When Shared Interests Become a Bridge for Cultural Dialogue

In the previous article we spoke of the need to focus on the common ground between our Islamic civilization and other civilizations. This includes the religious values shared by the followers of heavenly messages: “Say: (O Muhammad) “O People of the Scripture! Come to a word that is just between us and you“.” (Al-Imran 3:64) And: “Say, “We believe in what has been revealed to us and revealed to you. Our God and your God is One, and To Him we have submitted (as Muslims)“.” (Al-Ankabut 29:46)

We said that the western civilization is ultimately Christian, as Hunter Mead said: When we say ‘Christian’, we mean from a philosophical aspect ‘monotheist’. Believing in one God, Who governs the universe He created, is the basis of religious thought in the West. These orders – the divine orders – are comprehensive and apply to all people anywhere.”

This belief is common, as the Christian clergyman Hans Kwing observed with regard to the Jews, Christians and Muslims in particular. According to Kwing, faith means that man, with all the power and intelligence given to him, is unreservedly and unconditionally committed to comply and to have trust in God and His words.

We will conclude this series on the principles of dialogue and civilizational meeting points with the field of reciprocal interests. These include the issues of trading of raw and manufactured materials, energy, free exchange within the frame of the trade organization and international agreements.

Thus, interaction has multiple dimensions and ends that include values, culture, interests, economy, and politics. The political dimension could give support to the cultural and in turn, all of these dimensions could bolster one another to reach a real understanding.

The fifth and final step is to train oneself to the techniques of discourse and the arrangement of arguments. Rationality is the most important aspect of dialogue. Therefore, each of the parties of a dialogue should be aware of the cultural, dogmatic and intellectual premises of the other in order to employ the proper language. By language we do not mean the translation of words, which in itself is important to avoid confusion in the corridors of terms. Rather, we refer to a deeper dimension of language. We mean here that each party should have a firm background understanding of the other’s culture that goes beyond words to appreciating their spirit of civilization, philosophical principles, as well as social and historical development.

I remember that once, while I was in a dialogue with some western officials, I made reference to a “western dance”. I thought this dance to be of Italian origin and used it as evidence for the importance of partnership, a matter that gained their admiration and to which they showed no objection. However, when I later checked the encyclopedia, I found the dance to be of Spanish origin. These seem trivial details to an Arab party and they may be so; but they constitute a sort of formal communication that may develop into actual communication. Finding a communication language that comprehends the cultural and philosophical backgrounds is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Here I would like to point out that on the basis of the experience I have, the Islamic party in dialogue often lacks competence with regard to philosophical and legal issues that would make its vision clear to the other party. Similarly, therefore, being acquainted with the religious principles of the other from their sources could be beneficial in rounds of religious dialogue.