Document 10


Some Reflections on a Current Topic

Muhammad Talbi


A current topic

Revelation and dialogue

Present-day difficulties

Disparity between those taking part in dialogue

Unequal theological development

Islam must overcome its difficulties

Preliminary conditions for dialogue

We must avoid controversy

Frontiers have changed

Conversions are no longer brought about by argument

The duty of the apostolate

Plurality of ways of salvation

Object and purpose of dialogue

Object of dialogue

Purpose of dialogue

Conclusion: the horizon before us

A current topic

Our century has seen the splitting of the atom, and it has also witnessed the disintegration of all forms of monolithic ideologies.  Plural≠ism of cultures would appear to be undeniable, a movement that cannot be reversed.  This fact, however, makes it indispensable that various intel≠lectual disciplines should encounter one another, and that there should be a constant dialogue between different systems.  In this line of thought, the last Council inaugurated in September 1962 opened up encouraging per≠spectives for reconciliation and for exchange of ideas, not only between Christians, but also between all the human families, whatever their spirit≠ual and ideological attachment.

Islam, no more than any other system of thought, cannot afford to remain a mere spectator of this movement without risking a condemnation, which this time could be final and without appeal.  Indeed what is at stake today is far more important (and attractive) than any issue which arose in the dark ages of Muslim civilization, a period of decadence whose after effects, in spite of a laborious Nahpa (Renaissance), are still very much with us.

Revelation and dialogue

Thus dialogue for Islam is first and foremost a necessary and vital re-establishment of contact with the world at large.  This is still more urgent and beneficial for Islam, than for other religions, such as Christianity, which have never really lost such contact, something which puts Christianity in a relatively privileged position today.  It is also, in a certain sense, a revival of an old tradition.  In fact the whole of Revelation invites us to do just this, and there is no sign of opposition to it.  To be convinced of this point, one has only to meditate upon the following verses:

Call thou to the way of thy Lord with wisdom (bi-l-£ikma) and good admonition (wa-l-maw`Ôat al-£asana), and dispute with them in the better way (wa jadil-hum bi-llatÓ hiya a£san).  Surely thy Lord knows very well those who have gone astray from his way (inna rabba-ka huwa a`lam bi-man palla `an sabÓli-hi), and He knows very well those who are guided (wa huw=a a`lam bi-l-muhtadÓn). Q 16:125

Dispute not with the People of the Book save in the fairer manner (wa l‚ tuj‚dilŻ ahl al-kit‚b ill‚ bi-llatÓ hiya a£san) except for those of them that do wrong (ÔalamŻ); and say, AWe believe in what has been sent down to us, and what has been sent down to you (‚mann‚ bi-lladhÓ unzila ilay-n‚ wa-unzila ilay-kum); our God and your God is one (wa-il‚hu-n‚ wa-il‚hu-kum w‚£idun), and to Him we have surrendered (muslimŻn) Q 29:46.

Thus the Revelation invites the Prophet and the Muslim to discuss and to enter into dialogue with men in general, and especially with the faithful of the biblical religions.  We notice also that the duty of apostolate, which is implicitly referred to here and which is something which we must not try to avoid but which we shall have to discuss further, harmonizes well with respect for other people and other beliefs, for it belongs to God and to God alone in the final instance to acknowledge His own: ASurely thy Lord knows very well those who have gone astray from His way, and He knows very well those who are guided@.

The handicap of past history

Why then, someone may say, did things happen in the way they did ? Why are we so badly handicapped by our past?  Why has there been so much opposition, such misrepresentation, so many insults and so much abuse?  Why in fact has force prevailed over courtesy?

The answer is that nothing is simple in the lives of men, and we have to examine carefully the sad past we have inherited so as to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.  It is a fact that today people think of Islam as a religion of violence, not as one of dialogue.  So we need to explain this point briefly.  In the first place, let me emphasize that, although certain countries were opened (fat£) by force, it is practically unheard of that Islam was anywhere imposed on people.  It is also right that we should examine the world situation at the time of Islam=s entry on the stage.  The two super powers of the times, the empires of Byzantium and Ctesiphon, were striving to impose their supremacy over the other existing nations.  Nobody thought it wrong to expand the empire by force.  You either had to persecute the others or suffer persecution yourself.  We have since learned too that all wars are just or can be justified.  The martial spirit wasand alas perhaps still isthe noblest road to glory.  And what are we to think of modern revolutionary movements which are supposed to win happiness for various races, and to sweep aside anything that might hinder progress?  Islam then, having been revealed at a given time and in a specific country, enters into history, is lived by men and becomes sub≠ject to the law of contingency.  Whether it liked it or not, Islam could not help but fit into its own period.  The train was already moving; Islam had only to catch it.

And so it is a fact that more than one verse of the Qur=‚n incites to combat and promises the palm of martyrdom and paradise to whoever falls while striving in God=s way.  Such combat, however, is always put forward as second best, a last resort, which must conform to all sorts of material and moral restrictions in order to be acceptable.  It is above all important to bring out clearly that the verses which incite to war have an es≠sentially circumstantial application, connected with specific contingencies which today, we would hope, are definitely something of the past.  They do not present us with the deep, permanent spirit of the Message, which is that of a hand respectfully and courteously held out to our neighbour, as we have already emphasised.  It is this deep and permanent spirit that we must rediscover today in order to clear the path to dialogue of all mis≠understandings which have blocked it in the past and which are in danger of blocking it again today in combination with other difficulties of the present time.

Present-day difficulties

Even when the mortgage of the past has been paid off, there, still remain problems to be solved.  Other difficulties continue to exist even after good will can be counted on.

Disparity between those taking part in dialogue

We must begin by emphasising the major difficulty: the enormous difference between those taking part in dialogue as well as the different level of studies within the respective traditions.  There can be no doubt that this obstacle is the hardest to overcome in the immediate future as, even with the finest dispositions and the best will in the world, one cannot just instantaneously produce, as if by magic, people fully qualified and capable of taking part in dialogue.  Now, it goes almost without saying that most of modern Islam belongs to the disinherited zone of under-≠development, an under-development which is not only material but perhaps above all intellectual.  The fact that one can call to mind the names of one or two eminent thinkers does not affect the situation as a whole: the exception only goes to prove the rule.  So we can say (with apologies to Corneille) that there is not only a risk of dialogue coming to an end, but of it never really beginning for lack of Adialoguers@.  It is this fact, far more than any difficulties over principles or methods of approach, which explains the hesitation, the reticence, the lack of trust even, and generally speaking the present sterility, despite several efforts made, as only to be expected, on the initiative of Christians.

