Thursday 25 February 2021 \


Islam and orthodox Christianity

Theological grounds of good neighborliness

The necessity of interfaith peace-building is discussed a lot in Russia. People speak of it on the state’s top-level. Heads of the largest religious organizations point to the topic. Actually it is no need to dispute about this; this is kind of a perfect matter-of-fact. And when officials hold forums where the first persons take part, the first persons say nice and right things to one another.

Peace needs these words. But the interfaith peace is a building that is in need of a strong foundation, as well. This foundation should be built of the parties’ theological arguments about each other and about peace conditions. And these arguments must be very significant and authoritative for believers, so that they can be named rules. If this foundation lacks, there is nothing that can save the interfaith peace. When any religious doctrine includes imprecations on other faiths, then religious activists will act on it, no matter how many nice things leaders say. They would reason and act like “Our leaders are conducting diplomacy and we must adhere to the canons!”

Individual theologians and ideologues attempt to find the common points of different religious doctrines. But often they face accusations of fanatics that start to blame them for superecumenism, for some kind of attempting betraying faith and repudiating the articles of faith for the sake of unity with another religion. We all still remember Diomid - a bishop of Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (MP ROC) - publicly criticizing the sacred Synod of MP ROC, particularly for interreligious dialogue with Muslims.

This kind of accusations are far-fetched, because everyone knows that no one is talking about uniting with another religion, but about theological, dogmatic and doctrinal proofs of the necessity for different religious communities to seek partnerships and maintain good-neighborly relations. If we are nationals of the same state and fellow citizens living next to each other in the same country, then we cannot act like if we were living in a country where people adhere to the only religion! And the difference in communities’ sizes makes here no big sense, same way as there seems to make no sense the strength of nuclear powers. No matter how many times - 10 or 20 - stronger one of them is. If a conflict arises, everyone will die at once. And that will be enough.

Thus nowadays the foundation of strong interfaith peace should be made of doctrinal principles, dogmas, canons that model and strengthen good-neighbourly ties and partnerships of religious organizations. So that they [organizations] can offer social and patriotic services to the polyreligious community. And we must point out the following – these canons and principles should not be like diplomatic compliments, but unconditionally authoritative statements for the majority of believers.

There are two conditions to be met to achieve this goal. First one is learning the norms of other religions. Second one is approving suitable norms within one’s own religion.

There can be reached a mutual understanding concerning the first condition. Muslims do not have here any problems, so is the will of Allah, all the praises to the Almighty. The Holy Qur’an says: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.” (Surah al-Hujurat, ayah 13)

These words correspond to the sayings of Alexis II Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. Last year he answered the Muslim ulama letter 138 and stated: “Christians and Muslims have quite a few similar goals and we can combine our efforts to achieve them. However this cannot be done before understanding of religious values of one another is not clarified. […]

I am sure that Christian and Muslim thinkers will benefit from regular studies of each other’s doctrinal statements. Thus a promotion of Christian-Islamic dialogue is seen as desired. It will hopefully help to expand research collaboration, to learn doctrinal statements and build a strong foundation for the development of multi-aspect teamwork of our religious communities”.

Nowadays there is a new Patriarch in the Church, Kirill. Actually he was the one to take care of interfaith relations the last 20 years. That is why we can hope for activation and effectiveness increase of the Muslim-Orthodox dialogue in Russia.

Referring to the second condition here is everything not that good as we would have wished. The way Islam treats people of the Book [Christians] is known. The Qur’an says: “Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allahlovesthosewhoactjustly.”(SurahAl-Mumtahanah, ayah8).

The word righteous (beerr) has many meanings in Arabic. Hadith states that the blessed Prophet (PBUH) ordered to be righteous to parents. And Qur’an orders to be righteous to adherents of other faiths using the same term as the Hadith about parents!

Allah, all the praises to the Almighty, says in Surah Al-Maida: “You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah ; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, "We are Christians." That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant.” (Ayah 82)

The same Surah of the Qur’an allows Muslims to have the closest interactions with people of the Book: “This day [all] good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them. And [lawful in marriage are] chaste women from among the believers and chaste women from among those who were given the Scripture before you…” (Ayah 5)

Religious belief (aqidah) is the base and all the rest is its derivatives. Islamic aqidah says in the matter of discussions with people of the Book: “And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.” (Surah Al-‘Ankabut, ayah 46)

This fundamental proposition was also put into practice. Ibn Assal who was secretary and private doctor of Caliph Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan was a Christian. Caliph Marwan ibn Hakam appointed a Christian Afanasiy to a public position in Egypt. Later Afanasiy became the chairperson of the state administration.

