Is it ok for me to believe in evolution? Many Muslims ask this question because…
In March 2021, in the city of Najaf – the capital of the Commander of the Faithful, Ali bin Abi Talib (p) – a historic meeting took place between the current Pope and the Marja, Ayatullah al-Sayyid Ali al-Sistani. This historic meeting presented itself in such challenging times and circumstances. It answers the dire need for the intervention of spiritual leaders in the reform of the global community as it prepares for a reckoning that will hopefully bring forth positive change. This is part one of a two-part series on collaborative interfaith efforts between Christianity and Islam.
Naturally, a human being enjoys the company of others.
Human beings are a social creation and have an innate desire to be around others with a mutual sense of community. Human beings grow close together even when there are feelings of greed, animosity, and hatred amongst them. Isolating human beings from each other is harmful, and sometimes considered a type of torture, demonstrating the need for social interaction. Moreover, despite the various intellectual and technological advancements we are witnessing today. Conflicts and wars persist/continue to this day and are at the forefront of the global human scene.
The religion of Islam, when properly understood and applied, is a manual for life and a path toward growth and happiness, and it clearly states that one of the most important duties of people is to recognize and accept each other. Thus, they have a sense of appreciation for the diversity that surrounds us. God Almighty says, “People, We have created you all male and female and have made you nations and tribes so that you would recognize each other. The most honorable among you in the sight of God is the most pious of you. God is All-knowing and All-aware.”1
Throughout humanity’s development, beginning from the womb and their entry into the world, they are affected by a set of material, spiritual, psychological, mental, and behavioral factors that play a role in forming their personality. Therefore, diversity and emergence of differences among people is a very natural phenomenon, even if they all come from one father, Prophet Adam (p). This phenomenon has been mentioned in the Quran; “Other evidence of His existence are the creation of the heavens and the earth and the differences of languages and colors. In this, there is evidence (of the truth) for the worlds (mankind).”2
Thus, differences inevitably emerge among people even before they have the ability to think, plan, and map their future. Furthermore, this is where Satan lurks and says, “I shall certainly try to seduce people into straying from the right path.”3
The One who is most knowledgeable of His creation and their needs is the Creator Himself because God knows we will have to encounter the challenges of difference. He sent us His teachings and message through the religion of Islam. Within His perfect system, God Almighty provided clear pillars of guidance to ensure the safety of His creation throughout the journey and its trials. God Almighty says, “Human being, you strive hard to get closer to your Lord, and so you will certainly receive the recompense (of your deeds).”4 God Almighty preached and commanded us to become heedful of the principle of recognizing and accepting each other in various settings.
Recognition & Acceptance
A quick analysis of the differences in societies and the nature of the respective relationships between them shows us there are three levels in recognizing and accepting others: humanity, faith, and brotherhood:
The Level of Humanity
Human beings have a sense of fellowship and kinship, and they naturally lean towards one another, as previously mentioned. Many verses in the Holy Quran mention examples of Prophets sent by God to a society that does not believe in Him, yet the only common factor between them is that they are all human; a living based on brother/sisterhood. For example, God Almighty says “We sent Salih to his brethren, the tribe of Thamud,”5 and says, “We sent to the people of Midian their brother Shu´ayb.”6 Furthermore, it has been narrated that Imam Ali (p) said in his letter to Malik al-Ashtar when he was appointed as governor of Egypt, “and know that people are of two kinds: either your brother in faith or your equal in humanity,”7 so they must be given their rights and necessities.
