Islam and Pluralism in a Global Era
By Dr. Fathi Osman
2 Nov 2, 2008,
That human beings are all different cannot be argued. Physically and psychologically no two human beings, however closely related biologically, are exactly the same. In addition to racial and ethnic differences, there are the acquired differences in ideas, knowledge approaches, priorities and judgment, among many other differences, that accrue from the surrounding culture.
Religion belongs somewhere between an inherited and an acquired difference, that is, it can be inherited by succeeding generations from an earlier one, or it can develop from one's contemplation into personal conviction. The fact that religious faith is most commonly inherited collectively rather than developed individually makes the acceptance of religious diversity essential for the well-being of humanity.
A nation-state, even the most harmonious geographic entity, displays diversity in race, ethnicity and religions, as well as acquired ideological and political notions that reflect natural differences in thinking and judgment. Since the world is coming closer together as a result of miraculous developments in the technology of transportation and communication, global diversity has become a fact that has to be accepted intellectually and morally, and secured and sanctioned legally, by all groups throughout the world.
Pluralism is the institutional form that acceptance of diversity takes in a particular society or in the world as a whole. It means something more than moral tolerance or passive coexistence. Tolerance is a matter of individual feeling and behaviour and coexistence is a mere acceptance of others that does not go beyond an absence of conflict. Pluralism, on the one hand, requires organizational and legal measures that secure and sanction equality and develop fraternity among all human beings as individuals or groups, whether their differences are inborn or acquired. Pluralism also requires a serious approach towards understanding the other and a constructive cooperation for the betterment of the whole. All human beings should enjoy equal rights and opportunities, and all should fulfil equal obligations as citizens of a nation and of the world. Each group should have the right to organize and develop itself and to maintain its identity and interests, and each should enjoy equality of rights and obligations in the state and in the world.
Pluralism means that minority groups can participate fully and equally with the majority in the society, and yet maintain their particular identity and differences. This particular has to be maintained by the state and the law, first by national law and eventually by international law. Pluralism originally referred only to ethnic and religious differences, but in a democracy ideological and political differences also came to be subsumed under the same term, on the philosophical grounds that there in no single understanding of the truth and thus a variety of beliefs and institutions and communities should exist together and enjoy equal legitimacy. Relations should be constructive, whatever the beliefs of a particular group may be regarding the sole and universal truth. The "Encyclopaedia Britannica" includes under pluralism both natural- born and acquired differences. Its definition is: "Autonomy enjoyed by disparate groups within a society: such groups as religious groups, trade unions, professional organizations or ethnic minorities." It may be preferable to replace "autonomy" with "the right to maintain a common identity and interests."
Muslims, like adherents of other religions of the world, have to live with non-Muslims within a given country. Muslim citizens of the country can have their ethnic or doctrinal differences with-in themselves or with other Muslims in the world. Muslim unity does not require that Muslims form a single state; even the caliphate always comprised different beliefs and ethnicities. Where one lives may be dictated by geographic or economic factors. A nation-state can be considered from the Islamic point of view as an enlarged family or an enlarged neighbourhood, each with its own special interests that in no way detract from the universal relations of togetherness and solidarity required by Islam. Divisions into peoples and other groups with common origin are acknowledged in the Quran (49:13), and nothing is wrong with it so long as such divisions do not hinder universal human relations and cooperation, and are not abused through chauvinistic arrogance and aggression. The Quran indicated that God and his teachings should be put above any allegiance to a particular group or land, and so long as this principle is observed, allegiance to one's family and to particular human gatherings and to one's homeland is recognized (9:24). As Muslims live in larger groups and in lands where they can prosper, they have to live with other religions and sects Moreover, contemporary globalism is creating unavoidable interdependence among all humankind, whatever their natural-born or acquired differences may be.
For a long time consensus was regarded as important because the goal was to achieve uniformity in beliefs and human values.
"Aquinas in the Middle Ages," as Nicholas Rescher writes, Regarded consensus on fundamentals as a condition assured by God: Kant in the 18th century considered it as something rooted in the very nature of Reason; Hegel in the 19th century saw it as guar- anteed by the spirit of cultivation working through the march of history ever enlarging its hold on human society; Habermas in the 20th century sees is as inherent in the very nature of communications as an indispensables social praxis. By contrast, many present-day writers invest social consensus not with confidence, but with hope.
