Interfaith Dialogue at The Church of the Holy Apostles (2)
As-salaamu `alaykum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh!
Allah Allah, Allah Allah, Allah Allah, `Azeez Allah!
Allah Allah, Allah Allah, Allah Allah, Kareem Allah!
Allah Allah, Allah Allah, Allah Allah, Subhaan Allah!
Allah Allah, Allah Allah, Allah Allah Sultaan Allah!
Good evening! Good evening! Yaseen just introduced me and I think he’s a better speaker than me, so let him come and continue the event. I didn't have time to prepare anything for this event to speak so I am speechless, helpless, heedless, and weak. We are in a church, but this church is a magnificent one because all of us are enjoying this evening. Sometimes they ask me to make interfaith programs, as I think the organizers like interfaith programs.
I ask, “Are we using Internet these days?” and they say “Yes, because it is a connection between different kinds of people, as well as a social venue where you can reach everywhere,” and I think about this. We say that it is a very good way for people to know each other: Muslims to know the non-Muslims, Christians to know the non-Christians, Jewish to know the non-Jewish, Hindus, Buddhists, Zennists, all of them get to know each other and they make friends. That is what they do on Facebook, is it not? I don’t understand why we come together on Facebook but separate from each other when it becomes an interfaith dialogue. It is like a virus in the computer; perhaps there is also a virus that prevents us from meeting physically, but spiritually we are meeting each other. So instead of calling it “Internet,” why not call it “interfaith”? We accept Internet but not interfaith. Interfaith is to connect people who believe in God, who believe in a Creator who believe to be good to each other.
God does not need anyone to defend Him as He can defend Himself! In the Holy Qur'an, He says:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُدَافِعُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا
Inna-Llaaha yudaafi`u `ani ’Lladheena aamanoo.
Verily Allah will defend (from ill) those who believe. (Surat al-Hajj, 22:38)
Allah (swt) defends those who believe, so we don’t need to defend my religion or your religion or her religion or his religion. We need to love each other and be one, as God said in the Holy Qur'an:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
Ya ayyuha an-naasu inna khalaqnaakum min dhakkarin wa unthaa wa ja`alanaakum shu`ooban wa qabaa’ila li-ta`arafoo, inna akramakum `ind-Allahi atqaakum. inna Allaha `aleemun khabeer.
O Human Beings! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you, and Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (Surat al-Hujuraat, 49:13)
So first, He is sending this message to the whole world, not only to Muslims, but to yaa ayyuha ’n-naas, “O Human Beings! We made you nations and tribes to know each other.” So that is why I am going to ask you a favor. There are papers on each table, please fill them out with your contact information and then if we cannot reach you through interfaith, which is through the heart, at least we can reach you on the Internet through computers! (Laughter) I am going to stop speaking until everyone fills out the papers. Does everyone have a paper?
So interfaith is the heavenly Internet through which Allah (swt), God, wants His Servants to reach each other. It states that clearly through our faiths, and what is faith? Islamically speaking, and for sure in the Jewish and Christian religions:
`Al-imaan an tu’minoo billaahi wa malaa’ikatihi wa kutubihi wa rusulihi wa ‘l-yawmi ‘l-akhiri wa bi ‘l-qadri khayrihi wa sharrihi min Allahi Ta’ala.
Faith is to believe in Allah, and His Angels, and His Books, and His Prophets, and in the Last Day, and in Destiny, its good and its bad.
Faith is to believe in God and to believe in all angels. He didn’t say, “Muslim angels,” “Christian angels,” “Jewish angels,” “Buddhist angels,” “Hindu angels,” no. He said, “You have to believe in angels.” It means to believe in God, in angels and in His books, as He said, “You must believe in the Psalms of David, the Tawrat of Moses, the Bible of Jesus and in the Holy Qur'an of Holy Prophet Muhammad.” This is what faith is. We have to believe in all religions: Muslims have to believe in Holy Qur'an and Christians have the Bible and Jews have Tawrat and the Psalms and many holy books that came before. God didn’t say we must have one; rather, if we define it as in the Holy Qur`an, it is, “O Mankind! We have made you nations and tribes to know each other.” So it might be you are from a nation that is happy and content with what Moses (a) came with, and might be you are from a nation that is happy and content with what Jesus (a) came with, and it might be you are from a nation that is happy and content with what Muhammad (s) came with. You cannot say to the one who believes in Moses (a), “You are wrong,” and we cannot say to the one who believes in Jesus (a), “You are wrong,” we cannot say to the one who believes in Muhammad (s), “You are wrong.” And so what do we have to do? The verse continues in the Holy Qur’an, “The best among you is the most sincere.”
One time a very sincere and pious person was walking with his students in an alley of Baghdad in Iraq and there was a funeral passing and that person was not a Muslim. When the coffin was coming through that alley, that sincere person stood up and bowed, and the students said, “O our teacher! What are you doing? How are you standing up for someone who is not Muslim?”
