Islam, a religion of dialogue and tolerance
Islam, a religion of dialogue and tolerance
It is an established fact that Islam is a religion of tolerance, dialogue, coexistence, peace, non-discrimination and respect of the rights of the individual no matter what his colour, background, culture, or belief is. A religion that urges all people to cooperate in the achievement of righteousness and calls for mutual understanding, cohesion and harmony among all nations of the globe.
In this respect, Allah states clearly these concepts in the Koran:
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female and made you into nations that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (AL – Hujurat: 13)
This message of coexistence within diversity is further highlighted in the Koran, in no doubtful terms:
“Among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the variation in your languages and your colour”. (Ar-R?m: 22)
International education and current issues
Islam’s view on addressing present-day problems is characterized by its comprehensive vision, the complementarity of its dimensions and the coherence of its methodology. Thus, in its education in the values of good citizenship lies a call for respect and wisdom and cultivating citizens who earn the satisfaction of their God, society and themselves.
Likewise, in its education in the values of knowledge acquisition and work lies a shield against the scourge of illiteracy and the dangers of poverty, unemployment and deviant behavior. Similarly, in its education in the principles of respect for difference and acceptance of others lies immunity against the predominance of hatred, intolerance and disrespect and their imposed score of values as well as a call to reject violence and extremism.
In this context, Muslim thinkers must, urgently, focus on underscoring the view of Islam on dealing with contemporary problems and issues such as: extremism, poverty, drugs, wars, and degradation of social values, by preparing guides and curricula and organising sessions, workshops and symposia to train educational staff and address their concerns, from an Islamic humanist perspective. The aim is, therefore, to elevate awareness about these dangers and integrate dynamic values in curricula and educational programmes that are likely to thwart them.
Education in the values of dialogue and human rights and the culture of justice and peace
Based on the values enshrined in Islamic law shari’a that affirm the common origins of humanity, recognize the divine wisdom lying behind difference and diversity, and call for cooperation to achieve complementarity in building human civilization, Muslim ulamas must shed light on Islam’s view on dialogue among Muslims on the one hand, and between Muslims and non-Muslims on the other hand and highlight “knowledge-based sensitization” about human rights and the culture of justice and peace, from an Islamic perspective.
Attention must be paid under this concept of “value-based sensitization” to the field of education because it is an effective means to further instilling the values of dialogue and human rights and the culture of justice and peace in the minds and practices of the learners. The objective is to build the personality of learners on these values by integrating them in school courses, offering training in pedagogical skills and means and looking at the value and knowledge aspects of such principles.
These particular objectives can be achieved by convening educational meetings to deepen the knowledge-related dimensions of these values, holding capacity development workshops to teach them in school courses, and producing studies and guides to include them in curricula.
School curricula and stereotyped images of cultures and civilizations
Religious misunderstanding, the distorted legacy left by former colonial powers, old experiences of hostility, as well as, theories sowing the seeds of conflict and war among cultures and civilizations, all contributed to forging a negative image of Islam as a faith, civilization and culture in textbooks. This was attributable to either real or feigned ignorance of the mission of faiths, which consists in spreading the values of diversity and equity and calling for concord and interaction among different civilizations as a common human heritage where contributions come into contact with one another without any clash of values or concepts.
Conscious of the role textbooks play in projecting stereotyped and distorted images in certain states and desirous to strengthen the Islamic perspective which nurtures the loftiest of values such as tolerance and entente and the call on the international community to “learn to live together,” education specialists and curricula developers ought to study and assess the concepts and tendencies included in school curricula and textbooks on Islam, Muslims, civilizations and cultures, to foster the values of tolerance and recognition of others, uphold fundamental human rights and expose all allegations and their motives contained in biased educational publications.
To reach these goals, corrective studies must be produced, at once, and educational and information symposia and other gatherings must be convened with the aim to guard against enmity and foster coexistence among civilizations. Various efforts must be made with the intention to exchange visits among students, experts and educational institutions. The ultimate aim is to elevate awareness about the virtuous humane mission of religions, civilizations and cultures and incorporate it in school curricula and textbooks.
Dialogue and alliance among civilizations to promote understanding and mutual understanding
Efforts must be made to enact dialogue among Islamic culture and the other cultures, in order to reinforce understanding and mutual respect between the peoples of the world and achieve durable peace and comprehensive development. Also, activities must be organized for the benefit of school children and youth with a view to educating them in the culture of dialogue and respect of others.
