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Islam and Pluralism ( 6 Sept 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Concept of Unity in the Quran While Celebrating Diversity


By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

07 September, 2014

The Concept of Unity

There is only one God, who may be called by any name

 (20:8) Allah! there is no god but He! To Him belong the most Beautiful Names.

(17:110) Say: "Call upon Allah, or call upon Rahman: by whatever name ye call upon Him, (it is well): for to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names. Neither speak thy Prayer aloud, nor speak it in a low tone, but seek a middle course between."

The Concept Of Religion

(3:20) So if they dispute with thee, say: "I have submitted My whole self to Allah and so have those who follow me." And say to the People of the Book and to those who are unlearned: "Do ye (also) submit yourselves?" If they do, they are in right guidance, but if they turn back, Thy duty is to convey the Message; and in Allah´s sight are (all) His servants.

(21:108) Say: "What has come to me by inspiration is that your Allah is One Allah: will ye therefore bow to His Will?"

Common Message of God to all nations

(6:42) Before you (Muhammad) We sent (messengers) to many nations, and We afflicted the nations with suffering and adversity, that they might learn humility.

Submission to God and good deeds alone matter

(2:177) It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West (differences in the rituals of people of different faiths is unimportant); but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing.

(4:36) “Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.”

"(2:112) “… whoever submits His whole self to Allah and is a doer of good,- He will get his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve”.

The message that on the Day of Judgment all human beings will be judged on their moral performance alone is repeated many times.

Islam Stands For the Protection of All Places of Worship

(22:40)  “Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily Allah is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will)”.

Islam stands for the protection of all places of worship and says that in these, it is the name of the One God or Allah that is celebrated.

No Exclusivity for Muslims

People will be raised along with their Prophets and judged. Presumably this is to allow the Prophets to intercede on behalf of their followers.

(39:68) “The Trumpet will (just) be sounded, when all that are in the heavens and on earth will swoon, except such as it will please Allah (to exempt). Then will a second one be sounded, when, behold, they will be standing and looking on!(69) And the Earth will shine with the Glory of its Lord: the Record (of Deeds) will be placed (open); the prophets and the witnesses will be brought forward and a just decision pronounced between them; and they will not be wronged (in the least).(70) And to every soul will be paid in full (the fruit) of its Deeds; and (Allah) knoweth best all that they do”.

(39:44) “Say: "To Allah belongs exclusively (the right to grant) intercession: to Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth: In the End, it is to Him that ye shall be brought back."

(10:3) “Verily your Lord is Allah, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority), regulating and governing all things. No intercessor (can plead with Him) except after His leave (hath been obtained). This is Allah your Lord; Him therefore serve ye: will ye not receive admonition?”

(19:87) “None shall have the power of intercession, but such a one as has received permission (or promise) from (Allah) Most Gracious”.

There isn’t a single verse in the Quran that speaks specifically of Muhammad (pbuh) interceding or there is no verse that makes Muslims exclusive recipients of God’s grace.

Verses That Celebrate Diversity

5:48 “…..To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute;”

Islam teaches that it is for God to judge people in what they differ and not for human beings. It also teaches that diversity has a divine design and is asking the people to strive as in a race with other people in order to excel over them in good deeds.  

30:22  “From among Allah’s signs are the creation of heaven and the earth and the difference of your tongues and the variation of your colours.”

49:13 “O mankind! We created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is fully informed.”

The purpose of diversity is to “know each other,” or to learn from the other as opposed to despising the other for the difference. This Quranic verse gives a very profound insight about the nature of human societies and what makes them excel. Only those societies which appreciate and celebrate diversity excel. It is therefore not surprising that in the medieval ages Spain under Muslim rule where Christians, Jews and Muslim worked together collaboratively took the arts, sciences, architecture, music, astronomy and medicine to new heights.

And today, it is the US which has become great for the very same reasons. It welcomes people of all nationalities to come, work and settle there. It is a country of immigrants who have made the US a great nation.

Characteristics Of A Society That Is Isolated.

The western society displays the typical characteristics of a mercantile society. There was a time when Europe was cut off from the rest of the world, had little external trade, and had become a 'self-sufficient' society (meaning zero external trade). This had the effect of plunging Europe into the dark ages with little individual freedoms, exploitation of child labour, miserable conditions for the working class, religious persecutions, witch hunting and inquisitions. During the same period, the Islamic empire was a mercantile society with trade with the rest of the world and showed all the virtues of such a society.

