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Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme


Growing Ecologies of Peace, Compassion and Blessing: A Muslim Response to 'A Muscat Manifesto'

Dr Aref Ali Nayed
Director of Kalam Research & Media
Knowledge Village, Dubai

Lecture at the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge
Wednesday 21st october 2009

In the Name of God, Compassionate, Kind. Blessings upon the Prophets of God

In the welcoming setting of Oman’s distinguished theological faculty, and the sublime beauty of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Professor David Ford of the Cambridge Faculty of Divinity offered Muslim scholars a gift. He named the gift ‘A Muscat Manifesto’, and distilled in it the wisdom of decades of deep theological work and experience. 1 The gift consisted of good advice on the features of good theology, the characteristics of good religious leadership, and guidelines for inter-faith relations. Professor Ford, of course, spoke from the depths of his own Christian wisdom tradition, but his advice, coming from a sincere and loving heart, did transcend inter-faith boundaries, and touched the hearts of many Muslim scholars.2 What comes from the heart enters hearts. I pray that I can respond to ‘A Muscat Manifesto’ from the heart. Of course,the best heart-felt response to a gift is gratitude. So, it is my honour to publicly thank Professor Ford for his wonderful gift, and to elaborate the ‘thank you’ theologically, as best as I can.

A Muscat Manifesto’ provides the features or ‘key elements’ for ‘wise theology’. It also provides the characteristics for a more engaging religious leadership. It then goes on toprovide guidelines for inter-faith relations. Let us start with the features of a wise theology. Professor Ford offers four such features:

1. Wise theology is based on wise interpretation and understanding of scripture
and tradition.
2. Wise theology is doubly engaged, in the present: with God (in prayer); and with
our changing world (in living).
3. Wise theology is intelligent and creative in its understanding of things, divine
and worldly.
4. Wise theology communicates itself to others effectively.3

As a Muslim working on reviving and articulating a wise Islamic theology, or wise Kalam, for today, I take Professor Ford’s advice to heart. Indeed, a renewed Kalam must be firmly rooted in the interpretation and understanding of the Qur’an, the Sunna, and the tradition of the Muslim community or Umma. A renewed Kalam must be thoroughly soaked in a sincere prayer-filled engagement with Allah, as the living God, and with Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the living exemplar of love and guidance. However, such a Kalammust also be in a realistic and caring engagement with the complexities of our world (or rather worlds), in these difficult and troubled times. A renewed Kalam must aim for the utmost intelligent and respectful God-invoking creativity, and must articulate itself as lucidly as possible.

It is interesting to note that the features of wise theology as outlined by Professor Ford actually coincide largely with the features of a ‘good word’ (kalima tayyiba) as described in the Holy Qur’an. God Exalted says:

Have you not seen how Allah gave an example? A good word is as a good tree whose root is firm and its branches are in heaven,

Its gives its fruit every while, by leave of its Lord. Allah gives examples to people that they may remember.(The Holy Qur’an, 14:24–25)*

Thus, today, if an Islamic theology or Kalamaims to be a truly ‘good word’, as per Qur’anic standards, it must aim to be:

1. Firmly rooted.

2. Open-ended.

3. Fruitful.

4. Ever-invoking divine guidance and permission.

A renewed Kalam must be deeply and firmly rooted in the Divine and Prophetic guidance provided by the Qur’an, the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and in the tremendous polyphonic traditions that were worked out and articulated by scholars and sages, lovingly devoting themselves to living out the Prophetic example. A renewed Kalam must stretch out to heaven in pray-fully seeking out divine guidance, but must also reach out to others in respectfully seeking out human engagement and mutual knowledge and understanding (ta’ruf):

O mankind! We have created you from a male and female, and then rendered you nations and tribes so that you might know one another. The most honourable among you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most pious. Allah is indeed Knowing, Aware. (The Holy Qur’an, 49:13)

A renewed Kalam must be practically fruitful and thoroughly service-oriented (khidma). Such a Kalam must realize the fact that the best way to God’s love is the practice of love towards, and service of, His creatures. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) says: “Creatures are God’s dependants: whoever is more helpful to His dependants is more loved by Him” (Abu Ya’la, no.3318). It is important to remember that, in his prayers, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to seek refuge in God from knowledge that is of no practical use (‘ilm la yanf’a) (Muslim, no.6856). An Islamic theology that does not place itself at the service of all of God’s creatures is not truly Islamic. Prophet Muhammad’s guidance (peace be upon him) clearly indicates that a Kalam that truly seeks God must seek Him through serving His needy creatures: the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, and the frightened (Muslim, no. 6508).

A renewed Kalam must be set in the deep realization that no guidance or salvation is possible without God’s own saving guidance and deliverance. No healthy and divinely minded Kalam is possible without the sincere and humble seeking of divine guidance and permission. This divine guidance and permission must be sought daily through heart-felt prayer and devotion to God Himself (Exalted is He), invocations of blessings upon His Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and respectful discipleship and apprenticeship to devout scholars and sages, who are the true heirs of Muhammad (peace be upon him), in unbroken chains of scholarly and spiritual transmission (Bukhari, Chapter on ‘knowing before saying and doing’).

God’s guidance is an expression of His compassion (rahma) towards humanity. Without this divine compassion, no one can be saved, not even Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)! Though he himself is a ‘gifted compassion’ of God (rahma muhda), the Prophet (peace be upon him) says: “No one will enter paradise through one’s own deeds”, but through the compassion (rahma) of God.” His Companions said: “Not even you O Messenger of God?” He insisted: ‘Not even I, unless God embraces me with His Compassion”(Muslim, no. 7071). Renewed Kalam must be rooted in this vital realization. It is the living practice of compassion that is conducive to receiving divine compassion. Islamic theology must be rooted in compassion at the theoretical, practical, and cons- tructive levels: theoria, praxis, and poesis. The ‘leave of the Lord’ that permits a good tree to bear fruit is indeed a divine compassion that can best be invoked through living in mutual compassion.4

Thus, it is important to seek a renewed and wise Islamic theology (Kalam) that is like the Qur’anic good tree. However, it is important to point out that healthy renewed Kalam would not be just one good tree, but whole forests! Healthy Kalam would be entire ecologies of goodness that are akin to Qur’anic gardens (janaat). Throughout its history, whenever Islamic theology thrived it was typified as marvelously complex gardens of theologies, rather than a single theology.5 In the Qur’an, God celebrates and expects us to marvel at, and also celebrate, complex diversity, even as it stems from the same source:

And on the earth are neighbouring tracts, vineyards and ploughed lands, and palms in pairs and palms single; watered with one water; and some of them We make better than others to eat. In that are signs for those who understand.(TheHolyQur’an, 13:4)

Just as the same water gives rise to a variety of palms, the same Qur’an and Prophetic tradition gives rise to a variety of approaches to, and schools of, Islamic theology (Kalam). Such a variety and diversity is not to be lamented, but rather celebrated.

Have you not seen that Allah causes water to fall from the sky, and We produce therewith fruit of diverse hues; and among the hills are streaks white and red, of diverse hues and [others] raven-black; And among men and beasts and cattle there are those of diverse hues? Only the learned among His servants fear Allah. And Allah is August, Forgiving. (The Holy Qur’an, 35:27–28)

Sunni Kalam (be it Ash‘ari, Maturidi, or Hanbali) cannot be revived and renewed with- out being in meaningful and mutually-respectful discussion and engagement with renewed Shi‘iKalam (be it Ithna-ashri, Zaydi, or Isma‘ili), as well as with Ibadi Kalam. Sunni Kalam cannot be revived and renewed without respectful inter-faith engagement with Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu theologies of today. This is in addition to considerate engagement with the renewed expressions of Mu‘tazili, philosophical, naturalistic, skeptical, and even atheistic schools of thought. God’s very creativity is the very source of the reality of pluralistic variety and diversity. No renewed Islamic theology will thrive in splendid isolation from the God-decreed complexities of theological diversity.6 In periods of theological thriving, even a single theological school, like Ash‘arism, exhibited and celebrated marvelous variety. Consider the rich polyphony and diversity that emerges when reading Ash‘ari, Baqillani, Juwayni, Ghazali, Razi, and ‘Iji. These scholars are all Ash‘aris, and yet their writings exhibit incredibly complex patterns akin to the intricate patterns of beautiful gardens or splendid Persian carpets. In periods of theological stagnation, polyphony becomes monotonic, and dialogues reduce to repetitive monologues. 

Now, the Qur’an has a great deal to teach about the cultivation of ecologies or gardens. As God often does, He teaches us through Qur’anic parables. There is a parable in the Chapter of the Cave:

And give them the example of two men, to one of whom We gave two vineyards, surrounded with date palms; in between them We grew other plants.

Each of the two gardens yielded its produce and did not fail any wise [in yielding its produce]. In the midst of them We caused a river to gush forth.

This man had an abundant produce and he said to his companion while conversing with him: ‘I am richer than you and mightier in men.’