He said, “Is he not God's Creation? I am standing up for what Jesus (a) came with, and also that God made that person. I am standing out of respect for what he is, respecting God’s creation of him.” If we have wisdom then we can understand each other easily, but if there is no wisdom due to people’s jealousy and hatred toward each other, you find problems and that things don’t work well together.
Today we find a lot of interfaith programs and they are trying their best, but what has changed? You (attendee) are a chaplain in Stony Brook University and you do interfaith programs; how many years are you doing these projects? [Twenty-two years.] Did anything change? Maybe some minorities have understood something (about comparisons), which is good. I don’t like to bring politics in, but this subject requires some politics and this is the duty of the government and the leadership around the world. We are doing interfaith meetings in many Muslim countries with many non-Muslims from all over the world, and if the leadership does not follow up with whatever faiths that people represented, then it is not going to change. So the responsibility falls on the political officials as they have the power to make changes, not common people like us as we have no power. An example of an official is someone like the Pope, who holds the highest rank in the Catholic Church, or the Grand-Mufti of al-Azhar University, the highest authority in Islam. Only if they try, or otherwise there will be no change and that means we have to struggle more, but then we cannot sit at home and say, “I cannot change, so I am sitting at home.” No, you will be asked by God why did you stop? So our duty is to keep struggling in order to build a relationship with everyone.
We are all the same beyond the neck in every person: the head/face is what changes human beings. This mind is what changes and hates anything other than your self and it is the hegemony of the mind over the body, the hands, the ears, the eyes and the heart. That is the problem! Everyone thinks he is the highest and knows everything. This chair is a big chair for us, so let us sit on a smaller chair. Our leadership in Arab countries and in Pakistan are glued to their chairs and they don’t want to change the chair from under them. In Arab countries, why do they not believe in their faith? Faith is to build up the social family, like on (social) websites, and thus the whole problem we are facing lies in the ego.
Moses (a) and Jesus (a) came to fix the ego, as did Prophet Muhammad (s). There are many religions in India and elsewhere that all came to teach how to bring down the ego. We are speaking about the bad side of desires and there are two sides of ego, the good and the bad. God says in the Holy Qur'an:
فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقْوَاهَا
Fa alhamahaa fujoorahaa wa taqwaahaa.
He inspired the self of its good and its bad. (Surat ash-Shams, 91:8)
He has inspired every person with what is good and what is bad. You cannot say, “I didn’t receive the message.” You don’t need to read the Bible and if you don’t know how to read the Torah, that is okay, and if you don’t read the Holy Qur'an it is okay, but choose with your mind: you can differentiate between what is good and what is bad if you are not influenced by evil. No one can say, “I didn’t receive a message,” no, you know in your heart what is good and what is bad! Is marijuana bad? [Yes.] Not everyone said yes. I am not hearing everyone say yes! Leave marijuana. Why do the police arrest you when you are smoking marijuana? Many people don’t say that it is bad, so then why are you afraid of the police? Because it is illegal! In California it is legal in small quantities. What about drinking, is it good or bad? [Bad.] That is why the police take you away if you are driving a car when drunk because you might hurt someone, so is it good or bad? It is not good for the mind or for the body as you kill your liver, especially when you drink a lot and that body that God has given you is precious.
God said He honored human beings by engraving them with His Beauty, like an artist. If you go to an art gallery in New York and see hundreds of different paintings, can you say in front of the one who painted it, “This is ugly!” You cannot say it as you will humiliate him and humiliation is not allowed in any religion; rather, humility is taught in every religion.
One time I was in Singapore and a friend invited us to his house. His entrance hall was as big as this whole church and then there were many rooms and he had paintings all over the house. I was looking and thinking some of them are ugly.
He asked me about them and I said, “This one is ugly, this one is beautiful, this one is okay.”
He said, “This one you said is ugly is worth $100 million and this one you liked is worth $2 million!”
It’s good that the painter was not there, because he died a long time ago!
You don’t know people. Once we were in Morocco at a conference and went to visit the shrines of the Seven Saints of Marrakesh, and I was reciting Holy Qur’an and salawaat from one shrine to another and I heard someone crying profusely. My eyes were closed and I didn’t open them as I was focused on the recitation and meditating with that saint buried there. Then we went to another grave and we did more recitation and he followed us there, again crying, and then we went to the other graves. After those seven were completed, the man approached me and invited me to his home. I said that I could not come as I had been invited to the king’s dinner at the palace. He said, “Nevermind, you can visit the king another time, but I am a humble person so accept my request.”
