What role does Mohammad Khatami believe religion can play in bridging the gulf between East and West?
Former President of Iran Mohammad Khatami recently visited Washington, D.C. to address guests at the Washington National Cathedral. The essence of Mr. Khatami’s speech centered on the role of the three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — as servants of peace and greater cultural dialogue between the West and East.
How would you characterize the crisis that you refer to within the West?
“The West — being the greatest victim of over-reliance on reason — is seeking the help of intellectuals and philosophers to deprive reason of every credit and privilege that was once bestowed upon it.”
What has been the defining legacy of the West’s interaction with the rest of the world?
“After the establishment of what is known as Western Civilization, we witnessed the emergence of a belief in both the dominance of that civilization and in the integration of other civilizations — or the remnants of other civilizations — into a unified Western one.”
What led to this outcome?
“The development that came to be known as colonialism was the natural outcome of the domination of modern science over nature.”
How does the West need to change?
“For true inter-civilizational dialogue to materialize, the East should no longer be the ‘object’ of understanding in the West, as it was in Orientalism — but it must be recognized as a partner in dialogue and communication.”
And what aspects of Western society can be successfully adopted by the East?
“The East needs to utilize the rationality and prudence of the West in its wordly affairs — and must embark on the important path of development.”
But how can the roots of conflict between the West and the East be identified — and ultimately overcome?
“History teaches us that whenever the East or the West over-relied on one aspect of existence and ignored the other, great calamities engulfed our world. The time has come that in the midst of chaos, war, violence, terror and insecurity on the one hand — and poverty, ignorance and backwardness on the other — we seek to envision a world of peace, morality, ethics and progress for all humankind.”
What benefits can the West enjoy through more engagement with the East?
“The Orient — which by definition means guidance and orderliness — can engage in a historic dialogue with Europe and the United States, inviting them to moderation and tranquility.”
If you could provide one suggestion to Western civilization, what would that be?
“The time has come for the West to take a step forward — and view itself from another angle. And this is by no means a call for the West to forgo its lofty cultural heritage and civilization.”
What role does religion play in the stability and progress of all civilizations?
“Great religions, particularly Islam, Judaism and Christianity, can help mankind solve modern problems and challenges by a return to their vital, vibrant and common essence.”
And what can be the downside?
“Unfortunately, sometimes habits, prejudices and worship of forms within a religious universe lead to a static and stagnant situation. Consequently, the truth of religion that deals with the essence of the human being is forgotten, and the worship of form replaces the reality of religion.”
Editor's Note: All quotes presented above are taken verbatim from a speech given by Mohammad Khatami on September 7, 2006, at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. For a copy of the full text, click here.