Is Inter-faith Dialogue the Answer?

The Courier had a report about a Leslie drug addict convicted of assaulting a Muslim woman by pulling a burka from her head in the Glenrothes town centre.  The article contained the following intriguing quote from Imam Manzoor Zaman:

What we need in Fife is more inter-faith dialogue to raise awareness of differences between religions and cultures. This will ensure that these kind of rare acts do not harm community relations in Fife.

I wonder what the imam means.  Does he think inter-faith dialogue is going to change the behaviour of drug addicts?  I don’t know how many drug addicts attended earlier inter-faith meetings, but I would be surprised if a significant percentage of the drug users in our town would choose that way to spend an evening.  If the imam thinks that the things said in these meetings are going to have any discernible impact on the behaviour of drug addicts, I really don’t know what to say.

Is he suggesting that Christians don’t understand Muslims well enough, and so might support this man’s thuggish actions?  The Bible condemns law-breaking (I Peter 2:13) and commands us to love our neighbours (Romans 13:8-10).  That is enough for any Christian, for anyone who even pretends to be a Christian, to condemn this attack.  Surely the imam does not think Christians endorse what Mr. Gandy did, does he? 

Mr. Gandy did not do what he did because of Christian faith or Christian teaching.  He made his own decision, for whatever reason, but it has nothing to do with faith.  To suggest inter-faith meetings in such a case is to suggest that “faith” somehow has something to do with what he did.  If the imam is concerned about community relations, perhaps he should consider that slandering the faith of others, by suggesting faith is involved, won’t help relations. 

What Christians Need to Say:  God condemns behaviour like Mr. Gandy’s. 

That’s not inter-faith dialogue, that’s proclaiming God’s truth.

What Christians Need to Hear:  people like Mr. Gandy need to be given the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They need to be told that He can set them free from the slavery of addiction, and they can be rescued from a path that is obviously harmful to them and to others.  Mr. Gandy, and others like him, don’t have to live like this anymore.  There is hope for them. 

I doubt Muslims want an inter-faith dialogue so they can tell Christians to spread the Gospel.

Christians know how we are to behave towards Muslims.  1) We are to love our neighbours as ourselves (Galatians 5:14).  2) We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  3) We are to do good to all (Galatians 6:10).  4) We are to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone (Matthew 28:18-20), including Muslims.  In an inter-faith meeting, Muslims may agree with the first three things, but they certainly won’t agree with the fourth.  Since it is a clear command of Jesus Christ, there is an impasse. 

In general, we must treat Muslims with respect and kindness, but our faiths at the core are diametrically opposed.  If we are to speak the truth in love, the truth is that the very foundations of our faith are contrary to the teachings of Islam.  Thus, inter-faith dialogue is at best unprofitable, because it will founder on irreconcilable differences, if both parties are honest about their beliefs.  It is at worst dishonest, if it instead minimises the differences. 

In any event, I do not know why Imam Zaman thinks inter-faith meetings will help with the aftermath of the assault.  It makes no sense.  We do not call for inter-faith meetings when vandals damage our church hall.  Muslims have nothing to do with drug and alcohol fueled vandalism against Christian churches, and Christians have nothing to do with a drug and alcohol fueled attack against a Muslim woman in the Glenrothes town centre.

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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5 Responses to Is Inter-faith Dialogue the Answer?

  1. Abdou Wakefield says:

    I am astounded by just how far you missed the point. The argument wasnt that inter-faith dialogue would prevent the attack, its that the fact if it happened it wouldn’t necessarily “harm community relations in Fife”.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Thank you for your comment, Abdou. Perhaps you can explain it to me. Please don’t be astounded that I’ve missed the point. I’ve said clearly I don’t know why he is calling for inter-faith meetings. I acknowledge I’ve missed his point — it doesn’t make sense to me, but I’m very willing to listen to an explanation.

      To say inter-faith dialogue is needed is to suggest that the attack might “harm community relations” without such meetings. So he’s suggesting there is potentially a problem with the way one or both faiths is going to respond to the attack.

      Is he suggesting he thinks Christian won’t respond properly without inter-faith meetings? Or does he think Muslims won’t respond well without those meetings? Both? Neither?

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Well, I hoped Abdou would respond, but I’m not surprised he hasn’t. There really isn’t a good answer to those questions.

      If the imam is suggesting a potential problem with the Muslim response, then obviously it is the responsibility of the imams to deal with it. If some Muslims won’t respond well to that, an inter-faith meeting is unlikely to have any impact on them.