Unequal theological development

There is also the fact of unequal theological development.  Christian theology has been able to profit by its confrontation with other intellectual systems.  The most dangerous of these have finally been the most salutary for its development, by subjecting it, under the pressure of challenge and criticism, to a fruitful tension.  It has thus been able to understand its own values, work out answers, undertake at times agonising revisions, in the course of which it has also, and perhaps most importantly been enriched by elements which have proved to be compatible with its own internal dynamism.  Christian thought has thus been constantly vitalised and, while safeguarding and even reinforcing its attachment to what is purest and most authentic in its Tradition, it has adapted itself to each age and continues daily to progress in this direction.  This effort, noticeable from the 19th Century onwards, resulted in the break-through of the recent Council.  This of course, did not take place without a certain amount of drama, of heartbreak and even of crisis.  But after it all the Church feels more committed, better armed and more ready for dialogue.

In every domain and in every scientific discipline the Church can produce people qualified to enter into dialogue, many of them real experts.  Quite recently, for example, the book by Jacques Monod, Le hasard et la nťcessitť, was almost immediately answered by that of Marc Oraison, the title of whose book, Le hazard et la vie, shows an evident desire for dialogue, such as really did take place between the two authors, and to which the television assured the widest possible audience.  Within the special framework which interests us, that of Islamology, there is a tre≠mendous choice amongst clerics who are eminent specialists, such as G.C. Anawati, L. Gardet, Fr. Hayek, Fr. Jomier, Canon Ledit, Kenneth Morgan, Y. Moubarac, Fr. Pareja, Dr. Herrmann Stieglecker, Wlfred Cantwell Smith, W. Montgomery Watt and many others, without mentioning the numerous lay islamologists, to one of whom I owe a special mention, my eminent master Louis Massignon whose whole life was a living dialogue.  Some younger men, such as M. Allard and Fr. Caspar, are beginning to make a name for themselves and there are many others still who are preparing to take the place of the older men.

And what is Islam doing in face of such an unprecedented effort by the Church?  It offers us a theology whose evolution practically came to an end in the 12th century.  Muslim theology thus progressively lost contact with the world.  For centuries no new problems arose to challenge it and force it to investigate more closely the mystery of the world and of God.  It is thus seen as something congealed, something often merely of historical interest.  It is true that there was the nahpa, the renaissance of the 19th century, but this, while far from being something negative has not yet succeeded in reinstating Islam in the movement of history.  The distance covered may well seem slight in comparison with the journey which still lies ahead.  Islam is far from possessing experts in all domains.  In particular, as far as I know, we cannot mention one real Muslim Christologist to set beside the numerous Christian lay people and clerics who are Islam≠ologists.  One can understand how Muhammad Arkoun could ask in disillusionment, AHow can we possibly got people to enter into useful dialogue, when their very conscience is divorced from its true tradition and when they struggle on in economic and political misery, while the other side is fully conscious of its past as well as of its present condition?  In other words, how is an earthenware pot to argue with an iron one?  If we wish to overcome this difficulty, which gives birth to mental reservations an dis≠trust, we must expose it in public in all frankness and serenity.  As long as one side suffers from a superiority complex and the other from an in≠feriority complex, no useful purpose can be served in trying to open dia≠logue.

Islam must overcome its difficulties

In order to avoid any misunderstanding let us say first of all that if at the present moment Christians and Muslims are unequally pre≠pared for dialogue, as we have just forcefully stressed, Islam in itself has no need to maintain any sort of complex with regard to Christianity.

It still remains that at every level there is an unequal development of the followers of the two beliefs.  And so we turn towards the Muslims who are liable, in such circumstances, to give way to the temptation to isolate themselves in a spirit of self-preservation, to become more more rigid and to retire within their own camp and proudly reply with a resounding ANo!@  We would like to ask them whether this is the right solution.  There is no doubt that in this way they can preserve the things they value and they will survive.  But for how long?  Frontiers today are full of gaps; they fail to stop human contacts, the seductive attraction of example, books, films, and still less radio transmissions, to be followed soon by television broadcasts.  Isolation becomes more and more a pipe dream in a world in tumult and plunged in contestation.  It is just as if humanity to≠day is going through a new crisis of adolescence.

There is no way of escaping the upheaval.  The democratisation of teaching, the possibility of going to school and even to the university, the raising of the standard of life and thought, with all the demands this creates, all these changes which take place sometimes without any transition, could prove fatal to Muslims who have never been exposed to such infection nor vaccinated against it.  Religions are becoming less and less a social factor and more and more a personal and conscious commitment.  So then if present-day !slam does not succeed, through dialogue with all systems of thought without exception or exclusion, in renewing the spirituality of its followers and in assimilating as in the past, all values which are not opposed to its Witness, it will certainly be on the way to failing in its mission on earth.  Such de-Islamisation can already be detected in the universities, among the youth in general and among the members of the more developed classes who often, at best, keep a certain vague affection for Islam as a venerable cultural heirloom.  Finally, then, the adventure of dialogue with both believers and unbelievers, whatever the differences and the inequalities of formation at the present moment and taking all things into consideration, is loss perilous than becoming more rigid in one=s at≠titudes and fighting to defend frontiers in a world where frontiers are be≠coming more and more an anachronism.  Unless one is to suppose that the Mus≠lims, by some sort of despair or avowal of impotence are to finish up by discharging on othersif such a thing wire possiblethe deposit (am‚na) which Heaven has confided to their care.  For how else can one explain, other than by despair which torments some of our most lucid thinkers, the solution proposed by Muhammad Arkoun in his Supplique d=un Musulman aux Chrťtiens where he is reduced to saying: AUnder these conditions Christians could take over and assure the religious future of Islam, with the same determination, total commitment and the same depth of conviction with which they serve Christianity.  It seems to us that this is the best way of preparing for future dialogue, since when one strives to set others free one frees oneself at the same time.@  May I be allowed to be less pessimistic.?  Thank God, things are not as bad as all that!  In spite of all sorts of inequalities which we have not in any way tried to hide, we think that dialogue, with certain precautions is still possible between partners who make no secret of their own convictions.  One should never await passively to be liberated by others, but one should set about freeing oneself.

Preliminary conditions for dialogue

Of course it is evident that however possible dialogue may be it is not easy to realise.  So we must establish clearly the conditions required in order to allow it the maximum possibility to succeed and to be equally fruitful for all taking part.  The hidden obstacles are indeed numerous, and so we must discover them in some way in advance, so as to avoid them more surely and to make sure also that once we do begin we are not stopped in our tracks.  For this purpose we must avoid two attitudes both of which could prove to be fertile sources of misunderstanding, disappointments and bitterness.  These are the spirit of controversy and that of compromise and complacency.

