“A man of two worlds: West and East, intelligently at ease in both but at peace with neither.”

The Communicator: The Dialogue at Its Best

During his years at McGill, Dr. Ismail al-Faruqi’s talent as a disputant was recognized by his peers. His ability to pursue the opponent’s argument to its logical conclusion was augmented by his mastery of the rhetoric. The way he conducted himself during his encounters with people of other faiths can be seen in the following excerpt from his dialogue with Bishop Kenneth Cragg and Father Michael Fitzgerald at Chembesy on June 26, 1976.

Fitzgerald: I would like to ask for clarification of Dr. al-Faruqi’s statement that Islamic da’wah is ecumenical par excellence, by virtue of its comprehensive recognition of all the religions as de jure. In fact, what is meant by all religions? Having recourse to Apollo and other gods and goddesses is a kind of religion, but would Islam recognize this as well as all other religions as de jure?

al-Faruqi: Islam recognizes all religions as de jure, and then it invites the adherents of these re ligions to begin the task of criticism. No religion is ruled out by the Muslim a priori. In other words, if I meet someone who has never heard of Islam and who worships, for example, an “X” or “Y”, whatever that may be, I as a Muslim am not free to call him a pagan, or to regard him as condemned by God; rather, I must talk with him in order to discover what his religion is, in the belief that God must in His mercy have sent a prophet to him, for the Qur’an says: “And there is no people unto whom God has not sent a prophet” (Q. 35:24)

Believing then that God in His mercy must have told him something, I meet with him with a view to being instructed about his faith, and then I invite him to research his own tradition in order to discover the essential message that God has given him. And if, in relation to that central revealed core, the rest of the beliefs and practices of that religion as developed through history turn out to be a pack of lies, that would be an empirical discovery for me. But for the Muslim this must never be an a priori decision which condemns a man because he “doesn’t believe in my God my way”.

However, if I discover that religion has been corrupted and falsified beyond recognition, then I have a duty to tell him about the Qur’an, God’s final revelation, to present it to him as rational truth, and invite his consideration. If he says, “I don’t want to listen”, then either he is malevolent or a fool.

Cragg: What you are saying, then, is that God has sent prophets everywhere, but ex hypothesi these prophets must be consistent with Islam.

al-Faruqi: Yes, Islam as religio naturalis, din al fitrah.

Cragg: But that which in Buddhism is antithetical to Islam and to rationalism is not simply chaff mixed with wheat, if I may put it that way; it is the very wheat of Buddhism. By your analysis here it must then have been a false prophecy which brought the Buddhist to that belief.

al-Faruqi: I won’t say a false prophecy. I would say that a true revelation through an authentic prophet has been thoroughly falsified.

Fitzgerald: But by which historical criteria is the “true” prophet to be identified? And where is the “true” prophecy of which you speak within Buddhism?

al-Faruqi: I don’t know, but it can be researched; the fact that I assume it to be there at the origin is at least a good step in the direction of ecumenical tolerance.

Cragg: It seems rather an escape hatch of a theory, because if a prophet is really a prophet then his message becomes known, it is balagh, communication; and if it has not survived historically it must be mythical.

al-Faruqi: No. At one time it was known. But then later on it became falsified as the Hebrew message became falsified, and the Christian message was falsified.

Taken from “Islamic Da’wah: Its Nature and Demands”. American Trust Publications, Indianapolis, 1986. pp. 11-12.