In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate
May the Blessings and Peace of Allah be upon Prophet
Muhammad, on His Household and His Companions
Professor Abbas EL JIRARI
Wednesday 11 Ramadan 1419
30 Décembre 1998
The Culture of Dialogue as
Established by the Holy Quran
In reference to the words of Allah (Glory and Majesty be to Him) :
Behold ! Abraham said : “My Lord ! Show me how Thou givest life to the dead”. He said : “Dost thou not Then believe ?” He said : “Yea ! But to satisfy My own heart”. He said :”Take four birds ; Tie them (Cut them into pieces), Then put a portion of them : on every hill, and call to them : They will come to thee (Flying) with speed. Then know that Allah Is Exalted in Power, Wise”.
The Culture of Dialogue as
Established by the Holy Quran
Praise be to Allah, Lord of all Beings, and peace and blessings be upon our lord, Muhammad, upon His Family, and upon His companions. May it please You. O Lord, to expand my breast, to ease my task for me, and to remove any impediment from my speech. O Lord, May You make truth and veracity firm in me, make manifest and plain for me all that which is hard to grasp, and grant me a firebrand of Your knowledge, for You are the All-knowing and the Knower of the Unseen, whist I know not.
Mawlay Ameer-Al-Mumineen (Commander of the Faithful), what might a pupil say before his master ? What might a would-be scholar say before his erudite teacher and mentor ? And what might a would-be scholar in Islamic scholarship or a student of Islamic Culture say in the presence of the builder of that very culture ? Admittedly, I experience a state of awe and apprehension wherever I am granted the privilege of appearing before Your Majesty on this lofty chair which You have instituted in that venerable scholarly Council to serve as a center of scholarship, as a pulpit for the dissemination of uplifting thoughts, as a guiding lighthouse and as a forum to ponder and discuss sundry matters pertaining to Islam and Muslims. I am all the more overwhelmed this very hour as I am granted an opportunity to lecture on “The Culture of Dialogue as established by the Holy Quran”, knowing that Your Majesty has not solely called for dialogue as a civilized form of interaction but has also distinguished itself as a leading figure and a model to emulate in the exercise.
Your Majesty’s permission, I shall address this topic in light of the
afore-mentioned Quranic verse. Counting on Your spirit of tolerance,
encouragement, and understanding for the possible lapses, gaps, or shortcomings
of my lecture, I shall be developing the topic in three parts. In the first
part, I undertake an explication of the verse within the context of the
In His Glorious Book, Almighty Allah says :
Behold ! Abraham said :
“My Lord ! Show me how
Thou givest life to the dead”.
He said : “Dost thou not
Then believe ?” He said :
“Yea ! But to satisfy
My own heart”.
He said :”Take four birds ;
Tie them (Cut them into pieces),
Then put a portion of them :
on every hill, and call to them :
They will come to thee
(Flying) with speed.
Then know that Allah
Is Exalted in Power, Wise”.
the verse under consideration is the 260th verse in Surat Al-Baqarah
(Or The Heifer). The Surat, as Your Majesty well knows, is by far the longest
Surat in the Holy Quran, for its comprises some 280 verses, according to the
Medinan estimation; 286, according to the Kuffi reckoning, and 287, according
to the Basoran count. The
such edifying miraculous stories, the
exegetes, however, postulate that Azar is just an epithet or given name to
Sarih and that Azar, in the original language, meant ‘the erring one’. Abraham
(Peace and blessings be upon him) comes from
Put another way, Abraham would like to see with his own eyes how His Lord gives life to the dead, for he is intrigued by the process whereby the dead are brought back to life. “Kaifa” (Meaning, how) is a particle used to convey negation, interrogation and exclamation. In this context, “kaifa” is obviously interrogative. The speaker is simply interested in the manner the dead are given life. What follows the interrogative particle “kaifa” (How) is a second object of the main verb. To Abraham’s request Allah replies “awa lam tumin” (“Dost thou not then believe ?”). The Hamza “a” is a particle used as a question tag to confirm a given statement. A case in point is to be found in the following question : “alam nashrah laka sadraka” (“Have We not expanded thee thy breast?”). When the hamza (a) is combined with “al-waw” they form “awa” a particle indicating or implying doubt. The clause may thus be taken to mean : “Do I show you and you do not believe ?” according to some exegetes. Others take the question to mean “Do I need to show you after you have become a believer ?”. Still others argue that the clause means, “Does your belief not suffice, O Abraham?”. Whatever the case may be, the Apostle of Allah (Peace and blessings be upon him) stood by Abraham and refused to attribute any doubt to his queries. The Apostle of Allah even went as far as to vehemently state that if Abraham were to doubt something then he (the Apostle of Allah) would be more prone to doubt than Abraham – so convinced was our Prophet of Abraham’s firm faith that he was ready to attribute doubt to himself rather than to Abraham.
