There has always been debate within the Islamic movement about the propriety and importance of engaging the West or subsystems of it (such as Christian churches) in discussion about issues that divide Muslims from Jews and Christians. Such low-decibel but high-profile discussion has produced numerous platforms for “inter-faith” dialogue or trialogue, countless ecumenical meetings, and now a proverbial “dialogue of civilizations”, conducted on the part of the Muslims by a bewildering range of official and non-officials institutions and “leaders”.
Forget, for a moment, about the fact that these ever-ready Muslims-for-dialogue have not done their homework on differentiating the Jews from the zionists and the Christians from the imperialists; forget, for the time being, that these Muslims who engage in endless talking-sessions dominated by empty rhetoric about the similarities between and among the followers of the “Abrahamic faiths” are often encouraged and sponsored by the religious syndicate that runs through Riyadh, Jeddah, Cairo, Tripoli and almost every other secular government in the Muslim world, all of whom are ultimately accountable not to the Ummah but to non-Muslims masters in Western capitals; let us consider only whether there is Islamic merit or basis for striking a theological or ideological bargain with this West.
First, it is a fragmentary mindset that can convince itself to sit down with religious or cultural leaders in the West who do not actively oppose what the West is doing to Muslim families, communities and countries around the globe. These disjointed “Muslim” interlocutors have to understand that the West (more precisely the American, Israeli and European governments) are and have been proclaiming, practising, and pushing a ruthless and violent “war on terrorism”, by which what they really mean is a war on Muslim self-determination and Islamic autonomy. Reading through the literature of Zionism and imperialism, and looking past the veneers of Judaism and Christianity, this war encompasses (by their definition) all those who mean to challenge or threaten the economic and/or political foundations of their way of life. Fighting al-Qa‘ida and toppling the Taliban may sound reasonable; but that is not the real agenda for the ruling elites of the Judeo-Christian nations who – legitimised by democracy – aspire to become the commanders of an end-of-times crusade. We would be happy to leave these “Christian commanders” and “Jewish generals” to bask in the sun of their own medals of honor if they would just leave us – the Muslims of the world – alone. But their speeches keep on coming out telling us that their grand plan is fighting “extremism” in Syria, Iran, Sudan, and even there own pet poodles, Saudi Arabia – anywhere where Muslims aspire to power and the establishment of governments that reflect their own faith and culture, and would represent their own interests and concerns rather than those of foreign masters. Why can these public relations-concious Muslims, who are so solicitous of chatty encounters with their “Jewish” and “Christian” counterparts, realize that Muslims are suffering and dying in their millions because of the master plans aggressively devised by Washington and Tel Aviv, and tacitly or actively endorsed by Rome and Jerusalem.
Second, the history between Islamic self-determination on the one side, and zionism and imperialism on the other, is inevitably one of conflict. Any Muslim, Christian or Jew who is unwilling to face this reality is part of the problem and not part of the solution. Some of these gullible Muslims might like to do some homework and take some simple facts to the round tables when they engage with their Scriptural peers; they may want to declare with all the confidence that belongs to them (or should belong to them) that historically, under Islamic forms of government, Jews and Christians enjoyed an unprecedented freedom to be “Jewish” and “Christian” without the restrictions of any “Patriot Act” or “electronic eavesdropping” or “profiling” or “detention camps” as Muslims now face in Judeo-Christian America! Jews and Christians routinely rose to high political positions in Muslim lands. This goes all the way back to Umayyad times and it follows through via Andalusia, the Ottoman Sultanate, and the Levant; not to mention other areas throughout Africa and Asia. The suggestion that Muslims are intolerant, and must learn modern, western levels of plurality and co-existence, is laughable.
Third, Muslim champions of inter-faith dialogue should muster the courage to admit – nay, proclaim – that “Jews” and “Christians”, particularly those of the cloth, who remain silent about Israeli and American occupations of Muslim lands should themselves be considered accomplices to those occupations. If Muslims in the Islamic movement are ready to condemn others within the Ummah who engage in unacceptable behaviour in the name of jihad and Islam, then Jews and Christians of Scriptural conscience and covenant responsibilities should be able to condemn priests and rabbis who are passive or acquiescent to Zionism and imperialism. The Jews and Christians routinely lay down conditions that Muslims much meet if they are to be considered worthy of engaging in dialogue; there is no reason why we should not do the same. We do not have double standards for ourselves, and we do not expect to have Muslims inter-facing with Jews and Christians who speak with forked tongues.
The lesson Muslims should have learnt through years and centuries of dealing with the “Ahl al-Kitab” is that although we, the Muslims, are almost always ready to speak and listen to “Jews” and “Christians” they are hardly ever ready to listen to us. Some of the better-known figures in the Islamic movement have still not learned that lesson.
During the 1980s, when the US under Ronald Reagan (and with Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney in positions in government) was pursuing war against Islamic Iran via Saddam Husain and his Ba’athist regime in Iraq, Muslims in the Islamic movement were solicited by Saudi Arabia, and even the United States directly, to help to isolate the leadership of the late Imam Khomeini, largely on sectarian grounds. In the context of such deep strategies within their larger political-military plans, the West was willing to speak to Muslims. Some of the Muslims that they dealt with then have become their enemies now; but now they are seeking other Muslims to deal with in order to promote their own interests within their larger game-plan. All they need is Muslims who are poor-spirited and covetous about speaking to them. The lesson Muslims should have learnt through years and centuries of dealing with the “Ahl al-Kitab” is that although we, the Muslims, are almost always ready to speak and listen to “Jews” and “Christians” they are hardly ever ready to listen to us. Some of the better-known figures in the Islamic movement have still not learned that lesson.
Today, when Hizbullah stands its ground and forces the Israeli army to recoil into its territory-of-occupation there are again movements in the West to speak once to Muslims who are willing to listen. This is the key point: the West wants Muslims who will listen – they do not want Muslims to whom they would have to listen. Similarly, when Islamic Iran is minding its own business and developing its own technology, we notice frantic motions coming from the same Western capitals who are now interested in discussions and dialogue.
If it weren’t for the political stature of Islamic Iran, the military successes of Hizbullah and the popular resistance of Hamas, and all the rest of the success of the Islamic movement recently, no one in the West would be interested in speaking to Muslims. To put it bluntly, for those who are having problems following our line of thought: if it wasn’t for the leadership of Imam Khomeini and the sacrifices of the shuhada’, no one would have been interested in approaching al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, Jama’at-e Islami, etc. If it wasn’t for Imam Khamane’i no one in the West would be interested in welcoming former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami to speak at institutions in Europe and America. If it wasn’t for the “anti-American” resistance in Iraq and elsewhere in the predominantly Sunni parts of the Islamic world, the West would not be interested in Hizb al-Da’wah, al-Majlis al-A’la, etc. And if wasn’t for Hizbullah the West would not be interested in al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen or Syria. Will we ever learn this lesson, build our own bridges, close our own ranks, and defeat our own common enemy?
Wa in tasbiru wa tattaqu la yadurrukum kayduhum shay’an inna Allaha bima ya‘maluna muheet – “But if you persevere [against their schemes] and are on guard their guile cannot harm you at all: for certainly Allah encompasses [with all His might] all that they do.” (al-Qur’an 3:120)