And when, having thus wronged his soul he entered his vineyard, he said: ‘I do not think that this will ever perish.

‘Nor do I believe that the Hour [of Judgement] will ever come; and even if I am returned to my Lord I should surely find better than this as a resort.’

His companion said, while he was conversing with him: ‘Have you disbelieved in Him who created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop and then fashioned you into a man?

‘But [as for myself, I know that] Allah alone is my Lord and I set up no partners with Him.

‘When you entered your garden you should have said: “That which Allah wills [will surely come to pass], there is no power but with Allah” Though you see me poorer than yourself, with fewer children ...’ (The Holy Qur’an, 18:32–39)

There are many lessons that can be learned from this parable. In seeking to articulate a renewed Islamic theology or Kalam, I learn from it at least the following:

1. The flourishing of richness and variety in our gardens, including theological ones, is a gift from God Himself.

2. The fruitfulness of our theological gardens is God-dependant.

3. We must not become arrogant about the flourishing of our theological gardens, and should never be intoxicated into thinking that they will last forever. All die, including theologies, and only God is forever.

4. God’s ultimate judgment is the only true and final judgment. No one has any guarantees. All must stand humbly, especially theologians, before His ultimate judgment.

5. The key to theological authenticity and salvation is the total dedication to God, alone.

6. There is no true capacity or true power, except in God Himself.

Just as the parable of the two men with the two gardens teaches us not to take our theological ecologies or gardens for granted, another Qur’anic parable teaches us not to despair when there are no ecologies or gardens, but mere desert!

Or [have you heard] of he who, when passing by a ruined and desolate city, exclaimed: ‘How can Allah give life to this city, now that it is dead?’ And Allah caused him to die, and after a hundred years, brought him back to life. He said: ‘How long have you stayed away?’ ‘A day,’ he answered, ‘or part of a day.’ Then Allah said: ‘Know then that you have stayed away a hundred years. Yet look at your food and drink, they have not rotted. And look at your donkey! We will make you a sign to mankind. And look at the bones, see how We raise them and clothe them with flesh!’ And when it became clear to him, he said: ‘I know now that Allah is Able to do all things.’(The Holy Qur’an, 2:259)

In periods of theological desolateness, it is very easy to fall into cynicism and despair. When a tradition fails to produce major theologians and theologies for tens or even hundreds of years, it is quite tempting to think that the tradition is dead and that nothing will grow or flourish from it.

However, such cynical despair is wrongheaded, and wrong-hearted. It is wrongheaded in that it fails to remember the incredible number of revivals, renewals, and re-awakenings that religious life has exhibited over the centuries in all major religious communities. It is also wrong-hearted in that it fails to appreciate the amazing creativity of God, and His astonishing power to create anew. The great scholar and sage Sidi Ahmed Zarruq used to say that he learned hope from the incredible Qur’anic verse:7

Do you not see that Allah has created the heavens and the earth with the truth? If He Will, He can remove you and bring you a new creation. (The Holy Qur’an, 14:19)

No one should ever despair of God’s creative power. No tradition should ever be declared dead. Every tradition, if God wills it, can flourish again. Just as theological flourishing must not be taken for granted, theological flourishing must not be despaired of. God teaches us in the Qur’an that renewal and creating anew is always possible:

O Mankind! If you are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, [consider that] We created you of dust, then of semen, then of a clot of blood, then of a lump of flesh shaped and unshaped, so that We may make clear to you. And We keep in the wombs what We please to an appointed term, then We bring you forth as infants, then We cause you to grow up, that you may reach your prime. And among you some die  [young] and some are sent back to the feeblest old age so that they know nothing after they had knowledge. You sometimes see the earth still. But where We pour down rain on it, it quivers, and swells, and grows of every pleasant pair. (The Holy Qur’an, 22:5)

A landscape barren of theological ecologies can quickly be transformed, God willing, into a landscape of rich flourishing variety. Theological schools, and even entire traditions, can be created, pass through embryonic and infant-like stages, and then grow to amazing strength in their prime, only to eventually die, or grow feeble, to the point of forgetting all that they once knew. Nevertheless, revival, renewal, and even a new creation, are always possible, and one must never despair of God’s creative power. In Islam, renewal (tajdid), and scholarly spiritual striving (ijtihad) are well-established traditions. Such renewal and striving, however, is not just ‘work’ that is to be done through our own efforts. It is rather a divine ‘grace’ that is divinely gifted when we humbly seek it and prepare for it.

It is precisely in the humble heart-felt invoking of God’s creative power that the key to theological renewal can be located. It is significant that the good man advises the arrogant garden owner in the parable above to say ‘That which Allah wills [will surely come to pass], there is no power but with Allah’. The key is to remember that it is God Himself who wills the flourishing of gardens, be they physical, spiritual, intellectual, or theological. The key is to remember that there is no true creative power except in, through, and from God Himself.

As the great sage Ibn Ata’Illah al-Iskandari emphasizes: ‘Nothing is easy if you seek it through your ego, and nothing is hard if you seek it through your Lord!’8

The phrase ‘There is no capacity or power except through God!’ is a vital Muslim prayer. It is said to be the main discourse of angels! (Kanz al-Ummal, no. 1954). Interestingly, it is also called the ‘seedling (ghiras) of heavenly garden (janna)’. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) teaches that there are vast terrains in the heavenly gardens that are empty, and that need to be planted (Ahmed, no. 23167). The remembrance of God, especially the remembrance of God’s creative power, through the meditative prayer that repeats the phrase “There is no capacity or power except through God!” (la hawl wa la quwa illa bi Allah), actually fills those heavenly terrains with fresh plants, and thus transforms them into gardens. The invocation of God’s creative power enables us to participate in the very making of heavenly gardens!

As a matter of fact, one can say that precisely because, and to the extent that we do, participate in the planting of heavenly gardens, we are empowered by God to participate in the flourishing of theological gardens here on earth and in our various communities. No true renewal of Kalamis possible without sincerely and solemnly invoking God’s own creative power to renew and create anew.

In a sense, our very confidence in the value and importance of theological renewal must come from the ‘front’ or the ‘not-yet’.9 It is from the planting of heavenly gardens that our planting here on earth stems. Perhaps this is the reason Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) teaches us to continue planting trees even as the Hour or the day of judgement comes! He says: “If the Hour comes and one of you has a baby palm (fasila) in his hand, and he can still plant it before he stands up, let him plant it.” (Ahmed, no. 12689). That means that, ultimately, theological ecologies or gardens are not really this-worldly as such. Rather, they are other-worldly first, and enter the world in so far as this word is the ‘farm’ or ‘plantation’ (mazra’) of the world to come (Kashf al-khafa, no. 1320). Of course, this is not to say that the theological ecologies that one cultivates here are of no worldly use. On the contrary, as we said above, it is vital for theological ecologies to be fruitful and to be of service to people, as well as other creatures. The Prophet Muhammad promises that “whoever plants a plant, from which a human, bird, wild-animal, or beast eats has a good deed counted.” (Ahmed, no. 14902) Thus, working out theological ecologies that are fruitful and nourishing to our fellow humans and creatures is of the utmost importance and value. Yet, the valuation that creates this value is a valuation that is other-worldly. It is a valuation that stems from the not-yet. Thus theological ecologies are valuable to the extent to which, and insofar as, they are granted value by our God, and in light of His ultimate divine, and other-worldly, judgement.

Belief in an ultimate, not-yet (akhira) judgment of God is important to keep in mind, and in the Qur’an, God grants it equal importance to belief in Him. So the formula ‘believe in God and the hereafter’ is often repeated in the Qur’an. This not-yet judgment (hukm), also involves a not-yet arbitration (takhim) of all disputes about God and His ways.

And to you We have sent down the Book with the truth, confirming whatever Books were before it and a witness over them. So judge between them by that which Allah has sent down, and follow not their passions away from the truth which has come to you. For each of you We have appointed a [Divine] law and a traced-out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community, but, so that He may try you by that which He has given you [He has made you as you are]. So vie with one another in good works. To Allah you will all be returned, and He will then inform you of that wherein you disputed. (The Holy Qur’an, 5:48)

This postponed not-yet arbitration does not entail the suspension of all judgment in this life. It is neither a skeptical ‘epoche’ nor an irresponsible deferment (irja’). We, of course, have to make judgments, as part of everyday living, based on the true revelation that we have received through Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and follow the way that we solemnly believe to be truly conducive to salvation. However, this postponed not-yet arbitration does entail the human suspension of claims about ultimate divine judgment. No one knows how he himself will end, let alone others. No one knows if she herself will be saved, let alone others. No one should ever dare to judge another on behalf of God (ta’ali al-Allah) (Kanz al-Ummal, no. 7899).

As communities and schools with different doctrines and theologies we must, of course, witness to that which we believe and know to be true. We will, therefore, disagree and argue. However, we must do so humbly and meekly, and keep true to the Qur’anic guidance:

Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kindly exhortation, and reason with them in the most courteous manner. For your Lord knows best those who have strayed from His path, and He knows best who are rightly- guided. (The Holy Qur’an, 16:125)

When we encounter disputes that are simply irresolvable, let us state and acknowledge our differences, and trust in God’s ultimate not-yet arbitration, while patiently wait and pray for it. He alone can make all things clear, beyond all disputes.