      If he is suggesting a potential problem with the Christian response, then whether intended or not, he is being insulting. If so, he doesn’t understand Christian teaching at all.

      When our church is vandalised, if I were to go to the press and say, “I want an inter-faith meeting with Catholics and Muslims so this doesn’t harm community relations,” they would be offended, and rightly so. They would say, “It has nothing to do with us. We didn’t do this, and we don’t endorse it. How dare you suggest otherwise!”

      The most charitable interpretation to put on the imam’s comments is that he means no offense, and he does not blame Christians for what happened. He simply likes inter-faith meetings. He thinks they are a good idea, and he used this event to push for something in which he believes, without thinking through the message he was sending to Christians.

      We, as Christians, use the Bible as our authority. That’s what this blog is about — thinking according to the Bible. Christians shouldn’t go to inter-faith meetings because they sound like a good idea, we should look to see what the Bible says about them.

      The Bible doesn’t tell us to go to inter-faith meetings. I’ve read it multiple times, and inter-faith meetings aren’t in it. It gives us some very clear definitions of our faith that will simply generate conflict, if we are honest, in inter-faith meetings. The Biblical approach is for Christians to say what God tells us to say, do what He tells us to do, and treat our neighbours the way He wants us to treat them. We don’t need inter-faith meetings to do that, and we don’t need to seek out a forum where complete honesty about our beliefs is just going to generate strife.

      To Imam Zaman, I would say this: my friend, our faiths are totally incompatible. My faith is built around the non-negotiable truths that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He died for my sins and rose again. Everything flows from that, but your faith denies that. Inter-faith meetings, if we are honest about our faith, will never bridge that gap.

      But I would also say this: you are my neighbour, and my faith commands me to love my neighbours, and even my enemies. If you think I have failed to love my neighbours, if you think that the actions of Mr. Gandy are somehow connected to me, I am willing to hear what you have to say. I don’t see it, but I’m willing to listen. If I love my neighbour, I should be willing to listen to him. That’s not an inter-faith meeting, that’s just listening to my neighbour to consider what he has to say.

  2. Abdou Wakefield says:

    The reason I had not responded previously is not down to the fact that the questions do not have good answers. You are not correct in what you say and I can see you are a man who has neither patience or the ability to see beyond your own faith. I am therefore no longer astounded by the fact that you missed the point entirely.
    As I work, I do not always have time to return to the internet everynight, hence my lack of response…
    Until now.
    The Immam is not suggesting that either faith will respond badly to the attack without an Inter-Faith meeting, he is merely trying to unite the people of the town, regardless of their faith in finding a solution to the persecution that religion as a whole receives. Not every religious person is trying to force their religion on others by having meetings with them. He is trying to help the community as a whole.
    I can see that you are not a man who judges people fairly as not one person suggested that Muslims or Christians would react in such a way that a solution or a form of encouragement from one faith to another would provide.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Thank you for your reply, Abdou. I do appreciate it.

      Perhaps you know Imam Zaman, so you know what he is thinking. I see a lot of similarity between what you said and part of my last post. I said: “The most charitable interpretation to put on the imam’s comments is that he means no offense, and he does not blame Christians for what happened. He simply likes inter-faith meetings. He thinks they are a good idea, and he used this event to push for something in which he believes, without thinking through the message he was sending to Christians.” That, in fact, sounds very like what you are saying. He thinks inter-faith meetings are a good thing, and had no intent to offend Christians. I hope that is correct.

      Unfortunately, what he said, whether he meant it to or not, sounds rather different. It sounds as if he thinks Christians had something to do with this, or as if Christians will not respond appropriately. If that is not his intent, then I am pleased.

      In any event, my purpose is not to take the imam to task. If you look around at my blog, you can see that my focus is on helping Christians to think about things the way the Bible tells us to think about them. His suggestion doesn’t fit with anything in the Bible. It is not that I wish him or anyone else ill. I would be in agreement with him that the events that triggered this discussion are reprehensible and have no place in a decent society. True Christianity condemns what Mr Gandy did, and I am happy to say so publicly. It was right for the sheriff to treat his intoxication as an aggravating factor, because it must have made the attack even more fearful and terrible for the victim. I’m sure the imam and I would agree on that.

      That does not mean I will be taking part in or endorsing inter-faith meetings, for they aren’t found in the Bible. But I do wish you well, and you are certainly welcome to read and comment at any time. Though we will undoubtedly disagree at times, I will certainly treat you with respect.

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