Rescher argues that abandonment of consensus is impossible, and defends pluralism in cognitive and social theory against dogmatic uniformity, and indicating that in the face of differing views, it is still appropriate to take a committed and definite position. Pluralism should not allow people to fall into the trap of "relativistic indifferentism." He emphasizes that, if natural and ration- al diversity cannot be escaped, "a sensibly managed social system should be so designed that a general harmony of constructive interaction can prevail despite diversity.. [and] that different can be accommodated short of conflict this requires acquiescence in difference ... and respect for the autonomy of other." 1
Given that "the truth is one," one might think that reaching the truth would automatically produce consensus, but Rescher underlines the problem of connecting the truth to consensus by reversing the question, asking if we achieve consensus, can we be sure concerning the truth about which the consensus has been achieved? As he rightfully says, "The appeal of a consensus approach to truth is easy to understand. But its workability is something else." He reaches the conclusion that "consensus is thus no highway to truth, and no substitute for an objective criteriology," although it may be a useful epistemological instrument. Rescher calls attention to the fact that "the realization of a consensus among inquiries requires extraordinarily unusual conditions - conditions of a special and particular sort which are not in general met in the difficult circumstances of an imperfect world." Thus, "The empirical basis of our factual knowledge is bound to engender a variety of cognitive positions through the variation of experience here on earth." Accordingly, Rescher emphasizes: "the pluralism that a sensible empiricism engenders in the light of such variable experiential conditions is rationally justified. The unavailability of consensus and the inescability of pluralism are realities of the life of reason.
Such an inevitable cognitive pluralism should not, however, be construed as encouraging indifference, nor should it put the faith of any believer at risk, since "one can certainly combine a relativistic pluralism of possible alternatives with a monistic position regarding ideal rationality and a firm and reasoned commitment to the standards intrinsic of one's own position. ' 2
Political pluralism holds that power and authority should not be monopolized by a single group, order, or organization, and that all citizens should be allowed to compete legitimately or to cooperate. If pluralism is unavoidably determined in cognitive matters, it is more essential when it comes to natural-born differences. Pluralism in religion recognizes the multiplicity of religious groups and the rights of belief, expression, assembly, and legit mate activity for every individual, for each religious group within the group and for the group as a whole. Unless human under- standing and cooperation supersede both inborn and acquired differences, "holocausts" and "ethnic cleansings" will continue, and on a global scale will breed either ceaseless conflict or self- imposed isolation. Multiethnic countries may always face the horrors of civil war, terrorism, or secession, which cripple the country and pressure the whole world. When pluralism becomes a conventional national and universal principle, inborn and acquired differences will enrich the intellectual, moral and material assets of humankind through constructive interactions from all parties.
The divine messages from "the Lord of All-Being" (The Quran 1:2) can be invaluable in conducting their followers toward a universal pluralism. However, because parallel texts in the divine sources may sometimes seem to differ because they originally responded to different circumstances, the believing masses may fail to understand them in their entirety. Instead of making a distinction between the general principle and the particular situation, they may be inclined for individual or collective reasons in given circumstances to adapt chauvinistic and confrontational attitudes. Hermeneutics should provide the proper interpretation of God's message in its entirety there by protecting believers from distorting divine guidance through that kind of selectivity and one-sided-ness, that creates a false impression of exclusiveness and generates unethical behavior, discrimination and injustice.
Dr. Fathi Osman is a retired professor of Islamic Studies and has taught in several universities in Muslims World and the West. Among these universities are
The above essay has been taken from his book "Contemporary Issues: An Islamic Perspective"
1. Rescher, Nicholas, and Pluralism: Against the Demand for onsensus, Clarenden Press:
Islam and Hinduism: Experience of an Evangelist
November 03, 2008
Let me begin with who I am and what I believe. I am a Christian evangelist who believes in winning others to Christ (you can call it conversion). I am not paid nor funded by any organization though I do not see anything wrong in both. I work to earn my living and do my ministry. I do not belong to any organized/institutional Church though I preach in every Church. It has been almost eight years that I am preaching the Gospel. I have conducted open forums, inter-religious public debates (one of the largest ever in the world), written pamphlets and booklets. I hope I can speak about religion now.
