IN RECENT news, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran last Sunday and gave Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave the kingdom. This is a bold move that heightens strategic and sectarian rivalry that underpins conflicts across the Middle East. This move was related to the execution of Sheik Nimr al-Nimr and forty seven (47) others who were accused of orchestrating protests between 2011 and 2013 in which 20 people died. Sheik Nimr had long been identified as the most vocal Shia leader in Qatif. He publicly criticize the ruling al-Saud family and call for democratization of their country through election.
Analysts in the Middle East view his death to worsen the Saudi-Iranian split and it will affect drastically the international peacemaking efforts that require the two countries to make compromises. In another news, the United States called for dialogue. US State Department spokesman, John Kirby, said, “We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential in working through differences and we will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions.”
But what is dialogue? I have learned in my trainings with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) that dialogue is a safe process of interaction to verbally or nonverbally exchange of ideas, thoughts, questions, information and impressions between people from different backgrounds. My mentor in KAICIID, Dr. Mohammed Abu-Nimer, who is an expert on conflict resolution and dialogue for peace, also a full professor at the American University School of International Service in International Peace and Conflict Resolution in Washington, DC, told me “in dialogue, one does not persuade but one has to learn from the other party, to integrate similarities and reconcile differences”. He further said, “religion as a boundary marker for identity and presents people with a system of laws, narratives and language with which to express their deepest beliefs”. He calls for an interfaith dialogue which introduces faith-based diplomacy, wherein it uses religion as a lens through which to view and analyze international conflict.
I also learned that interfaith dialogue is one of the many important tools and contributing factors for resolution because it reduces the amount of dehumanization and ignorance on both sides of the conflict, as well as providing symbols of hope. It contributes toward conflict resolution because it draws on peace-building process that, in themselves, have religious connections.
The major theme of the interfaith dialogue is reconciliation because it allows the people to draw upon a deeper, more transcendent part of their being and recognize similarities in those on the other side of the religious divide. Through this, the parties would recognize that their religions have more in common. This kind of dialogue is an emerging occurrence, and it is a by-product of increased political, cultural and economic globalization.
The purpose of interfaith dialogue is to increase our understanding of and respect for other religious systems and institutions, thereby increasing our appreciation of their values. These dialogues should enhance our sensitivity to the feelings of all professing religious people in their relationship with God. Good dialogue should, in addition, result in the deepening of the faith of every individual.
Moreover, I learned that interfaith dialogue has four basic approaches: the exclusivism; syncretism; pluralism; and the transformative dialogue. Exclusivism believes that only his or her religion is fundamentally and universally true, while the others are wrong or misled. This is also the same as the absolutists of the ancient or medieval philosophical times, wherein there is only one accepted and universal idea. The exclusivist would try to convert one from his or her religion to the former’s own religion.
The second approach of the interfaith dialogue is the syncretism model wherein it attempts to merge two or more faiths into a single, unified faith. This is the opposite of exclusivism, and this sits on the other end of the spectrum. Though parties would tend to find the similarities of two or more religion, but in the end the parties would try to fuse these religions together and end up being confused.
The third approach is pluralism wherein it concentrates on the similarities within the religions represented in the dialogue. Usually, a pluralist affirms on all religions in the table. It would be the same as a relativist, wherein a person would say that a concept would depend on the culture of one person, say, the definition of a common good of a person depends on what culture he or she has been brought up in.
The fourth approach is the transformative dialogue. The transformative dialogue recognizes the increasing independence of a globalized world in a way that other models do not. This approach is the ideal approach because it seeks to honor the differences in faith at the same time recognize the similarities. This approach is ideal because it does not topple down a religion nor try to merge all religions in one.
Interfaith dialogue has two categories. First is the cognitive model. In this model, the cognitive dialogue primarily compares religious traditions, seeking to learn more about other faiths and the nature of religion as a whole. It centers on information exchange.
The affective model is the ideal model because it encourages us to share personal stories and compare narratives that often go beyond religion. It does not only settle on the religious discussion but it also discusses the political aspect of religion, meaning participants can discuss on how religion relate to politics or vice versa. Though the goal of an affective interfaith dialogue varies.
In working for interfaith dialogue, we need to combine the two models. According to the Dr. Mohammed, we need to balance cognitive and the affective model through the storytelling method. It also encourages us to express their feelings, thoughts, and beliefs from a personal point of view and allows past hurts to be gradually revealed. One of the effective use of interfaith dialogue is to reconciliation. It works best when we are allowed to voice our confusions, questions, sense of victimization, or interest through storytelling.
The interfaith dialogue seems to be used in cultural talks, usually initiated by religious groups. And usually it is between two major religions: Christianity and Islam. But can we use dialogue, within the religious groups? Can intra faith dialogue among Muslims be possible? Aside from interfaith dialogue, I believe that intra faith dialogue, when applied and done nowadays, could open the minds of people to each religion and let people realize that almost all religions are the same.