On the Religious Other: Why I am committed to building inter-religious relationships

The Jewish Theologian Martin Buber observed that people are defined by their relationships with others. While they may disagree on God, believers and non-believers would agree that our relationships with one another make us who we are. In other words this is how the I is constructed. However with the I comes ‘us’ but for there to be an ‘us’ there ought to be ‘them’, the proverbial ‘other.’ The problem with the ‘other’ is that in general people tend to ascribe all positive values and actions to one’s own group and negative values and associations to others. I have observed this phenomenon among Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists etc where a people is otherized and written off. Indeed one of the biggest challenges in life is to live peacefully with the other, where the other is not merely an individual but a people.

This challenge is nowhere more pronounced than with respect to the religious other. The famous Orientalist Bernard Lewis notes that most of the medieval polemics involving Christians and Muslims usually involved comparing the theory of one religion with the practice of the other religion. The same practice continues to the present day and, Muslims and Christians are not the only ones who are guilty of this mental crime. Just as it is easier to be a saint in a cave than to be a saint amongst people, it is also much easier to be a saint amongst people who are like oneself than to be a saint amongst people who are different from oneself. This was the problem that set me to the current route – A practicing Muslim studying Christian Theology at a Christian Seminary.

I reckon that is easy to make claims about brotherhood and humanity but it is much difficult to live them. Thus I have asked myself repeatedly, have I ever tried to live this maxim? So why study in a seminary. When I started the program believed that it would help me become a better person and a better Muslim. The time that I have spent at the seminary has indeed made me more conscious of the humanness of other people, and that indeed is the message of Islam and Christianity. This point is beautifully summarized by Ali the cousin of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), “Every man is your brother. He is either your brother in faith or your brother in humanity.” To be someone’s brother means that one has some idea about what it means to walk in their shoes. I believe that the path to finding this brotherhood is the path to peace. This is what I aspire to do and why I am at Luther. One has to overcome oneself to find peace, the road to peace of the inner and outer variety comes from within; I am usually reminded of the following verse from the Bible, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

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2 thoughts on “On the Religious Other: Why I am committed to building inter-religious relationships

  1. Welcome, Muhammad. I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  2. I appreciate your inclusion of non-believers, Muhammad. Your connection of Buber, Christian and Muslim texts with basic humanness and humanity makes great sense. The disconnect was one element that opened the door to my exit from faith. Yet, you seem to be pointing to a better way, a healthier way toward a future where being human comes first, beliefs are at best secondary.

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