Suspending ultimate divine judgment and arbitration, we still need to actively cultivate theological ecologies. Such theologies, at the very end of time, can provide refuge to people who are utterly shattered and confused by their troubled world. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) advises desperate people, who lose all points of reference and orientation in the end of times, to hold on to the ‘trunk of a tree’ even ‘with their teeth’. In such troubled times, it is important to plant trees, for people, including ourselves, to hold on to, even with our teeth! (Ahmed, no. 16818, and 23043)

Such trees, however, cannot be cultivated through power-theologies, but through meek- theologies. In my own life, I found the best teachers of such theologies to be simple, down-to-earth sages. Here is what I learned from such a sage from Benghazi, Sidi Rajab al- Turki. I once said to Sidi Rajab: ‘Sidi (Master), I give up on improving myself. I am not strong enough for the way of striving (mujahada). I cannot overcome my ego (nafs), no matter how hard I try. I keep failing every time I try. Please help me!’ He smiled and said: ‘Son, what you need is “the way of the crippled”!’ I asked: ‘What is the way of the crippled, Sidi?’ He said: ‘The way of the crippled is the way of Sidi Ahmed Rifa‘i. Sidi Rifa‘i promised: “I am the Sheikh of the crippled! Come to me limping and broken!”’ ‘Sidi Rifa‘i understood, my son, that we cannot save ourselves, and that only God can save us, through the mediation of Muhammad (peace be upon him). Simply admit your incapacity (ajz), and put it before God. Ask him for compassion, for mercy, for grace, and ask Him, through Muhammad (God’s compassion towards us).

‘The way of Sidi Rif’ai is the way indicated by one of the Prophet’s Companions who says: “Incapacity to comprehend is itself a comprehension”(Al-Durr al-Thamin, umm al- qua’id). Recognize and admit your fundamental incapacity, and you shall receive capacity-in-God.’

Today, a renewed Kalam must be a meek Kalam of Incapacity, a theology that humbly seeks capacity-in-God, and not in itself. A theology that can truly bear (haml) the full transformative and healing power of divine revelation.

For centuries great scholars, following Baqillani and Jurjani, have expounded theories of the ‘inimitability’ of the Qur’an. Under the title of ‘I’jaz al-Qur’an’such scholars explain the inability of humans to imitate even a single verse of the Qur’an, and how such inability emerges. They see the incapacity (ajz), inherent in the incapacitating (i’jaz), as an incapa- city to imitate the Qur’an.

In addition to such traditionally conceived incapacitating (i’jaz), there is a more radical incapacitating that consists in the cracking of the heart. The bearing (haml) of the Qur’an is the very cracking under Qur’anic revelatory compassionate efficacy. Such bearing is utter incapacity (ajz).The miraculous incapacitating performed by the Qur’an is the existential condition of possibility of receiving divine compassion.

When a rock is cracked water may indeed gush forth, but caves may also result. Many caves are nothing but cracks in the rock. Now, the Qur’an as it engages the heart sometimes makes caves into it. Further, Qur’anic operative signs (ayat) then inhabit such caves.

The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) says that a heart without Qur’an is like a deserted ruined house (Ibn Abi Shayba, no. 25758). The caves made through the com- passionate cracking of hearts become the homes of Qur’anic revelatory transformative signs, and not mere empty houses. Bearing the Qur’an consists in the heart being inhabited by divine revelation. From this dwelling in the heart, the Qur’an transforms the very character and habitusof its bearer. When the Prophet’s wife Aisha was asked about his character, she simply said: ‘His character was the Qur’an’ (Ahmed, no. 24208). Meek theologies are theologies that allow for, and enable, the transformation of character through the bearing of compassionate and healing divine revelation, and attention to divine operative signs (ayat).

From the cave in the heart, the Qur’an bearer (hamil al-Qur’an) must strive to keep her heart-sight on God throughout the commotion and flux she sees in her outer and inner travels because she sees everything around her, the totality of which constitutes her ‘environment’, as an aya(or operative sign) of God. The Qur’an, itself a sequence of ayat (operative signs), speaks about and illustrates the transformative power of ayaton every page. The Qur’an teaches us to see the mountains, the heavens, and the earth as ayatof God. It teaches us how to see processes of alteration and growth as ayat. It teaches us to see the Prophets of God and the heavenly books as ayat. It illustrates the operative capacity of God’s ayatby calling the staff (asa) of Musa that becomes a snake, and that opens up the sea an ‘aya’. We must strive to see the operative signs of our Lord everywhere. We must strive to be constantly aware of God’s presence.

The Qur’an further teaches us that, besides the outer ayat (ayat of the horizons) there are also inner ayat (ayat within persons). The more one manages to bear the Qur’an in the cave of his heart, the more he becomes a wonder-struck watcher of the signs of his Lord that operate within and upon his own soul. One’s appreciation of the ayat within him leads one to wonder about and appreciate the operative ayatin the persons around him. One, then, comes to see others too as divine signs.

The world, one’s soul, and all other persons become an ocean with an incredible variety of ayat. One learns from the Qur’an to live concretely the realization that diversity is a wonderful gift, and to experience, first-hand, the Lord’s celebration of the variety present in things ranging from trees, to different types of honey, to clouds, to people themselves. Seeing variety as a divinely gifted operative sign in things and persons, moves us to respect it, cherish it, and celebrate it. This seeing increasingly becomes a seeing ‘with the eye of compassion’ (bi’ayn al-rahma) (Marqat al-Mafatih, bab al-rahman al-rahim). It is this seeing that is the condition of possibility for the renewal of Kalam, as a meek theology of peace, compassion and blessing.

It is such meek theologies that will provide us with the not-yet and end-of-time trees that we so desperately need. Being grounded in the humility of our intrinsic incapacity will help us cultivate good trees, and avoid inadvertently growing bad ones. We have to bear in mind that ‘bad trees’ are also possible, and must be avoided. God, the Exalted, contrasts the ‘good word’ that is like a ‘good tree’ with the ‘bad word’ that is like the ‘bad tree’. Just as there are good theologies that are rooted, open-ended, fruitful, and God-invoking, there are also bad theologies that are superficial, dead-ended, fruitless (or generative of thorns, even), and evil-invoking. God says in the Qur’an:

And the likeness of an evil word is that of an evil tree, torn out of the earth, lacking stability.(The Holy Qur’an, 14:26)

How does one distinguish between good and bad words, good and bad theologies, good and bad trees? Two criteria: rootedness and fruitfulness. Good theologies are authentically rooted in the tradition, and are abundantly fruitful of goodness for humanity. Bad theologies are superficially connected to, or even cut off from, the tradition, and produce nothing but thorns that injure humanity. Theologies that are conducive to peace, com- passion and blessing are good. Theologies conducive to strife, cruelty, and cursing are bad. God is quite clear in the Qur’an:

Allah enjoins justice and excellence [in all things] and charity to kinsmen, and forbids indecency, wickedness and oppression. He admonishes you so that you may take heed.(The Holy Qur’an, 16:90)

Another sage, an elderly fellow-Matrafi/Wirfalli tribesman named Muftah bin ‘Ali, once taught me a very simple criterion for recognizing truly ‘Muhammadan’ matters. He said: ‘Wherever you find compassion, there is Muhammad!’ ‘Wherever you find cruelty, there is no Muhammad!’ My Master’s criterion is, of course, Qur’anically based on the verses above, and many others, but it is also existentially based in a very palpable knowledge and experience of Muhammadan love.

Trees that grow from divine compassion give fruits of compassion. Trees that grow from evil can only give fruits of evil. Trees that grow from divine compassion are trees of light that come from light, and give light. They are like the luminescent tree that is described in the Qur’an that is said to transcend geographic limitation in that it is ‘neither of the east nor of the west’:

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The likeness of His light is that of a niche in which is a Lamp. The Lamp is in a glass, the glass is as it were a gliterring star, lighted from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east, nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow forth, even if no fire touched it, light upon Light. Allah guides whom He wills to His light, and gives examples to the people; and Allah knows everything.(The Holy Qur’an, 24:35)

Thus, good trees are trees that are ‘light upon light’. Such trees greet us in our very hearts and being with Islam’s ultimate greeting of peace: the ‘Peace’ formula: ‘God’s peace, com- passion, and blessing are upon you’. Such trees are trees of peace, compassion, and blessing. Such ecologies are ecologies of peace, compassion, and blessing.