We must avoid controversy

A polemical spirit caused untold harm in the Middle Ages, not only in the material, but also in the moral and intellectual spheres, by giving rise to caricatures and falsifications and by spreading lies in the name of truth.  It is rare, in fact, that disputes do not lead to a set-back and an abdication of the mind.  In spite of the evolution of mentalities ≠which in any case is perhaps only relativethe temptation remains strong for all religions to find themselves, little by little, forced into a blind alley.  Let us say clearly to anyone who is tempted by a spirit of adventure that the clashes between the great universal religions of today have no more chance of producing conclusive victories than they had in the past.  Montgomery Watt is absolutely right when he says: AIf a Christian and a Muslim are merely seeking arguments against one another, they will easily find many, but this will not lead to dialogue.@

We must be very careful then to exterminate the hydra of polemics.   The surest means of making it impossible for it ever to renew the immense damage done in the past and the sins committed against reason, is to renounce any idea of using dialogue, either openly or in one=s own mind, as a means of converting the person we are talking to.  If, in fact, dialogue is con≠ceived as a new form of proselytising a means of undermining convictions and bringing about defeat or surrender, sooner or later we shell find ourselves back in the same old situation as in the Middle Ages.  It will merely have been a change in tactics.  To address Muslims as, for example, Henri Nusslť does in his Dialogue avec l=Islam with such words as, AThe West can offer you not only its culture, not only its genius for invention, but still more it can offer you the Kingdom of Christ@, is to use unsuitable language in spite of the sincerity of the author and the undoubted nobility of his sentiments.

Frontiers have changed

To take that tone does not even offer the advantage of a tactical success.  It just puts the backs up of people who are more inclined to con≠nect Western technical superiority with the fact of its emancipation from the religious yoke and its cult of material progress.  The only really important mass conversions taking place today are from faith to atheism or agnosticism, considered as the new religions of efficiency and progress.  All believers then, abstraction made of any sectarian divisions, must grasp the fact that the world has greatly changed since the Middle Ages.  The dividing lines between different faiths no longer run in the same direction as before.  The opposition today is not so much between different concepts of God and of the way in which to serve him.  A far deeper division has taken place between those who are striving to attain to man=s destiny without God, and those who can only conceive of man=s future in God and through God; between those who consign indiscriminately to the rag-bag of myths all forms of religion, and those who continue to believe in their fathomless infinite truth.  Thus Gannie Luccioni remarks with evident satisfaction in a review, which was in fact of Christian inspiration to begin with, and in a recent issue entitled Le mythe aujourd=hui, that there is Aa strange lack of anyone who remarks on, if only to deny it, the collapse of our relig≠ious myths.  No doubt silence under the circumstances is more eloquent than speech; so that we have been tempted to underline this by leaving an empty page.  If the Christian myths are passing away one may suppose that they are disappearing just as others have done before them and in the way indicated by Levi-Strauss in the same series.  It should therefore be possible to rediscover traces of them in literature or in political, historical or philosophical writings.  However the vault of heaven is disintegrating and the celestial map no longer means anything except to >mythomaniacs=.@  Surely there is no question of calling on those who believe to pledge themselves to some anachronistic and sterile Holy Alliance to engage in some queer new crusade.  But they should understand all the same that polemics used to forward some doubtful sort of proselytism only falsifies arid obscures the truth instead of illuminating it.  It can only confuse sincere souls, cause them to lose their faith, and so add to the number of those to whom Athe celestial map no longer means anything@.

Conversions are no longer brought about by argument

Besides, in the case of the great religions which have evolved to an equal degree, conversions are no longer obtained through proselytism and polemics.  Neither that of Carlo Coccioli, the author of Tourment de Dieu, who went from Christianity to Judaism, nor that of Edith Stein who took the opposite road but was nevertheless sent to the furnaces at Auschwitz for being fundamentally a Jewess, nor that of Isabelle Eberhardt who took refuge in L=Ombre chaude de l=Islam, were brought about in this way.  They were the final destination of a more demanding and more complex spiritual odyssey, the fruit of an intense individual psychological drama, whereby they acquired a higher value and a greater depth.

The duty of the apostolate

But then, for a religion to renounce as one of its objectives the conversion of those who have not yet come under its sway, is that not equivalent to abandoning its universalist vocation, denying its past, and failing to carry out its duty of the apostolate?

This is precisely the moment when we must get rid of any equivoc≠ation and point out, in order to be completely sincere and totally successfully the second peril to be avoided, that of excessive complacency and compromise.  Nobody, whether believer or atheist, should ever compromise with his convictions or his ideas.  This is the unquestionable law of pro≠gress and of the asymptomatic progress towards Truth.  Besides, true con≠victions that have become part of one=s life are not negotiable.  And so it is not a question of going from one extreme to the other and seeking at all costs in a pure spirit of conciliation and without a real change of heart, accommodating solutions which only result in syncretism and confusion of thought.  The sort of dialogue in which we are interested is not a question of policy, an exercise of the art of compromise.  It is something much more important.  It supposes total sincerity and, to be fruitful, it requires everyone to be completely without aggressiveness or compromise.

