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Islam and Pluralism (03 Jun 2019 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Some Questions to Muslims Who Believe Islam Promotes Pluralism

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

03 June 2019

India is a multi-religious and multi-cultural society. It is one of the greatest strengths of the country, that despite attempts to homogenise its religio-cultural standards, the country still remains diverse and plural. Attempts to homogenise have come from both sides: from the side of secularists who have historically tried to promote a single ‘rational and scientific’ standard by belittling the diverse religious traditions of the country; and from right wing religious organizations who have sought to argue that their reading of a particular religious tradition should be the only standard. India is a shining example that all such attempts have failed and the country continues to be plural.

This is the reason perhaps why followers of different religions in India have started arguing that their religions promote pluralism and diversity. Muslims are no exception to this rule. In almost all formal gatherings, Muslims point out that Islam promotes diversity and pluralism. However, when one starts interrogating such assertions, these Muslims either parry the question or start calling you an Islamophobe. Such a response only tells us that deep down, Muslims have clearly not done enough hard thinking on this issue and their articulation that Islam promotes pluralism is just a performance which they are enacting in front of a sympathetic audience. This not only does disservice to the cause of inter-religious harmony but also to Muslims themselves since they do not have the intellectual capacity to confront their own religious past.

Most Muslims, even the educated ones, paint a very dark picture of pre-Islamic era. Muslims unthinkingly argue that it was a period of Jahiliyya or ignorance, that the condition of women was miserable and that there was no law or regulation which governed that society. You just ask them how they know so much about the pre-Islamic period when there is a near absence of written historical records. More importantly, Islamic literature also tells us that the whole notion of Jahiliyya is a construct of latter day Muslim scholars, anxious at making a distinction with their own past.

Like many parts of the world, Arabia was largely an oral culture. Written texts were a rarity and thus what we know about the period comes largely through the works of Islamic writers. It must be remembered that Islam emerged victorious in this battle between ‘truth’ and ‘ignorance’ and victors all over the world have tended to write histories which have been disparaging about the vanquished. Also, we must remember that according to the tenets of modern historiography, volumes of Hadees literature, which tell us about this supposed pre-Islamic period, cannot even be considered as historical texts. But most Muslims rely on these obscure texts for their arguments and find no problem in citing these antediluvian texts. At the same time, they will argue with all passion that texts of other religious traditions cannot be relied upon because they are not grounded in history. It beats common sense how Muslims can belittle other religious and cultural traditions and yet vouch for the pluralistic ethos of Islam.

If pre-Islamic Arabia was such a regressive place, then how did it throw such valiant women of strong character like Khadija, who was the first to realise the prophetic mission of Muhammad? If women had such a low status in society, how did she become a first rate entrepreneur before Islam came to the picture? If there was nothing to be appreciated in that society, how it produced first rate poets and satirists remains an intriguing question. If there were no rules in that society, then how did the rule of not shedding blood at the Ka’aba got enforced?

The problem is that Muslims do not question the received wisdom which has come down to them through generations of religious scholars, all of whom have been united in their a historical opinion that pre-Islamic Arabia was a place of Jahiliyya when there is ample evidence that this might not be the case.

A genuine dialogue and search for pluralism within one’s own religious tradition cannot begin without a ceaseless search for the truth in the light of available evidence. Relying on texts of dubious historical authenticity is certainly not the right way to go about it. For example, the same texts also inform us that the Prophet ordered the execution of the poetess Asma bint Marwan, who used to compose poetry against Islam and the Prophet. Now, if we are arguing that Islam stands for pluralism, then we need to be able to answer such tough questions as why the Prophet was not tolerant enough to withstand criticism from a woman or why he couldn’t accept another point of view. And certainly there cannot be any idea of pluralism without the practice of tolerance.

There are other questions which Muslims advocating Islam’s supposed pluralistic ethos need to confront. They rightly point out that the covenant of Medina is a pluralist document, which talks of amicable living together between the Jews and Muslims. The problem is that such a covenant can be read as an agreement between two Semitic traditions, both claiming to worship the same God. But can this also be extended to polytheistic traditions? This question is certainly important in the Indian context where a large majority of population is certainly polytheistic. How does Islam in India want to deal with them if it wants to showcase itself as a religion devoted to pluralism? Muslims have unthinkingly advocated that the covenant of Medina serves as a guide for plural living together, even with the Hindus.