Shaykh Muhammad Sadiq points that people of all stripes lived and worked on equal footing in the Islamic state. Caliph Mamoon once gathered scholars of different religions and madhabs in his academy and said: “Discuss any scientific matters, but never afford any arguments from the Holy Writs of your religions to avoid dissotiation”.

American scientist Draber wrote: “The first Muslims who lived at the times of caliphs did not just respect Christian and Jewish scholars. Muslims charged them [scholars] with important things to do and appointed them to public positions. Harun ar-Rasheed even trusted Halne ibn Masawah with controlling the madrasahs. They did not take into consideration place of residence or religion adhered by a scholar, but his level of knowledge and enlightenment.”

And what do the canons and dogmas of the Orthodox Church say? Let us quote a textbook used in orthodox divinity schools and seminaries “Orthodox religious studies - Islam, Buddhism, Judaism” [1], that was published in Moscow in 2005 with blessing of the archbishop. The chapter of Islamic studies is written by Yuri Maksimov. He is a docent and a teacher of the religious studies of Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy (MEA), where future priests and theologians of MP ROC study.

A paragraph about the Council of Constantinople in 1180 (p. 120-125) tells that Roman (Byzantine) linguists translated the word as-samad in Surah Al-Ihlas as solid-forged. In theological context this word is usually translated as Eternal, that is one of the 99 names of Allah. But Romans (Arabic – Rums) made a translation mistake, giving the Almighty an attribute of a non-living object (because of the wrong meaning that was probably looked up in a dictionary).

As a result of this mistake they made Islam out to be a religion of a solid-forged idol. And this crude distortion let Romans pronounce anathema against… the Almighty, Creator of the worlds! “Damn the Muhammad’s God, who he says about: “Say, “He is Allah, [who is] One, Allah, the solid-forged Refuge. He neither begets nor is born, Nor is there to Him any equivalent.” But if we replace solid-forged with Eternal, then there remains nothing to be damned!

And what should be marked here is that this anathema was not written in a doctrine document, but in a service text that regulates the order of adopting Orthodoxy by an ex-Muslim.

The Roman Emperor Manuel I Komnenos ordered to remove this sacrilege from service texts. Docent Maksimov narrates that at first hierarchs of the Council of Constantinople opposed the emperor, who called them perfect fools(see page 122) for this. Docent of MEA thinks that it was pressure put that made them [hierarchs] replace the anathema of God with the anathema of Muhammad, his followers and the whole of Islamic doctrine: “Damn Muhammad [and his] teachings, stated in Qur’an; … damn those who [consider] Muhammad a Prophet”. And this is already a doctrinal document, i.e. decree of Constantinopolitan patriarchy bishops' council “The Tomos of Council of Constantinople of 1180 (about Muhammad’s God)”. So that is a document for Muslims and Christians to discuss seriously! When there takes place a discussion of missionaries or apologists (members of MP ROC) with Muslims, a reference to this canonical decree is always present. The situation will remain as it is unless the Church rethinks this document.

Then Maksimov points out that some church books with liturgical texts still mention solid-forged god, i.e. The order of adoption of those from Saracen who come to our true and pure faith. Other points written by Romans until 1180 are also mentioned and given a detailed account in the modern language by MEA docent:

“4-5. First of all Muhammad was damned and then his son-in-law Ali, his grandchildren Hasan and Husayn, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Muawiya, Talha, Zayd, Yazid, Abdallah and other companions.

6. Then his wives Hadija, Aisha, Zaynab and his daughter Fatima were damned.

7. After this the Qur’an was damned…

18-20. Damned were Muhammad’s fables about Abraham and Ismail building a God’s house in Mecca and the necessity to turn faces towards that place when praying. Damned was the God’s house in Mecca itself… Damned was the worship ritual performed in Mecca that consists of turning round the stone, turnings till they start feeling giddy and the rite of throwing stones. Damned was Mecca itself and the stone itself and any of prayers, rites and customs performed there.

23. Muhammad’s commandments concerning prayers and ablutions with water or soil [in case there is no water] were damned”[2].

Liturgicals texts are not the doctrine itself. But the texts must correspond with the doctrine. If liturgical texts are used in all the churches officially for a long time and Church authorities bless them being issued, this means the texts already have regulatory character. They are obligatory for believers, who must undoubtedly accept their contents as the truth because of long-lasting practice and Church blessings.

The West treated Islam the same way as well. But in 1965 the II Vatican Council of the biggest Christian church (Roman Catholic Church) adopted Nostra Aetate declaration. What it did next was making changes in Church’s doctrinal documents that now made it clear Christians and Muslims both believed in the only God.