I believe that one man’s religion is another man’s blasphemy. So I do not believe that ‘all religions are true’ and ‘all religions are valid paths for salvation”. Moreover, I think the statement that ‘all religions are true’ is illogical and can never be substantiated with evidences. In fact, it is logically valid to say that “all religions are false” though I believe one religion is true because of evidences (and you know which I think as true). Therefore, if one man truly preaches his religion, then it would be a blasphemy to another man. You may ask: if I do not think other man’s religion as valid how am I going to live in a pluralistic society? My answer is- I believe in the dignity of every human being though not in the validity of every view. So along with the alleged statement of atheist Voltaire, I will say “I may detest what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
It has been almost two and half years ago that I started focusing on Islam with a greater interest. Islamic terrorism was a concern for me too. Initially, I attended some Islamic religious programs and asked a few of the most sensitive questions. I was expecting a bomb blast for that. The Islamic preacher attempted to answer the questions (though not satisfactorily), and blasphemed against my religion (which I thought was not relevant to the question though that is his right). But there was no threat of any kind - veiled or blatant.
Then I started writing against the doctrines of Islam. A few Christians and some Hindus warned me of Muslim repercussions. But I never got a threat - veiled or blatant.
I then debated with Dawwah preachers both closed-room (in front of hundreds) and open ground (in front of thousands). They sometimes ridiculed me, sometimes mocked at me, sometimes blasphemed my faith, and presented their own rebuttals but never did I receive a threat - veiled or blatant. To add to it all, I now live in
It was the Hindu terrorism in Orissa that rudely woke me to the Hinduism angle. So it has been hardly two months that I have been focusing on Hinduism. I am yet to conduct an open forum or a public debate on this topic though I intend to start with an open forum and am willing to take a public debate (if any Hindu religious preacher is ready). But until now I have only written a few articles and an e-booklet. All of these are written in English and published on the Internet. The responses that I got from the ‘religion of tolerance’ are shocking.
Here I summarize a few:
• We will chop your head (Blatant threat, I say. I have saved this email and wrote back to this guy that this might be difficult for him to carry out and he should rather try to refute me.)
• You are defaming and maligning our religion
• We are tolerant people but if you write like this we will be forced to attack (I thought one should be considered as tolerant when they peacefully respond to criticisms and not when they live without criticisms. Maybe this fellow must have thought that he is ‘gracious’ in allowing me even to live as a Mleccha as long as I keep silent)
• You are forcing us to join RSS (veiled threat, I say)
• And a lot of abuses
I agree that both these experiences are very limited and cannot be generalized. Moreover, Hindus in
Are the Indian Muslims better in handling criticisms than Indian Hindus? With my limited experience, I should say yes.
Why it is so?
Maybe because Hindus are in the majority. As Bill Clinton once said in another context, "I did it because I could."
Maybe because Hindus are only tolerant when you do not disturb their caste structure (remember Jews and Parsis) and are intolerant when you disturb it (remember Buddhists).
Maybe because Hindus do not want to face criticisms for the fear of being exposed. My political leader Babasaheb Ambedkar once wrote:
“In raising the second objection (all religions are true, therefore it is futile to convert) the Hindu is merely trying to avoid an examination of Hinduism on its merits. It is an extraordinary thing that in the controversy over conversion not a single Hindu has had the courage to challenge the Untouchables to say what is wrong with Hinduism. The Hindu is merely taking shelter under the attitude generated by the science of comparative religion. The science of comparative religion has broken down the arrogant claims of all revealed religions that they alone are true and all others which are not the results of revelation are false. That revelation was too arbitrary, too capricious test to be accepted for distinguishing a true religion from a false was undoubtedly a great service which the science of comparative religion has rendered to the cause of religion. But it must be said to the discredit of that science that it has created the general impression that all religions are good and there is no use and purpose in discriminating them.”
Maybe a combination of all the reasons, although I am inclined to believe in the second and third reasons. Or maybe it is something else that I do not know yet.
Whatever the reasons I have some unsolicited advice for the Hindus:
• Defend your religion only by means of reason. It will show that you are truly tolerant.
• Never take physical weapons to oppose verbal and ideological criticisms
• Learn your own scriptures and reject what is wrong and accept only what is right (and if you would like to convert at any point, please do let me know).
• Study other’s religions also. Though you are a majority, it will help to build a better pluralistic society
• Do not repeat that ‘all religions are true”. You cannot live by a falsehood for long.
I have a few more things to say (including taking up debates), but that as you progressively become truly tolerant.
Jerry Thomas is a student of comparative religions with Sakshi: An Apologetics Network in
Three Outspoken Religious Scholars Slug It Out In a Live Debate: Islam, Christianity & Judaism--Which is the True Religion of Peace?