However, it is an open question as to how this can be extended to Hindus if Islamic ideas and practices have been antithetical to idol worship and polytheism? Islamic monotheism stands opposed to polytheism and no hermeneutic jugglery can resolve this problem. Islam fought against polytheism practiced in Arabia and wiped it out very rapidly. The very reasonable conclusion that one derives from Islamic history is that monotheism is far superior to polytheism. After all, how do the Muslim advocates of pluralism account for the fact that the Prophet himself removed idols from the Ka’aba signalling the final triumph of Islam over polytheism? How can someone, who was intrinsically antithetical to non-monotheistic ways of relating to God, be considered as an ambassador of religious pluralism as claimed by some well-meaning Muslims?

The whole point of arguing all this is not to belittle any religious tradition. But just to open up a debate amongst those Muslims who sincerely believe in a reading of Islam which is pluralist and tolerant.

Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-pluralism/arshad-alam,-new-age-islam/some-questions-to-muslims-who-believe-islam-promotes-pluralism/d/118785

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  • Mr Alam dishonesty in Article that all Muslims are aware in iindia how to deceive Hindus or Say do Taqiya with Hindus, like Sultan Shahin with having Hindu wife it becomes even easier to taqiya
    By Aayina - 6/29/2019 1:09:50 AM

  • Mr Alam first Article that says Mohmmad has broken the idols( I would he insulted polytheist and showed I'd might)
    By Aayina - 6/29/2019 1:06:39 AM

  • Mr Alam, first Honest Article on How Hindus has to be seen from Quran point of view
    By Aayina - 6/29/2019 1:05:20 AM

  • Poor Hats Off! Since his malevolence has been exposed, he has no option left other than an empty-headed ad hominem attack! 

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 6/5/2019 1:34:21 PM

  • you are totally irrelevant. and you do nbot matter a whit. you are just an economic opportunist with an inflated opinion of your self importance.
    what you believe is neither here nor there.
    what the Qu''an, the hadees and the sunnah say is the matter. you are just one of many flies in the ointment.
    go home!

    By hats off! - 6/4/2019 7:47:51 PM

  • Hats Off, being a sworn enemy of Islam, would like us to continue believing in  jahiliyya, kuffar, jizya and jihad! Is anyone surprised?

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 6/4/2019 12:57:09 PM

  • so nice to know from the the shrillest opportunistic expatriate "moderates" that in islam -
    - jahiliyya is not a thing. kuffar is not a thing. jizya is not a thing. jihad is not a thing. left hand posession is not a thing.
    all that is islamophobia.
    tell it to the birds - a excellent novel by james hadley chase.

    By hats off! - 6/4/2019 8:35:49 AM

  • The Quran uses the term "Ummi" meaning people without scriptures  both for the Prophet and the polytheist Arabs. The word Jahiliya is used only in specific contexts referring to some of their obnoxious practices. 

    People like Hzarat Khadija, the Prophet (pbuh), Abu Bakr, Usman, Ali and many others who did not practice what was obnoxious to Islam even during their pre-Islamic days do not come under the description "Jahil". Hazrat Umar may come under that description for some of his deeds such as burying his new-born daughter alive and for having been violent and cruel during his pre-Islamic days.

    The Quran does not refer to all the polytheists as Jahil but only as Ummi,  and the same term is used for  the Prophet also. 

    The Meccan polytheists were treated very well both by the Muslims and by Allah. The prisoners of war were never enslaved and always freed with or without ransom. After the Prophet migrated to Medina to escape assassination, no calamity was sent by Allah on the Meccans. The Prophet captured Mecca without blood shed. There was no bloodshed even later nor as a consequence of the so called "sword" verse 9:5 since those covered by it were given 4 months amnesty to accept Islam or migrate. Very few and only the most violent opponents of Islam died in the battles. The rest became staunch Muslims even though those who had not fought could have retained their religion by becoming jiziya paying citizens. After, accepting Islam, they showed great zeal for the new religion  and carried the religion forward with great vigour.

