The concept of “Dialogue”
* Translated material
The general concept of the Arabic term Hiwar – in English dialogue – signifies peaceful exchange of ideas, opinions or information through wordy/wordless interaction.
The term “wordless interaction” is used here to refer to any interaction through exchange of non- linguistic symbols such as the utilities. Regardless of whether or not accompanied by any form of discourse, the wordless interaction usually involves indirect exchange of ideas, opinions or information. For instance, the exchanged utilities, be they commodities or services, usually reflect or manifest something about their origin or source’s nature, characters & conditions &, thereby, help the involved parties get or evolve some impressions, knowledge, concepts & ideas about each other. Such kind of dialogue which is based on exchange of ideas, opinions, or information through peaceful wordless interaction, may be dubbed as “Wordless Dialogue”.
The other term, viz, the “wordy interaction” denotes exchange of the linguistic symbols be they words or signals & whether they are exchanged verbally or in writing & directly or indirectly. The wordy interaction is usually meant to exchange ideas, opinions & information more explicitly & the dialogue based thereupon may be identified as “Wordy Dialogue”. The wordy dialogue is best known as conversation, talk or speech if the exchange is spontaneous &, usually, informal, & is known as Hiwar (Dialogue) if the exchange is deliberate, organized &, sometimes, formal. It is this last sense, namely the deliberate & organized exchange of words or rarely signals, which is immediately understood when the word Hiwar or Dialogue left unqualified or unmodified. In this specific sense, the dialogue may take the names or the forms of negotiations, discussions or talks.
In its aforementioned broad sense which pivots about the peaceful wordy or wordless interaction, dialogue is by no means a phenomenon peculiar to or characteristic of the mankind only. It is a universal law & a daily phenomenon without which it seems difficult to envisage consistency of regularity of the life or, perhaps, even just the continuity of the existence itself at least in its very present state or shape. Apparently, dialogue was & is still there since the very beginning. Such a contention may be maintained or argued for by many indicia/facts tending to establish it. These include the readily observable fact that men, and perhaps all other creatures, have been created capable of making dialogue. They have been provided, though to different degrees & in various forms, with the essential prerequisites for the dialogue function including the vocal, audio & intellectual organs & abilities in absence of which there might have been no wordy dialogue.
Another substantiating or evidential material reported by the Heavenly Books is the dialogue took place at the time of creation between God & some of His creatures namely – at least according to the Qur’an – the heavens & earth at one stage & the Angels, Man & Jin (Iblees or Lucifer) at other stages. This opening, as it were, dialogue was very crucial that actually it was a determinant factor of the future positions/statuses of the creatures. In this dialogue, the involved creatures made their choices as to their & the respective species’ future relations with God. Though always construed differently, the verse in the Bible which reads “In the beginning was the Word & the Word was with God –John, 3-1:1” perhaps is hinting at the same crucial wordy dialogue in which the creatures had a word with God & expressed in words their choices of the mode of life they would like to follow.
A noteworthy point in the abovementioned dialogue is that God’s beforehand awareness of Iblees (Lucifer)’s negative response to the dialogue didn’t stop God from starting & continuing the dialogue with Iblees. Similarly, God’s beforehand awareness of the fact that many of the mankind would not respond positively didn’t avert Him from endorsing & accomplishing the dialogue option & setting His relation with the mankind on the sole basis of the dialogue, through his angelic & human messengers, no matter whether His dialogical messages were accepted or rejected.
Furthermore, God has instructed those who accept His messages to maintain dialogue- based relations with all those who reject the messages. He ordered them, in this regard, to remain committed to the method of persuasion through ways of informing, conveyance, preaching & proper argumentation & directed them not to exceed the limits of dialogue to the coercion or use of force. The Qur’an has made very clear that the dialogic approach advocated by God is to be maintained by all & with all categories without exception.
It is evident that God has opted for the dialogue with all & in all cases as the only means to get His message(s) through & to get the purpose(s) of the creation achieved. He did so though He knew best about limited efficiency & low outcome of the dialogue approach & though He was & is most capable of making other choice. Unfortunately, it is these very evident facts & the most profound & precious lessons they imply which the humankind often ignored or failed to pay proper attention. Just as the preceding religious perspective, the intellectual or even the rationalistic or positive perspective also upholds & supports the dialogue option. The inductive reasoning confirms that in this life man can’t but maintain some relations with the surroundings. These relations could take one or more of only three possible forms which are the dialogic form, conflictive form & passive form. Such being the case, a sound man would need not more than to recall the demerits of the conflictive & passive forms & the merits of the dialogical form to realize logically that to maintain a dialogue-based relation is almost a necessity not mere a choice.
The above contentions about the necessity & indispensableness of the dialogue in human relations, both from intellectual & religious perspectives, remain true & valid whether the interrelating/interacting parties are individuals, groups or specific institutions/entities such as the States or human civilizations. Nevertheless, as the interrelated parties grow larger in number or size, the demerits of the conflictive & passive forms as well as the merits of the dialogical form of the relations tend to multiply implying more clearly & strongly that the need to commitment to the dialogue intensifies as the size/number of the interacting parties grow larger.
Historically & in reality, it may be correct to presume that the conflict was the predominant mode of the interaction/relation among the human groups for sometime at the beginning. However, as it is unlikely that those human groups might have come to existence or continued to exist without some degree of dialogue among the individuals of each group, it is likely that those human groups had not taken so long before they learnt about & practiced dialogue in their collective or intra-group interaction/ relations .As the human awareness of the increasing cost of the conflicts, in particular the armed ones, continued to grow, the human awareness of importance of the dialogue for development of less conflictive or conflict- free human relations also continued to grow. It is true that the conflict never ceased- and perhaps may never cease- to exist in human relations. However, it seems that in the process of time the conflict is gradually transforming from the extremely violent form of military or armed conflict to other less-violent forms of conflict such as the economic, political or cultural conflicts. More importantly the dialogue, in general, is increasingly becoming a common norm or practice in the human relations requiring & leading to emergence of a number of international, regional, bilateral & national bodies which take an interest in promotion of the dialogue. Besides being the sole means of cooperation, the dialogue is assuming a growing role in the conflicts management as well.