For this purpose, various activities must be considered including publications and symposia, to move from mere dialogue to establishing alliance of cultures and creeds and dialogue among civilizations. In other words, it is urgent to move from cultural exchange to cooperation, and to establish an understanding of “culture” in its broad meaning, which covers the fields of employment, education, science, culture, faith and communication. This must be done in light of the results of the international conference on “Fostering dialogue among cultures and civilizations through concrete and sustained action”, which was held in Rabat, Morocco in June 2005, and the international conference on “Human Cultures and Civilizations: from Dialogue to Alliance” (Tunisia, November 2005).
In this respect, programmes and activities must be implemented to reinforce interaction and cooperation with and openness towards the other cultures. The first step toward this openness is the ultimate sharing of knowledge and information, and making them available on open networks for cross-fertilization and cross-support. Aspects of the international consensus on dialogue and cultural diversity must be identified and made into proposals for joint action and collaboration, the aim being to ensure the respect for diversity and cultivate the culture of tolerance and brotherhood.
NGOs must work with other institutions active in the field of interactive dialogue in order to reach an international consensus to achieve civilizational alliance, cross-fertilization and complementarity. In addition, new activities in collaboration with partners in favour of this interactive dialogue on cultural issues and others, must be taken into consideration. Such activities ought to include the organization of meetings around specific issues, supporting the publishing of the works of renowned travellers, the organization of exhibitions, festivals and caravans to promote communication among different peoples, all in the objective of sharing and comparing human experiences so as to reach friendship and mutual understanding.
Cultural and civilizational communication networks to build a tolerant and fraternal human society
Partnership and cooperation are new mechanisms that link regional, national and international networks with each other. These linkages create a forum that provides space for dialogue and communication with the others around the world.
Hence, resides the importance of these networks in defending Islam and Muslims, in responding to smear campaigns, and in forming civilizational alliances for dialogue and encounter. The importance of these networks consists, also, in the fact that they prepare for conferences and meetings, by agreeing on a common ground. They must coordinate action in the cultural field with other national and international networks, such as the UN, the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation -OIC-, UNESCO, the League of Arab States, ISESCO, ALECSO, the Council of Europe and civil society institutions, the main aim being to build a brotherly human society and conceive a human culture based on dialogue and peaceful coexistence. This can be achieved by inviting these networks to tighten the links among them via the Internet and exchange cultural information.
Besides, governments, international organizations, NGOs must promote cultural and civilizational communication programmes through a series of diverse activities, as well as, define space or time settings for these activities, such as: the Mediterranean space, the Atlantic space, Andalusia, as a land of religious and civilizational coexistence, pilgrimage scenes, gold or salt routes, and others. They must, also, consider supporting the organization of festivals, cultural camps, caravans, university twinning, student and professor exchanges, etc. In the same context, extend support for the translation and publishing of travel literature, which is a manifestation of cultural communication that reflects inter-cultural exchange and human solidarity with the ultimate objective of building a human society characterized by fraternity, tolerance and the feeling of shared destiny.
Local community institutions in the service of dialogue and alliance of cultures and faiths
It is no doubt that local community institutions, working in tandem with governments, have contributed to enhancing the general performance of societies, by strengthening the role of the executive authorities and assisting them to make the right decision that involves all social categories and expresses their interests and aspirations, and by diversifying the channels of communication between all actors, thus, avoiding conflict and unilateral decision-making. Civil society institutions are now playing an important role in generating a new sense of real nationalism which is more responsive to the interests of nations and people, far from any form of fanatical patriotism: chauvinism.
Aware of the importance of these new and effective roles in the life of nations, governments must encourage the emergence of such institutions as alternative avenues for dialogue and coexistence. Indeed, these institutions reflect the concept of the truly sovereign civilizational interlocutor, who is the product of history and society. It is sure that dialogue among societies through this channel will greatly reduce the barriers between cultures and civilizations, and will allow for the emergence of a human culture characterized by dialogue, peaceful coexistence and the respect for the characteristics of each culture and civilization.
Besides, governments must participate in the projects suggested by these civil society institutions and follow up and support them in providing services in the fields of culture, education, communication and human rights, etc. And, also, publish field studies on the role of civil society institutions, and organize meetings of these institutions considering that they are specialized observatories on development issues. Additionally, they ought to grant merit awards to all such institutions that contribute to spread the culture of dialogue and alliance among civilizations.
International cultural exchange to promote dialogue and alliance among cultures
The world has entered the era of cultural, economic and information globalization. In fact, it is easy to notice that cultural globalization started due to the liberalization of exchange among countries in terms of goods and individuals through trade, tourism, foreign studentship, immigration or labour. Cultural globalization, nowadays, knows a great expansion thanks to the development of cultural industry, information and communication technologies, virtual communication, cultural popular tourism and international exchange in the fields of education, culture and arts.
