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It is the duty of every cultured man or woman to respect others’ religions as we would have them respect our own, Christianity and Islam are similar faiths. They have many things in common, both in belief and practice, then they have which separates them. This fact is clouded by a history of conflicts and the tradition of focusing on differences often to the exclusion of common ground. In terms of practice, Islam and Christianity share prayer, fasting, alms, pilgrimage, and in reality, even the famous “holy war.”
There are definite differences in detail, but the principle practices remain similar. It is both a psychological imperative and a recognition of reality to approach dialogue from the point of view of the common ground. This approach often ends in merely ignoring differences and agreeing to an uneasy and unrealistic truce. Rather, it can be the point of departure for an aggressive mission, one which is realistically tempered by the realization that the common ground may also provide an area in which each can learn from each. There is nothing more futile than one-sided, bigoted missionizing.
Although following fashions in dress has an aspect which seems inimical to Islam, it is worth considering that Islamic dress is the practice which is most visible to non-Muslims. Islam cannot make any concessions to Western criticism or desires in the matter of bodily modesty. Muslims ought, however, to foster concession in this matter in terms of style. It is perfectly appropriate for immigrant Muslims to continue to use the dress styles of their home country. It is not appropriate to give the impression that Europeans reverting to Islam ought to follow the same styles. They ought to follow the same standards of modesty but in styles appropriate to their own country and culture.
The truth is that Islam and Christianity share traditional standards of modesty. There are still areas of the world where Christians dress with the same modesty as traditional Muslims, although they have greatly decreased in the last century. It is a misapprehension that modesty is a trait unique to Islam. It is scandalous that a political conflict has been made of this issue in many areas, especially in Europe, considering that Christians, in theory, have the same duties, according to their own faith, as do Muslims.
European Muslims have sometimes failed in the matter of style. Perhaps some propagators of Islam have put too much emphasis on the principles of modesty and too little on how they ought to be adapted to new situations. There has been a tendency, especially among women, to copy foreign styles. This is one of the foremost barriers to embracing Islam by Westerners. They get the impression that one must dress in black and cover the face because that is the way women dress in one or another country. There should be a movement among European Muslim women towards designing and acquiring styles of clothing which preserve Islamic modesty while at the same time recognizing features of Western dress styles.
The differences between Christian and Islamic practices go beyond mere details, however. There are certain practices, such as the Christian use of music, which are completely unacceptable to Islam and have to be recognized as such. More subtly, even the practices in common have fundamental differences, some of which go to the very foundational differences between the faiths. When such Christian practices function to foster ecclesiastical authority and even sacramentalism, they depart essentially from Islam. In dialogue with Christians, it is essential eventually to get across not only the details of Islamic practice, but what they mean psychologically, functionally, and spiritually. There is always the danger that in reverting to Islam, a Christian will bring along spiritual baggage which is inconsistent with Islamic faith and practice. But even dialogue which does not result in people embracing Islam is most useful when it increases real understanding of why people practice what they do and how they experience the practice of their faith.
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