    To therefore paint a  picture of Islam  wiping out polytheism in Arabia by the sword is therefore false. 

    By Naseer Ahmed - 6/4/2019 1:19:12 AM

  • Al-Kafirun, an early Meccan Surah, addressed not to all the polytheists but only to the Kafirun or the violent enemies of Islam among them, ends with 109:6 "To you be your religion and to me mine". They wouldn't however, leave Islam, the Prophet and the Muslims alone and continued to persecute them. It is they who tried to wipe out Islam and the Muslims but in turn got wiped out. The violent leaders having been eliminated, the rest accepted Islam willingly although those who had not fought the Muslims in violation of their treaty had the option to retain their religion and become jiziya paying citizens.

    When all accepted Islam, each tribe  removed their own idols or some carried them away. There were some who did not want to destroy their idols themselves but permitted the Muslims to do so. The polytheists had the option to carry away the idols with them during the 4 month period of amnesty. 

    Religious tolerance is explicit in 2:256 "Let there be no compulsion in religion"

    The problem is that the bigoted Muslims themselves paint a false picture of early Islamic history to support their own bigotry.  The story that comes through in the Quran is covered in my articles: 
    If Mr Alam is interested in answers and correcting his understanding, he will be able to do so by reading the articles. If all that he is interested in is to keep the pot boiling, he will continue to turn a blind eye to the answers.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 6/4/2019 12:50:25 AM

  • For Hats Off Islam is a fixed never-changing entity frozen in time! Such a view helps him carry on his despicable hate war.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 6/4/2019 12:08:13 AM

  • if islam were truely tolerant, saudi arabia would have been teeming with jews and pagans. and egypt would have been chockful of copts and jews. pakistan would have seen a rise in hindu and christian populations. see what pakistani muslims are doing to the tribe of kalash? a full scale love jihad is in operation there.
    By hats off! - 6/3/2019 6:18:55 PM

  • Indian muslims talking about Pluralism and Secularism are simply doing Taqiyah

    All schools of islam, except Hanafi,  call for death to Polytheists ( Hindus ) and even Hanafi calls for Hindus to be treated as Dhimmis ; No sufi accepts equal treatment of Polytheists

    It is best for Hindus ( Polytheists ) to read islamic texts like Sharia, Hadith, Koran, Sira to understand what islam says about Polytheists and start to prepare themselves

    Recent victory of BJP with about 50% share of Hindu vote, is because Hindus are now more aware about islamic teachings 

    By Shan Barani - 6/3/2019 2:44:42 PM

  • "Attempts to homogenise have come from both sides: from the side of secularists who have historically tried to promote a single ‘rational and scientific’ standard by belittling the diverse religious traditions of the country; " . . . . This is false. Secularists do not have any standard to impose. They just want a wall between state and government. They do not belittle any religion.

    Mr. Alam's fascination with Jahaliya reveals his anti-Islamic bias. Jahaliya is mentioned from time to time in our conversations  but it is neither an in-depth or a vitally important concept in Islamic exegesis. I agree that not much is known historically about it. To make it a major focus in this discussion is an error.

    One can produce enough quotes from the Quran and from Hindu or Christian scriptures to make the claim that Islam and other religions do endorse pluralism and diversity. One can also find quotes that contradict those attributes. The  view that should prevail is the one that we, the modern Muslims, Hindus, Christians etc., believe. What would be best for the societies that we live in. Idol worship is forbidden in Islam. If it is permissible in Hinduism, we Muslims are bound to respect the traditions of our Hindu brothers. That is not rocket science.

    This is not a matter for dialogue and search. This is a matter for assertion of what we the citizens of pluralistic societies know in our hearts to be right. Dialogue and search would only roil and muddy the waters.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 6/3/2019 1:12:59 PM

  • This article has initiated quite an interesting debate...we need to question our assumptions critically reflecting on them.
    By Meera - 6/3/2019 9:51:31 AM

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