The Two Seas Forum

The Two Seas Forum for Dialogue is an online round-table which brings together a large group of commentators - scholars, journalists, religious authorities, writers, activists, etc. - and asks them to contribute opinion pieces in response to weekly discussion questions. Our commentators represent a diverse range of cultural and theological backgrounds: Sunnis and Shiites; Arabs, Asians, Africans, Europeans, and Americans; orthodox, secular, progressive, and esoteric. The goal of this forum is to encourage dialogue between different viewpoints within Islam, as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims, on a wide variety of issues.

The Forum's title is an allusion to several verses in the Qur'an which make reference to the "two seas" (or bodies of water), each one different but valuable in its own way. They represent river and ocean, fresh and salt water, both life-nourishing and productive, while being binary opposites:

"Nor are the two seas alike, - the one palatable, sweet, and pleasant to drink, and the other, salt and bitter. Yet from each do you eat flesh fresh and tender, and extract ornaments to wear; and see the ships therein that plough the waves, that you may seek (thus) of the Bounty of God that you may be grateful." (Q 35:12)

In addition to the river and ocean metaphor, the "two seas" occupy an important place in Qur'anic geography. In Surat al-Kahf (Q 18:60-82), there there is a story about Moses' quest for the "confluence of the two seas", where he meets a righteous servant of God possessed of seemingly boundless knowledge. This servant, according to the hadith literature, was the learned prophet, al-Khidr, a figure associated with deep spiritual understanding and regarded as a 'saint' by several Sufi orders. Islamic exegetes contrast the esoteric nature of al-Khidr's learning and spiritual status with that of Moses, who is regarded as possessing knowledge of a more exoteric character. Thus, the "confluence of the two seas" has been interpreted by many as a metaphor for the meeting of the two great prophets themselves, each representing a different kind of "ocean" of knowledge.