Gee Dad, Can't We All Just Get Along? Unknown to many, the three great religions of the Mid-East claim the biblical character Abraham as their actual blood line father. All three also claim Abraham was divinely inspired by God. With so much in common, why can't Jews, Christians, and Muslims all just get along? Many fierce
(PRWEB) November 3, 2008 -- Gee Dad, Can't We All Just Get Along?
Unknown too many, the three great religions of the Mid-East claim the biblical character Abraham as their actual blood line father. All three also claim Abraham was divinely inspired by God. With so much in common, why can't Jews, Christians, and Muslims all just get along?
Three imminent religious scholars will debate "Islam, Christianity & Judaism: Which is the True Religion of Peace?" on November 11 at The Edmond J. Safra Synagogue, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at 11 East 63rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues.
New York Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was named "the most famous rabbi in
Dr. Douglas Jacoby's popularity as a biblical scholar and humorous Christian speaker has taken him to over 80 countries. He is a prolific author with a Masters from
Imam Shabir Ally is President of the Information & Dawah Centre International in
Rabi Shmuley Boteach (www.shmuley.com) has been labelled "a cultural phenomenon" and "the most famous rabbi in
Dr. Douglas Jacoby (www.douglasjacoby.com) is a Christian speaker who has lectured in over 80 nations. He has authored 15 books and recently signed with Harvest House Publishing, one of the top 5 American publishers of Christian literature. Jacoby is principal instructor at the Athens Institute of Ministry in
Imam Shabir Ally (www.shabirally.com) is the president of the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre International in
Mr. Ally holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Laurentian University with a specialization in Biblical Literature, and an M.A. in Religious Studies from the
Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance.
Our faith does not tolerate the killing of non-combatants.
Non-Muslims have the God-given right to believe and practice other religious teachings.
All human beings should be treated with respect even if we disagree with their beliefs teachings.
We recognize that:
Much injustice has been done, and continues to be done, against Muslims globally.
Many Muslims have suffered from acts of discrimination locally.
Much media attention of a negative sort has played a role in tarnishing the image of Islam and Muslims, thus contributing, even if inadvertently, to this sort of injustice and discrimination.
The Edmond J. Safra Synagogue (http://www.ejsny.org/About.aspx) is located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at
Since opening its doors in March, 2003, the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue has become the communal centre that its namesake imagined it would. Moreover, the synagogue has become a prominent social, cultural and educational centre having hosted conferences and lectures, parenting and cooking classes, singles' events, children's programs and a variety of cultural and educational events.
All Press Releases for November 3, 2008
Islam: Muslims pin hopes on
"In the Islamic world, there are high hopes that the talks will present a great opportunity for dialogue, "Pallavicini, vice-president of the Islamic Religious Community in
Closed-door talks are taking place on Tuesday on 'Love of God and Love of One's Neighbour' and on 'Human Dignity and Mutual Respect' on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the Pope will receive participants which will conclude with a public discussion at
Twenty-four Muslim scholars led by the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric, will attend the talks. They are representing the Common World Group, a broad coalition of Muslim leaders and scholars who are pursuing dialogue between the world's two largest religions.
A total 275 prominent Muslims have now signed The Common World Manifesto, a document urging Christian churches to reach mutual understanding to safeguard global security, based on shared principles of love of God and neighbour.
The letter was drafted by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, and was originally signed by a total of 138 scholars from every Muslim sect.
Catholic-Muslim relations soured after a 2006 speech in
A year earlier, violent protest broke out in Muslim countries after Danish daily printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Over 50 people died in deadly clashes, which the Common Word Group claims could have been averted had Christians and Muslims jointly denounced the violence.
"Our delegation intends to take forward and promote dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church that respects the identity of both faiths, but which can promote brotherhood under a single God and uphold human dignity worldwide," said Pallavicini.
The Muslim delegation contains Shias and Sunnis and includes Iranian scholar, Syyed Hussein Nasr, and the Iranian ayatollah Seyyed Mustafa Mohaghegh Damad, as well as Swiss intellectual, Tariq Ramadan, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, Ingrid Mary Mattson, and the president of the UK Association of Muslim Social Scientists, Anas S. Al-Shaeikh-Ali.
Tauran, head of the
"For us, it is important that we can have a genuine exchange of ideas with the Pope, which there will be. Benedict XVI has agreed to receive all participants at the talks and to engage with them," Pallavicini told AKI.
There are around two billion Christians worldwide, just over half of them Catholic, and 1.3 billion Muslims.