Thus we get back to the full requirements of the apostolate but this time purified from the slag of polemics and of a proselytism which leads to blindness.  Seen from this point of view the apostolate becomes essentially an attentive openness towards our neighbour an incessant seeking for truth through a continuous deepening and assimilation of the values of faith, and, in the final analysis, pure witness.  This sort of apostolate is called, in Arabic, jih‚d.  This statement may well surprise all those for whom this word recalls the clash of holy wars past and present.  Let me explain to them that jih‚d both etymologically and fundamentally has nothing to do with war.  Arabic has no lack of words to describe all kinds of warfare.  If the Qur=‚n had really wanted to talk of war there would have been an embarrassing choice of words to be found in the rich and colourful vocabulary of pre-Islamic poetry, which is entirely given over to exalting the great days of the Arab race (ayy‚m al-`Arab) when this people engaged in their favourite pastime of disembowelling one another.  Jih‚d must therefore be something different.  Essentially and radically it is an extreme, total effort in the Way of God (fi sabÓl All‚h).  Tradition makes it clear that the purest, most dramatic and most fruitful form of it is al-jih‚d al-akbar, the combat which takes place in the secrecy of one=s conscience.  This means that the finest form of apostolate is the witness of a life in which the struggle for moral perfection has succeeded.  This form of apostolate through witness is the only one which gives results and is, moreover, in agreement with modern thought.  It has no need of proselytism.  Did not the Qur=‚n itself remind the Prophet personally that he could not guide men towards God just as he liked, but that it is really God who guides towards Himself those whom He chooses?  (Inna-ka l‚ tahdÓ man a£babta wa-l‚kinna ll‚ha yahdÓ man yash‚=u wa-huwa a`lam bi-l-muhtadÓnAThou guidest not whom thou likest, but God guides whom He wills and knows very well those that are guided@ (Q 28:56)  In fact, as far as the apostolate is concerned, our duty is to give witness, and it is for God to convert people.  AThus we appointed you a midmost nation that you might be witness to the people, and that the Messenger might be a witness to you@ (wa kadh‚lika ja`alna-kum ummatan wasaan li-taŻnŻ shuhad‚= `al‚ l-n‚s wa-yakŻna l-rasŻl `alay-kum shahÓdan Q. 2:143).  So it is quite possible to develop a Muslim theology of the apostolate which scrupulously respects the rights of others.  It is evident of course that this is just as possible for Christianity a religion of witness through martyrdomas well as for all other religions.  Con≠sequently co-existence, or better still co-operation, without any denial of self or renunciation of one=s own convictions is not only possible but very fruitful.  So when both extremes of polemical proselytism and complaisant compromise have been avoided, the duty of the apostolate is not done away with.  Rather it takes on its most noble and most difficult form, that of an interior jih‚d, and opens the way to a healthy spirit of emulation in the pursuit of Good.  However this interior jih‚d should not deteriorate into a selfish mystical, or rather static, concentration on self, or into an all too easy form of self-satisfaction, or even tran≠quil indifference.  It must remain at the same time witness, and bear evidence of a questing spirit marked by openness and a sense of disquiet.  It is at this level that dialogue can be decisive.  By creating a healthy climate of mutual exchange and of intellectual and spiritual tension, it can help towards a continuous and reciprocally deeper understanding of the values of faith.  Movement will replace inertia.

Plurality of ways of salvation

This position implies, however, if it is solidly founded, that we admit that there are several ways to salvation.  And that raises problems that are not easy to solve.  The influence of the past is felt here more than anywhere else.

With very few exceptions the theological systems of all religious confessions have been based on the axiom, expressed in different ways that AOutside the Church there is no salvation@.  Within each faith the group of faithful to benefit by salvation has been still more restrict≠ed by the rejection of various heresies whose followers have been consigned to eternal damnation.  This leads to the conclusion that apart from cer≠tain chosen ones, the vast majority of human beings are destined for per≠dition.  And yet all faiths proclaim that God is Justice, Mercy and Love!  It is precisely in this area that we need a real theological renewal and a radical change of mentality.  For what chance is there of an open-minded dialogue free of distrust if, from the very beginning, we lay down the absolute principle that those of the other side will inevitably be condemned to hell solely on account of their convictions?

On the part of the Church there has been a very evident evolution since Vatican II, which in particular addressed Muslims in these terms:

Upon the Muslims too the Church looks with esteem.  They adore one God, living and enduring, merciful and all-powerful, Maker of heaven and earth... whose decrees are sometimes hidden, but to which one must submit wholeheartedly, just as Abraham submitted to God Abraham, with whom the Islamic faith is pleaded to associate itself.  Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet.  They also honour Mary, his virgin mother; at, times they call upon her too with devotion... Consequently they give worship to God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.  They strive to live a moral life in obedience to God at the individual family and social level.

Although in the course of centuries many quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, the Council urges all to for≠get the past and to strive sincerely for mutual understanding.  On behalf of all mankind, let them make common cause of safeguarding and fostering social justice, moral values, peace and freedom.

In the same spirit G.C. Anawati states that where salvation is concerned Ait has long been admitted that the two requisites for faith laid down by St. Paul exist in Islam.@  And he adds: AThis means that when I wish to engage in dialogue with a Muslim, I do not have to begin by automatically placing him in hell merely because he is a Muslim.  On the contrary I can assure him that under certain conditions which are quite realisable, he can find salvation while still remaining a convinced Muslim.  Can one think of any better way of beginning a fruitful dialogue?@

On the Islamic side, contrary to what one might think, the same attitude of mind already existed in the Middle Ages.  One finds it expressed by a completely orthodox theologian whom all Sunnites without exception consider to be the authentic spokesman for Islam (£ujjat al-isl‚m), namely al-Ghaz‚lÓ (1058-1111) who in his book Fayal al-tafriqa admits that under certain conditions, particularly those of sincerity and an honest, life, non-Muslims can be saved.  Nearer to our times a theologian of the nahpa, Mu£ammad `Abduh (1849-1905) expresses a similar opinion in his commentary on the following verse of the Qur=‚n.

Surely they that believe (in Islam), and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabaeans, whoso believes in God and the Last Day, and works righteousnesstheir wage awaits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be upon them, neither shall they sorrow@ (Q 2:62).

Confirm≠ation of this verse is found, with some slight variation, ≠elsewhere (cf. Q 5:69; see also 2:111-112).

It is not impossible therefore, neither for Islam nor for Christianity, nor indeed for the other main religions, on the basis their texts and with the support even of a certain ancient theological tradition, to elaborate a theology which would allow for a certain degree of plurality in the ways of salvation, were it only because one cannot forbid Divine Goodness from overflowing, in a gesture of justice, of mercy and of love, beyond the strict limits of any given Church in order to embrace all men of good will who live exemplary lives.  In the end God remains entirely and freely the one who judges, and we must abandon ourselves confidently to His Wisdom.  In any case we must abstain from passing judgement in His place.

This does not necessarily lead to a comfortable quietism or to a fading away of Truth seen as something vague and interchangeable.  The danger of this view of multiple ways of salvation is making all religions relative.  I trust that my readers will have understood that in my way of seeing things such a danger exists only for one who is not a true believer.  For the true believer continues to be the epicentre of the Absolute of the faith he professes and to which he gives witness.  Within the precise limits of the question with which we are concerned we must in fact stress, in order to keep our perspectives as clear as possible, that the Qur=‚n, by a multi≠plicity of arguments and warnings, forcefully and insistently calls people to Islam as to the final message from God which confirms and completes all the Scriptures which preceded it.  It makes it crystal clear that if anyone, while being naturally convinced in his heart of the veracity of the Qur=‚nic message, wants to practise another religion for opportunist or other reasons, this will not be accepted from him: AIn the next world he shall be among the losers@ (Q 3:85).

