All believers who participate in interreligious dialogue do so having been nourished by a faith or a conviction on the basis of which they understand themselves, perceive the world and build relations with those around them. Their connection with Truth, with the beliefs of others, and with diversity in general is directly influenced by the content and nature of that faith or conviction. The centrality of tawhid in the message of Islam has been strongly emphasized in part I. It is the principle on which the whole of Islamic teaching rests and is the axis and point of reference on which Muslims rely in dialogue. The intimate awareness of tawhid forms the perception of the believer, who understands that plurality has been chosen by the One, that He is the God of all beings and that He requires that each be respected: “. . . and say: ‘We believe in what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to you; our God and your God is the One.’ ” It is out of this conviction that Muslims engage in dialogue, and this is assumed in forming relations with the other. What establishes difference from the other, and consequently the direction and terms of the dialogue that is to be built, is whether or not there is commitment to the expression of an absolute monotheism. This is why the Qur’anic call to the Jews and Christians begins with: “O people of the book, come to agreed terms between us and you: that we worship none but God, that we do not attribute any associate to Him and that none of us takes other divinities apart from Him. If they turn away, say: ‘Be witnesses that we are submitting ourselves [muslimun].’ ” Firmly asserting this principle indicates that tawhid is the point of reference on the basis of which a Muslim engages in discussion: if there are differences on this central point, it is then necessary that dialogue be entered into and developed on the basis of shared values and teachings, since the last Revelation recognizes those that came before: “God, there is no god but God. It is He who sent down the Book [the Qur’an] upon you [Muhammad] in all truth confirming what came before. And He sent down the Torah and the Gospel before as a guidance for people, and He sent down the Discernment [al-furqan] the Qur’an.” This recognition is fundamental and opens up the way for dialogue, which, although it forces us to see our differences, is bound to establish bridges between convictions and traditions.
The Qur’an not only issues a call to dialogue but is also insistent about the form it should take and the way in which it should be conducted. It should not simply be an exchange of information; it should also be a way of being and of speaking, an attitude: “And discuss with them in the best way,” and again: “Do not discuss with the people of the Book except in the best of ways, apart from those who are unjust among themselves.” In this last verse, the restriction is not at all upon dialogue as such, but as it pertains to the repressive attitude some Jews and Christians adopted toward the Muslim community, which was at that time facing serious adversity. This contextualized approach is what gives meaning to the often quoted verse “You will certainly see that those most hardened in hostility toward the Muslims are the Jews and the polytheists and you will certainly see that those closest to you in affection are those who say: ‘We are Christians,’ because there are among them priests and monks who are not swollen with pride.” Here again, it is the attitude of people and potential partners in dialogue that is at issue, and not dialogue in itself. To those who choose to understand this contextualized teaching (warning us to be concerned about injustice, adversity, and the pride of human beings) as an absolute prohibition on dialogue, the Revelation replies clearly: “God does not forbid you from establishing relations of generosity and just behavior with those who have not fought against you over your religion and who have not evicted you from your dwellings. God loves those who act fairly.” This verse goes even further than all the others: if dialogue is necessary and if the way of speaking about oneself is important, we are here clearly called to establish relations of generosity and justice with all who respect our freedom of conscience and our human dignity. Dialogue is an act of conviction, of listening, of self-awareness, of self-knowledge, and of the heart: together, these qualities constitute wisdom.