One of God’s sublime names in Islam is ‘Al-Salam’ which literarily means ‘The Peace’. Thus peace as such is of God. All peace comes from Him. All peace goes to Him. All peace is in Him. Though ‘Al-Salam’ is His name, it is also the name of His greeting: the phrase ‘God’s peace, compassion, and blessings are upon you’. Muhammad (peace be upon him) guides us to the very essence of faith when he says: ‘You will enter paradise unless you believe, and you will not belief unless you love one another. Shall I guide you to what leads to your love of one another? Spread the peace between yourselves!’ (Muslim, no. 157) This ‘spreading of the peace’ (ifsha al-salam) is absolutely essential to true religiosity. ‘Ifsha’ is more than just spreading or dispersing—it is also cultivating and nourishing. We are all called upon to spread, cultivate, and nourish peace.

We are called upon to grow ecologies of peace, gardens of peace. Islam itself is essentially peace, and it is a vital fact that Islam and Salam are both from the etymological root SLM. As a matter of fact, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) defines the ‘Muslim’ as one who grants safety (SLM) to others, from his tongue and his hand (i.e. who does no harm to others) (Ahmed, no. 7066). It is also an important fact to remember that the very culmination of all daily prayers is the ‘Tashahhud’ or witnessing formula:

All worships are for God. God’s peace is upon you, O Prophet, and His compassion and blessings. Peace is upon us, and upon all righteous servants of God. I bear witness that there is no one worthy of worship except God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger.

Thus the culmination of every prayer amounts to a greeting of peace involving God, His Prophet, all good servants of God, and ourselves. The ‘Peace’ formula—‘God’s peace, compassion, and blessings are upon you’—is central to Muslim prayer as such. As a matter of fact, all Muslim daily prayers end with a nod to the right and then to the left while uttering the ‘Peace’ formula. Even when no one is around, one still greets the angels, with peace.

The ‘Peace’ formula invokes God’s compassion (rahma). This is actually an invocation of God in so far as He is ‘Al-Rahman’ (The Compassionate). The divine name al-Rahman is related to ‘rahma’. This word is very important, and is worthy of some attention. ‘Rahma’ is derived from the root ‘RHM’, which also means the motherly ‘womb’. In fact Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) teaches us that the name of the womb is derived from the divine name al-Rahman! (Ahmed, 10244) This trilateral root RHM gives rise to a host of words including the word for one’s kinship or loved-ones, and the words that suggest the semantic fields of ‘tenderness’, ‘kindness’, ‘gentleness’, ‘mercifulness’ and ‘benevolence’.

Now, God has many names. They are all beautiful, and they can all be used to call upon Him. The tradition hands down ninety nine beautiful names. Rahmaor compassion is involved in two very important names of God: ‘Al-Rahman’ and ‘Al-Rahim’. Both of these two names come from the root ‘RHM’ that we just mentioned.

Al-Rahman is a name that is exclusively used for God Himself, and cannot be used as the name of a human being. A human being can be called ‘Abd Al-Rahman’, i.e. ‘Servant of Al- Rahman’, but not ‘Al-Rahman’. This is because the name Al-Rahman does not only mean The Compassionate, but also The Source of All Compassion. It is significant that it is this name: ‘Al-Rahman’ that is said to be fully interchangeable with the name ‘Allah’. God says in the Qur’an: ‘Call upon Allah or call upon Al-Rahman for all the beautiful names are His.’ Al-Rahim also means ‘The Compassionate’, and is a frequently used name of God. However, this name can be shared by human beings. A human being can, and should be rahim, i.e. compassionate. It is significant to note that while God reserves the status of being The Source of Compassion to Himself, He expects us to share with Him the quality of being compassionate. He demands it of us. Of course, as human beings we can never be compassionate the way He is compassionate, but we can still be humanly compassionate.

It is also significant that one of the names of Prophet Muhammad is Rahim. It is God Himself who gave him that name when He said of Muhammad in the Qur’an that he is gentle (ra’uf) and compassionate (rahim):

There has come to you a Messenger from among yourselves, grievous to whom is your suffering, concerned for you, to the believers gentle and compassionate. (The Holy Qur’an 9:128)

What is interesting about Prophet Muhammad, and all the other Prophets of God, including Nuh, Ibrahim, Musa, Zakaria, and Isa (peace be upon them), is that they are all both compassionate beings and living ‘compassions’ of God. Each Prophet is compassion because he is sent to his community by God, who, as theCompassionate Source of All Compassion, wishes to save humanity and to show them the way back to their Maker.

The Qur’an considers each Prophet a ‘compassion’ (rahma) of His, and each Heavenly Book sent with each Prophet, in order to guide people, is also a compassion (see The Holy Qur’an 19:21; 21:107; 46:12; and other verses). God calls the Qur’an, in the Qur’an itself, ‘a guidance (huda) and a compassion (rahma) ...’ (The Holy Qur’an 7:203).

God’s giving of His many compassions as Prophets and as Heavenly Books comes from His very Essence as Al-Rahman, and is the fulfillment of a commitment which He primordially made to Himself to be compassionate. As He says in the Qur’an: “Your Lord has prescribed Himself mercy(rahma)...” (The Holy Quran 6:54) It is on the basis of this commitment that God demands that we ourselves, as far as is humanly possible, respond to His compassion. Our responding to God’s compassion must be in the very living and exercise of compassion towards His creatures.

In the Qur’an God’s compassion is said to be so broad as to be all-encompassing: ‘My mercy (rahma) embraces all things...’ (The Holy Qur’an 7:156) It is on the basis of the broadness of His compassion that God demands that we ourselves, as far as is humanly possible, should embrace as many of God’s creatures as we can with our compassion.

It is very clear from the Qur’an and the Hadith of God’s Prophet (peace be upon him) that dealing with others in compassion is a condition for our very salvation. The Prophet says: ‘No compassion will be shown (by God) to one who is not compassionate.’ To enjoy God’s compassion, we must treat others with compassion (Muslim, no. 5981).

A good number of Hadiths of the Prophet make clear that God will regard any cruelty towards His creatures as a cruelty against Himself. God is said to regard the withholding of water and food from a human being as the withholding of them from God Himself (Muslim, no. 6508).God is also said to consider the starvation of a single cat to be sufficient grounds for eternal damnation, and the saving of a single thirsty dog to be sufficient grounds for eternal salvation (Bukhari, no. 3407, and 2423). God says that the murdering of a single human soul is equivalent to the slaughter of the whole of Humanity.

In an important Hadith of the Prophet, it is said that when God created the world, He kept with Himself 99% of His Compassion (as Al-Rahman, The Source of Compassion), and spread 1% of it in His creation. Even the animals are said to have a share of this divine compassion. Thus even the compassion that keeps a horse from stepping or kicking its offspring is said to come from that 1% of God’s total Compassion. As for the 99% of the compassion we are promised that it will be available for humanity on the Day of Judgement (Muslim, no. 6921, and Ahmed, no. 18446).

The Hadith is significant for it says that each one of us has a manifestation of God’s very own essential compassion within him or her, and that each one of us has the opportunity, and the duty, to cultivate and actualize that divine compassion in his or her life, and in his or her dealings with others. Thus, the cruelty that we sadly practice and witness every day consists in nothing short of the forsaking of the most precious trust God has put into our hearts when He created us: His very own compassion (rahma).

Now, what are we to do with this compassion that has been primordially and essentially gifted to us? Well, we must build it into the very centre of our theological ecologies, and make it the very centre of our living together. An authentic renewal of Kalam that seeks to be a truly good word for today must centre around, and cultivate, compassion. Such a renewed Islamic theology of compassion or Kalam Rahmani would foster a truly spiritual life characterized by such worshipful attitudes as follows:

1. Continuously remembering God and His compassion towards us (dhikr). 

2. Living in gratitude (shukr) for God’s compassion.

3. Longing and asking for more of God’s compassion (du‘a).

4. Seeking divine forgiveness for our forgetfulness and cruelty (istigfar/tawba).

5. Striving to live with fellow humans and creatures in mutual-compassion (tarahum).

Such a Theology of Compassion (Kalam Rahmani) would be divinely blessed, and a blessing for us, and for others. In the Muslim tradition, there is a revered practice of transmitting Prophetic utterances from one teacher to another in a chain that authentically links us with Muhammad, the Prophet of Compassion (peace be upon him). There is also a practice of transmitting and receiving the very first hadith one learns from one’s teacher. This is called the ‘chain of first- ness’ (al-musalsal bil-awaliayh).

The first hadith I learned from my Sheikh al-Sayyid Muhammd al-Alawi al-Maliki of the Hijaz (mercy be upon him), from my Sheikh Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa of Egypt, from my Sheikh Al-Habib Ali al-Jifri of Yemen, and from my Sheikh Hussein Ramadan al-Sa’dawi of Tripoli, with continuous chains all the way back to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is foundational in Islam:

The compassionate shall be shown compassion by The Compassionate (blessed and exalted is He). Have compassion upon those on earth, and the One in heaven shall have compassion upon you. (Bayhaqi, no. 18272, and Ahmed, no. 6478)

For generations the compassionate teachings of Muhammad (peace be upon him) were successfully transmitted in Muslim communities through a revered and balanced tradition that combined doctrine (‘aqida covering iman), jurisprudence (fiqh covering islam), and spirituality (tasawwuf covering ihsan).