In a word, there is only one truth: it is our powers of under≠standing that vary.  And what complicates the matter still more is that such powers are given to us by another.  For if in fact we are not entirely passive and exclusively receptive, if we are indeed responsible for what we do and if we must work to fulfil our own destiny tragically seeking our way through the shoals, it is also true that finally it is God who pilots our boat and keeps it from shipwreck.  Our situation as men is an ambiguous one.  Is it surprising then that we follow divergent paths to salvation?  Under these circumstances complete good faith and sincerity are the only absolute requisites and the imperatives which allow for no exception.  And so we set sails trusting in God=s grace.  The fact, then, of admitting a variety of roads leading to salvation does not imply that we abdicate our faith, nor that we give up holding as true what we believe to be exact.  Quite the contrary, the need to adhere to our faith becomes more imperative as it becomes more lucid.  Then our faith ceases to be simply membership of a sociological group and a form of subordination.  It becomes a real communion and a binding commitment. And so we come back to the duty of the apostolate through witness, which is as much a question of self-respect as of respect for others.  For nobody has the right to water down his own convictions or to lose all consistency through bending backwards trying to understand others and thus, in fact, refusing to face up to his own reality.

Object and purpose of dialogue

Object of dialogue

Perhaps someone will formulate the following objection: once the difficulties mentioned have been overcome, and the conditions postulated have been realised, does dialogue still make sense or have any object?

Of course it does!  Basically it becomes a disinterested and un≠qualified collaboration in the service of God, that is to say in the ser≠vice of Goodness and Truth.  In such a straightforward, relaxed and serene atmosphere everyone without exception can profitably engage in dialogue.  For let us have no illusion on this point: if dialogue is not equally fruitful for all, it will either not take place at all or it will get no≠where.  Any community which feels itself in danger will raise customs barriers and will take refuge in a sort of intellectual protectionism, which, though it has no more chance of success than its economic counter≠part, will nevertheless become firmly established.  This is because, when in grave peril, people do not consider what they stand to lose by isolat≠ing themselves.  In such cases the primitive instinct of self-preservation takes over.

On the contrary in an atmosphere of confidence ideas circulate more freely, and if they are capitalized on and invested in they pay dividends to all.  So the primary objective we must fix for ourselves in any dialogue is to remove barriers and to increase the amount of good in the world by a free exchange of ideas.  On all the great problems which confront us and which sometimes challenge the very meaning of our existence, all human families, whether their outlook is materialistic or spiritual, have something to gain from comparing their own solutions and coordinating them wherever possible.  Across the heights that divide us it is not all that difficult to hold out our hands to one another, even when we draw our inspiration from divergent or even discordant sources.  Growing cultural unification which is perhaps the most striking phenomenon of our time, is daily drawing men closer to one another and placing them on the same level.  Concerning the crucial problems of our time, believers and unbelievers, whatever their opinions, often hold useful discussions together which bring enrichment through the confrontation of different points of view.

It should therefore be still easier for all believers, united in a unanimous service of God, to reason together and agree upon a common language, provided the right atmosphere has been created in the manner indicated.  For example, there is absolutely no reason at all why we should not consider together what answers should be given to the questions asked in the Conciliar document Nostra Aetate.  It may be useful to raise the questions: AWhat is man?  What is the meaning and purpose of life?  What is goodness and what is sin?  What gives rise to our sorrows and to what intent?  Where lies the path to true happiness?  What is the truth about death, judgement and retribution beyond the grave?  What, finally is that ultimate and unutterable mystery which engulfs our being, for which we were created and to which we shall return?@

Each one of these questions could serve as the theme for one or more meetings.  Why not organize these meetings and invite representatives from all religions, whether they have their Scriptures or not?  In order to avoid any appearance of confrontation it is very useful indeed that such meetings include people with outlooks as diversified as possible.  Already historians, philosophers and doctors from all over the world meet in their regular congresses.  Why should not the same thing happen with believers of all shades of opinion who could thus bring their various sources of light to bear on the problems which face us all?  Such meetings would be extremely useful, if only because they would accustom, not merely the odd intellectual, but the officials in charge of different Churches to meeting one another.  Thus they would get to know one another and learn to communicate.  In the world of contestation in which we live for any religion to close in on itself would be like taking an overdose of morphia in order to die peacefully.

Naturally one must be careful not to tread on any banana skins, and one must be on the watch for wolf traps in the forest.  For example, one should be very careful to avoid inserting in the programme of such meetings the sort of questions put by Y. Moubarac to his correspondents.  This is a form of interrogation not dialogue.  Besides the replies given to these questions prove beyond doubt that the whole area is mined and to wander about without taking due precautions is always likely to produce unfortunate explosions.  The Adialogue@ in writing organised by Moubarac has thus at least served the useful purpose of showing us how not to go about it.

So we must be very careful and prudent in choosing with the agreement of both sides and unilaterally, subjects which are capable of giving rise to fruitful communications from all sides.  Thank God, there are sufficient such subjects to provide matter for research and deliberation now and for a long time to come.  Gradually the way will be prepared for greater progress and more ambitious plans.  One must not be in too much of a hurry.

For example, one could study together in greater depth the legacy of spiritual values which belong to all religions that follow a Biblical tradition.  On 31st March 1965 Cardinal Franz Koenig of Vienna spoke about monotheism to two thousand students and professors in the most representat≠ive Muslim university of theology, that of al-Azhar in Cairo.  There can be no doubt that his talk helped to foster better feelings and dissipate various misunderstandings.  And in fact his conference met with a really enthusiastic reception which was very revealing.  Shaykh Ęasan Ma=mŻn, in concluding his vote of thanks, could not refrain from quoting the follow≠ing passage from the Qur=‚n: AAnd thou wilt surely find that the nearest of them in love to the believers are those who say >We are Christians=, that because some of them are priests and monks, and they wax not proud@ (Q 5:82).

So there are real possibilities of communicating and exchanging ideas.  The chief thing is to discover them and make the most of them.  The elaboration of a theology of religions which has still to be done, of a moral theology as well as a social theology directly concerned with the pro≠blems of today, can only gain from the collaboration of those who are con≠vinced that man=s destiny is a part of God=s plan, in reply to those who would make man the ephemeral yardstick of everything in a world closed in on itself and without anything to follow, someone produced not by a con≠scious creative act of God, but someone evolved by sheer necessity and pure chance.  If then we purge dialogue of anything which might lead it astray into useless argument we shall find that it is far from being an empty and useless exercise.  It is more likely to become more profound and more meaningful.  In our drifting world of today, which is seeking new social structures and a new scale of values, the vast domain of ethics would sup≠ply alone a safe and practically unlimited basis for dialogue.  What has the Message of God to offer to all the dispossessed people of the world, to all those without distinction who are alienated to those who either cringe, beg and supplicate or who revolt and fight back and blaspheme?  Here lies the most urgent need for dialogue because, in all religions, on the answer to these questions will depend the presence of God in men=s hearts.  For:

If heaven (leaves) us alone like a still-born world,

the just man will oppose disdain to absence.

