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Interfaith Dialogue ( 18 Nov 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Religious Tolerance and the Power of Words

By Imam Johari Abdul-Malik

November 18, 2011

Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never harm you.  Rubbish!  There is great power in words.  Words shape our world and our worldview. They can unite or divide. They can hurt or they can heal.

The Bible (John 1:1) reads “In the beginning was The Word” and the Quran teaches that everything came into existence with The Word.

The Falls Church mosque is one of the largest in the country, with most congregants coming from Arab and African states. It has been dogged by controversy and questions, which have been renewed by the killing in a drone, strike of Anwar al-Aulaqi, a former imam there turned radical anti-American.

As a board member of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington (IFC) I attend many interfaith gatherings.  Allah (God) uses an honorable term in the Quran Ahlil Kitab —People of the Book, referring to the children of Israel and the followers of Jesus, The Son of Mary.  Yet all too often I hear people referring to themselves as “Non-Muslims”, “Non-Christians” or “Non-Jews”.  These are definitions of who “they are not”.  If I attended a dinner party and the host introduced me as their “non-white friend” I don’t think I’d be around long enough to shake hands. It would be on the level of something Malcolm X once said, “Called me the “N-Word” so much I thought it was my name”.

There are some that divide the world into The Muslim World and The West.  “Dar Al-Islam” The Lands of Islam or “Dar As-Salaam” - The Lands of Peace versus  “Dar Al-Harb” - The Lands of War or similarly Dar Al-Iman - The Lands of Faith versus Dar Al-Kufr - The Lands of Rejectors of Faith in God.  Where does Dearborn, Michigan fit?

Let us recall that in 615 CE the prophet Muhammad, pbuh, said to his oppressed followers, ‘Go to Habasha (Ethiopia), there you will find a Christian King who is just’. Quran revealed that the whole world is a place for prayer.  Many American Muslims viewed the United States as the early Muslims refugees from Mecca viewed Ethiopia.

I recommended that we use our words that honor one another.  If you are talking directly to Christians, Catholics or Jews than say that or say, ‘Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Atheist, Agnostic, Unitarian Universalist, Baha’i, etc.

We can use other terms such as; people of faith, people of other faiths, people of other traditions, people of conscience, of conviction or of goodwill.  But please not “Non-........”

More than ever we need to speak words that unite.  The greatness of our nation is that we are made up of “People of many faiths and convictions” yet we can see each other as people striving for the common good. Let us call each other by our best names, names that affirm our positive self-image, speak words that unite yet respect our diversity.

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik is Director of Outreach for the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va.

Source: The Washington Post