This globalization takes different shapes with regard to culture. In this respect, equal cultural exchange constitutes the ideal solution to introduce cultural diversity at the international level, and to illustrate the heritage of the nations through new mechanisms of offer and production. However, this cultural exchange has to be well balanced and not subjected to the law of the market and competition, which is nothing but a façade for economic hegemony in the absence of the real principles of equity among producers. This balanced cultural exchange, also, provides the possibility for minorities to express their cultural and civilizational specificities, a much-needed action today.
Conscious of present-day challenges related to culture in the world, Muslim governments have to devise a programme that aims at undermining conflict, illustrating the bright side of Islamic civilization, and instituting a constructive and interactive civilizational dialogue based on cooperation, peaceful coexistence and the exchange of expertise and experiences. This can be achieved only by boosting Islamic cultural production, illustrating its diversity and presenting it on multimedia supports. Exposing this heritage to the world and making it available to all and for the service of all will certainly propel acceptance and goodwill many steps ahead and enhance understanding and concord.
To achieve these goals, these governments ought to consider holding international and regional meetings, supporting the organization of exhibitions of cultural products, displaying Islamic heritage on the Internet and supporting the transfer of cultural products through multimedia in order to allow their wide circulation in view of their cultural values calling for coexistence, tolerance and dialogue among civilizations.
Dialogue and alliance of civilizations in regional and international relations
Today it is axiomatic that the development of education, science, culture and communication hinges on security and peace, within or between states, both at the regional and international levels. No development will be conceivable under a climate filled with ethnic, sectarian and religious tensions.
Emphasis must be put on the establishment of justice and mutual respect, which are key elements for creating international relations that could promote prosperity and human development. Also, it is internationally recognized that the alliance of civilizations represents the sole means that can restore balance to the world and establish peace, respect for diversity and the acknowledgment of the legitimate cultural rights and civilizational specificities of the different peoples and nations.
Such positive actions will, undoubtedly, enhance the sense of citizenship and active participation of foreign nationals and immigrants, as well as educate them on the values of tolerance and the rejection of all forms of discrimination, racism and hatred. Similarly, they will strive to reactivate the concept of international cultural Takaful, in order to firmly establish the culture of human rights and the rights of peoples; consolidate civilizational relations and cultural exchange; facilitate cultural mobility and the freedom of movement of people and ideas by encouraging South-South and North-South programmes for student exchange visits. Furthermore, they aim at setting up consultation mechanisms on labour and immigration to ensure the respect of human dignity of immigrants and foreign nationals; devising tourism’s development policies within the respect of cultural and civilizational identities; ensuring social harmony and combating poverty, violence, marginalization and social vulnerability.
Shared values and cultural memory for the consolidation of dialogue and alliance of civilizations
The world community must take a keen interest in the issue of dialogue and coexistence between various cultures and religions. This interest must be palpable in the many activities and programmes dedicated to this end, some of which must be made to gain wide international visibility and outreach. Another stride must be made in concretizing dialogue among civilizations and cultures and developing its contents and objectives, through the much sought-after alliance of civilizations and cultures.
The aim of this undertaking is to ensure that cultural exchanges become cultural cooperation and an effective alliance encompassing science, education, culture, technology and communication, and harnessing all these components to achieve common human objectives. These lofty and noble objectives must be fulfilled by consolidating activities aimed at safeguarding the collective memory and shared cultural heritage, encouraging cultural interaction projects to support the dialogue of cultures and the alliance of civilizations and consolidate all that is shared by humanity.
Activities to be scheduled within this area will be dedicated to encouraging creative people and researchers to produce literary and artistic works that highlight the common cultural values and memory of all peoples as a prelude to civilizational dialogue and alliance. These activities will focus on monitoring the major intellectual and cultural transformations being witnessed by the international scene and the intellectual, civilizational and cultural challenges they give rise to at degrees that vary from one cultural group to another. These endeavours are expected to limit the clear deterioration of creativity and innovation in Islamic cultural action and its inability to continue discharging the pioneering civilizational role it had once assumed in the march of human civilization.
These works will be marked by emphasis on reactivating the Islamic fundamentals and principles that encourage creativity and research, renewal of the Islamic intellectual and cultural discourse and celebration of the collective cultural memory of the entire Ummah. They will also provide an opportunity to unleash the creative capacities of the Muslim individual, who is able and capable of meeting cultural challenges, who enjoys civilizational knowledge foundations that are compatible with modern times and who can set out to effectively contribute to the human civilizational edification.
Islam is a religion of peace and coexistence. Islam is a religion of respect and dignity. Islam is a religion of brotherhood of men. Islam is a religion of understanding and acceptance of the other. Extremism, terrorism, violence and hatred are the ideology of deviant people and has nothing to do with the true Islamic faith, so it is about time this is highlighted clearly in education to achieve positive dialogue with other faiths in total dignity and respect of one and all.
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu
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