The Level of Faith
This level is based on belief and commonalities in faith. In our discussion of Christianity and Islam, both Christians and Muslims believe in One God and the Day of Judgement, regardless of the different details that have formed branches and sects within each religion. For example, the Holy Quran emphasizes the depth of the religious and friendly relationship between Muslims and Christians in more than one context. God Almighty says in the Quran, “Tell them, ‘We believe in what is revealed to us and to you. Our Lord and your Lord is one. We have submitted ourselves to His will.”8 In another verse in Surah al-Rum, when the Romans were being defeated by the pagans and atheists, God Almighty gives good tidings that the Romans will be victorious soon. This verse is one of the miracles of the Holy Quran because it notifies the Prophet (pbuh&hp) of good news for him and his companions before the war took place. God states, “Alif. Lam Mim. The Romans have been defeated in a nearby land and after this defeat (within a few years) they will be victorious. All matters of the past and future are in the hands of God. The believers will enjoy the help of God on that Day. He helps whomever He wants. He is Majestic and All-merciful. This is the promise of God. God does not ignore His promise, but many people do not know.”9
In these verses, God Almighty attributes the victory of the Romans, who were Christians, to Him, and notified the believers that they will celebrate this victory. God Almighty also says, “(Of the non-believers) nearest to them (the believers) in affection you find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ for among them are the priests and monks who are not proud.”10 In this verse God shows us how Christians and Muslims are close together. In addition to that understanding of the verse, God also displays three basic qualities that strengthen the relationship between different religions and diminishes any conflicts between them. These qualities are 1) knowledge of the other religion, shown in the word “priests,” 2) spirituality between the religions, through the word “monks,” and 3) humility, through the phrase, “who are not proud.”
All religions call towards values of love, peace, and harmony, but it also seems that the followers of religions, who lack adequate knowledge, spirituality, and humility have always been the cause of disturbing this peace and causing conflicts and disconnection that eventually lead to conflict.
The Level of Brotherhood
This level combines the two levels of faith and humanity and transcends to connect human beings on the basis of brotherhood in faith. God Almighty says in His Holy Quran, “Believers are each other’s brothers.”11 It has been narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) has said, “The believer is the brother of the believer, they are like a solid building holding each other together.”12 It has also been narrated that Imam al-Sadiq (p) has said, “When the believers are good to each other, merciful to each other, and empathize with each other, they are like one body; if one organ falls ill, the whole body falls ill.”13
One could ask: Why are they meeting? Is it solely for complimentary and diplomatic reasons or for a sincere, more supreme goal?
It does not seem that the meetings of spiritual leaders and senior religious scholars, anywhere in the world, are undertaken for pleasantries or formality. If that was the case, these meetings would lose their value and their credibility in the eyes of the communities they serve.
Simply put, the most important thing for a scholar is his reputation and credibility. Therefore, it is not possible for him to risk it, not even once, for that one time could be enough to make people lose trust in him. Therefore, people should stop making assumptions, conspiracy theories, and bizarre reasons that are far from reality about this meeting, because the matter is simpler and the goal is higher. The need for this honorable Christian-Muslim meeting is not something new, nor was it initiated from random efforts, rather there is a deep historical need for it: a need in faith, law, and shared morals.
Generally, both Christians and Muslims believe in God, His law, and the day of judgement, even if there are different details within the religion. God Almighty says, “Tell them, “We believe in what is revealed to us and to you. Our Lord and your Lord is one. We have submitted ourselves to His will.”14
The most sanctified figures and monumental personalities in Christianity are Prophet Jesus (p) and his mother, the Virgin Mary(p). Thus, amongst the most important principles that bring Islam and Christianity closer is the elaboration and detail about Prophet Jesus’s story and his mother in the Holy Quran. God Almighty says, “Jesus, son of Mary, is only a Messenger of God, His Word, and a spirit from Him whom He conveyed to Mary.”15 We see that the Quran tells us that Jesus is the Word of God, and he is the Spirit of God, and God spoke to Mary, the master of women, and told her, “Behold,” the angels told Mary, “God had chosen you, purified you, and given you distinction overall women.”16 The unique role and status of both Jesus and Mary are common ground for this Christian-Muslim dialogue, with the anticipation that the traditions will draw them closer and stronger in the face of shared challenges.
