industrialized world. This has brought some sort of query and doubt in the mind, even on those issues that previously seemed "inevitable". Now there seems to be an increasing desire and craving for discovering "others", other cultures and ways of lives, other philosophies and religions. This wish apart from being a curiosity is more an inner and spiritual need. This is mostly frequent among the youth and thinkers in these societies. Here the importance is that this movement will certainly affect spiritual understanding of religions of each other. But it should be noted that the major tendency today is the attention paid to Asiatic faiths, and the new religious sects that are offspring of industrialized societies with mostly spiritual basis. These groups find more and more followers every day. We should also consider what the ideal condition is for the believers and followers? How is the best situation achieved? It seems that ideal world would be the state where believers of any faith freely and without any apprehension, fear and obligation could live according to the basic principles and modes of their own customs and traditions. This right which is universally recognized should in fact be practiced by the states and communities.

Furthermore, the right of interpretation of each faith should be given to the believers of that religion, as long as this interpretation is based on scientific and basic spirit of that religion. The truth is that those believers have the better recognition and right of the interpretation of their own faith better than anyone else. It need not be mentioned that of course each faith must have its own present-day exegesis, without which it would be a hard task. No one is allowed to make an interpretation on behalf of others and decide on their behalf. Each faith has its own logic and method based upon its own requirements and its own moment in time.

Any adaptation and conformity outside of this framework which is not recognized by the faithful, has no legitimacy and therefore is not effective and lasting.

This is good for the essence of each religion and their believers that disciples of each faith could practice their rights without any shame and fear and live according to their own historical heritage and culture. Stability of the world depends on the stability of the livelihood of small and large groups and societies.

This stability could only be achieved when all can live without fear and threat from others. This is the most important element in achieving an ethical and social stability and peace. This is our duty to bring about such conditions.

The rapport between Islam and Christianity, based upon inspirations and propositions of the holy Quran, since the establishment of Islam in Saudi Arabia, has been founded upon friendship, respect and mutual understanding. In the holy Quran, Jesus is referred to as the "Word of God", and believing in him has been set as a basis for believers, to the point that any doubt in his guidance has been denounced.

"You will find [that] the closest to the believers are those who say we are Christians that is because among them are learned priests and monks and they are not arrogant," Ma'eede Sura, ch. 82

"When the angels say: Oh Myriam, Allah bestows you, the glad news of the birth of a son, whose name is Jesus, illustration in this world, and shall be honored in this world," Al-Omran Sura, ch. 45.

It is unfortunate that during certain periods in the past 1400 years, at times because of political considerations, there have been dark moments in this relationship. But one should not relate these illegitimate acts of certain individuals and groups neither to Islam nor to Christianity. According to the teachings of the Quran, in most Islamic countries, notably Iran, as it has been stipulated also by law, Christians live side by side and in peace with their Muslim brothers. They enjoy all legal rights like other citizens and perform their religious practices freely. At the end, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Holy Father, Pope
Benedict XVI for his timely and vital remarks in the speeches in Jerusalem and in Istanbul regarding the importance of continued healthy and friendly rapport between Christians and Muslims. Such approach and manners are essential for all believers and certainly important for peace in the World.

Thank you, and may God bless you!