Every religion has in it some seed of pluralism. Muslims must learn to talk with Judeo-Christians—not just for our own survival, but because the Quran commands this dialogue. In all the religious traditions, dialogue, that interactive connection, is an essential part of the cosmos. Not to be in dialogue is to be in conflict with the very fundamentals of creation.
The crucial question today is not what to do about Islamic fundamentalism, but can Muslims fit into the Western Christian civilizations and still remain, in their souls, Muslim? I say we can, and we must. Islam is at the end of its Dark Ages, but there are those who are afraid of this change—they are the so-called “fundamentalists.”
People of the West have no right to be angry at them because of this. Western Christianity has had its reformation and Catholicism its Vatican II. These helped break down the imperialist Christian mindset and opened the Western church to dialogue and respect for other religions. Islam is on the verge of its Reformation.
The fundamentalists are trying to hold on to the past, are frightened of the changes, are trying to prevent the end of the Dark Ages because they fear too much will be lost. And they have some important and very valid points.
Catholic theologian Hans Kung said, “Islam has won critical distance and has the right to criticize the Christian church because, with the French Revolution, Western Christianity accepted the separation of the sacred and the profane, but Islam never accepted this separation.”
Our religions must be a corrective for society, a healer for the secularity, not through state religions or political institutions but through the church. Religions must accept that they are living in the modern world, but also they must have the right to question everything that is put in place of God. Religions have a right to influence in the secular life, but not through conflict, violence, or institutional hegemony. Religious influence must be through moral and spiritual leadership, through dialogue.
The misuse of religion is more the manipulation of people for political ends, whether we are talking about fundamentalist Islam in the East or fundamentalist Christianity in the West. The dialogue must not only be horizontal among people, but vertical with God.
Dr. Adnan Silajdzic was a professor of dogmatics and religious history at the Islamic School of Theology in Sarajevo when this article appeared in the November-December 1996 issue of Sojourners. He was interviewed in the Muslim quarter of old Sarajevo by Sojournersassociate editor Rose Marie Berger.