Under the declaration, “the Church respects Muslims, who worship the Only God, the Living and Ever-present, the Merciful and Almighty Creator of the heaven and the earth, Who spoke to people. They [Muslims] strive for obeying His rules (concealed ones as well) same way as Abraham obeyed God. And Muslim religion willingly correspond itself with Abraham. … they [Muslims] expect the Judgment Day, on which God will render everyone risen from dead. That is why they appreciate moral life and praise the God especially with praying, almsgiving and fasting. In spite of hostility and dissension among Muslims and Christians that came up for centuries many times, the Sacred Council calls everyone to condemn the past to oblivion and to seek for mutual understanding. The Council calls to saving and strengthening social justice, moral values, peace and freedom for the sake of people all around the world”.

Thus has the Catholic Church set its canons right and now there is a doctrinal platform that makes it possible to carry on a dialogue with Muslims. And a productive dialogue is taking place. Being Russian Muslims naturally we are more interested in relations with Russian Orthodox Church. And what is important for us is a doctrinal platform obligatory for all the believers, a base to carry on our dialogue.

But it seems like there is no any doctrinal norms in Orthodoxy concerning Islam except for the Tomos of 1180 and the service text that regulates the order of adopting Orthodoxy by an ex-Muslim mentioned above!

Nonetheless there is a feature that makes it possible for our orthodox compatriots to make a stride towards us. In contrast to Catholicism Orthodoxy has no primacy of an only local church or its patriarch before other local churches! It is only obligatory for everyone to adhere to the decrees of Oecumenical and All-Orthodox Councils. But they have never considered relation to Islam. And decisions of a local church are not compulsory for another one; this means any decision must be affirmed before it is observed.

I have never seen a document saying that MP ROC had ever affirmed the decisions of the local Constantinopolitan patriarchate of 1180!

After the Soviet Union breakup the European Union (under pressure from the United States) started supporting the Constantinopolitan patriarch being the Pope of the orthodox world. But ROC disagreed over this point considering Constantinopolitan patriarchate a local church. Thus MP ROC has nothing to do with the Tomos of 1180, a decision of an outside local church, and determine its attitude to Islam independently. It depends however only on goodwill of MP ROC hierarchs.

Let us revert to the answer of Alexis II Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia to 138 Muslim ulama. Here are some quotes from his letter that show the goodwill to improve and strengthen our social ties: “Nowadays Christianity and Islam are accomplishing great feat of a worldly importance. They remind mankind of the God existence and of spiritual dimension of a person and the world. We witness the correlation between peace and justice, morals and law, truth and love.”

“Concerning doctrine our dialogue could cover such important subjects as teachings about the God, the human and the world. At the same time joint practical work of Muslims and Christians could include strengthening of religion’s role in social life, struggle against defamation of religion, confrontation with intolerance and xenophobia, saving and defending of sacred places and objects, propagation of joint peacemaking initiatives.”

“I am sure that today Muslims and Christians must initiate interfaith dialogues at local and global levels. That is why it seems to be useful to set up mechanisms that make it possible to take into account spiritual and cultural traditions of different nations within international organizations.”

There is a wonderful saying of Vladimir (Ikim), Metropolitan of Tashkent and the whole Central Asia in his book The friends to be found in the East: “People often call Christianity religion of love and Islam religion of fairness. The essential difference in our worldviews is in defining which one out of these two is more important in serving God. But there is nothing for Love and Fairness to argue about in the worldly life!”

The majority of Russian Muslims wants to have warm relations with orthodox Christians and would be happy to have partnerships in society. All the perplexities, confusions, slight stinging remarks aimed at each other some time in mass media are easily erased on personal meetings, in dialogues. But there must be a good basis, a solid foundation of the building.

The chairperson of Russian Muftis Council mufti Ravil Gaynutdin is convinced that when Christians doctrinally recognized Islam, in final analysis, “orthodox Christians would have been friendlier to Muslims and would not think of Orthodoxy as the only one to have the right to live in our country and would not consider others as aliens. Islam came to our soil before conversion of Russia took place. The first mosque was built in Derbent (Dagestan) in the 8th century. Islam is not a religion of strangers or migrants; it is a religion of native Russians.”

Thus, Russian Muslims lived in the great country together with orthodox Christians in peace for centuries. And they want today both to save this inestimable historical heritage and to put it on solid theological grounds.

[1] “Orthodox religious studies - Islam, Buddhism, Judaism”. Authors – Maksimov Y., Smolyar K.; Saint Daniel Cathedral Press on Kantemirovskaya St., 2005.

[2] www.provoslavie/put/071010152314.htm



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