And his only response will be a loveless silence

In answer to the eternal silence of the divinity.

One can see from this that Vigny had already experienced this crisis and well before his time one could mention the case of Ma`arrÓ.

Does this mean that one must always remain on the heights?  Is it indispensable to lay down as an absolute and strict law that one should never tackle some precise point of doctrine concerning one or other religion in particular?  Of course not But here vigilance be all the more necessary, and one should not try to go ahead too quickly.  In the case of Islam and Christianity the general lines of a compared theology have already been traced out which should make it all the easier for both sides to travel more freely along this road.  Certain questions should be relatively easy to discuss together such as the general economy of salvation that we have already referred to in these pages.  But would it not be possible to work out something on these lines by making use of the Qur=‚nic ideas of hid‚ya (guidance=), luf (protection-help), tawfÓq (assistance-direction), pal‚l (the trial of going astray) etc.  And if Islam and Christianity were to study together these respectively similar values, would it not lead to a better understanding of them, and a deepen≠ing of our appreciation which would benefit all concerned?  There are plenty of other examples one could mention.  For instance there is the extremely difficult problem of how to reconcile human liberty with the existence of a transcendent and almighty God.  Would not the Christian and Muslim solutions stand to gain by being confronted and would it not be possible to go beyond them both in the light of recent advances in human science, from genetics to metaphysics through the various discoveries and theories of social psychology?  An immense field of investigation in com≠mon is available to us, and with a little imagination one should be able to find several points of contact.  The only real limits to such an investigation come not from the objective but the subjective point of view, namely whether or not those taking part are properly prepared for dialogue.  This brings us back to the difficulties we have already mentioned.

At the same time we must not expect too much.  However prepared both sides may be for dialogue there are certain subjects which for a long time yet will be difficult to discuss together.  It is far better not to touch them at all so as not to get bogged down in discussions in which neither side listens to the other and where the only results are bitter polemics.  The Qur=‚n does indeed speak with respect and veneration about Jesus, the son of the Virgin Mary, and the Word of God.  The same veneration is found in works about Jesus by al-`Aqq‚d, K‚mil Ęusayn, Kh‚lid Mu£ammad Kh‚lid, `Abd al-ĘamÓd JŻda as-Sa££‚r, Fat£Ó `Uthm‚n and `Abd al-KarÓm al-KhaÓb.  However, in spite of all the good will that inspired these writings, a Christian would not recognise in them the Christ God of the mystery of the incarnation and of the redemption.  In the same way it is difficult for a Muslim to find in the numerous lives of Mu£ammad written in the West, often with the best intentions, the Seal of the Pro≠phets who brought to mankind the perfection of the ultimate message from God.  And how is it possible to carry on a useful dialogue with a Christian or a Jew on the nature of the Qur=‚n?  To the mystery of the incarnation of Christ and of the redemption corresponds, in Islam, the no less difficult mystery of the taking of a concrete form, by the Word of God, consubstantial with Being, and therefore eternal, which yet descended (tanzÓl) into this world of contingent phenomena.  So perhaps it may not be by pure chance that in the Middle Ages there were such heated arguments among Christians, on the one hand, concerning the nature of Christ, and among Muslims on the other, concerning the nature of the Qur=‚n.  The Mu`tazilites, who were particularly sensitive to the human aspect of the Qur=‚n and who consequent≠ly considered it to be something purely createdthus doing away with the mystery of its double naturewere in a way the Arians of Islam.  It was the Sunnites who prevailed and their understanding of the mystery was ac≠cepted by the majority, just as the doctrine of the dual nature of Christ prevailed among Christians.  This is what makes it so difficult to subject the Qur=‚n to a type of textual criticism based on historicism and methods which are applicable to texts unquestionably written by human beings.  Islam and Christianity have not the same concept of revelation.  So for certain questions it is better to accept the situation as it is, at least for the time being, rather than bang one=s head against a brick wall.  G.C.Anawati is quite right when he remarks, AThe more one is firm about the classical points that divide us the better we know where we stand, and our discussion becomes surprisingly open and fruitful.@

Purpose of dialogue

Although the usefulness and scope of dialogue are limited, there is no limit to its purpose.  This is to shake people up and to make them move,  preventing them from remaining bogged down by their own convictions.  Naturally everyone has the right to refuse to adopt any given point of view, but he has no excuse at all for not finding out first exactly what that point of view is and getting to know more about it.  Before discussing about someone, if one cannot fruitfully discuss any question with him, one should at least listen to what he has to say.  For Muslims in particular let me say that sometimes ideas which are considered very dangerous can turn out to be very salutary, if only to sharpen the intelligence and mind, provided, of course, that these are well-formed and attentive≠.  Otherwise the sole result could be to hasten the collapse and complete disintegration of worm-eaten structures.  Such a danger is so real in the present state of Islam, that attention has to be called to it.

However neither Islam nor any other belief in God has any choice today other than to accept the challenge.  Science is advancing daily and more deeply into areas of the universe which were formerly shrouded in mystery, and is asking questions which no philosophy and theology dare ignore they wish to respet the fundamental nature of man.  Science obliges us all to think more and it constrains believers to re-read their Revelation in the light of new problems.  Is it necessary to stress that our answer cannot be some simple yet vague form of concordism, such as has often been proposed by Muslims since the nahpa?  Hence the need to explore every avenue and to tune into every transmission.

A new exegesis, which does not have to turn its back on past wealth and positive advances, will have to be worked out in a climate of adventure, of exchange of ideas, and of urgency to keep up to date and to settle all the doubts of our day.  By creating such a fertile climate of tension, which has so dramatically been lacking in Islam for centuries, dialogue could play the role of shaking Muslims out of their false sense of security and could make their hearts and ears once more attentive to the Message of God.  For if the Word of God is eternal, as every Muslim be≠lieves, it follows necessarily that, though revealed in time and space, it transcends all temporal and spatial characteristics, and remains always and everywhere perceptible present and forever new.  It must therefore be perceived and accepted, not in a static manner but rather as a set of properties and potentialities which are to be brought into actual existence by means of ceaseless research.  This is not necessarily a revolutionary request.  Many exegetes in the past have felt the need for just this sort of thing, because they had rightly become fascinated by the depths of mean≠ing in the Qur=‚nic word whose exuberant vitality sweeps aside all linguistic barriers.  Hence the necessity of listening to God with our present day understanding listening to Him in the here-and-now of the present moment.  The re-launching of a modern type of exegesis inspired by both daring and prudence, and well aware of the anguish, restlessness and questioning of our day is therefore imperative if God is not to be banished from the world, but is to become present again in human activity.  But it can develop only in a climate of dialogue open to all, both believers and non≠believers.