Perhaps, it is now clear how simple &- unfortunately- risky as well are the attitudes & the dicta slighting, denying, rejecting or assuming impossible the dialogue either in any respect or only when it comes to the dialogue with some parties or on certain topics. The rejection to the inter-civilization dialogue on the grounds of impracticability, the objection raised by some, both in the East & the West, to interreligious dialogue or to the dialogue with e.g. the local armed opposition or some specific countries/ regimes or groups dubbed, often prejudicially, as rogue or imperialist, evil or devil (Satan), fundamentalist or secular are examples of untenable negative attitudes towards the dialogue. The arguments advanced in defense of such objections are usually based on ideological pretexts, inappropriate religious discretionary views, misconceptions, superiority pertaining policies or practical considerations which, though some of them look relevant, do not disaffirm inasmuch as they affirm the need to the dialogue.
In fact, the dialogue option should be endorsed & maintained with all those who are willing or could be persuaded to go for it. According to the Islamic revealed injunctions any inclination- just inclination- to the dialogue must be met with similar inclination, for the inclination to the dialogue is an inclination, or an indication of inclination, to peace. Pursuant to the Holy Quran’s clear order “(وإن جنحوا للسلم فاجنح لها)(الأنفال-61)” which may be translated as “But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace” , the Muslim is not allowed to disregard, turn down or turn away from the inclination to peace . Prophet Mohamed, May peace be upon him, had preferred to opt for the dialogue even with those who attacked him & his companions, forced them out of their hometown, deprived them of their own properties & declared war against them.
In keeping with the already explained importance & imperativeness of adherence to the dialogue, considering the present increasing congestion in the international relations & the proliferating ideological & political groups & attitudes tending to advocate clash of civilizations & being desirous to enhance & institutionalize the popular contribution to the cause of culture in general, the Al-Mansour Cultural Foundation for Inter-civilization Dialogue was established in Sanaa ( Yemen) in 2002. The Foundation aims mainly at encouraging & supporting the Inter-civilization Dialogue. It specifically hopes to see the popular inputs making or extending a leading contribution in support of enrooting, enriching & establishing the foundation of the dialogical attitude & dialogical culture/tradition both locally & internationally. Recognizing that the inter-civilization dialogue can’t be promoted or conducted properly & optimally without addressing the existing need for promoting the dialogue within each & every civilization, the Foundation looks forward to contributing to enhancement of the intra-civilization dialogue among various orders, attitudes & sub-cultures of the Arab-Islamic civilization at different levels .It is hoped that the enhancement of the intra-civilization dialogue within the various civilizations could help the civilizational groups lead a more tolerant & dialogic approach on the issues at variance among the different civilizations of today’s world. Similarly, the dialogue on the civilizations as well as the civilization studies should be encouraged & could be employed to serve the cause of inter-civilization dialogue. The Foundation intends to seek achievement of its goals & ends mainly through the cultural & intellectual action & close cooperation with the willing concerned governmental & non-governmental local, regional & international organizations, institutions, centers.
During the past short period since it was established, the Foundation, represented by the Chairman, participated in a considerable number of conferences, symposia & seminars organized by regional organizations such as Arab League & Organization of Islamic Conference, governmental agencies, universities or cultural centers/institutions.
With a view to encouraging the common efforts & organizing the joint cooperation with the interested organizations, the Foundation endeavours to bring about the required appropriate arrangements & frameworks through conclusion of bilateral/ multilateral instruments. In this connection, the Foundation has signed recently a Cooperation Agreement with Arab League Educational, Cultural & Scientific Organization (ALESCO).
Realizing the importance of promoting the dialogic culture as wide as possible with the purpose of strengthening the basics, principles & virtues of the dialogue & enrooting the dialogic attitudes & ways of thinking & behaving deep in the society, the Foundation is keen to make use of all appropriate opportunities that the media may offer to advocate & promote the culture of dialogue among the various sections & strata of the society. Consequently, the Chairman of the Foundation conducted or participated in a number of press, televised or broadcast interviews & panels. A web site which address is www.mansourdialogue.org is also maintained by the Foundation for the purpose of interacting with the netizens interested in the civilizational dialogue.
The publication of this first issue of this magazine of “Dialogue of Civilizations” comes in continuation to the same efforts being made by the Foundation to disseminate the dialogue culture & values & to remain in contact with the local, regional & international agencies, organizations, centers, actors & personalities interested in such activities.
The magazine takes an interest mainly in providing coverage to the Foundation’s activities & its scholarly contributions to theme of dialogue & relevant issues. It also publishes or reproduces other relevant topics, articles, studies or presentations representing views & visions originating from not only the Arab- Islamic civilization but the other civilizations as well. In this regard, the present issue carries both the original English text & the Arabic translation of a lecture depicting an interesting Japanese viewpoint of Islamic civilization & broaching a contemplation- worth civilization strategy.
It is hoped that through more dialogue & the readers’ genuine contributions that this magazine of “Dialogue of Civilizations” will be further enriched.
* Translated by: Translation Section, Al-Mansour Foundation, Sana’a.
* Holy Qur’an, 8:61. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations of the Qur’nic verses in this publication are from Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation of The Holy Qur’an.