Dr. Ruhul Amin

Dr. Ruhul Amin

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A Muslim writing about religion in a newspaper with a predominantly Christian audience is a testament to the value of interfaith dialogue in our society. It is imperative in today’s ever-shrinking world that we do not use others’ faiths as a criterion to separate them from engaging in our civic arena. We cannot afford to claim ignorance towards other religions. We must not claim to be religious by stating that it is only us, and not others, who matter. We should appreciate that there is dignity in difference. Assimilation and respect for others who are different than us should be an integral part of our faith. These are the central tenets of interfaith dialogue. It is an exercise of learning about other faiths that are different than ours. It is about respectful coexistence with others whose faiths, customs, and worldviews are different than ours.

The key to a productive democracy is to encourage interfaith communication. It is important not to marginalize people of other faiths, including those who do not identify with a faith at all. The foundation for interfaith dialogue should be that all parties engage in the discussion without any hostility or preconceived notion. The objective of interfaith communication is not to resolve our faith-based differences but to appreciate others’ faiths. Despite having different beliefs, we should still be able to work together for the betterment of our society to address issues such as homelessness, hunger, or job opportunities for the marginalized. We know that bridges of understanding do not fall from the sky or rise from the ground. They are built by engaging in dialogue. A religiously diverse democracy can help create spaces, organize social events, and foster friendship among people of different faiths to share a common life together.

More than fourteen hundred years ago, Muslims learned about coexistence from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). When the Prophet established the first nation state in the city of Medina, Saudi Arabia, Muslims, Jews, and polytheists were coexisting in peace under his leadership. Christians were not living in Medina during that time. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) introduced the first constitution of the world, known as the Medina Accord. This accord guaranteed freedom of religion for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It guaranteed justice and equal treatment for all. It also required the citizens of the state work together to protect from foreign invasion, enjoin good and forbid evil.

We are a multicultural and multi-religious society. Interfaith dialogue provides the glue that nourishes and keeps our society together. As we navigate our diversity, we must learn not to drown or suffocate each other, but instead to swim alongside each other. Interfaith work allows us to deepen our own faith by learning about other faiths. We must not forget that harming one faith may harm all faiths and destruct us from the paths leading to God. We may find it beneficial sometimes to read, listen and interpret things through the lenses of others in order to enhance our sensitivity, compassion, and most importantly, our relationship with God. Regardless of our differences, we must find ways to coexist with others. In our ever-changing world, no religion can exist in isolation by blatantly ignoring the others. We have the obligation of engaging in constructive conversation so that we can teach our children and grandchildren how to build bridges and not walls. We need to create an environment for them so that they can be proud of their own religious tenets, while also learning from those of other faiths.

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Dr. Amin is a professor of mechanical engineering at Montana State University and is the President of the Islamic Center of Bozeman.