Comparative religion, as the name suggests compares various religions mainly in terms of theology and a small part of jurisprudence and morals. It is not something new, comparative religion has always existed. At least in the realm of academics and thinkers.
One particular figure in this aspect would be Dr. Zakir Naik, this does not mean he is the only one in the picture. Prior to him there was Sheikh Ahmad Deedat, and as of now there are many more figures that deal with this subject. This field of knowledge also goes back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W.
As is mentioned in the Quran in various places, the comparison of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. That in itself is an encouragement for others to follow. An encouragement to dwell in the field of comparative religion and speak the truth about all. As mentioned in the Quran,
And do not insult those they invoke other than God , lest they insult God in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.
No one is allowed to insult the religion of others. And hence the study of comparative religion and its dissemination should be done with care so as to not insult the belief of others. If one believes his/her religion to be true then, there is no need to be afraid or refrain from this field.
The Prophet s.a.w. encountered people with numerous beliefs and answered their questions, the Jews, Christians, Pagans etc. It is the tradition of our Prophet that all question that are intellectual be answered in a manner that is equal or better than the question at hand.
Our Prophet s.a.w. even allowed the Christian delegation from Najran to stay in his mosque. They had a debate in the mosque itself, this serves as an encouragement to have such debates regardless of the location. Debate and/or discussions in this manner should be intellectual and truthful.
It is not befitting that these events are done to find a winner, but a better approach would be to seek the truth. Truth about one’s own belief and other beliefs as well. Discourses such as these can only be healthy intellectually provided there is no overzealous reaction from the public.
To promote harmony, understanding and bring for the truth, comparative religion discourses should be held more often. It would be better to allow people from various faiths to take part rather than one person talking about various faiths. This would give chance for all to take part and display their side of the story all in the spirit of being fair.
A few organisations that organise interfaith courses for the public are,
Global Unity Network
Intellectual Wisdom Society
Islamic Information and Services Foundation
Hidayah Centre Foundation
Islamic Outreach Abim
Multiracial Reverted Muslims
There are other organisations that organise similar courses from time to time. These courses are usually promoted via Facebook. It would be of great benefit if Muslims can join these courses. These courses provide an insight into other religions and their theology. Understanding of other religions helps in creating a more harmonious society.
Islam is a religion that promotes good and forbids evil and its main principle is the worship of the One true God. As mentioned in the Quran by the Lord Himself,
You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in God…
And in another verse God says,
Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided.
As a conclusion, it would greatly benefit the people of a society to have these discussions. And these discussions should be held within a scope of guidelines, so that there are no insults and hate-mongering among the speakers. We would like to see in the future more discussions of this nature.
And God knows best (Wallahu’alam)