I believe events like this conference in Jordan, excerpted below, are absolutely necessary, even if they don’t really go anywhere. But agreement can never be achieved unless they go at all. Here, from al-Monitor, is an example illustrating absolutely different worldviews:
So an obvious question was posed to the Islamists: Do you accept, alongside your Islamic laws and alongside the personal status laws for other communities, that in your countries there is also one civil personal status law that is optional? In other words, do you accept that a person is given the choice to either follow the laws of his sect or leave his sect and resort to the civil law under the confines and protection of the state?
Faced with this question, the Islamists did not hesitate to assert their absolute refusal of the proposal: a civil law, even if optional, is forbidden — a person may not leave his religion. By “person” they mean a “Muslim,” because current laws allow non-Muslims to convert to Islam. Sometimes they even encourage it as a means to either escape harassment or obtain a government job reserved for Muslims, in addition to dozens of other reasons.
In lieu of agreement, the article states attendees suffered ‘a vicious cycle of pleasantries’. Such a description characterizes much inter-religious dialogue, and is useful in its own right. Pleasantries can lead to friendship.
But what is necessary, especially in Egypt, is for Christians and Islamists to wrestle over the future of their nation. Christians may not be able to force their way, but if Islamists were to seek their blessing, and do all that is necessary to get it, they just might succeed.
The Islamists did not hesitate to confirm they have the right to reach power as they see it and practice it. They kept repeating the following mantra: “We will only resort to democracy that emanates from the ballot box.” Many tried to explain to them that democracy is not just the ballot box, but the Islamists did not pay them much attention. The Islamists’ main concern was to assert their rejection of what happened in Egypt and confront the rule of the “coupists,” as they call Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s rule, against the legitimate authorities. Regarding the concerns of their fellow Christian citizens, it seemed to a large extent to not be part of their concerns today or tomorrow.
Unfortunately, this has largely been Egypt’s experience.
It is hard for anyone to be humble. Many Islamists might find it even more difficult to seek this Christian blessing, as they see themselves as the possessors of the completed and perfected faith, and furthermore, they are numerically superior. How arrogant, they might think, of Christians not to yield. Don’t we give them protection under sharia law?
Ah, but this means little to them:
One last example that illustrates the dialogue’s difficulties was the discussion about personal status laws in countries dominated by Islamists. The Islamists usually try to show that they are open to other groups by supporting, as a rule, that other sects are given their own personal status laws — whereby every sect is given its own laws governing marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, transfer of ownership and other family matters. But at the same time, the Islamists insist that Islamic law is a “major” or a “principal” source of legislation of the state. Discussion by Christian participants at the conference showed that this rule is not sufficient, fair or balanced. In fact, it often conceals a gradual process to subdue non-Muslim citizens in those countries by degrading the minorities’ demographic and geographic presence, Islamicizing society and eliminating pluralism.
Islamists either smile slyly at this complaint, choose to ignore it, or else they cannot even comprehend it – confident in their understanding of God’s will in sharia law as best both for them and for Christians. True humility is harder for the one who believes that he already humbly and generously gives to his ‘lesser’. They have a point, but humility does not prove points. It loves and embraces.
So what should humility look like for the Christians? No one must ever abandon principles and convictions. Humility is not a game of power and pressure. Rather, it must come in an acknowledgment that Islamism is a strong societal impulse, and those who possess it are their fellow citizens.
Here is where it is easy, and necessary, for me to duck out of the discussion. If both sides came humbly, what would they decide? Here, I have no say. Even in asking both sides to come to the table I have nearly gone to far. Why should they yield even that initial bargaining position, when sides are viewed in mutual distrust?
I don’t know, and I can’t convince them. All I can do is trust that it is ‘right’. All I can hope for is that God would honor it, and dishonor all who seek first their particular benefit.
After all, the status quo is not working. Christians are often ignored or used as pawns, and Islamists have failed to successfully establish their project anywhere there is religious diversity.
It is not dialogue that is necessary, though it is helpful. It is wrestling. It is the sort that, like Jacob with the angel, would not let go until he secures a blessing. It is the sort that engages in respect and will not cease until it is mutual.
I don’t know, maybe that is not humility at all. But humility might be able to avoid Jacob’s fate. Though he obtained his blessing, he lived the rest of his life with a dislocated hip.
Christians and Islamists have dislocated far more. Perhaps it cannot be otherwise. Perhaps their ideas are completely incompatible.
Fair enough. Ideas cannot be humble, they can only seek their own. But people are more flexible. People can wrestle.
People can bless. It is time Christians and Islamists begin this strategy with one another, even if unilaterally.