All faiths should form 'an alliance of virtues'

Shaykh Abdallah (in white) stressed yesterday that Islam carries the message of peace and embraces diversity. Beside him is Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, vice-president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.
Shaykh Abdallah (in white) stressed yesterday that Islam carries the message of peace and embraces diversity. Beside him is Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, vice-president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Top Islamic scholar urges compassion, justice in dismantling barriers

All religious and spiritual traditions are underpinned by virtues such as compassion and justice, a top Islamic scholar said yesterday, as he called for different faiths to work more closely together to put forward the message of peace.

As the world grows more polarised, finding ways to bind diverse communities through their shared values is now a pressing task, said Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah.

"The irony is that as the great distances between us diminish, our closeness to one another dissipates," he said in Arabic at a lecture last night. "So how do we restore our shared humanity, and the essence of our religions, which call for peace and conviviality? This should be our main concern today."

One way to break down barriers between communities is to bring different faiths together in "an alliance of virtues" through dialogue and inter-faith projects such as feeding the poor or sick, he said.

This can also help ease suspicion and misunderstanding, he said.

Shaykh Abdallah, a prominent advocate for multiculturalism and inter-faith understanding, is in Singapore as part of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) Distinguished Visitor Programme.

The president of the United Arab Emirates-based Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies delivered the Muis Lecture at the Grand Hyatt Singapore last night to about 650 people of various faiths.

The talk - titled Faith, Compassion And Human Dignity - was chaired by Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim.

In the hour-long session, Shaykh Abdallah - who was born in Mauritania - shared how greater dialogue and cooperation between the faiths can pave the way to a better world.

The call for peace must be echoed by all communities to drown out the calls of destruction that have sparked war and discord, he said.

"We want those violating the sanctity of others to hear this call and know what they're doing isn't sound religion," he said.

Although some extremists have seized on religion as a tool to justify their acts, he stressed that Islam carries the message of peace and embraces diversity. Muslims cannot neglect their religious duties, but they must practise their faith in a way that does not harm others, he added.

Besides championing inter-faith understanding, he is also a leading authority on the development of fatwa, or Islamic rulings. Yesterday, he noted that such rulings cannot stay static and must take into account the context of the period.

When asked about his take on the caliphate that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seeks to establish through violence, he said: "The main objective that a state must achieve is peace."

In 2014, he issued a fatwa against the militant group's violent ways.

In his opening remarks, Dr Yaacob said this fatwa made clear that Muslim societies must inculcate peace as a goal and priority.

"ISIS may claim to be carrying out a moral duty to enjoin good and forbid evil, but it has at the same time disregarded the values of our faith, the compassion that we should hold for others, and the human dignity that we should all strive to protect," said Dr Yaacob.

Destruction, falsehoods and vengeance can never be associated with Islam, he added, urging Muslims to uphold the values that Islamic law is built upon, including justice, mercy and the common good.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'All faiths should form 'an alliance of virtues''. Print Edition | Subscribe