Understanding the Universal Abrahamic Religion: Bringing Together Ahl al- Kitab and attracting their Attention to the Need for Unity
Text of the speech of Professor Muhammad Taqi Ja‘fari at the conference on Islam and Christianity held in Switzerland on the November 27th, 1995. A major portion of this speech was first presented on the March 7th 1985, at the Society of Wisdom and Philosophy, Tehran.
Translator: Bahador Shirazian; Editor: Yogi Sikand
The First Discussion
In the Name of God
One of the most important religiously obligatory demands today is a proper understanding of the universal Abrahamic religion and its purification from the influences that have covered this divine religion through the centuries. This is because this universal religion of God, which was preached by our forefather, the Prophet Abraham (pbuh), is the same religion which has united all of us Ahl al-Kitab through general and common principles. These common principles, which form our general beliefs, are:
Unity, Prophecy, Resurrection, Divine Duties, Human Rights and Ethics.
These beliefs are the saviour of humankind from fatal nihilism, which has closed the doors of hope for people to enter the felicitous life and the better future that is the most genuine wish of humankind.
The need to properly understand the universal divine religion is not imposed on us only by the developments of our present time. Rather, this need is stressed in the divine books which invite all of us Ahl al-Kitab to enjoy a common felicitous material and spiritual life. If Ahl al-Kitab had paid necessary attention to these texts, there would have been no Crusades or other such wars in the name of religion.
As the Holy Qur’an says:
Those who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians1 and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.2
Elsewhere, the Holy Qur’an says:
Say: “O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah. That we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah.” If then they turn back, say ye: “Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah’s Will).3
This unity is the goal of Ahl al-Kitab. The universal Abrahamic religion, as the Quran suggests in the following words, harkens to the need for building precisely this unity:
So We have taught thee the inspired (Message), “Follow the ways of Abraham the True in Faith, and he joined not gods with Allah.”4
The unity of the goals of all the prophets of God (pbut) and the need for following all the prophets is mentioned in Qur’an as follows:
The Messenger believeth in what hath been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believeth in Allah, His angels, His books, and His apostles. “We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His apostles.”
And they say: “We hear, and we obey: (We seek) Thy forgiveness, our Lord, and to Thee is the end of all journeys.”5
The unity of meaning and goals of the divine books is also mentioned in the Holy Qur’an as follows:
It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed (as in Islam) to Allah’s will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for to them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers.6
Further, the Holy Qur’an says:
And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah.7
To thee we sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that hath come to thee. To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah. it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute;8
The Abrahamic religion, which is meant for all nations of the world, has been affirmed in the Torah several times, such as in the following verses:
God said to Abraham: “Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. That I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and be you a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you and anyone who curses you I will curse; and by you all the people of the earth will be blessed.”9
God said to Abraham, after that Lot was separated from him: “Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, to you I will give it, and to your ancestry for ever. And I will make your ancestry as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall your ancestry also be numbered. Arise and walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for to you I will give it.”10
The New Testament says:
And I say to you that many shall come from easts and wests, and shall sit down with Abraham, in the kingdom of heaven.11
Paul declared: Circumcision doesn’t make a person child of Abraham, but his children are those who walk with the steps of faith. And Abraham is our father and God has made him the father of several nations.12
The Second Discussion
The study of the unity of the universal religion of Abraham (pbuh) begins with the premise that our purpose in stressing this unity is not so that all Ahl al-Kitab believers renounce their own respective religions in order to participate in a universal Abrahamic religion. Not at all! Rather, our view is that each religious community has its own religion and considers it binding to be observant of its beliefs and duties. A Muslim is a Muslim, a Christian is a Christian, and a Jew is a Jew.
Our purpose in highlighting this universal religion is to unite all of us fellow followers of Abraham on the basis of common principles that are acceptable to all of us. These common principles are: Belief in God, His perfect attributes, resurrection and eternity, the angels, religious duties (worship and the like, according to a person’s religion), morality and ethics.
The goal of fostering unity between Ahl al-Kitab on the basis of the Abrahamic religion must be based on extensive and deep knowledge of this religion and of the divinely-revealed texts. Naturally, such knowledge cannot be acquired in a short time or simply through some conferences and meetings.
The purpose of this conference is not to issue an official statement of peace in order for the adherents of Abrahamic religions to announce the end of the Crusades between Christians and Muslims, as some people might assume. There is no disagreement about the lofty moral and humanistic duties based on the common beliefs that I have outlined above in order for us to issue a resolution for uniting them and announcing the end of war and beginning of peace.
If properly understood, the universal Abrahamic religion considers all humans as brothers and sisters, and there should be no enmity and hatred between them. It is extreme selfishness that leads to such enmity and hatred. This is what separates people from each other and makes them confront one another like ferocious enemies. This evil characteristic is the result of being far from God, who is the most essential factor for the unity of human beings.
Other causes of this sort of conflict include racism and the desire to dominate others and seeing others simply as a means to one’s ends. These are actually a result of extreme selfishness. Ignorance about lofty human values and the truth of religion also lead to conflict. Often, human beings completely negate, through their actions, the truths of religion, rights and justice by engaging in conflict ironically in the name of protecting religion, rights and justice. This has led to horrendous bloodshed on a vast scale.13
Today, it is obligatory for us to work towards resolving such conflicts, for which it is crucial to highlight the unity and common consensus of Ahl al-Kitab with respect to Abraham (pbuh) and his universal religion.