Islam’s Philosophy Of Pluralism

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Islam’s Philosophy Of Pluralism

Islamic Identity – The Muslim’s Purpose of Life
Quranic Wisdom for a Balanced Personality
Taleem Aur Tarbiyath (Education and Training)

All religions espouse peace, tolerance, and compassion at their very core. One of the best ways of breaking down barriers that we have erected between faiths is by building relationships and getting to know each other more intimately.

It’s not just a platitude, although it is a verse from the Qur’an where the Lord says He made us different so we can get to know each other. Taking that verse to heart, getting to know other people, and coming together on the common issues, all of us can synergize a new spirit of bonhomie. There is much in common among people, both in terms of ideas and the society they occupy, and this continues to be ignored and yet needs to be explored. We need to be able to see the other and say, “We understand you are different, but we also understand the difference.”

There is ample scope for reconciliation if only we are willing to avail ourselves of the myriad opportunities confronting us. Despite the many superficial differences, our more profound and permanent values are similar. The respect for knowledge, justice, compassion towards the less privileged, healthy family life, and the need to improve the here and now are commonalities that already exist and can be further deepened.

Islam has consistently and universally promoted human rights and freedoms as the fundamental tenets of its religion. As a scripture, the Qur’an speaks to all of humanity,

“O mankind! We have created you from a single (pair) of male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most pious of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things) [Q49:13].”

This single Qur’anic verse is a solitary testament to the foundation of diversity and pluralism in Islam.

The Qur’an calls for justice, fairness, and kindness to non-Muslims. “God does not forbid you, about those who do not fight you on account of your religion or drive you out of your homes, to treat them with goodness and be just to them. (Q 60:8).

More importantly, those non-Muslims who live in a Muslim country are referred to as “protected people.” They enjoy the same rights as Muslims while being free to practice their faith. It is incumbent upon an Islamic state to protect the life, property, and honour of non-Muslims. Principles like these made the Jews seek refuge under Muslim rule in Spain in the middle ages.

The Qur’an does not directly and categorically deny the validity and truth of any religion. Instead, it is concerned with individuals and nations and their faith (Imām), or rejection of faith (kufr) in God, witnessing (shahādah) to His Oneness (tawhīd), and acceptance of humankind’s accountability before Him on the Day of Judgment.

The Qur’an presents its view of religious pluralism in a somewhat progressive manner. A preliminary statement merely enumerates the religions known to the Prophet’s audience and leaves the question of their truth for God to judge on the Day of Resurrection. It states: “Surely those who have accepted faith [that is, the Muslims], Jews, the Sabaeans, the Christians, the Magians and those who have associated other gods with God, God will judge among them on the Day of Resurrection. God is witness over all things (Q. 22:17).”

The Qur’an makes the belief in all the prophets—from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to Jesus—incumbent upon Muslims. All those Prophets are to be respected, and their followers must be treated with kindness. The Qur’an instructs, “Help one another in benevolence and piety and help not one another in sin and transgression (Q5:2).”

Islam embraces the entire human race irrespective of the victim or perpetrator’s faith, gender, race, or economic status. The Qur’an instructs, “Help one another in benevolence and piety and help not one another in sin and transgression (Q5:2).” Muslims are prohibited from oppressing the adherents of other faith groups.

The Qur’an is very emphatic, “Let there be no compulsion in religion (Q2:256)” and “Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe (Q10:99)?” Neither the Qur’an nor the Prophetic tradition demands of Jews and Christians that they give up their religious identity and become Muslims unless they freely choose to do so. This is an unconditional command, not a mere statement.

Islam has consistently and universally promoted human rights and freedoms as fundamental to the development of human society. Each individual has the freedom and autonomy to live according to the dictates of his own conscience or that of the group or agglomeration to whom he belongs. As a scripture, the Qur’an is meant to be universal and speaks to all of humanity—

“O mankind! We have created you from a single (pair) of male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most pious of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things) (Q49:13).”

This single Qur’anic verse is a solitary testament to the foundation of diversity and pluralism in Islam.

There are many historical examples of this spirit of pluralism demonstrated by even Muslim rulers. A dhimmi assassinated Umar in 644 CE. Rather than lashing out against dhimmis, at his deathbed, Umar specifically ordered.

“I urge him (i.e., the new Caliph) to take care of those non-Muslims who are under the protection of Allah and His Messenger in that he should observe the convention agreed upon with them and fight on their behalf (to secure their safety) and he should not over-tax them beyond their capability.”

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