To His Lord’s exclamation, Abraham responded thus, “Yea ! But to satisfy my own heart”. “Bala” in the Arabic version is a conjunction which occurs after negative question. “Bala” is the opposite of “na’am” ‘Yes” which confirms a negative interrogative question. Abraham thus replies “Yea ! (I do believe) but to satisfy my own heart”. “Lakin” (meaning, but and yet) is used to justify his position. What Abraham is seeking is inner satisfaction which is attained through absolute certainty. Faith does exist, but Abraham wants something else, and we will shortly see how this miraculous event is achieved. Sire, You will notice the recurrence of the verb “qala” (he said) in the noble verse under consideration. The verb is used four times without the agent ever being mentioned. The reason is that the context is evident : The questions and answers alternate smoothly in the dialogue thus : “Abraham said … Allah said …” and so forth. Allah thus commands the Prophet to “take four birds”. The word “khud” (meaning, take) entails seizing something with one’s hands in a concrete way. Semantically, the verb “take” is related to “show me” in that the former imperative verb is a response to the request formulated by Abraham.
To the request “Show me how Thou givest life to the dead”, the response is “Take four birds”. The phrase “mina at-tayr” (meaning, four birds) consists of an adjective and a noun. The noun here is absolute in the sense that it can refer to the singular or the plural, the masculine or the feminine. Here “at-tayr” is masculine because as usage has it, the noun modified by a countable determines the gender of the quantifier is feminine if the modified noun is masculine and vice-versa. “Surhunna” (meaning, cut) has multiple meanings, but exegetes suggest that the meaning intended here is to cut (i.e. Tie the birds and cut them into pieces). Abraham is then instructed to put a portion of the birds on every one of the four surrounding hills. The four hills are referred to in order to remove any possible conjecture that one corner is better in any way than the other three. The four corners here refer to the surrounding hills : The eastern, the western, the northern, and the southern hills are all equal.
The preposition “min” (meaning, from among) is used to indicate variety and numerousness. It is as if Almighty Allah were saying “take whichever birds you may wish”, and not specific ones. Allah further instructs Abraham to tie the birds selected, to cut them into pieces, and to place the pieces in different areas on the surrounding hills. Once he has done so, Abraham is to call the birds, which will, by Allah’s leave, fly back to him with speed. “Sa’yan” in the original Arabic version is a circumstantial phrase refers to Abraham who is commanded by His Lord to go with speed in search of the portions he has previously placed on the surrounding hills. Such an interpretation, however, does not find any evidence in the context to corroborate it. Upon being summoned by Abraham, the portions of the dead birds will miraculously be joined together, revived, and fly back to the caller because the point of the verse under consideration is the process of bringing the dead to life. The miraculous feat serves to remind Abraham that Allah is exalted in Power and Wise. Almighty Allah can, indeed, do all that He intends, including reviving the dead.
With Your permission, Sire, I shall now move on to the second part of my lecture wherein I tackle some of the issues raised by the verse under study. More specifically, I shall address three issues, the first one of which concerns the process of giving life to the dead or resurrection. This matter has been and still is preoccupying mankind, even though the Quran has settled it in a decisive way. The Quran in a matter-of-fact manner establishes the ability of Allah to give life, to take it, and to give life to the dead. Consider the following verses, for instance :
“Who can give life to (dry) bones and decomposed ones (at that)” and “Say, ‘He will give them life Who created them for the first time. For He fully knows all creation’”.
