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Interfaith Dialogue and Alliance Principles in the Works of Said Nursi
Jan 1, 2009

Said Nursi (d. 1960) was one of the pivotal Muslim scholars of the twentieth century who supported the idea of interfaith dialogue and alliance. He thought that in the face of the difficulties of the twentieth century in terms of religious beliefs and practices, Muslims needed to establish consensus not only among Muslims, but also with Christians. He states in his works (The Risale-i Nur Collection) that "The people of religion and truth need to unite sincerely not only with their own brothers and fellow believers, but also with the truly pious and spiritual ones among the Christians, temporarily refraining from the discussion and debate of points of difference in order to combat their joint enemy-aggressive atheism."

It is quite interesting to find that although Nursi clearly states the necessity of interfaith alliance in the Risale-i Nur, and consequently encourages his followers to practice dialogue to establish this alliance, he does not dedicate any section of the Risale-i Nur to the principles of this interfaith dialogue and alliance. In other words, Nursi never titled any part of his works "The Principles of Interfaith Dialogue and Alliance." Hence, the present article inquires whether Nursi simply ignores the principles of interfaith dialogue and alliance or whether there are implicit interfaith principles in his works.

It is my claim that it is possible to find implicit interfaith principles in the works of Nursi, and that the Twentieth and Twenty-First Gleams and the Twenty-Second Letter are especially good sources for these principles. In these sections, Nursi mainly deals with the different reasons for conflict among Muslims and teaches them his conflict resolution principles to end these conflicts with peaceful alliance. Therefore, it is easy for us to extract the principles of interfaith dialogue and alliance from these sections by paraphrasing Nursi's conflict resolution principles in the context of interfaith dialogue because most of the principles in these sections are not related specifically to Islam, but to human nature in general.

Before presenting the list of paraphrased conflict resolution principles in the context of interfaith dialogue and alliance, we would like to demonstrate an example of paraphrasing: For instance, in the Twentieth Gleam, Nursi advises the following principle to resolve a conflict between different Muslim groups: "Adopt the just rule of conduct that the follower of any right outlook has the right to say, "My outlook is true, or the best," but not that "My outlook alone is true," or that "My outlook alone is good," thus implying the falsity or repugnance of all other outlooks." Although the context of this principle is the interactions between Muslims, it is perfectly right to practice this principle in the interfaith context because it is not related to Islam, but to human nature in general. Consequently, we can paraphrase this principle as follows: In dialogue activities, as Muslims, we can believe or even say that Islam is the right religion or even preferable to that of other religions, but we do not have right to say that other religions have no right in them at all. Similarly, in dialogue activities, Christians can believe or even say that Christianity is the right religion or even preferable to that of other religions, but they do not have right to say that other religions have no right in them at all.

After introducing this example, we can list the paraphrased interfaith principles from Twentieth and Twenty-First Gleams and the Twenty-Second Letter:

1. In our dialogue activities, as Muslims, we should only aim for our Lord's good pleasure, not the acceptance of the members of other religions because "if Almighty God is pleased, it is of no importance even should the whole world be displeased."

2. God commands in the Qur'an (Baqara 2:41), …do not sell My Revelations for a trifling price (such as worldly gains, status, and renown). Therefore, in dialogue activities, we should not water down our religious rules and dignity.

3. Human self is prone to make mistakes and deviate from the right path. Therefore, while dialoging with others, we should not trust our selves but God and always seek his help and forgiveness:

Yet I do not claim my self free of error, for assuredly the human carnal soul always commands evil, except that my Lord has mercy (which saves us from committing evil acts). (Yusuf 12:53)

4. If we want to dialogue with the members of other religions, we should accept them in their position and not criticize their religious beliefs and practices. If we like to be respected in our own beliefs, we should respect the beliefs of others. Similarly, in dialogue meetings, we should not excite the envy of the members of other religions by displaying or implying superior virtues.

5. Our primary aim in dialogue activities is God's good pleasure and his help. Faith alliance is our secondary aim. In other words, we seek faith alliance because it attracts God's help and support to us. Therefore, if we cannot establish faith alliance with the members of other faiths after all of our sincere efforts, we should not be disappointed. For God is the helper of his sincere servants and no alliance can be superior to God's alliance.

6. In dialogue events, our actions should always be based on positive motives. That is to say, what motivates our actions should be the love of our own outlook, not the enmity of others' outlooks. We organize or participate in dialogue events to represent our outlook, not to diminish the outlook of others.

7. In dialogue activities, by focusing on commonalities such as a shared land, a shared language, our common humanity, universal needs and fears, and so on, we will recognize again that what we have in common far exceeds what sets us apart from each other.

8. Because we need unity and inclusion within Muslims and among the People of the Book far more than division and exclusion, let us for now leave aside discussion of the issues that divide us.

9. In our dialogue activities, we should keep in mind that unity among Muslims and the People of the Book attracts for us the help of our Creator against irreligion.

10. The aim of interfaith dialogue is not to argue with the members of other religions. In order to refrain from argumentation, we should know that one who prevails in an argument finds himself in a dangerous position in comparison with his partner, first because he might fall into arrogance in his heart, and second because he may learn nothing new from the discussion. On the other hand, his partner learns new knowledge and his heart is safe from arrogance.

11. In our dialogue activities, we should seek sincere religious people because the people who are sincere in their religion will most probably be sincere in their dialogue with us as well.

12. If we see any hostility from the people that we dialogue with, we should remember the following principle: "If you wish to defeat your enemy, respond to his evil with good. For if you respond with evil, enmity will increase, and even though he will be outwardly defeated, he will nurture hatred in his heart, and hostility will persist. But if you respond to him with good, he will repent and become your friend."

13. While we dialogue we should keep in mind that people all have different characters and one bad character in a group does not mean that all the people of that group have a similar character. In other words, it would be wrong to generalize one person's mistake to the whole community. The Qur'an says, …no soul, as bearer of burden, bears (and is made to bear) the burden of another." (Fatir 35:18)

14. Similarly, one negative aspect of a person does not necessitate that the person is bad as whole.

15. In dialogue activities, all that we say should be true, but we should not say all that is true. For one of insincere intention may sometimes take unkindly to advice, and react to it unfavorably.

16. In times when evil actions prevail, what could we need more than unity, friendship, and inclusion?

17. In times of conflict of opinions, we should act in a positive way, not a negative one. That is to say, we should strive to promote and diffuse our own belief, not seeking to tear down and destroy that of the other, but rather to improve and reform it.

18. In dialogue activities, we should remember that insisting upon consensus in our methods and approaches after finding agreement upon our aims and goals might be a fruitless wish.

19. At every stage of a dialogue activity, the following principle must be our guide: Love for the sake of God, dislike for the sake of God, judge for the sake of God.

In conclusion, we could say that although Nursi does not state interfaith principles explicitly, it is possible to find them mentioned implicitly in The Risale-i Nur and the above list is a good enough source for carrying out any dialogue interaction in a fruitful way.

Suleyman Eris is the author of Islam: A Brief Guide – Belief and Practice.