Changing the present and dreaming the future

In the present time we are perceived as naïve, simplistic, far from the world. This is my perception and of others around me. I think that it is our responsibility, if we are true before God, true before our conscience, to come to a realistic and true commitment.

As we represent the faiths of the people, we have to deal with this reality and we have to face up to our responsibilities when we are dealing with these crises. If we are speaking about hopes we have to start by being realistic and face up to the responsibility. If we want something to happen, we should try and change not only the way we are dealing with each other but also the way we are dealing with the world we are living in. When we speak about hopes and dreams, there is the Prophet’s peace upon all of them, who are dreaming the future and transforming the present. It should not be the other way around. By dreaming the present you are not helping me to deal with my problems. Therefore, dream the future, change the present and this is the way we have to deal with our values, with our teachings.

If I as a Muslim man, try to share my views with fellow citizens of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or indigenous spiritual traditions, I and others like me are very often perceived as naïve people, dreamers, far from reality. Is this true? If many perceive us like that, elementary psychology is telling us that we have to ask ourselves if there is any truth in this perception. I think there is. Our discourse is sometimes far removed from the reality of people’s lives. We speak about love but as soon as we seek to promote love in this world, it becomes difficult. To love is difficult. We speak about peace, but to get peace, inner peace and collective peace, that is difficult. We speak about the importance of family. But people want concrete answers on how to build a family in this world today, within this reality of social crises and psychological crises. We are living in a world where we need to give answers.

My prayer and my hope are for us to be humble, more realistic and more committed to giving answers on how to get peace. Let us not only talk about peace but also tell people how to get there. Let us speak with people how to move closer towards the realm of love, with dreams of the future, as one family of humankind. As Muslims we regard man and woman to be brothers and sisters. Yet, it is difficult to be sisters and brothers. It is difficult for me to be your brother. It will be difficult, if you would dare asking me to forgive you. To understand why you are doing what you are doing today is difficult.

Let us hope that we are committed and that we are trying to change the world.

But while we are promoting this interfaith dialogue let us take into account that our world has changed. We are dealing with ignorance, with people not knowing each other, and today we are dealing with something more vicious and perverse than all that: a new ideology of fear. Fear is promoted everywhere: wherever you go, to the south or the north, to Muslim, Christian or Hindu communities, everywhere you will see and feel the same the same: fear.

We are not secure and we do not feel secure. In the United States, there is a great deal of fear after 9/11. In Israel, Palestine, India and other parts in the world, everywhere is fear. It is not only a state of mind, which we are witnessing. It is also used by politicians and by religious people, people of faith. If we are true and understand the meaning of faith, we will have to deal with fear. Then we can begin to understand that we live in a world where emotions are promoted and emotions have nothing to do with spirituality, in fact they are its opposite.

Emotions are superficial reactions. Not superficial in a bad way, but the first reaction surfacing when something happens. Spirituality is something different. It is about effort, about something that you experience deep in your heart. Spirituality is the way to master your emotions, not to be or to submit yourself to your own emotions. It is of vital importance to talk about our spiritual teachings. What do they tell us of mastering emotions?

Why is it so important to go beyond our emotions? Because they put us in a position where we perceive ‘us’ versus ‘ them’ and where we have to defend our identity. That mindset is perverse, it is vicious in the world that we are living in to see each other as separate, always protecting myself from you and you protecting yourself from me. It makes dialogue quite impossible.

Today we are living with virtual wars, we are scared and we do not know how to deal with this. At the local level this ideology of fear is nurturing and is nurtured by suspicions. In which way do we trust each other? At a conference it may be easy to trust each other, but in our daily life it is different. How can we transmit this mutual trust at the local level, at the grassroots level? This is the commitment, this is the challenge, to create spaces of mutual trust, to move away from this globalized fear, to return to our own traditions and plan to contribute something concrete.

This is my hope: first to reconcile us with the complexity of the world around us and to make it clear that to have a spiritual heart and to nurture a spiritual heart, you need to build a critical mind. Spirituality has nothing to do with naivety. Spirituality has nothing to do with just dreaming. It has to do with a critical mind enabling us to make an effort, a spiritual effort to take a distance from our emotions and to try and understand the world. It means to learn to listen and it is not easy to listen when you are emotional. Very often people are speaking about Muslims saying that we do not listen. We listen suspecting you to say what we want you to say and so we do not listen to the words said.

This is happening daily, this is concrete life. We have a complex heart, living in a complex world. To learn to listen is not just dreaming about being together, it means to get to know each other more and to promote something which is very simple.

Let us be committed to reconcile us to this world with complexity and not make simplistic statements about love and peace and family. Such statements are far from the people, so people will listen to us from very far. This is when we think that we are a minority.

We are promoting majority values, majority teachings, majority feelings, but we are far, and we speak alone and as a minority. Why? It is not because people are far from the content of what we say. It is because we are far from their lives. That is a totally different thing.

If we move closer to the complexities of daily life, it is my hope that all that we are doing is a road to the civil society at the social level. Let us work together so that our ethical input becomes visible, our understanding of the ethical imparity before God to say something about social issues.

How should we promote ethics in our society? Let us take education as an example. Is it our sole ambition to add one hour on religion in our school systems? Is that all we desire? Should we not see the importance of ethics in a more global, integrated multi-disciplinary way?

I am convinced we must promote ethics in every discipline. To be satisfied with only one additional hour per week will again mean disconnecting ethics from reality. It will not convince students of our deep commitment towards creation.

To promote ethics in every discipline makes visible our deep concern about education, social justice, discrimination and gender issues. It is promoting a new, deep femininity and it is more than a struggle for rights. It is a struggle for being. We must engage in the world showing that we are committed to understand and promote majority values.

People who want to change the world are challenged by two biased feelings: that they are a minority and that they are victims. If we are true to our religious traditions we have to get rid of those feelings. We are not victims and we are not a minority.

If we are true before God, we will understand that this is a challenge. We have to be the subject of our history, subjects of our own lives and not victims of the lives of others.

Let us change this mindset and reconcile us with complexity. This is the way to connect with other people.

Let me conclude with two final remarks:

Firstly, we have to be accountable when attending international interfaith meetings. If we engage in dialogue only at conferences, then we are not living up to our spiritual commitment. We must be committed to go back to our communities and share what we have learned and put our words into actions.

Secondly, we must invest in trusting each other. Mutual trust is possible.

I was in Sarajevo a few weeks ago and there, ten years after the war, an Eastern European was asking a Western European: “Let me ask you one thing: After what happened and us being Muslims, how could I trust you?”

This question of trust is essential. How are we committed to promote this mutual trust? We must network at the local level, understanding this global strategy and ideology of fear, and we must create spaces for mutual trust.

When we do that, we are changing the present and dreaming the future.

SOURCE : Lecture given in Geneva in June 2005 during the conference organised by the World Council of Churches : "A Critical Moment in Interreligious Dialogue"

"Changing the Present, Dreaming the Future" edited by Hans Ucko

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