In Search of What We Share with Others

The judicious often complain of the confrontational approach between civilizations on the subject of communication. They complain about the ‘burning of bridges’, but what can be done to put an end to this confrontation? Arguably, one of the main solutions is to focus on the common ground between civilizations.

This first step towards commonality was part of the subject of our previous lectures on the problem of communication (or miscommunication) between Islamic and other civilizations. Here, we say that cultural contact is needed to highlight what is shared between two parties, which might otherwise be hidden or unclear for them. It may be that giving the two parties the chance to inform each other of their common ground facilitates the process of communication itself and enables them to discuss the points on which they differ as well. The shared points that parties can focus on can be employed in two main areas: human values and religious values.

Human Values

All people look for peace and justice and equally hate injustice and tyranny. What one does not accept for oneself he should not accept for others. This is the human conscience, which we must revive through highlighting the values in which all believe.

There are certain criteria upon which people do not differ. Such criteria are built on logic and reason, which Descartes describes as “the best thing distributed among people.” They are also built on the principles of human nature, made by Allah with which He has made men. It is the issue known in Islamic philosophy as the issue of judging matters to be either good or bad. Al-Qadi Abdul-Jabbar al-Mu`tazili stated that: “Judging matters to be either good or bad is one of essential knowledge created by Allah in humans.” Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Ibn Al-Qayyim opined that acts are either good or bad by nature, and the mind recognizes this goodness in some of them and badness in others.

In his book Madarij Al-Salikin, Ibn al-Qayyim says: “Allah’s Saying, “…who enjoins upon them what is right and forbids them what is wrong,” (Al-A`raf 7:157) confirms that the religion with which Allah sent the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) orders what is judged by sound reasons to be good, and forbids what is judged by them to be bad.” Among those who considered judging matters to be either good or bad depending on reason were:

1)      the followers of Imam Abu Hanifah, and even this opinion is attributed to imam Abu Hanifah himself;

2)      Abu al-Khattab al-Kluzani and Abu al-Hasan al-Tamimi, who are two great Hanbali scholars; and

3)      the great Shafi`i scholars Abu Ali ibn Abu Hurayrah and Abu Bakr al-Qaffal al-Shashi al-Kabir.

The Imam of Al-Haramayn Al-Sharifayn (“the Two Sacred Mosques: the Sacred Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah”) accepted this concept in regards to human actions, but held that it does not apply to Allah’s Actions. This view supports Al-Ghazali’s theories. It can be said that Muslims create a link between good and goodness to a large extent. In short, those who depend on reason for judging what is good and what is bad make reason the criterion of values, which is common to all humanity. That is, justice is good, and unfairness is bad to the end. Descartes states: “Verily, reason is the best thing equally distributed among all human beings. The international document of human rights represents the most important attempt to employ the shared points between humanity.”

Religious values

In Islam, such values are determined by the Messengers of Allah. In the Qur’an, Allah says: “Say (O Muhammad): “O people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians): Come to a word that is just between us and you”…” (Al-Imran 3:64) And: “…say (to them): “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you; our Ilah (God) and your Ilah (God) is One (i.e. Allah), and to Him we have submitted (as Muslims)”.” (Al-Ankabut 29:46)

Hunter Mead describes western civilization as inherently Christian: “When we, philosophers, say “Christian”, we mean a “monotheist”. Believing in one God Who governs the universe which He created is the basis of religious thinking of the West. These commands, i.e. all the commands of God, apply to all people everywhere.” This belief is common, as pointed out by some fair-minded Christian clergies, such as Hans-Kyung when he said: “For Jews, Christians and Muslims, faith means that with all their strength and thought human beings here are unconditionally committed to submit and trust in God and His Words.”