(VIII) The Amman Message and Interfaith Relations

At the beginning of the Twenty-first century CE (and the Fifteenth century AH) one of the greatest dangers confronting the world politically and globally is the possibility of an all-embracing conflict between the Islamic world—or rather between Muslims (who constitute between one fifth and one quarter of humanity)—and much of the rest of the world notably Christians—who constitute a third of the world’s population—and Jews. Indeed, there is already a lot of conflict going on, albeit on a smaller scale between Muslims, Christians and Jews (as there has been periodically throughout history).

Now it is not our intention to address here the causes or likely course of such a conflict. Nor is our intention to discuss Muslim grievances against non-Muslims or vice versa. All that we will say is that this conflict is often justified by those who seek it (from the non-Muslim side especially) by the idea that there is a fundamental clash of values underlying this conflict and making it necessary if not inevitable. However, the Amman Message and its Three Points, by explicitly affirming and recognizing the eight Mathahib of Islam inherently necessarily provides the answers to seven key issues which constitute all that non-Muslims can or should reasonably ask of Muslims. That is to say that whilst it is certainly not the business of the West or of non-Muslims to tell Muslims what to believe, in the modern world where Muslims and non-Muslims are intertwined at all levels as never before in history, non-Muslims do reasonably have a right to expect certain things from Muslims (and of course vice versa). The Amman Message, with its explicit recognition of the Mathahib of Islam, represents the gamut of all that the West and non-Muslims could wish for from Muslims, and all that is needed from Muslims to live harmoniously with non-Muslims. The seven key issues are:

  1. Human rights, individual rights and freedoms and social justice;
  2. Women’s rights, children rights and ethnic minorities’ rights;
  3. The condemnation and forbidding of terrorism, individual violence, and aggression;
  4. The condemnation and forbidding of wanton, offensive ‘jihad’ (‘holy war’) and murder in the name of the religion;
  5. The guarantee of respect and tolerance for other religions, and of freedom of religion;
  6. That Muslims be law-abiding, loyal and good citizens in non-Muslim countries in which they are not oppressed or persecuted, enjoy equal justice before law and benefit from complete freedom of culture and religion;
  7. That Muslims determine their own form of temporal government for themselves (within the parameters of the maqasid or ‘goals’ of the Shari’ah) and that this may include modern democracy.

That is not to say of course that every point of view within every Mathhab will be entirely pleasing to everybody, but it is to say, however, that within each of the Mathahib (and certainly within the Sunni, Shi’i and Ibadhi divisions of Islam as a whole) there are ample solutions to reasonable demands on these key seven issues. This is because the Mathahib of Islam, although often misunderstood and blamed for keeping Islam from ‘changing’ and ‘progressing’, are in fact a moderating force on the religion — they are its internal juridical ‘checks and balances’.

Equally of course, this is not to say that there is anything new in the Amman Message about the Mathahib, but only that Mathahib have always contained de jure beautiful and perfectly just solutions on all these issues, but that they have not always been applied in practice—because Muslims have failed to apply true Islamic law, whether it be out of ignorance, tribal and ethnic customs, fanatic zeal or for other reasons—and this is precisely what has tarnished Islam’s image. Thus the Amman Message, both in itself and by explicitly affirming and recognizing the Mathahib of traditional orthodox Islam, contains a powerful balm for interfaith tensions, and a potential common ground between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Finally, it need hardly be said the third point of the Amman Message ‘closes the door’ on erroneous fatwas (which so often precedes interfaith violence of various kinds) and is thus extremely useful in promoting peace and goodwill between Islam, Christianity and Judaism.