The institutions of transmission, that traditionally safeguarded the compassionate and true teaching of Islam, unfortunately suffered multiple attacks first by the forces of inner decay and stagnation, then by colonial powers, and then by secularizing nationalist ideologues and rulers.

The confiscation of religious foundations (awqaf), in some Muslim countries, also led to the loss of the independent economic base for these institutions. The advent of legalistic, overly politicized, and spiritually poor distortions of Islam have all further weakened the traditional institutions of compassion and wisdom transmission.

Today, there is an urgent need to repair, rehabilitate, and maintain the scholarly and spiritual institutions that preserve and grow compassion in the hearts of youth. This is a challenge that is faced by all traditional communities striving to preserve their wisdom in the midst of an increasingly, and viciously, cruel and materialistic world. Dialogue with other religions and philosophies is a key to growing healthy ecologies of peace, compassion and blessing. As in the case with all religions, the wholesome and compassionate teachings of the true Islamic tradition were sometimes distorted, and warped. In some cases malig- nant theological mutations resulted in grotesque actions. Bad trees do bear bad fruits, and even thorns!

Just as the peace-loving teaching of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) was sometimes warped and invoked to unleash cruel actions, the peace-loving teaching of Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sometimes also warped and invoked to unleash cruel attacks on fellow human beings, such as in the grotesque terrorist attacks of recent times.10

When it comes to crazed cruelty against God’s beloved creatures, no tradition is immune from distortion. We must all be on vigilant guard against abusive and distorting mutilations of our traditions. We must all unite in condemning all cruelty against even a single soul of God’s creatures, for that is equivalent to attacking all of humanity. We must unite in compassion against all cruelty, wherever it comes from, and whoever happens to practice it. We must strive to cultivate and grow theologies and ecologies of peace, compassion and blessing.

However, each one of us is especially, theologically and morally, responsible to condemn and repudiate all cruelty perpetrated in the name of his or her religious tradition.11

When it comes to theological mutilations and distortions, we humans tend to be very good at detecting them in others. It is very easy for all of us to fall into self-righteous and judgemental modes. Here it is important to point out that, as a Muslim, I do take to heart, with utter respect, the following passages from Christian Scriptures, of which we should all be constantly reminded:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. [Matthew 7:1–5, English Standard Version]

One of the key gifts of dialogue is that it can help us keep each other honest. The Prophet (peace be upon him) says: ‘The believer is the mirror of his fellow believer’ (Bayhaqi, no. 17016). By being mirrors for each other, we keep each other focused on the true and sincere service to the One God, and help each other cure the eye-troubles that impair our spiritual sight (Fayd al-Qadir, no. 9142). I am grateful to Professor David Ford, and to my other Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and even skeptical friends for helping me with my impaired sight.

Through mirroring each other, we can better see our faults so that we can work on repairing them. Through mirroring each other we can also better see our gifts so that we can be grateful for them and grow them. This phenomenon of humans mirroring each other is worthy of a great deal of consideration, for just as it is responsible for a great deal of emulation in cruelty and evil, it can be turned into a real constructive factor through the emulation in compassion and goodness.

Today, we are daunted, and even haunted, by cycles and spirals of violence that stem from the fact that our communities mirror each other’s cruelty and evil. We need to break these vicious cycles and spirals, and get on with mirroring each other’s compassion and goodness. Only the building up of spirals of compassion will lead to the emergence of a ‘Compassion Architecture’ consisting of a network of networks of wholesome goodness and joyful compassion.12 Here are some of the key attitudinal seeds for growing such ecologies of peace, compassion and blessing that can spiral, in goodness, unto heaven:

1.Let us break the cycles and spirals of cruelty with sudden, unexpected, unassuming, and free acts of love and compassion.

2.Let us stop being fixated on our own grievances, no matter how legitimate they happen to be, and reach out to heal the grievances of the other, no matter how undeserving we feel that other to be.

3.Let us stop complaining, and let us start dreaming, together, of better futures for all of us, and for all our children. Say, ‘I have a dream!’, not ‘I have a complaint!’ (quoting Sheikh Mustafa Ceric).13

4.Let us invoke deep forgiveness of each other, and let us extend that forgiveness unilaterally and freely, without any obsessions, with ‘reciprocity’.

5.Forgiving love and compassion is grander and more effective than any justice- obsessed discourse that demands reciprocity, important as justice may, of course, be. Such discourse often degenerates into tit-for-tat cycles that make the spirals of cruelty even worse.

6.Prepare the conditions of possibility that enable and facilitate of the rise of compassion spirals. These conditions include:

a.Nourishing personal friendships within, and across, communities that incubate relations of deep trust and deep resources for healing and mending. These seeds of trust are vital for breaking the very roots of cruelty spirals, and giving a chance for compassion spirals to grow.

b.Sustaining patient and persistent activities and institutions that continue to ‘build bridges’, even when there is no present traffic to use the bridges. Inevitably, there comes a day when the bridges will be very much needed. The building bridges must be with, and across, communities. Inner bridges are often necessary for sustaining outer bridges.

c. Preparing ‘rapid deployment’, ‘crisis centers’ and ‘disaster-recovery’ infrastructures, with hybrid joint teams, ready for ‘preemptive peace’ that can quickly respond in times of crises and that can help thwart ‘preemptive wars’, as well as teams that can intervene to mitigate and reverse the effects of disastrous conflict when they do occur.

The list of compassion seeds just made may sound like wishful thinking. However, they are very much practical, viable, and effective. The recent poesies and emergence of the ecology of peace, compassion and blessing called ‘A Common Word’ offers a very interesting case for meditation and celebration!

In response to the deeply offensive Regensburg Lecture, 38 Muslims sent a systematic theological reply to Pope Benedict XVI. A year passed, and the Pope did not respond. The offense was compounded, and many Muslim scholars resolved to boycott the Vatican until the Pope issued a proper apology. However, there were other Muslim scholars who courageously, and quite controversially (within the Muslim community) decided to write to the Pope, yet again, this time not with a defensive message, but with a positive and loving one—one that addressed not just the Pope, but the whole global Christian leadership. The idea was to send as much goodness as possible, and to appeal to, and invoke, the widest and deepest theological and spiritual resources of goodness in the other. So 138 Muslim scholars from both genders, all Muslim theological and juridical schools, and from both traditional and modern educational backgrounds, sent a letter to all Christian leaders from all theological and denominational schools. The message was kept very simple yet deep: Let us come together in Love of God, and Love of Neighbor!

A Common Word’ was immediately criticized by some voices within the Muslim community, and the scholars who signed it were accused of selling out to the West, at a time when Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine were under bombardment. They were also accused of being unrealistic, naïve, and deaf to the cries for justice and sense of deep grievance that many Muslims were expressing. Some even accused the scholars of infidelity and treason against the Muslim faith! Some were even accused of being agents of the Vatican! ‘A Common Word’ was also immediately criticized by some voices in the West. There were articles that argued that it was an appeal to Christians to convert to Islam. There were also accusations of double-talk and deceit, and even of making a tacit threat!

Nothing daunted the signatories, though there was admittedly some wavering by some, and at the conclusion of a major conference on ‘Love in the Qur’an’, these scholars signed the document out of a deep sense of love and compassion that stems from the very root of Islam.14The letter truly emerged out of deep love, and that is why it was indeed received with deep love. It did not set any conditions, it did not demand anything back, it did not complain, and it did not demand justice. It simply, and unconditionally, extended a hand out and expressed, and appealed for, love of God, and love of Neighbor.

The gesture of forgiveness, love, and compassion had its affect. The reaction from the various Christian Churches was overwhelming! The Anglican Church was the first to respond, and with tremendous love! Not only did the Bishop of London, Rt. Rev. Richard Charters, and Professor David Ford help in the very launch of the letter to the press, but the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was the very first to reply with a beautiful letter of love and support.15 That early response was crucial because it set a courageous and loving example for others to follow.

Then, there was a response of a nature and scale that was totally unexpected: over three hundred Protestant leaders, mainly Evangelicals, purchased a full page advertisement in the New York Times, and published a vital historical document entitled ‘Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You’ that not only expressed love, but also addressed some important Muslim grievances!16 Muslim scholars were so taken by the responses of Rowan Williams and the evangelical leaders, that they sent a delegation to personally thank the Archbishop of Canterbury, and held a special news conference in Abu Dhabi to thank the Protestant leaders for their Yale statement, to which they also invited Professor Miroslav Wolf, who led the Yale initiative.17 Muslim scholars then worked, through Tabah Foundation of Abu Dhabi, to send an unprecedented Christmas greeting that was published during Christmas 2007 in over a dozen international newspapers, in order to collectively thank all for the positive Responses that were sent. There have been so many such responses, it is best to consult in order to read them.

The Common Word website gives an idea of the scale of the follow up developments that have emerged out of the mirroring in goodness that the initiative triggered. Entire ecologies of local initiatives have sprouted all over the world. Vital conferences were held at Yale University, Cambridge University, the Vatican, and Georgetown.18 I cannot possibly map the rich ecologies that did emerge. However, I do want to reflect on some of the important conditions of possibility for their emergence.