Notwithstanding the evidence, the matter has continued to be a matter of concern for scholars, thinkers, and philosophers. Time does not permit an elaborate exposition and commentary on the issues at stake ; however, a few brief examples are in order. A case in point is the view of Al-Faraby, a Muslim philosopher who was influenced by Aristotle, Plato, and Neo-Platorism. Like his Greek predecessors who believed in the essence of the self and in the eternity of the soul, Al-Faraby said that the resurrection process does not apply to bodies (or destructible matter), but rather to souls. Al-Faraby went even further than that and claimed that only the good souls, on the wicked ones, shall be resurrected by Almighty Allah. Al-Faraby’s claims did not go un-criticized. On the contrary, his views drew some criticisms from Ibn Tofail and Al-Ghazaly – Two scholars who were known for upholding the established views of Islam on the issue. Ibn Rochd argued that what really mattered is the principle of resurrection itself ; as to the manner therefore, scholars may do well to engage in further Ijtihad (The exercise of independent judgement) and interpretive endeavors to find a viable and watertight answer.
Now if we ponder the story of Abraham as conveyed by the verse under consideration, we will notice that Allah’s response to Abraham’s query about resurrection provides two answers ; The first one is deductive, relying on the rational method, whilst the second one is inductive, for it finds substance in the tangible and relies on the experimental method. This leads me to the second issue raised by the story of Abraham. It is evident that Abraham is a believer, but what he is seeking, indeed, is conviction which would further enhance his belief and remove all lingering doubt and anxiety from his mind. Conviction, according to the Scholastics, is a state of firm belief which, while requiring evidence and proof, at first, hardly falters or changes thereafter. Proof is usually warranted by matter pertaining to rationality, spiritual concerns, and the abstract. The abstract is usually experienced intuitively, but in the story of Abraham it becomes a matter of the concretely realizable. This is what logicians refer to as awareness of and ascertainment of an occurrence leading to assent and belief. Belief in and confirmation of an occurrence through first-hand witnessing thereof (as has happened to Abraham) surpasses all forms of ascertainment, as such confirmation does not rely on second-hand evidence or third-hand testimony. Thanks to his new awareness, attained through first-hand experience, Abraham achieves serenity of mind and clarity of vision. It is worth pointing that such a vision constitutes one of the foundations of skepticism, which, in turn, constitutes the pathway to rigorous knowledge sought by, say, the mathematically-informed method of René Descartes.
Turing now to the third issue, which bears on the question of faith, we should stress the fact that Abraham never fell to doubt. He was a believer in search of him conviction. This actually leads one to wonder whether faith actually increases and decreases or not. This question has been dealt with by scholars – The scholars of Unicity, in particular. In the Quran there is ample evidence to suggest that faith is subject to increase :
“And it only added to their faith and their zeal in obedience”.
“It is He Who sent down tranquility into the hearts of the believers, that they may add faith to their faith”.
Indeed similar evidence is also to be found in the Sherifyan Hadith. Asked one whether faith increased and decreased, the Apostle of Allah (Peace and blessings be upon him) said that faith was, indeed, open to both. Accordingly, scholars have considered this casuistical question of degrees in faith in terms of four categories. The first category includes angels whose faith neither augments nor diminishes. The second category comprises Prophets who are so confirmed in their faith that they never falter. Ordinary believers whose faith grows and diminishes, make up the third category. The last category comprises the perverted transgressors whose faith is ever on the wane.
