Reflections on the Dialogue Between the Islamic World and Japan

[1]. Speech delivered by Dr. Abdolrahim Gavahi at the Eight Session of Dialogue between the Islamic World and Japan, Tokyo – 2010.



I would like to start with my heartful thanks to the organizers of this very useful gathering and especially my old time Japanese friends and associates including Professor Itagaki. I would also like to welcome my dear brothers from the Islamic world whose presence will certainly turn this event into a very constructive session.

In the light of my six years stay in Japan and about 30 years contact with this enriching country, I would like to make a few observations about our present dialogue. Certainly, what follows is my personal view as a scholar and research fellow in the field of comparative religious studies, and not an official position as a member of the Iranian Foreign Ministry.


  1. Theoretical foundations of dialogue in Islam

I am of the opinion that neither Islam nor any other religious tradition is unfriendly and hostile by nature. It is our reading into, and understanding of, a given religion that makes that religion look unfriendly and unpeaceful. Also, the mere existence of a certain hostile verse in a sacred book, like Quran 9/73, Deuteronomy 20/17, or Matthew 10/34, is not a sufficient enough reason to call that religion belligerent and combative.

According to the Holy Quran, Muslims are instructed to treat those who do not fight with the Muslim community and do not expel them from their homeland friendly and Justly (Quran 60/8-9). On the other hand, Islam has not only invited people of the Book, i.e. Jews and Christians, to gather around the shared concept, i.e. the God, with Muslims (Quran 3/64), but has also advised everybody to listen to different words (claims or invitations) and follow the best of them, i.e. the most logical and convincing one
(Quran 39/18).


  1. The Present situation of the Islamic World

Strictly speaking, we have to admit that the Islamic World, in its totality, is not yet prepared for a genuine, positive, and constructive dialogue.

This does not mean that the Muslim scholars gathered under this roof are not prepared for such a task. To the contrary, as scholars and responsible individuals of our respective societies, we are well qualified to this extent. But our intention is not focused on a handful intellectuals or scholars, but the Islamic society at large, or even the whole body of the developing countries or the so-called third world. Let me clarify my position with an example.

One of the main features of dialogue is to discuss the differences of opinions in a decent and civilized manner till a consensus is reached, a procedure which is constantly practiced in Japan and other developed countries. Yet this procedure is not quite operational in most parts of the Islamic world. Consequently, we neither have meaningful dialogue and public participation within our societies nor amongst our mutual countries. Dialogue requires equal standing between the two sides, and we still do not believe that all sorts of minorities, ethnic, religious and else, have equal rights with the ruling majority.

Certainly, organizations such as OIC can help, but there is still a huge gap between functional capabilities and effectiveness of bodies such as the European Union and OECD and organizations such as OIC.

Perhaps we Muslims, before dialoguing with Japan or any other country, have to learn that we should hold pluralistic view towards others, a teaching well addressed in our basic tenets too (for example see Quran 5/48, 17/84, etc.). In the Persian language there is a proverb which says: “If you have only one candle or torch, you first have to use it at home than the mosque”. Truly, we do not have papers, media, parties, institutions, and infrastructures, resembling Japan, and so we first have to make them at home and dialogue there.


  1. The Situation in the developed countries including Japan

Certainly, the so-called Western, industrial, or developed countries have practiced and institutionalized democracy since Renaissance and middle-ages. Thus they have developed a very high level of sociopolitical awareness and wisdom amongst individuals, politicians, decision-makers, and other strata of their societies, leading to the establishment of a civil society equipped with human rights; a phenomenon well observable in Japan too.

On the other hand, since cultural behavior is based on religious belief, or is influenced by it, Japan and Western countries have attained a level of rational, reasonable, pluralistic, and peaceful reading of their respective religions, enabling them to dialogue and interact with others on the same basis. Unfortunately, Such an understanding of, and reading into, the religion is not yet very prevalent in the Islamic world, especially near Taliban, al-Qaida, and other extremist groups.

In other words, in the Western world, the concepts and institutions of democracy and hence dialogue at all levels of society are well established and institutionalized, while in the Muslim world this whole process is still newborn and premature. In Japan, dialogue and respect for others are manifest at all levels of private and public life, but in developing countries the case is not so. In Japan, because of free and independent mass-media, almost everybody is informed of the matters of sociopolitical concern and importance, and so there is no wide gap between the public and elite on such issues, while in most parts of the Islamic countries still all the important decisions are made by one or only a few people.

In Japan and Western World, issues such as human rights have long been institutionalized, while, in the Islamic world, still some clergies are looking into and discussing the parity or disparity of human rights with the Islamic law (Shari’a).

Finally, in Japan and developed countries, people at large are more “listeners” than “Speakers”!


Summary and Conclusion

  • Denying Western cultural hegemony shouldn’t mean sticking to some old, unrefined set of superstitions in the name of genuine religious belief. Culture, like human-being itself, is a living creature deserving constant observation and revival.
  • It seems appropriate to import new concepts, approaches, and viewpoints from Japan than new equipment and machinery.
  • Years ages, we in this room decided to publish books and articles about our gatherings upon our return. Let us make that decision operational.
  • Our dear countries are in dire need of Japanology and Japanese studies, let us fulfill this requirement at our best.
  • Lastly, today, the dialogue is not an intellectual choice but a solid necessity. Our living environment is being badly warmed up, polluted, devastated and ruined by irrational industrial development. Our moral and ethical values, family bondage, and social and personal behaviors have been damaged and deteriorated for similar reasons. All this requires mutual understanding, dialogue, and cooperation. I sincerely hope this meeting will lead us in that direction.


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