When he invited me, there were two ladies from Morocco who told me to accept his invitation, and it turned out that he was the famous French designer, Hermes. I went and we entered his house, which you cannot see that house from outside as there is an iron gate, but as soon as you enter thete he has paintings all over the whole house. We sat in his home and he showed me all his antiques and told me he is so attached to Morocco as it is a cultural community that has relics from all religions and no one bothers anyone. There is the Christian community, Jewish community and Muslim community and no one bothers the other. There is even, would you believe, a Hindu community in Morocco since many years ago, originally from India! So there are good people and God has given us something to show respect to everyone, as we don’t know what is in people’s hearts.
Then we went to Morocco another time to the same conference (hosted by the king) and then Hermes was there again and again invited me to his home. His dining room is huge and he had one lady seated on his left and one on his right. I spoke to one of the ladies about the conference and she spoke about her husband, who likes spirituality and wanted to take a picture with me. I saw all the other scholars were envious, then they told me she is Lady Paloma. I didn’t know who Lady Paloma was, and she took pictures and then later someone asked me, “Do you know who that lady is? She is the designer of all the jewellery for Tiffany’s and the daughter of the famous artists Pablo Picasso!”
So we don’t know who we will meet and our responsibility is to keep our hearts open to anyone. Like today, I am very honored and I think all of us are honored to see people from different faiths gathered here. They are coming for no other reason but to make a connection of love with each other. We are not selling or buying anything. You have people from the upper class, middle class and common people all sitting together happily. So that is my advice to people: you don’t need scholarly meetings. Scholars are few in numbers compared to the majority, the common people. This meeting is at the grassroots’ level and that is where you have to work. We have to understand that there is no difference between different faiths and then they should go to their scholars, priests and other leaders to say, “We need to progressively do more work for more people to attend.” That is what I would like to see. And I am seeing this in other countries, where they arranged an event with some other scholars and me, and I don’t claim to be a scholar, I am garbage. We spoke there to an audience of 50,000 people and another time 300,000 people were in attendance.
In Pakistan they invited me and I know if one scholar would speak in India or Bangladesh, one million people will attend, but they have no security there so what if they kill you? You don’t know! I am sorry to say to those from Pakistan, I am Pakistani also. (Laughter) I don’t understand why Pakistan gave Bangladesh independence? Many of you don’t know the history of Pakistan and Bangladesh, but don’t worry Pakistanis, you are the best! If you don’t say that, they might come at night and you don’t know what they might do, like the Arabs, so we balance it. (Laughter)
This is an incredible statement of Prophet Muhammad (s):
انما بعثت لاتمم مكارم الاخلاق
Innamaa bu`ithtu li utammimu makaarim al-akhlaaq.
I have been sent to perfect the best of conduct (your behavior and character). (Bazzaar)
It means, “God sent me for one reason, to perfect and complete your manners,” which means completion of manners is what is important: to be/do good in society, to be helpful to the sick and homeless, help for charity and to give time for others. That is what you need. And you need to let down anger, malice and jealousy, like the trunk of the tree which has too many branches. The trunk of the tree has two sides, anger and arrogance, and everyone has these two characters. Everyone has arrogance when they don’t accept advice from anyone, so don’t get angry and when you do don’t argue, but leave it and go.
I’m sorry to mention this, but this advice is to myself first and then to you. In Arab countries when you get angry and the wife gets angry, they keep insisting and insisting to try to fix the problem and the argument becomes more heated and more rigid and they don’t let it cool down. In western countries you don’t have that. Do you have that in Pakistan? They get angry and they have machine guns there, so when they get angry it is easy (with the threat of a gun), no problem! (Laughter) Also, Arabs are bombarding their own countries. We have to examine the problem, which is the anger inside the leadership is allowing the leader to bomb his own people in his own country and that is happening in every Arab country!
So when you are angry, men or women, go and take a shower and you will cool down and if you are still angry, then go out and don’t fight. That is the advice of our teachers and it is a very beneficial advice because you will find that the anger comes down. Pride and arrogance makes you look at people like they are dirt and have no value, and there are people who do that. So we need to advise each other to leave these two bad characters, which makes the branches of the tree to all bad behaviours, corrupted.
Prophet Muhammad (s) said, “I came to perfect good manners.” He didn’t say, “I came to perfect your religion,” as religion is already perfect; you cannot add or subtract from it. What Jesus (a) came with, can you add or subtract (from his teachings)? What Moses (a) came with, can you add or subtract? What the Prophet (s) Muhammad came with, can you add or subtract from it? So there is nothing to change in religion but to improve our characters and behaviors. If we can fix that we can fix anything! May God change all our behaviours, especially in this year, as last year was the year of war and we hope this is a year of peace and happiness.
As Muslims, we believe that Jesus (a) is coming to Earth again and we expect him to come with the Truth and that he will be accompanied by one of the grandchildren of Prophet Muhammad (s), about whom the Prophet (s) said, “One of my grandchildren will come in Jesus’ time to fill the Earth with peace and justice.” May God show us these days!
Wa min Allahi 't-tawfeeq, bi hurmati 'l-Fatihah.
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