By Özgür Koca
December 22, 2014
Sectarian tension is a reality of all religious traditions and leads to myriad forms of interactions among coreligionists ranging from tolerant coexistence to more impulsive violence. The emergence of sects seems to be inevitable, for the fundamental teachings of any religion allow for the multiplicity of interpretations. The irreducible plurality of possible interpretations of religious teachings indicates that sects will always exist and the well-being of a particular religious tradition will depend on maintaining a comprehensive framework in which the difference of opinion is perceived as legitimate and, moreover, a source of richness.
Muslim history provides ample examples of peaceful coexistence among sects, schools of thought and other religions, showing that constructing such an inclusive framework is possible both theoretically and practically within the Islamic tradition.
One Quranic verse is particularly helpful in this regard: “We made you into tribes and nations (different) so that you may know each other.” (49:13) The following are some venues in which, I believe, the verse can be read to address the challenge of diversity within and without Islam.
“We made you different”: Pluralism has its origins in the Divine; it is, therefore, irreducible. Uniformity is impossible; we will never be homogenous. Diversity is not a curse from God. It is a blessing, for in diversity we are saved from the withering effects of uniformity, from the boredom of the sameness. In diversity we are challenged and usually only after we are challenged we discover our hidden potential; we flourish. Diversity breathes fire into life, vibrates life and creates synergies. Diversity leads to new perspectives; new perspectives lead to creativity. There is nothing like harmonious coexistence and the interaction of creative minds fueling innovation and discovery, outwardly and inwardly.
“So That You May Know”: Engage with the Other in a spirit of learning. Be authentically curious, leave your cognitive comfort zone, challenge your misconceptions, break the intellectually suffocating routine of life and emancipate yourself from prejudices. Dialogue is then an adventure, for which we set off to discover the Other and through the Other we discover ourselves. Dialogue is then not only for expediency. We need the Other to know more. Humility stems from a deep realization of our limitedness and need. Humility opens our cognitive doors to the Other. Egoism is the closure of those doors. The horizontal relationship with the Other in a spirit of humility and charity perfects the vertical relationship with the Divine.
‘Each Other”: To say we can know the Other is to say that there is an objective common ground where we can meet. To say that we can learn from each other is to say that there are differences as well as commonalities. Dialogue is, then, not an attempt to impose an artificial homogeneity upon religions. This is as misleading as imposing artificial heterogeneities. These differences can be seen as sources of richness. Still, I would prefer to talk more about what unites us than what differentiates us.
Collaborate: The authentic knowledge of the Other leads to new possibilities. There is instability, inequality and injustice in this world. Problems like the environmental crisis are threatening us all. One group of people, one nation or one sect cannot face the challenge. Global problems require global action. To act collectively, we need to stand collectively on common ground as we are. It seems to me that if only we learn to accept the other as oneself, without denying the particularity of the other as the other, we may be able to cultivate a culture of coexistence and collaboration between cultures, religious traditions and civilizations to address these problems.