Interfaith dialogues are permissible providing that they aim to advocate Islam and to achieve peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims. But if they aim to achieve a mix between religions they are forbidden.
Relations with other faiths;
Meetings with representatives of other religions;
Conflict with other religions.
Muslims living in non-Muslim countries may meet and enter into dialogue with representatives of other faiths to discuss various questions and issues. This may take the form of seminars, conferences, and meetings with others, including what has come to be known as interfaith dialogue.
Meetings with representatives of other faiths are subject to different rulings because some such meetings are permissible and others are not. If they are meant to advocate the divine faith and explain its truth they are perfectly lawful. If they aim to achieve peaceful coexistence with other faiths so that people are safe and they can go about their work and travel in safety, or to draw up an agreed formula to ensure people’s common interests are served, particularly between those living within the same region or having common grounds that need such cooperation, they are again lawful and there is absolutely no harm in that. On the other hand, if such meetings are intended to achieve some mixing between religions and establish a common framework of faith that distorts their ideological characters, then such meetings are forbidden.
Participation in such meetings should be limited to knowledgable individuals who are capable of debate, they should not be open to ordinary people with little knowledge of Islam. The principle that governs dialogue with people of earlier divine religions is that it should be conducted in the most kindly manner, except for those of them who are intent on wrongdoing. Its aim is to prove the truth and provide guidance and as such it should be conducted well, observing good manners at all times.
This is endorsed by the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America and the European Council for Fatwa and Research, and stated by Shaikh Abd al-Azeez ibn Baz and Shaikh Muhammad ibn Uthaimeen.
The European Council for Fatwa and Research suggests that the phrase ‘Closing gaps between religions’ should be abandoned and replaced by words like dialogue and cooperation.
In its Decision 14-5, the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America states that there is no harm in arranging such meetings in mosques or in the places of worship of other religions, provided that the sanctity of mosques is observed and there is no disturbance of worshippers. It is also permissible for Muslims to offer their prayers, when due, in the places of worship of other religions, but they must not be facing statues. Muslims may permit others to worship in their mosques, so long as this does not become a habit and common practice. The rules and objectives of Islamic law provide ample evidence in support of this.
If any non-Muslim wishes to participate with Muslims in their prayer, he should be allowed to do so if it is deemed that this wins his goodwill. However, such people should stand in a row of their own or at the end of a row with Muslims, so that the row is uninterrupted. It is agreed that belief is a condition for the validity and acceptability of all actions.
Nor is there any harm in exchanging gifts in such meetings, provided that it does not prevent something right or permit something wrong. Exchanging gifts is an aspect of fairness which we are commanded to maintain when dealing with non-Muslims who are at peace with us.
Some meetings may start or conclude with a common supplication. There is no harm in this as long as the supplication is addressed to none other than God and does not include any phrases that associate partners with God. We have reports that non-Muslims were welcomed to attend the prayer for rain alongside Muslims.
Meetings of this type may include common activities, which may contain elements of worship or be of a general nature. It is not permissible for Muslims to participate in activities that have a worship nature, because these are either inventions that cannot be sanctioned or are contrary to God’s oneness. There is no harm in participating in common activities of a general nature as this is likely to bring people closer together and build bridges between them.
It is perfectly appropriate in such meetings to forge an alliance to support anyone suffering injustice, or to cooperate in the common good. The al-Fudul alliance, in which the Prophet participated, and the Madinah Document, which was established by the Prophet as the first written constitution in human history, provide ample evidence for the legitimacy of such an alliance.
Leaders of the Muslim community should maintain such interfaith meetings and train people to participate in them.
Dialogue between the message of Islam and other divine messages is acceptable, as God gives us the following order:
‘Call people to the path of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the most kindly manner. Your Lord knows best who strays from His path and who are rightly guided.’
He also says: ‘Say:
“People of earlier revelations. Let us come to an agreement which is equitable between us: that we shall worship none but God, that we shall associate no partners with Him, and that we shall not take one another for lords beside God.” And if they turn away, then say: “Bear witness that we have surrendered ourselves to God.”’
The Prophet’s Sunnah follows such a dialogue when he had a debate with the Christians from Najran and others.
The message of Islam differs from other divine messages in certain well-known principles and details. However, there are several others in common, such as the beliefs in God, prophethood, the Day of Judgement, moral principles, the basis of social structure – such as the family – protecting the environment, human rights, upholding justice for weaker communities, opposition to tyranny and injustice at all national and international levels, tolerance, opposition to fanaticism, aggression and genocide. Several aspects make dialogue with the people of other faiths more important, such as combating the spread of materialism and the atheist philosophy and the weakening of social bonds through the communications revolution that has transformed the world into a ‘village’ that shares the same destiny.
On the other hand, if dialogue aims to eliminate differences between faiths and dilute their distinctive principles and beliefs in order to establish a common ground, one that puts God’s oneness alongside the Trinity and mixes up the concept that sees God as unlike any other with those that liken Him to creatures, then this is rejected outright by Islam, God’s final and complete message.
‘Hence, judge between them in accordance with what God has revealed and do not follow their vain desires and beware of them lest they tempt you away from any part of what God has revealed to you.’
Decisions of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America.
Decisions of the European Council for Fatwa and Research.
Fatawa al-Aqaliyyat al-Muslimah by a group of scholars.
Fatawa al-Da'wah, a selection of fatwas by Shaikh Abd al-Azeez ibn Baz.
Mut’ib al-Qahtani (ed.), Is'af al-Mughtaribin bi Fatawa al-'Ulama’ al-Rabbaniyyin.