First, there was the sincerity and intentionality of the initiative. The architect and author of the letter itself, HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, and the signatories who signed it, and the promoters who promoted it, were all sincerely intent on serving God and Humanity through appealing to, and spreading, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor. God, in His infinite compassion, empowered the initiative through His very Love and Compassion, and blessed it with success.

Second, there were the set of very deep and trusting friendships that sustained the initiative from its incubation to its sprouting out, and to its full growth, and that also protected during difficult times. These included friendships within the Muslim community and friendships across communities. The friendships between HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, and Habib Ali al-Jifri, Sheikh Nuh al-Qudat, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, Sheikh Said Ramadan al-Buti, Habib Umar bin Abdul Hafid, Mufti Mustafa Ceric, and Sheikh Amr Khaled, have offered great ground for cultivating ‘A Common Word’ eco- logies. The friendships with Professor David Ford, and through him, with such key figures as Miroslav Wolf of Yale, Iain Torrance of Princeton, and John DeGioia of Georgetown, have been vital for sus-taining these ecologies. Friendships with key Catholic figures such as Cardinal McCarrick, Bishop Martinelli, Father Michel Thomas, Father Dan Madigan, Father Etienne Renault, Father Michel Lagarde, and Father Miguel Ayuso sustained these ecologies, especially at the very difficult early stages when there was skepticism and resistance in the Vatican. Friendships between several Muslim scholars, most notably Dr. Anas Al-Shaikh-Ali and Archbishop Rowan Williams enabled the initiative to enjoy his crucial early support. Friendships with Jewish scholars, though they were not specifically addressed by the letter, were vital for the welcoming respect that the initiative received in the Jewish community. Professor Peter Ochs wrote an early reception that set the trend of Jewish receptions.19 It is that positive reaction that is now sustaining ongoing efforts to address a letter to Jewish scholars, despite the dreadful political realities of Israeli- Palestinian strife.

It is interesting that just as such friendships sustained the Common Word initiative, the initiative is now not only sustaining these friendships, but is actually making them grow and spread in unforeseen ways! New friendships are sprouting up through conferences, meetings, workshops, and news conferences.20 Friendships with such professional and thoughtful journalists as Tom Heneghan of Reuters have proven vital for sustaining a pub- lically positive atmosphere around the ‘A Common Word’ ecologies.21

The emergence of these key seed friendships is a divine gift, but it does need a lot of diligent human preparation and grateful reception, and often works out in unpredictable and unexpected ways. Years ago, the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) invited me to join the staff of the Institute, even though I was a Muslim. The friendships built during those years were very important in re-building Muslim-Catholic trust and confidence after Regensburg. In May 2007, in the midst of the post-Regensburg cold-war-like atmosphere, PISAI invited me to deliver the Bradley Lecture.22They even facilitated a key meeting with the Vatican’s Secretary of State in which I conveyed the dismay of Muslim scholars at not receiving a response to their first letter, and at the subsuming of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue under another Pontifical Council. Later on, PISAI courageously published an Open Letter of support for ‘A Common Word’ at a time when cynical skepticism dominated the atmosphere of Vatican-Muslim relations. That letter encouraged Muslim scholars, and also signaled, internally to the Vatican, a better way of responding. If PISAI did not exist as an institution that quietly fostered knowledge and friendships with the other, such trust and friendship resources would not have been available when they were needed.23

The same is true of the process, and institution, of the ‘Building Bridges’ seminars chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Those important seminars have been building friendships, confidence, and mutual-knowledge between Anglican and Muslim scholars for years.24I attended two of those seminars, and the walks and talks that many of us, the Muslim participants, had with Rowan Williams were vital in building the trust that made possible not only his response to ‘A Common Word’, but also the Muslim understanding of the significance of that response.25

The Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme is another example. Despite being daunted by still quite limited endowments, the CIP, with a very small staff, and limited resources, has been able to achieve a great deal, mainly because of its big heart.26Friendships with David Ford, Ben Quash, Catriona Laing, Nick Adams, and now with Barbara Bennett and Miriam Lorie, have been quite important in supporting the ecologies of ‘A Common Word’. The fact that the United Arab Emirates had the vision to support the position of Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad (Tim Winter), as Sheikh Zayed Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the Faculty of Divinity enabled CIP to make a valuable contribution to ‘A Common Word’ process.

Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad actually headed our first delegation to the Vatican that led to the establishment of a permanent Catholic-Muslim Forum.27 That Forum met successfully for the first time in Rome on 4–6 November 2008 for a series of extensive theological and frank socio-political discussions culminating with an important meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in which he gave a beautiful speech that went a long way towards mending Catholic-Muslim relations.28Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad has been instrumental in the es- tablishment of the Cambridge Muslim College, which will undoubtedly play a crucial role in the formation of a new cadre of young Muslim religious leaders and scholars and in the growing of ecologies of peace, compassion, and blessing.29

The great news we heard earlier today from His Excellency the Minister of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos (may God keep him in the best of health), about His Majesty’s generous gift of a new Chair at CIP means that CIP will indeed continue to grow, God willing, as a major hub in the network of networks of mutual-compassion and mutual-understanding between the Abrahamic religions. As a Muslim and as a Senior Advisor to CIP, I whole- heartedly thank His Majesty, His Excellency, and the people of Oman. The planned ex- changes between Oman and Cambridge will, God willing, prove to be a great source for joint wisdom in the growing of ecologies of peace, compassion and understanding.

The Reconciliation Programme at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture has been very important in rallying American theologians, especially Evangelicals, to the support of such ecologies. Its ongoing Project on ‘human flourishing’ will sustain the flourishing of such ecologies. Professor Peter Ochs of the University of Virginia, who is himself a great insti- tution, combining Rabbinic wisdom and spirituality with philosophical and logical rigour, has been planting incubators for such flourishings everywhere he goes. Scriptural Reasoning groups that foster friendships around Scriptures and their interpretation and understanding are now well-established in hundreds of cities and towns.30

The University of Balamand, based on the beautiful vision of Metropolitan George Khodr, and now Minister Tarik Mitri, managed to build a significant network of Muslim- Orthodox friendships. The World Council of Churches facilitated a series of Consultations that resulted in the important document entitled ‘Learning to Explore Love Together: Suggestions to the Churches for Responding to “A Common Word”’.31 They are now planning for major meetings and events, and have taken the gracious step of involving Muslims in the very planning of these events.

President Iain Torrance of Princeton Theological Seminary, invited to his Inauguration a Jews, a Christian, and a Muslim, and thus signaled total support for inter-faith work. His early support of ‘A Common Word’ was very important.32We are now in the early stages of planning an event on Karl Barth and Islam to encourage deep theological engagement between the two traditions.

Muslim institutions that have fostered and encouraged dialogue over the years have also been vital for the emergence of refreshing ecologies of peace and compassion. Al-Azhar, the greatest seat of Sunni Muslim learning has been leading several dialogue initiatives, and has taken important steps towards the training of dialogue-oriented Ulama. The Royal Aal al- Bayt Institute in Jordan has been quietly and effectively building intra-Islamic consensus, as well as inter-faith goodwill.

Dar al-Mustafa in Yemen has been graduating serious young Muslim scholars with a balance of proper theology, deep spirituality, and balanced jurisprudence. Habib Ali al- Jifri’s Tabah Foundation in the United Arab Emirates has been able to bring the best of that Yemeni faith and wisdom to a wider global audience. Tabah Foundation worked very hard with Sheikh Amr Khaled on containing the damage created by the Denmark Cartoons crisis, and managed over the years to build entire networks and ecologies of love and trust within and outside the Muslim community.

Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, with the help of a most impressive circle of young scholars, such as Sheikh Usama al-Sayyid, has managed to re-build the Dar al-Ifta’ institution into an up-to-date and organized network of scholars. The Grand Mufti also revived, with the help of his able students, the deeply spiritual practice of scholarly circles in the Azhar mosque itself. His commitment to inter-faith work has been a great sustaining spiritual and intellectual factor in the emergence of ecologies of peace and compassion.

The World Islamic Call Society and College have been involved in inter-faith work, especially with the Vatican, since 1976, and have built an amazingly wide network of scholars committed to dialogue. Their recent efforts towards dialogue with Evangelicals have already resulted in three successful meeting, and their support for ‘A Common Word’ has been unfailing and continuous. Iran has also supported several inter-faith and inter- civilization dialogues, and its efforts enabled the presence of major Shi‘i scholars amongst the signatories of ‘A Common Word’.

Turkey, especially the Faculty of Divinity at Marmara University, trained, over many years, top theological talents who are also spiritually oriented towards dialogue. The efforts of Professor Bekir Karliga and his students are noteworthy. The Said Nursi and Fathullah Gulen movements have also made massive efforts towards the flourishing of love and understanding within humanity. Turkey recently partnered with Spain and other countries for a Dialogue of Civilizations. There is now a Saudi dialogue initiative as well. All these institutional efforts, and I only managed to name some, enable ecologies of peace, compassion and blessing to emerge. Their perspective is long-term, and at times they may seem ineffective.