Consequently, this common legislative aspect and command to preach between both religions is an additional component that forms a strong basis for collaboration, as both Christianity and Islam call for justice, philanthropy, peace, and dialogue. The Holy Quran specifically says, “Do not argue with the People of the Book except only by the best manner, except the unjust among them. Tell them, “We believe in what is revealed to us and to you. Our Lord and your Lord is one. We have submitted ourselves to His will.”17
God Almighty says, “and they should speak righteous words to the people.”18 Some of the People of the Book have described, affirmed, and praised the fact that Christians are the closest to Muslims in many aspects. We see God Almighty says, “(Of the non-believers) nearest to them (the believers) in affection you find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ for among them are the priests and monks who are not proud.”19 The verse talks about how the people of the book – the Christians – are humble, patient, and open-minded to dialogue. In the same manner, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) is exemplified for his perfect character and morals as a lesson to Muslims. God Almighty said about him in the Holy Quran, “You have attained a high moral standard.”20 The Prophet is the perfect exemplar for us, as God said, “The Messenger of God is certainly a good example for those of you who have hope in God and in the Day of Judgment and who remember God very often.”21 God Almighty has also said about good morals, “Answer a greeting in kinder words than those said to you in the greeting or at least as kind. God keeps account of all things.”22
In addition to the contextual points, there has been a history of collaborative efforts between Christianity and Islam.
Amongst the most important is the recollection of the migration of the first Muslims of Mecca, led by Ja`far bin Abi Talib, to the just Christian king in Abyssinia who was kind to them, sheltered them, and stood by them after he listened to their complaints about the injustice and brutality of the Quraysh tribe. The king was inspired and moved by listening to part of Surah Maryam from the Holy Quran.
Followed by that migration, the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) welcomed a delegation of Christians from Abyssinia while he was under the siege of the people of Abu Talib, despite the Quraysh’s attempt to prevent him from doing so. God Almighty beautifully praises the Christians for this incident and recounts its details in Surah al-Qasas, and says, “We sent Our guidance to them so that perhaps they might take heed. (Some of) the followers of the Bible believe in the Quran. When it is recited to them, they say, “We believe in it. It is the Truth from our Lord. We were Muslims before it was revealed”. These will receive double reward for their forbearance, replacing evil by virtue, and for their spending for the cause of God. When they hear impious words, they ignore them, saying, “We shall be responsible for our deeds and you will be responsible for yours. Peace be with you. We do not want to become ignorant.”23
Additionally, when the Prophet was in Medina, he welcomed a distinguished scholarly delegation from the Christians of Najran in his grand mosque in Medina. It was not a simple meeting, rather, it was a significant one that covered important and controversial theological points. This meeting was blessed by God Almighty and it served as the model for how an interfaith dialogue should be conducted. It ended with an understanding and agreement to coexist with other religions in an environment that provides safety and stability for the believers. In addition, the city of Medina underwent another transformative experience represented by the endeavor of the Holy Prophet to sign the rare and historical document of coexistence, which was written by the people of Medina and the Christians.
One of the most important ways that we invest in the collaboration of different religious traditions is the presence of spiritual leaders engaging in dialogue and collective communal work. Embracing our shared values and striving to build a better tomorrow for our children is at the core of all religious people, and that effort starts from the top-down—seeing our leaders sitting with one another and effecting the change will prompt us to do so as well.
1. The Holy Quran (49:13), Muhammad Sarwar translation.
2. The Holy Quran (30:22).
3. The Holy Quran (7:16).
4. The Holy Quran (84:6).
5. The Holy Quran (7:73).
6. The Holy Quran (7:85).
7. The Holy Nahjul Balagha, Letter 53.
8. The Holy Quran (29:46).
9. The Holy Quran (30: 1-6).
10. The Holy Quran (5:82).
11. The Holy Quran (49:10).
12. Makarim Shirazi, al-Amthal, v. 2, p. 267.
13. Makarim Shirazi, al-Amthal, v. 2, p. 267.
14. The Holy Quran (29:46).
15. The Holy Quran (4:171).
16. The Holy Quran (3:42).
17. The Holy Quran (29:46).
18. The Holy Quran (2:83).
19. The Holy Quran (5:82).
20. The Holy Quran (68:4).
21. The Holy Quran (33:21).
22. The Holy Quran (4:86).
23. The Holy Quran (28:51-55).