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Religious leaders at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (Photo: Andy Mettler)

The Theological Basis of Inter-Religious Brotherhood

OurIndonesia – Manifesting brotherhood – in the religious terminology known as silat-u ‘l-rahm (inter-giving love and affection) – is an obligation of every religious community. Usually this term is used for family and group relations, however, it can be extended to a humanitarian framework. The basis for this silaturrrahmi is the notion of brotherhood (ukhuwwah) and it is generally used in the context of a single religious group (ukhuwwah islamiyyah); but it can also be expanded to include human brotherhood (ukhuwwah insaniyyah or ukhuwwah basyariyyah).

The Qur’anic verse al-Hujurat (49:10-12) illustrates the principal and technical aspect of implementing this concept of brotherhood. This long verse illustrates that the inter-believers brotherhood is theologically the highest ambition of the Muslim. Nevertheless, according to Qur’an it can only be achieved if people refuse to ridicule, laugh, suspect, spy, and talk behind each other’s backs. In short, the above verse illustrates that all believers are brothers.

Generally, the exclusive perspective of the believers here refers to Muslims only. But a less inclusive reading which opens space for inter-religion pluralism emphasizes that the term “the believers” refers to all people who believe and trust in God. Therefore, the word “Muslim” can be used here in a generic sense as “people who submit their life toward God’s will,” no matter what their formal religion is.

Religious perspectives which open a space for tolerance and “relate the bonds of love between inter-religious community” should be urgently promoted without stigma as suggested in surah Ali Imran (Q.S. 3:64), a passage which obviously calls for us to search for such a meeting point (kalimat-un sawa’).

Adam’s Descendants. From the religious perspective, all of us are unified in terms of being Adam’s descendants (Banu Adam). Al Qur’an used these terms in affirming that God gave honor and dignity towards all of Adam’s descendants in providing for the universal attainment of physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual wealth. Therein all of Adam’s descendants are created with equal spirituality which can be utilized, enriched and developed by everyone in their own unique lives depending of the guidance given by their religions (Q.S. Al-A`raf, 7:172).

That verse is commonly known as the “primordial treaty” between man and God, as humanity’s spiritual base. We confess that Allah is the Creator, God of the universe, and we confess the existence of our obligation toward Him. Those obligations are not simply transcendental aspects but also social obligations toward fellow humans. In religious terms, faith is related to the performance of pious-deeds.

Dr Fathi Osman, in his book The Children of Adam, notes that the word “Adam’s descendants” (banu Adam) is mentioned seven times in the Qur’an in contrast to the word human (insan) which is used in the singular form 65 times; human (ins, basyar) 54 times, and human (nas) in the plural form 239 times and directly conveyed 19 times.

The term “they who have got faith” or “the believers” is referred in the singular or plural form (mukmin, mukminun, man amana, alladzina amanu) in some places on Qur’an. The sheer numbers of these statement affirm Qur’an’s attention toward the human as a whole and to people with faith or “believers” in particular. This can be taken to mean that manifesting inter-religious bonds (silaturrahmi) and brotherhood is our obligation as a religious community (Q.S, 49:13).

In Front of Allah. The notion of inter-religious tolerance and pluralism invokes the concept of “equality of believers before Allah”. Even though we have different religions, the faith before Allah is equal since that faith involves our full and total comprehension of Allah, something which is deeper than formal religious practice and which can be termed spiritual intelligence. What is needed currently is an understanding that inter-religious pluralism is a notion that everyone who believes in God is equal before Allah because our God is The One God.

From the Islamic theological aspect, it should not matter for the Qur’an affirms that salvation in the hereafter only depends on whether someone believes in Allah, believes in the judgment day and performs good deeds. This is the core of the three “great” religious teachings – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is conveyed in AlQur’an in surah al-Baqarah and surah al-Maidah (Q.S. 2:62 dan 5:69).

In this verse’s commentary, Abdullah Yusuf Ali asserts that Allah’s teaching is one, that Islam acknowledges true faith in other forms as long as it is performed deliberately and supported by logic and accompanied with righteous behavior. As Muhammad Asad remarks in his tafseer: “the idea of “salvation” here are made conditional upon three elements only: belief in God, belief in the Day of Judgment, and righteous action in life.

Hence, religion obviously acknowledges the existence of believers’ equality before Allah. If Muslims are obliged to perform their religion, so are those in other religious communities. In surah al-Maidah (5:66) it is mentioned: “And if only they had acted according to the Taurât (Torah), the Injeel (Gospel), and what has (now) been sent down to them from their Lord (the Qur’ân), they would surely have gotten provision from above them and from underneath their feet.”

What is important is piety, not one’s practice of formal religion. Using this perspective as a shared measure would be useful in promoting inter-religious brotherhood, something we currently lack and which hopefully will improve in the future.