However, it is precisely this long-term institutional work that enables compassion spirals to emerge when there is an urgent need for them. There is a need today for institutions that are specifically designed to make even more rapid responses. It is important to set ‘rapid deployment’ peace teams that can quickly prevent or handle inter-religious crises. It is important to also build ‘crisis room’ or ‘situation room’ mechanisms to quickly manage crises when they do occur. It is also vital to set up ‘disaster-recovery’ centers that can repair and mend the massive damages that inter- religious strife often causes. It is encouraging that a structure that may enable such institutions to emerge is being set up under the name ‘C-1 World Dialogue’. Under the capable leadership of the Grand Mufti of Egypt and the Bishop of London this exciting initiative may make a huge contribution in the years to come. However, no matter how many institutions we manage to build, the key to reconciliation and peace is the growing of ecologies of peace, compassion and blessing that ultimately stem from love and forgiveness. We must learn to love and forgive, and educate our children to appreciate the beauty and importance of compassion, compassion that so vast, it can forgive.

The most important element of such a wholesome education is the teaching of forgiveness. It is not so difficult to be compassionate when one is not injured and has nothing to forgive. However, when one is injured, compassionate conduct becomes difficult because it requires genuine forgiveness, which is often difficult and even painful. Most cruelty today is practiced in the name of justice based on grievances, real or perceived, and supported by a logic of reciprocity that often degenerates into a tit-for-tat of endless cruelty spirals. When one is unforgiving, one can easily become self-righteously cruel.

All major wisdom traditions Jewish, Christian, Muslims, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, and Humanist, clearly value forgiveness. Alas, we are not very good parishioners of it. Here is what the Qur’an tells a Muslim to do:

Repel evil with what is better, for We know best what they describe. (The Holy Qur’an,23:96)

Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel [evil] with what is better; you will see that he with whom you had enmity has become your dearest friend. (The Holy Qur’an, 41:34)

Let not those who are blessed with favours and means among you swear that they will not give to their kindred and to the needy and to emigrants in the cause of Allah; let them rather forgive and be indulgent. Do you not wish that Allah forgives you? And Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate. (The Holy Qur’an, 24:22)

Here is what the Bible tells the Christian to do:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?(Matthew 5:38–47, English Standard Version)

Prophet Muhmmad (peace be upon him) says: ‘Connect with the one who cuts you off, give to the one who deprives you, and forgive the one who treats you with injustice.’ (Ahmed, no. 17122)

Yet, Christians and Muslims can be so amazingly unforgiving of each other! We may very well need new hearts that can forgive, love, and cherish all others, even our so called ‘enemies’. Only our Compassionate God can grant us such new forgiving and loving hearts. However, gatherings like this one can help ‘prepare the way for the Lord’ by opening our injured and pained hearts, with all their wounds, faults, and incapacities, to the creative and transformative healing that comes from God alone. Great luminescent signs of hope are at hand: With God’s permission, ecologies of peace, compassion and blessing are already flourishing in both heavenly and earthly gardens.

I am grateful to you for coming today to celebrate and further grow such gardens, and to thank Professor Ford for his hope-inspiring ‘A Muscat Manifesto’. May the Lord always grant us the loving company of ‘those who believe, and counsel one another to patience, and counsel one another to mercy’ (The Holy Qur’an, 90:17).

Let me conclude with a prayer that Moses (peace be upon him) prays in the Holy Qur’an:

‘My Lord! Have mercy on me and on my brother; bring us into Your mercy. You are the Most Merciful of the merciful!’ (The Holy Qur’an, 7:151)

May the Lord encompass all with His infinite compassion.

And God knows best.



[1]  Professor David Ford’s ‘A Muscat Manifesto’ was published as the very first publication of Kalam Research & Media, with the kind permission of Dr Abdulrahman Al Salmi, editor of the Al-Tasamohjournal, and the kind collaboration of the staff of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme. See, A Muscat Manifesto: Seeking Inter-Faith Wisdom, Kalam Research & Media in collaboration with the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme, Dubai, 2009.

[2]  For more on Professor Ford’s efforts to articulate theologically his Christian wisdom tradition, see his Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007; and Shaping Theology: En- gagements in a Religious and Secular World, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford,2007. For his views on the development of Christian theology, see his ‘Introduction to Modern Christian Theology’, in David F. Ford with Rachel Muers (eds.), The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology since 1918, Blackwell Publshing, Oxford, 2005[Third Edition]

[3]  See A Muscat Manifesto, pp.10-11.

[4]  On three types of activity see Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, trans. W.D. Ross, World Library Classics, 2009; and Metaphysics, trans. W.D. Ross, Oxford University Press, 1924[2volumes]

[5]  An ‘ecumenical movement’, of the kind praised by Professor Ford in ‘A Muscat Manifesto’, has already emerged amongst Muslims. Under the Hashemite wisdom of H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan, and his brilliant advisor and repre- sentative H.R.H. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute has been able to bring different strands of Islamic theologies and juridical schools together to issue a join the all-important ‘Amman Message’. The Amman Message is the ecumenical foundation that enabled later joint initiatives such A Common Word to emerge and succeed. HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad explains the genesis of the Amman Message as follows: ‘The Amman Message started as a detailed statement released the eve of the 27th of Ramadan 1425 ah/ 9th November 2004 ceby H.M. King Abdullah II bin Al- Hussein in Amman, Jordan. It sought to declare what Islam is and what it is not, and what actions represent it and what actions do not. Its goal was to clarify to the modern world the true nature of Islam and the nature of true Islam. ‘In order to give this statement more religious authority, H.M. King Abdullah II then sent the following three questions to 24of the most senior religious scholars from all around the world representing all the branches and schools of Islam: (1) Who is a Muslim?(2) Is it permissible to declare someone an apostate (takfir)?(3) Who has the right to undertake issuing fatwas (legal rulings)? Based on the fatwasprovided by these great scholars (who included the Shaykh Al-Azhar; Ayatollah Sistani and Sheikh Qaradawi), in July 2005 ce, H.M. King Abdullah II convened an international Islamic conference of 200of the world’s leading Islamic scholars ‘Ulama) from 50countries. In Amman, the scholars unanimously issued a ruling on three fundamental issues (which became known as the ‘Three Points of the Amman Message’): 1. They specifically recognized the validity of all 8Mathhabs(legal schools) of Sunni, Shi‘aand Ibadhi Islam; of tradi- tional Islamic Theology (Ash’arism); of Islamic Mysticism (Sufism), and of true Salafithought, and came to a precise definition of who is a Muslim. 2. Based upon this definition they forbade takfir(declarations of apostasy) between Muslims. 3. Based upon the Mathahibthey set forth the subjective and objective preconditions for the issuing of fatwas, thereby exposing ignorant and illegitimate edicts in the name of Islam. ‘These Three Points were then unanimously adopted by the Islamic World’s political and temporal leaderships at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit at Mecca in December2005. And over a period of one year from July 2005to July 2006, the Three Points were also unanimously adopted by six other international Islamic scholarly assemblies, culminating with the International Islamic Fiqh Academy of Jeddah, in July 2006. In total, over 500leading Muslim scholars worldwide”as can be seen on the Amman Message website unanimously endorsed the Amman Message and its Three Points. ‘This amounts to a historical, universal and unanimous religious and political consensus (ijma’) of the Ummah (nation) of Islam in our day, and a consolidation of traditional, orthodox Islam. The significance of this is: (1) that it is the first time in over a thousand years that the Ummah has formally and specifically come to such a pluralistic mutual inter-recognition; and (2) that such a recognition is religiously legally binding on Muslims since the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) said: My Ummah will not agree upon an error(Ibn Majah, Sunan, Kitab al-Fitan, Hadithno.4085).  ‘This is good news not only for Muslims, for whom it provides a basis for unity and a solution to infighting, but also for non-Muslims. For the safeguarding of the legal methodologies of Islam (the Mathahib) necessarily means inherently preserving traditional Islam’s internal ‘checks and balances’. It thus assures balanced Islamic solutions for essential issues like human rights; women’s rights; freedom of religion; legitimate jihad; good citizenship of Muslims in non-Muslim countries, and just and democratic government. It also exposes the illegitimate opinions of radical fundamentalists and terrorists from the point of view of true Islam. As George Yeo, the Foreign Minister of Singapore, declared in the 60th Session of the U.N. General Assembly (about the Amman Message): “Without this clarification, the war against terrorism would be much harder to fight.” ‘Finally, whilst this by the Grace of God is a historical achievement, it will clearly remain only principial unless it is put into practice everywhere. For this reason, H.M. King Abdullah II is now seeking to implement it, God willing, through various pragmatic measures, including (1) inter-Islamic treaties; (2) national and international legislation using the Three Points of the Amman Message to define Islam and forbid takfir; (3) the use of publishing and the multi-media in all their aspects to spread the Amman Message; (4) instituting the teaching of the Amman Message in school curricula and university courses worldwide; and (5) making it part of the training of mosque Imams and making it included in their sermons. God says in the Holy Qur’an says: There is no good in much of their secret conferences save (in) whosoever enjoineth charity and fairness and peace-making among the people and whoso doeth that, seeking the good pleasure of God, We shall bestow on him a vast reward. (Al-Nisa, 4:114).’ ” See Also, for further information and study of the various fatwas issued on the three questions raised by the Amman Message and the various authorities who have endorsed it, see the exhaustive documentation prepared by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad (ed), True Islam and the Islamic Consensus on the Amman Message, The Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute, Amman, 2006[Third Edition]. Of course, a great deal of intra-school networking and rallying had to happen and Sidi al-Habib Ali al-Jifri was able to bring together a powerful consortium of top Ulama, most notably Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, Sheikh Said Ramadan al-Buti, and Habib Umar, as well as television and internet savvy leaders such as Sheikh Amr Khaled and leading academics such as Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Ibrahim Kalin. The important role of Western Muslims in the building and sustaining of this network is also noteworthy, particularly the work of scholars such as Sheikh Abd al- Hakim Murad (T.J. Winter), Ingrid Mattson, Abdallah Schleifer, Sohail Nakhooda and Sheikh Jihad Brown. Libya has also been building networks across the world, especially in Africa, and these networks were linked with the Amman Message and the ‘A Common Word’ initiative [see more-than-460-islamic-organizations-and-associations-declare-suppor-for-qa-common-wordq.html]. For the connection between the Amman Message and the Common Word and its significance and impact, see Sohail Nakhooda, ‘The Signifi- cance of the Amman Message and the Common Word’, Message-and-the-Common-Word.pdf