With Your Majesty’s permission, I would like to present and comment on the position of Ahl-as-Sunnah on this issue. The Ash’arites postulate that faith covers, among other things, fundamentals, (or sources) and branches. The former consists of belief while the latter concerns the actual performance of all the obligations and rituals associated with belief. He that denies something pertaining to the fundamentals becomes a Kafir (an unbeliever), but if someone simply neglects some duties relating to the branches, he is considered a disobedient wrongdoer. If the latter repents, he earns Allah’s forgiveness but if he does not, he becomes liable for Allah’s chastisement. However, even if he is destined for hell, he does not dwell therein eternally. The Ash’arites go on to say that the rebellious transgressors do not benefic from the intercession of the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him). We beseech Allah to make us the beneficiaries of His Prophet’s intercession so that any deficiencies or shortcomings in our faith may be overlooked and pardoned. It is worth pointing here that the position of the Ash’arites differs from that of the Murji’a who maintain that a person, even if he commits a Kabirah (or a major sin), remains a mumin (a believer). Al-Khawarij contend that the perpetrator of any such great sin is a Kaffir, while Al-Mu’tazilah (literally, the dissenters) deem that the perpetrator of the Kabirah stands midway between two standings : he is depraved but not a Kaffir. Clinging to the principe of Divine Justice, the Mu’tazilah argue that since the Justice of Allah (Exalted be He) is foreordained and eternal, the transgressor who fails to repent becomes liable for lasting punishment – though his punishment is somewhat less severe than that reserved for a self-proclaimed and hardened unbeliever.
This brings me, Sire, to the fourth issue that I have previously proposed de develop in my lecture. This issue is indeed the major and pivotal theme raised by the verse under consideration. We have noticed that the verse consists of a systematic and smooth-flowing dialogue between Almighty Allah (Gloried be He) and our lord Abraham (Peace be upon him). Now wherever we raise the question of dialogue, the foundations of dialogue in Islam, and the attitude of Islam towards dialogue, we are led to a discussion of a number of related matters which I shall present succinctly and quickly.
The first matter has to do with the definition of the word ‘hiwar’ (dialogue). The word is derived from the verb ‘hara’ (meaning, to return). The verb is used in the following verse : “Truly, did he think that he would not have to return (to us) !”. The Quran here refers to the depraved who shall be given the record (of their evil deeds) in their left hand, behind their backs. The same word is also used in other contexts as well. A case in point : “He said to his companion, in the course of a mutual argument”, and “His companion said to him, in the course of the argument with him”, “Allah has indeed heard (and accepted) the statement of the woman who pleads with thee concerning her husband and carries her complaint (in prayer) to Allah. And Allah (always) hears the argument between both of you”. Argument, as a matter of fact, is found in the Quran and so is jidal (dispute, debate, and argument) : “And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except in the best way”. There is, of course, something worse than bad dispute ; it is mura’ (or disputation). In short, there are a number of concepts, or rather a linguistic stock of words relating to dialogue. However, any form of dialogue in the Noble Quran must observe certain basic rules : To begin with, the parties taking part in a dialogue are on equal footing. One of them might be in the wrong, just as the other might be in the right, but only a patient and civil dialogue will make truth prevail. Allah (Hallowed and Exalted be He) has taught his Noble Prophet the art of dialogue thus : “Say : it is Allah ; and certain it is that either we or ye are on right guidance or in manifest error”. The Apostle of Allah (Peace and blessings be upon him) is well aware that he is rightly-guided, yet he interacts with his interlocutors. He is convinced that only dialogue will establish who is right and who is not. It is worth pointing here that the Arab of yore had developed an art known as al-Munadhara, or the art of argumentation and debate, which is based on a free exchange of arguments and counter-arguments. The entire process relies on a principle known as “giving free rein to one’s interlocutor to express his views spontaneously before responding to them”. In such an exchange, one party may be certain of its ability to have the final word ; yet it still engages in the debate, for this is precisely the point of the exchange. The ordering of cases and of interlocutors in the above verse is known in the art of metaphors and good style as involution and evolution.