Diversity Is Wealth and Prosperity

It is diversity in production and a desire to share with others what each one produces that makes for trade. Trade is what builds a consumption based interdependent society with a work ethic and honesty in dealings. Trade is what creates a market for the surplus of one community which is consumed by another community in exchange for their surplus. This increases overall consumption and the standard of living.  It is diversity in our talents and resources that makes for diverse products. As trade makes available more items for consumption, there is an incentive to produce more of what each one is good at so as to afford more items for one’s own consumption. The work ethic improves. Everybody now begins to produce more of what they are good at in order to afford a high standard of living. There is then specialization in production and immense variety in consumption. An interdependent society then builds institutions and develops processes for collaboration and better understanding between people. Exchange of goods leads to meeting and mating of ideas and fecundity of new ideas.  Libertarianism is both a result and facilitator for the growth of a society built on principles of high interdependence.

The insight that the Quran offers us is that there is unity in the goal of all moral people which is to strive as in a race to excel in all virtues but there is great diversity in their paths, ways of life, outlook, emphasis, methods, abilities and talents. This diversity is a divine blessing and those societies which appreciate and celebrate diversity will alone prosper. In the matters that they differ, God is the sole judge.

Is Excellence Possible Without Diversity?

Different people excel in different fields and show the rest of us the possibilities or potential in their field. We can only achieve what we think is achievable or what we aim for. Knowledge about other people’s achievements help us set our goals without which we would not aim as high and therefore achieve much less.

Here is an interesting true story. It was considered humanly impossible to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. A record of 4:01 minutes was set and it held for nine years. Athletes appeared to be resigned to the expert view that running a mile under 4 minutes was humanly impossible. In 1954, Roger Bannister broke the barrier running the distance in 3:59:4. Within a year someone else also ran the distance under 4 minutes after which it was broken routinely by athletes all over the world.

The role that competition plays in making us excel is well understood. The competition at the local level, the national level and the international level is what makes us all set our goals higher and ever higher and helps humanity achieve its potential. Without competition and without knowledge of what others are excelling at, we would have been so much the poorer.

Does diversity trump ability when it comes to problem solving?

Scott Page in his book “The Difference” shows that it helps to add more diversity of perspectives to the problem-solving team than to increase the ability of individual team members.

You can read his book or listen to his talk on the subject

What he says in effect is that diversity makes good economic sense and not just political. He argues that there is a strong case for embracing diversity rather than just paying lip service to it.

Interesting Examples of the uses of diversity

Solving a problem becomes easy when you view the problem from the right perspective. The following three games or puzzles demonstrate that you do not have to be a genius to solve what at first appears to be a difficult problem. If we are able to relate what we already know in a different context to the problem under discussion, the solution is easy. In other words, knowledge of diverse subjects in a single person or bringing together several persons who are experts in different fields helps.

Puzzle 1. 

Three marbles (spheres of equal size) are placed touching each other so that their centres are equidistant from each other. How will you place a fourth marble so that the centres of all 4 marbles are equidistant from each other?

Game 2.This is a game with two players and 9 cards numbered 1 to 9 with face up (number is visible).

Each player picks a card by turn. The first player who has three cards that add up to 15 wins the game (For example 8+4+3)

If you are one of the players, devise a strategy for playing the game so that you either win or draw but never lose, irrespective of whether you start the game by picking the first card or the other guy does.

Puzzle 3.

This is one of my favourites. I was told by a PhD in mathematics that the solution requires knowledge of “partition theory” while he gave the problem. I said that the question looks simple enough and came up with a solution in 20 minutes. It again demonstrates the difference between the first mathematician who solved it and someone who came later (myself) who knew that the problem had a solution and this knowledge helped me figure it out on my own without reading “partition theory”. Without the certainty that the problem had a solution which someone else had found, I would not have even considered that a solution was possible.

Divide a 40 lb cake into 4 parts in such a way that using these parts as weights and a two pan balance; it should be possible to weigh another commodity in a single weighing all integer weights from 1 to 40.

On the internet, you will find an answer but perhaps not the solution. The answer is 1, 3, 9 and 27. You can see that if you wish to weigh say 14 lbs of wheat you take the part weighing 27lbs in one pan and (1+3+9) in the other pan and balance it with 14 lbs of wheat. What I am interested is not the answer but the solution which shows why these 4 parts should be 1, 3, 9 and 27.


This article is dedicated to Accha on whose request it has been written.


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