July 12, 2004

Pluralism in Islam

I have been battered with one thought for the last couple of days. It all started since the Friday sermon I attended in a Mosque. The Imam's topic for this week was "Non-Muslims cannot be a friend of Muslim, so refrain from them". He was building his logics regarding this citing numerous examples from Quran and elsewhere, which did not contain those specific words. He tried to make everybody believe that every non-Muslim is Kafir and were born to hurt and undermine the Muslims, so Muslims should develop anger and hatred for them. Avoid them and only are allowed to make business transactions with them. This is another vague logic, because if you do not respect/trust your partner then why should you build a business relationship with him/her? He strongly urged that there should be a monolithic society of Muslim where there will be no place for the non-Muslims. I have never in my life heard such a venomous sermon and I was quite astonished that nobody protested. This was contrary to my knowledge and understanding of Islam.

Then I tried to gather information on this topic. Ask Imam provided no clear concept except more venoms.

Then I found this article by Asghar Ali Engineer which sheds a light on the issue:

According to Quran, Islam not only accepts the legitimacy of religious pluralism but considers it quite central to its system of beliefs. The verse 5:48 says:

"Unto every one of you We have appointed a (different) law and way of life. And if Allah had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but (He willed it otherwise) in order to test you by means of what He has given you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto Allah you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ."

The shari'ah, the law and the way of life may differ and yet din, the divine essence, the divine truth, is the same and reflected in all religions, in all spiritual traditions. We humans have no right to reject the 'other' as illegitimate, much less, false. Thus it is our human ego which rejects the religious other and not the falsity of other faith traditions.

According to verse 2:213 : "Mankind is a single nation." But then people start differing from each other and envying one another instead of respecting each others specificity and thus people get divided. That is not the purpose of divine guidance. Allah guides those who believe the truth about which they differed.

The words 'kafir' and 'mushrik' should be used with great caution and restraint and every religious other should not be named Kafir. Only those who refuse to accept truth in any form and negate good (ma'ruf) completely and advocate munkar (evil) would qualify as kafirs and those who refuse oneness of God and associate partners with Him will qualify as mushrik. Even kafirs and mushriks would have civil rights as long as they do not cause any disturbances in society and maintain peace. The Qur'an has given the kuffar also the right to worship in their own way and have heir own beliefs. The freedom of conscience cannot be taken away form any human person, whatever his or her beliefs. Thus it will be seen that Islam does not come in the way of promoting a pluralist civil society ensuring dignity and freedom of conscience to all.

The problem is that the general people would not understand the false notion of the Imam who gave the sermon, which is a clear violation of the Qu'ranic injunctions. An Islamic civil society should treat all with equal degree of dignity. Sad but true we are being fed with these venoms and nobody is protesting.


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