Religion today, and how people understand and interpret it, is one of the most important factors behind the uncertainty and turmoil that are characteristic of our contemporary world.
Throughout the world, whether in the West or the rest, religion is a primary cause for much of the unrest and discord within, as well as between, states and societies.
The question of the separation of church, temple, mosque, ashram, etc., and state has nowhere been resolved satisfactorily.
Islam in particular, and in spite of its true peaceful and accepting nature, has been so vilified that the term Islamophobia has been coined to describe a particular current of xenophobic tendencies in many societies throughout the world.
Emphasizing the need to address such xenophobic currents is the fact that Muslims are simply no longer “over there” in their once distant societies, but are present in Western societies and elsewhere in sizeable proportions. Neither understood by their host cultures nor able to explain themselves properly, their presence has been the cause for much discord and hate propaganda.
Recognizing the need to address this ugly, sad and seemingly growing phenomenon, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan called for several meetings, over several years, of prominent, learned scholars and ulema to consider the possibility of drafting a short, direct, simple document that summarizes the basic humane tenets of Islam.
The Amman Message, issued in 2004, succeeded in addressing the misunderstandings abroad and achieved a consensus of the major schools of Islamic thought on the central humane and peaceful precepts of Islam.
Representing almost the entire spectrum of Islamic theological schools of thought, the ulema and scholars deliberated for two weeks, eventually producing a document they titled the Amman Message.
The choice of the word “message” was deliberate, since Islam itself is a message from God to humanity through the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) who called himself and was named by his followers Messenger.
A major thrust of the Amman Message is for the Muslims themselves to live up to the noble faith and for others to understand its peaceful nature and essence.
The humaneness of the doctrine of Islam, its peaceful nature, piety, love of God and neighbor, justice, human rights and the exaltation of diversity as a manifestation of God’s glory in his creation are but a few of the characteristics of Islam that the message delineates.
At religious level, Islam provides space for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to live at peace side by side, each practicing his faith according to his own beliefs. Not only the “people of the book” — Jews, Christians and others — are provided space and respect; Islam orders in Surat Al Baqara that “there shall be no compulsion in religion” (Holy Koran 2:256).
It also allows for non-believers, stating in Surat Yunis: “Had your Lord pleased, all the people of the earth would have believed in Him, one and all. Would you then force people to have faith?” (Holy Koran 10:99).
Over time, and since the advent of Islam, a dialectic has developed between it and the West. While it is true that the two civilizations across the Mediterranean, to its north and south, enjoyed certain moments of friendly and peaceful condition, these were also times when the two sides met more often on the battlefield than elsewhere.
In recent times, and perhaps since the Napoleonic Montpellier declaration of 1798, calling for the Jews to ingather in Palestine, the relations have become tense and often hostile. Islam, in the Koran itself and in the Covenant of Medina, and centuries before Christianity did so, recognized Judaism and, in fact, from day one accepted it on the religious as well as the socio-economic levels of coexistence. Meanwhile, relations between Arab-Islamic and Judeo-Christian civilizations soured. The strain in relations is perhaps best explained by the fact that while dialogue has been going on at various levels for a long period of time, no real communication or understanding of the “other” has resulted.
The Amman Message is an outreach document that communicates what has not been communicated before, not only to the West and to the Jews, but to the entire international community as well.
The Amman Message also addresses some of the Arabs and Muslims themselves who, in the heat of intellectual, political, religious and military confrontations, have forgotten the true nature of their creed.
Islam is not the terrorist ideology portrayed abroad; nor is it a Wahhabi, Salafist, Jihadist, militaristic, aggressive or oppressive ideology internally.
Rather, it is the simple creed of the rational, the centrist and the compromising, whose resonance is so attractive that peoples from every corner of the globe find solace and peace in it.
The Amman Message is a cry of reason addressed to the human conscience across the globe, and a reminder to the faithful, caught as they are in the grip of a crisis of civilization, who have come to need such a reminder of the true nature of Islam.
The writer is director of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies and former foreign minister of Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.
(Kamel S. Abu Jaber is a writer for The Jordan Times where this article was published on Nov. 21, 2012)