[6] It is truly exciting to be involved in a project of ‘co-theologizing’ with a Jewish scholar, Stephen Kepnes, and a Christian scholar, David Ford, with the preparation of three parallel books on the Future of Jewish, Christian and Muslim theology to be published by Blackwell of Oxford.

[7] Sidi Ahmad Zarruq is vital for renewal and the fight against despair. He was one of the greatest spiritual masters of his time and played a key role in the symbiosis between law and spirituality in Islam. His spiritual heirs are the Darqawis, Alawis, Sanusis, and Madanis. He has been a strong influence on Sheikh Hamza Yusuf through his Mauritanian teachers [see“integral-islam”/. See also Sidi Ahmed Zarruq, ‘The Foun- dations of the Spiritual Path’, trans. by Hamza Yusuf, in Seasons Journal, Spring/Summer 2003, pp.9–16], and Sheikh Nuh Ha-Mim Keller [see Nuh Keller’s article on Sufism at shadhili-tariqa-shaykh-nuh-keller/].

[8]  Ibn Ata’Illah is one of the most revered spiritual masters in Islam. He is famously known for his aphorisms (hikam), which have been memorized and sang by Sufi communities through the ages and in various parts of the world. The subtletly of his spiritual insights and the sheer wisdom they express are vital for any sustained theological renewal. See Ibn Ata’Illah, The Book of Wisdom, trans. Victor Danner, the Classics of Western Spirituality Series, Paulist Press, New York, 1978.

[9]  This terminology owes its provenance in the writings of the philosopher Ernst Bloch. See, Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, MIT Press, MA, 1986.

[10]  It is very important to study the sources of theological pathology and malignancy. It is not sufficient to dismiss such schools as un-Islamic. The fact of the matter is they do use Islam’s Holy Book and its tradition, so they must be challenged on Islamic grounds. There even have a history of pathology within Islamic history, most notably in such movements as al- Khawarij and al-Hashashin. Such history and the reasons for theological pathology must be carefully studied. The Qur’an and Sunna, like all other sacred texts, are like nuclear energy in potency: it can be used compassionately and peacefully, but it can also be used destructively. The mechanisms for properly channeling such energies are vitally important, and very little work has been done on it. Security-oriented studies are not sufficient. There is a spiritual challenge, and a spiritual battle that has to be fought. The reason the ‘war on terror’ is failing is because it never managed to tap into the deep roots of malignant theologies.

[11]  On Muslim condemnations of Terrorism, see David Smock and Qamar-ul Huda, ‘Islamic Peacemaking Since 9/11’, United States Institute of Peace, Washington DC., 2009[]. Fur- ther useful resources on peace efforts include can be found at Habib Ali’s website [] and at

[12]  For more on the notion of a ‘Compassion Architecture’, see Aref Nayed, ‘From “security” to compassion—a needed shift for Obama government’,

[13]  See 24| growing ecologies of peace

[14]  The ‘Love in The Holy Qur’an’ Conference was organized by the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute in Amman, Jordan and held on 4-7September 2007. For more details on this seminal event and the proceedings of the conference see, http:// www.

[15]  For the initial response by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, after the launch of ‘A Common Word’, see

[16]  For the full text of the document, published on 18November 2007, see downloads/fullpageadbold18.pdf

[17]  See

[18]  For the proceedings of the Common Word conferences at Yale, Cambridge/Lambeth, Vatican and Georgetown, see

[19]  A different group of Muslim scholars did draft a resolution similar to ‘A Common Word’, see http://www. mujca. com/muslimsandjews.htm. The reception of this resolution was minimal, and a more sustained theological document for Muslim-Jewish relations is still in the making by figures associated with ‘A Common Word’, and will require an equally solid consensus as the ‘A Common Word’ document had, in order in order to trigger an theological and spiritual perspective change in inter-faith relations between the two faith communities.

[20]  For a summary of key events and accomplishments of ‘A Common Word’ see, common-word/2-general/161-qa-common-wordq-accomplishments-2007-2009.html.

[21]  Tom Heneghan, the Religious Affairs editor for Reuters, has regularly covered key events related to ‘A Common Word’ initiative in his blog. See, There is a convenient ‘A Common Word’ tag for accessing all the pieces in sequence.

[22]  For the text of the Bradley Lecture, see Aref Ali Nayed, ‘Compassion and Understanding in Islam’, in Islamochristiana, vol.33, 2007, pp.137–148.

[23]  For PISAI’s response to ‘A Common Word’, see

[24]  The Building Bridges Seminar was first launched in 2002by Lord Carey and it is a unique annual series bringing together Christian and Muslim scholars for an intensive study of key Biblical and Qur’anic texts. The seminars have been held at the Lambeth Palace and also in Doha, Sarajevo, Washington DC, Singapore and Rome. The Proceedings of the seminars have been published as separate volumes, all edited by Michael Ipgrave: The Road Ahead: A Christian-Muslim Dialogue (Lambeth, 2002); Scriptures in Dialogue: Christians and Muslims Studying the Bible and the Qur’an Together (Doha, 2003); Bearing the Word: Prophecy in Biblical and Qur’anic Perspectives (Georgetown, 2004); and Building a Better Bridge: Muslims, Christians, and the Common Good(Sarajevo, 2005). For a summary of the various seminars, see http:// There is also an interesting video clip on where Muslim and Christian participants at the Building Bridges seminar in Rome in May 2008:

[25]  A sustained theological and meditative response was presented by Dr Rowan Williams at the Common Word conference held at Cambridge and Lambeth Palace in October 2008, see

[26]  See

[27]  For Abdal Hakim Murad’s reflections on the meeting with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican that led to the establishment of a permanent Catholic-Muslim Forum, see vatican/AH-Murad-Statement.pdf

[28]  For Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at the First Catholic-Muslim Forum, see rome-november-2008/105-address-of-his-holiness-benedict-xvi-to-participants-in-the-seminar-organized-by-the-qcatholic- muslim-forumq.html. Other presentations at the Forum are also found on the same website. Pope Benedict XVI followed this with an important Papal visit to Jordan in May 2009where he gave a public address at the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman, further cementing of relations between the two faith communities and also citing the Amman Inter-Faith Message and the Common Word initiative. For the address by Pope Benedict XVI and the key welcoming address by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, see benedict-xvi-visits-jordan.html.

[29]  ‘The Cambridge Muslim College supports the development of training and Islamic scholarship to help meet the many challenges facing Britain today. The college is dedicated to maintaining academic excellence and pushing the boundaries of Islamic learning in the West’. See

[30]  On the Scriptural Reasoning project led by Peter Ochs, see materials on Scriptural Reasoning on the University of Virginia Website. Also, Peter Ochs, ‘Faith in the Third Millennium: Reading Scriptures Together’, address given at the Inauguration of Iain Torrance as President of Princeton Theological Seminary and Professor of Patristics, March 2005,

[31]  For the full text of the document, see Explore_Love_Together.pdf

[32]  See  



* All Qur’anic verses cited in this presentation following the edition: The Majestic Qur’an: An English Rendering of its Meanings, published by the Nawawi Foundation and the Ibn Khaldun Foundation, Chicago & London, 2000.

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