Such an exegesis has a bounden duty to incorporate everything it can absorb without@any sort of fear or complex.  Certainly there is a real danger of crises arising, of deviations taking place and of people losing their way, and such dangers should not be minimised.  But is it not the natural vocation of a religion to be in a perpetual state of crisis, always striving to develop fully?  In his effort to under≠stand correctly the massage of God the believer cannot afford to ignore the advances, even of a provisional nature, made by modern scholars in every branch of the exact sciences and human disciplines.  Besides, the problem today does not concern orthodoxy or heterodoxy.  Has there ever been such a thing as Truth pure, limpid and impervious?  Is such truth within man=s grasp?  Is not Truth like the distant star that guides the traveller on his way, rather than a burning torch that is carried with confidence?  The Qur=‚n tells us: AHold you fast to God=s bond together, and do not scatter@ (Q.3:103).  Is not this bond both mooring rope and Ariadne=s thread?  Tradition adds: whoever makes a sincere effort to reflect and reaches his destination is doubly rewarded; whoever makes a sincere effort to reflect but fails to reach his destination will never≠theless be rewarded once.  In fact only the fearful, who refuse the rope which draws them nearer to God and prefer to remain immobile and to wallow in stagnation, will be refused a reward.  The reward will be reserved for those who make an effort, examine their consciences, and practice their faith in all sincerity and with fervour.  Now the precise purpose of dialogue, whatever the circumstances, is to reanimate constantly our faith, to save it from tepidity and to maintain us in a permanent state of ijtih‚d, that is a state of reflection and research.

Conclusion: the horizon before us

Where will such research, carried on in an open-minded, spirit and not in isolation, lead us?  Nobody can say precisely.  It is an ad≠venture which we must engage in day by day.  Will religious unity be found at the end of the maze?  AIn the long term, of course, writes W. Montgomery Watt, it is to be expected that there will be one religion for the whole world, though it may contain within itself permitted vari≠ations comparable to the four permitted legal rites (madh‚hib) in SunnÓ Islam.@  This perspective is not necessarily at variance with Islam.  To the verses we have already quoted let us add this one: AThe Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord.  He and the believers (in Islam), all of them believe in God and His angels and in His Books and His Messengers; we make no division between any one of His Messengers.  They say, We have heard and we obey.  Our Lord, grant us Thy forgiveness; unto thee is the homecoming@ (Q 2:285).

As far as classical theology is concerned, it has always proclaimed that the Light of God will finally disperse all darkness and will shine equally for all.  AThey desire to extinguish with their mouths the light of God; but God will perfect His light, though the unbelievers be adverse@ (Q 61:8).

Meanwhile divergences continue and show little sign of fading away, at least in the foreseeable future.  One must believe that they have their role to play in the economy of salvation and of the world, among other things by giving an impetus to evolution.  Again let us hear the Qur=‚n:

To every one of you we have appointed a right way and an open road.  If God had willed, He would have made you one community; but that He might try you in what has come to you.  So be you forward in good works; unto God shall you return all together and He will tell you of that whereon you were at variance@ (Q 5:48).

Mankind were only one community, then they fell into variance.  But for a word that proceeded from thy Lord, it had been decided between them already touching their differences.  They say: AIf only a sign (casting light on this mystery) had been sent down on him, from his Lord.@  Say: AThe mystery (ghayb) of God is inscrutable.  Then watch and wait; I shall be with you watching and waiting@ Q 10:18-19.

Say: AO my God, Creator of the Heavens and the earth, who knowest all things visible and invisible, Thou wilt judge in the end between Thy servants touching that whereon they are at variance@ Q 39:46

Thus when all is said and done we find ourselves faced with the unfathomable mystery of God=s plan and of man=s condition.  So we must accept our differences and disagreements and by competing with one another in good works shorten the time in which the trial of our disagreements will come to an end.  We must also forego expecting too much from dialogue if we are to avoid bitterness and discouragement and be able to make progress, come wind or wild weather.  For we must not have any illusions on this point: whatever the precautions we take there will be many discordant voices.  Nobody has ever found in the past a magic wand which could elimin≠ate misunderstandings and radically change the world.  We should not ex≠pect one to turn up in the future.  Dialogue means unending patience.  If it helps us to draw gradually nearer to one another, to replace indifference or hostile reserve by real friendship, by true brotherhood even in spite of our different beliefs and opinions, it will have accomplished much.  Dialogue does not necessarily mean finding a common solution; still less does it imply an absolute need to come to an agreement.  Its role is rather to clarify and open up the debate still more, allowing all those engaged to progress, instead of becoming immutably fixed in their own con≠victions.  The way towards the Kingdom of Light will prove to be a long one, and God has chosen to enshroud it in mystery.

There is no need to stress, of course, that these ideas come not from a professional theologian but from an historian who, by specialising in Medieval History, has come to realise how equally sincere love of God and of Truth was able to degenerate till it lead to catastrophe.  Besides, living as we do today in a century of re-examination, of contestation, in which the bounds of the universe are continually expanding we can no longer practise qu`Żd or kitm‚n, that is to say, we cannot afford to give ourselves up to an easy going, lukewarm indifference while we wait for some miracle or other which would re-instate Islam in history by magic, without effort or suffering on our part.

AWork, and God will surely see you work, and His Messenger and the believers@ Q 9:105.

[1]From a lecture given on 25 November 1971 at the Pontifical Institute of Arabic Studies, Rome, later published as Islam et dialogue: rťflexions sur un thŤme d=actualitť (Tunis: Maison Tunisienne de l=Edition, 1972).  This translation is by L. Marchant, in Encounter 11-12 (Jan-Feb 1975).  Some modifications and additions are made by J. Kenny on the basis of the Arabic edition, AAl-Isl‚m wa-l-£iw‚r, afk‚r awl mawpŻ` yashghul ‚l al-`ar,@ Islamochristiana 4 (1978), 1-26.

[1]We should mention two meetings organised by the World Council of Churches, the first at Geneva-Cartigny in March 1969, the second, a year later, at Beirut-Ajaltoun.  Buddhists and Hindus assisted at this second meeting.  The book Ses Musulmans, Paris, Beauchesne, 1971, is also a form of dialogue.  It clearly brings out the difficulties we have emphasised and on which we shall have to insist further.  We should also mention a discussion, reported in the daily paper Le Monde (28/6/71), which, on the initiative of the Fderation Protestante de France, brought together some sixty people in a meeting chaired by Professor Fathi Abd El-Moneim of Al-Azhar University, Cairo, and Professor Roger Arnaldez of the Universitť de Paris IV.