This leads us to another question : How does dialogue, per se, proceed ? The Glorious Quran has taught us how to conduct a dialogue and how to call other people to Islam. Allah (Gloried and Exalted be He) thus instructs us to : “Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious”. Dialogue, then, consists of three stages, or styles, if you will. The first one is indicated by the following command : “Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom”. Wisdom, O Sire, is a comprehensive and ennobling word which leads to goodness and rightness, but in this context, it refers to genuine knowledge and rigorous learning, which admit of no deviation, distortions, or perversions. Whoever wishes to embark upon a serious dialogue needs to be equipped with proper and solid knowledge. This explains why the Apostle of Allah would say : “ Say thou : ‘This is my way ; I do invite unto Allah, - with a certain knowledge”. He never calls others to the Way of the Lord out of ignorance. On the contrary, his stance is firm and his knowledge is certain. Now the wisdom is coupled with beautiful preaching. As Your Majesty well knows, wa’dh (or admonition) consists of mild words which go directly to the heart and impress it. In numerous places in the Holy Quran, Allah (Gloried be He) recommends smoothness and mildness. An example that illustrates the point well is when Almighty Allah commands Moses and his brother, Aaron, to go to the Pharaoh and admonish him : “Go both of you to the Pharaoh, for he has indeed transgressed all bounds but speak to him mildly”. In the face of the vanity and arrogance of the Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron are instructed to eschew excitement, irritability or harshness.
The effect sought by such mild words is that “Perchance the Pharaoh may take warning of fear (Allah)”. Admonition, especially when it is mild and gentle, is bound to have its impact and impression on the hearers. In this connection, one of the Prophet’s Companions – Most probably Al-‘Arbab Ibn Sariah- reports that the Apostle of Allah (Peace and blessings be upon him) “Used to admonish us in such a soft and gentle manner that our hearts would be filled with awe and our eyes would shed tears – so impressed and moved were we !”.the implications are clear : The principles of genuine dialogue must combine solid knowledge and gentle admonition (or beautiful preaching). There, then, comes the third stage, that of argumentation, wherein the debaters argue or contend with each other on the basis of a number of arguments and counter-arguments, evidence and counter-evidence, and so forth. As a matter of to put forward their evidence : “Say :’produce your proof if ye are truthful’.”. Sire, exegetes believe that the most gracious form of argumentation is based on truth, as opposed to other forms of disputation which are founded on spurious and futile arguments. Genuine argumentation – One that is premised on veracity – leads to elegant and dignified dialogues.
In short, the Glorious Quran teaches us there styles of dialogue : The style of certainty, truth and wisdom which admits of no refutation because it is founded on undebatable evidence. The second style, that of admonition, relies on the techniques of oration which aim at moving and influencing the interlocutor and at dissipating any lingering doubt or confusion in his mind. The third style is that of argumentation and contention which consists of an exchange of for-and-against arguments on a given issue. The Quran, indeed, furnishes many instances wherein Almighty Allah is engaged in dialogues. Suffice it here to mention three representative types of dialogue. His dialogue with the Angels is a case in point : When Allah (Exalted be He) intended to make Adam His vicegerent on Earth, He addressed His Angels thus :
“Behold, thy Lord said to the angels : ‘I will create a vicegerent on earth’. They said : ‘Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief and shed blood ? –Whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name) ?”. He Said : ‘I know what ye know not”.”.
In truth, we ought to ponder this dialogue and its implications, notably how, notwithstanding His Omnipotence, might, and infinite knowledge, Allah (Gloried be He) addresses His interlocutors with grace and patient tolerance. He even gives free reins to them thus : “I know what ye know not”. “And He taught Adam the names of all things ; the He placed them before the angels and said : ‘Tell Me the names of these if ye are right’”. For the benefit of the Angels, Almighty Allah even furnishes a tangible proof to substantiate His statements. For this reason, “They said ; ‘Glory to Thee : of knowledge we have none, save what Thou hast taught us : in truth it is Thou who art perfect in knowledge and wisdom”.
Beside His Angels, Allah (Glory and Majesty be to Him) has addressed His Prophets and Messengers. Actually, the verse under consideration testifies to this, as does the renowned dialogue with Moses. We will recall that this Prophet had addressed his Lord thus : “O My show (Thyself) to me that I may look upon Thee”. Clearly, Moses’ request appears bold and daring ; however, Almighty Allah, far from reprimanding or admonishing his Messenger, treats him with utmost mercy, understanding, and leniency, by telling him : “By no means canst thou see Me (direct) ; but look upon the Mount ; if it abides in its place, then shalt thou see Me”. Once again Allah provides a telling example of how dialogues should be. Now, beside conversing with His Angels and Messengers, Almighty Allah even addressed Iblis (Satan). The context is too well-known to warrant presentation, but a brief recapitulation may be useful : When Satan obdurately refused to bow down to Adam, Allah said :
“’What prevented thee from prostrating when I commanded thee ?’ He said : ‘I am better than he : Thou didst create Me from fire, and him from clay’. Allah said : ‘Get thee down from it’. Whereupon Iblis said : ‘Give me respite till the day they are raised up’. Allah said : ‘Be thou among those who have respite.’”.
Sire, when we contemplate the issues that I have presented rather hurriedly and briefly, due to the limitation of time, we come to the conclusion that the Noble Quran has indeed established the foundations of dialogue and the proper styles thereof. It has provided models to emulate in conducting dialogues with different kinds of interlocutors and parties. As a leading figure in the culture of dialogue, You have not ceased, O Majesty, to call upon people to engage in dialogues in various circles and forums – social, scholarly, scientific, and religious. Many of the loyal subjects of your faithful people actually partake of sundry forums, whether these pertain to the on-going inter-Islamic dialogues between creeds and schools, or to the larger Christian-Islamic dialogue. Last year, a study-day was organized to which Jewish Rabbis were summoned. You have always called for dialogue, out of firm conviction, that it is a privileged means to promoting understanding, bringing together various nations and creeds, and removing all obstacles to genuine interactions. As far as the dialogue between religions is concerned, the unifying factor that should bring the peoples of the Revealed Religions is faith in Allah (Glory and Majesty be to Him). Majesty, You have not ceased to give Your full support and encouragement to this on-going dialogue because You have always deemed it to be the prime pathway to better mutual understanding, and an excellent means of conflict-resolution.
Sire, while sharing these thoughts and contemplation with the attendance, I must acknowledge my apprehensions lest I should have exceeded what has been expected of me, or, alternatively, failed to give full justice to some of the themes I have set out to develop. My sincere hope, Majesty, is that You will overlook any shortcomings, lapses, or inadequacies in my lecture. Your majesty has always shown Your loyal subjects high solicitude, consideration, and praise. I, therefore, hope that my lecture has not in any way deviated from what is proper.
of conclusion, I beseech Allah (Exalted be He) to preserve You for
Let the crowning touch of the present lecture be from our lord, Ameer-al-Mumineen (The Commander of the Faithful).
A final word from Ameer-al-Mumineen.
“Yesterday, Professor Abdellah Shakir Al-Guerssify – a man whom we loved and who did love us – passed away. I had known him for many years and wherever I met him and got to know him better, I appreciated him as a righteous master and as a model citizen. He was a man of open countenance and, indeed, impeccable character. He was not content with merely instructing his pupils ; he was interested in the cross-fertilization of ideas (to produce original ones). May he rest in peace, for he did his best to convey to others whatever knowledge he himself had acquired. He shall, Allah Willing, be recompensed with the beautiful company of the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him), the Companions, the Martyrs, and the Righteous. We pray Allah to grant the family of the deceased patience and fatith. Let us read Surat Al-Fatiha on his soul :
“In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds : Most Gracious, Most Merciful ; Master of the Day of Judgement. Thee do we worship ; and Thine aid we seek. Show us the straight way, the way of those on whom Thou has bestwed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath. And who go not astray”.
“May it please You, O Allah, to send Your blessings on the noblest of Your creation, our lord Muhammad, on His Family, and on His Companions – Blessings and peace as infinitely numerous as Your creatures, and as much as the ink wherewith Your words are written out. O Allah, send Your blessings on him as often as the mindful to invoke You and him, and as often as the heedless fail to invoke You and him”.
“Glory to Thy Lord, the Lord of Honor and Power ! He is free from what thery ascribe to him. And peace on the Apostles. And praise to Allah, the Lord and Cherisher of the Worlds”.