[1]See for example the review Esprit, October 1967, which deals with the topic of ANouveau monde et parole de Dieu@, as well as the issue of November 1971 where the following question is asked: ATo re-invent the Church?@.

[1]Review of the book by G.C. Anawati and L. Gardet, Les grands problŤmes de la thťologie musulmane, vol. 1, L. Gardet, Dieu et la destinťe de l=homme, in Arabica 16 (1969), p. 102.

[1]Cf. Q. 33:72.

[1]Cf. Les musulmans (Paris: Beauschene, 1971), p. 125.

[1]Islamic revelation in the modern world (Edinburgh, 1969), p. 121.

[1]Neuchatel, 1949, p. 147.

[1]Esprit, new series, April 1971, pp. 610-611.

[1]Translator=s note: The text given here by Professor Talbi is closer to the third draft of Nostra aetate than to the final document approved by the Council.  Cf. Vatican iI. les relations de l=Eglise avec les religions non-chrťtiennes (Paris: Cerf, 1966), 206, 303

[1]AVers un dialogue islamo-chrťtien,@ Revue Thomiste 64 (1964), 627; see also R. Caspar, ALa foi musulmane selon le Coran@, Proche Orient chrťtien 19 (1969), 167-172.

[1]Cairo edition, 1319/1901, pp. 75-78; see also R. Caspar, ALe salut des non-musulmans d=aprŤs Ghaz‚lÓ,@ IBLA 31 (1968), 301-313, and Bulletin of the Secretariat for non-Christians, n. 5.

[1]Cf. TafsÓr al-man‚r, 1st edition, 1346/1927-8, vol. 1, 333-5.  RashÓd Rip‚ (1865-1935), a disciple of Mu£ammad `Abduh, takes up his master=s commentary and continues it in the same spirit.  In particular he makes clear that: Ait is equally evident in this verse that the condition of faith in the prophecy of Mu£ammad Bmay the blessing of God be upon himB is not required.  In fact the Qur=‚nic discourse here concerns the way in which Almighty God will treat all religions (firaq), or all communities (umam), whose members believe in a given prophet and a specific revelation which is addressed to them, and who think that their salvation (fawz) in the future life is more or less assured by the sole fact that they are Muslims, Jews, Christians or Sabaeans.  For their benefit God makes it clear that salvation is not the automatic result of belonging sociologically to any given religion (l‚ yakŻn bi-l-jinsiyy‚t ad-dÓniyya).  On the contrary it depends both on the sincerity of one=s faith (Óm‚n a£Ó£) and on activity which imporoves the lot of men.  Thus it is denied that the question os salvation can be settled by God in accordance with the vain desires (am‚nÓ) of Muslims or of those who possess the Ancient Scriptures.  On the contrary, it is affirmed that it is conditioned just as much by virtuous activity as by sincere faith@ (Vol. 1, 336).

[The following is Kenny=s summary of the remainder of Talbi=s note.]  We must observe, for the sake of exactitude, that the interpretation of this verse given by Mu£ammad `Abduh and RashÓd Rip‚ has been the subject of much controversy.  RashÓd Rip‚ himself, shortly after this passage, narrows down the liberal view expressed above.  The majority of old and even contemporary religious scholars and Qur=‚n commentators give this verse a narrower interpretation.  Some say that it is abrogated; others interpet it in a way that requires embracing Islam as an absolute condition for salvation.  This is the majority opinion in olden times and today, such as the contemporary Tunisian commentator, Mu£ammad a-‚hir ibn-`AshŻr, who sees the salvation promised in this verse to Scripturary people as applying to those who lived before Islam and lived good lives in obedience to the commands of their religion, or to contemporaries of the Prophet who answered his call to become Muslim.  Another such commentator is `Abdall‚h ibn-Sall‚m, or uway£ib, in his TafsÓr at-ta£rÓr wa-t-tanwÓr, part 1, p. 509, who later (part 1, pp. 516-70 proposes a number of interpretations relying on grammatical or contexual analysis, all concluding to the abrogation of this verse by 3:85 (sŻra ¬l `Imr‚n) [AWhoever opts for any other religion than Islam will not find acceptance, and on the last day he will be the loser@].  But this is impossible, because for there to be an abrogation the verse must contain a judgement that is no longer

applicable because of a changed situation.  But if it is merely an annoucement, as the case here, it is difficult to establish an abrogation.

A modern approach which regards Islam as a mere historical ideology regards verse 2:62 as an expression of Mu£ammad=s early naivety, while 3:85 reflects his pragmatic outlook which evolved in Medina; this approach is outdated and need not occupy our attention.

Verse 2:62, which we have been examining, actually seems plain and evident; besides, it does not contradict 3:85 or any other verse before or after it; we should not attribute it to Mu£ammad=s naivety or without justification consider it abrogated; we should also avoid subtle grammatical analysis to turn it from its obvious meaning.  Islam does insist that it is a religion all should embrace; the meaning of 3:85 is that a man will not find acceptance if he is convinced of Islam and refuses to embrace it, or if he leaves Islam for some material advantage.  Such people cannot be saved, whatever their religion.

On the contrary, those who, in all sincerity and good faith, fail to discover the way of Islam and make use of other roads to salvation, will all the same be rewarded according to the effort they make.  So there is no contradiction between 2:62 and 3:85 when we see them in their proper context and in the general direction indicated by Qur=‚nic preaching.  In fact only those wil lose their way who fail to seek God.

[1]Cf. Les musulmans, referred to in note 1.

[1]Cf. Ale monothťisme dans le monde contemporain,@ MIDEO 8 1964-6), 407-422.

[1]Al-`Aqq‚d, `Abqariyyat al-MasÓ£ (Cairo, 1952, re-edited 1958 under the title Ęay‚t al-MasÓh; Kamil Husayn, Qayra Ô‚lima (Cairo, 1954); Kh‚lid M. Kh‚lid, Ma`an `al‚ -arÓq, Mu£ammad wa-l-MasÓ£ (Cairo, 1958); JŻda as-Sa££‚r, al-masÓ£ `ős‚ b. Maryam (Cairo, 19590; Fat£i `Uthm‚n, ma`a l-MasÓ£ fÓ l-an‚jÓl al-arba`a (Beirut, 1962); `Abd al-KarÓm al-KhaÓb, al-MasÓ£ fÓ l-Qur=‚n wa-t-Tawr‚t wa-l-InjÓl (Cairo, 1966).

[1]AVers un dialogue islamo-chrťtien,@ Revue Thomiste 64 (1964), 627.

[1]Islamic revelation in the modern world (Edinburgh, 1969), 127.