Pluralism is the essence of Islam. Islam has its own concept of pluralism derived from Quran and Sunnah. According to those principles, Islam highly acknowledges the inevitability of cultural and ethnic diversity. Compulsion is forbidden in the matter of faith. Islam believes in showing respect to other religions and dialogue is encouraged to understand similarities. In the modern times, Islam has been misinterpreted to present Islam as anti-pluralistic, violent, intolerant and exclusivist religion.
Esposito depicts this picture in the following words, “But what of those verses, sometimes referred to as the “sword verses” that call for killing unbelievers, such as,” when the sacred months pass,’ slay the idol worshippers wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them at every place of ambush.(9:5)”? This is one of a number of verses of Quran that are cited by critics to demonstrate the inherently violent nature of Islam and its scripture.”1 This method of quoting individual verses of the Quran without regard for their context, the history of their revelation and their interpretation distorts the pluralistic message of Islam.
Quran indeed is guidance to humanity and its unique contribution to human civilization is its recognition of the plurality and diversity of religions, ethnicity, colors, languages and its acceptance of the need to live together peacefully. Moreover Quran acknowledges the pluralism as God ordained feature of human existence.
Plurality in terms of races, colors, communities is regarded as the signs of Allah’s mercy. The Quran states,” O, Humankind! verily we have created you of a male and female; and we have distributed you in nations and tribes that you might know one another and recognize that, in the sight of Allah the most honorable of you is the most pious. Verily Allah is wise and all knowing.”2Here ethnicity is recognized as the basis of identity and recognition but not of distinction and privilege. This Quranic verse is alone a testament to the principles of pluralism present in Quran. Human diversity and its ethnic, racial and religious differences are recognized by Quran. The distinctions lie on one’s piety judged by Allah alone. It is Allah’s wisdom that He purposefully created different communities. Allah in the Quran is not identified as the lord of Arabs, the lord of Muslims or of any tribe but of all the worlds. The opening words of Quran are, ” Praise to Allah, the lord of all the worlds, the most merciful, the most compassionate.”3This verse firmly inculcates in the Muslims the attitude of considering the whole humanity as one family with one Sustainer whose prominent attributes are mercy and compassion. Quran holds entire humankind in equal honor, irrespective of their geographical, racial or color orientation. This honor is not restricted to the followers of the Islam. Quran says,” We have honored the children of Adam.”
With regard to the creation of different communities of religion, it is also a divine plan. The Quran highlights this plurality too. Allah says,” For each we have appointed for you a law and a way. Had Allah willed, He could have made you one ummah. But that he might try you by that which He has given you so vie one another in good deeds.”5 By recognizing the plurality of faith and communities, the Quran expresses the wisdom behind the pluralism that is man’s desire to know his Creator. Allah has granted freedom of choice to humankind. Religion cannot be imposed on others rather it urges to accept and tolerate the differences. Allah says,” Let there be no compulsion in religion.”6 and” To you is your path; to me mine.”7 There are various verses in Quran which speaks of pluralism and peaceful coexistence in Islam. Allah says,” And if your lord willed, all those who are in earth-every one of them-would have accepted faith; so will you force people to become Muslims?”
Again Quran says,” Surely you cannot guide whom you love, but Allah guides whom He pleases, and He knows best the followers of the right way”9 Allah says,” soul can believe, except by the will of Allah, and He will place doubt on those who will not understand”
Dialogue as per Webster’s dictionary is a conversation between two or more people. It is through interactions and conversations, the persons or groups can make free interchange of their different views, opinions and discussions to know, accept and respect the differences and similarities among them. In present times, dialogue between the religions has become necessary to live in a harmonious way. Before Islam, world religions were at war with each other. Jews and Christians rejected each other violently. It is only Islam which has accorded recognition to Judaism and Christianity. Judaism does not recognize Jesus as the awaited Messiah and Christianity does not recognize Muhammad PBUH as a true prophet and messenger of Allah. Judeo-Christian history stands witness over their mutual prosecution. Whereas Quran says,”….And remember with gratitude Allah’s favors on you; for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace, you become brethren…”
Allah sent many prophets and messengers to guide mankind. A Muslim has to believe in all the prophets, otherwise he cannot be a true muslim.12Islam considers the Christian and the Jewish communities as the people of book or the people of scripture. It is noteworthy to mention here that Islam accorded this recognition to them fourteen centuries ago when there was absolutely no talk of tolerance among people of different faiths. Isma’il Raja al Faruqi mentions this fact as:
“The respect with which Islam regards Judaism and Christianity, their founders and scriptures, is not a courtesy, but acknowledgement of religions truth. Islam sees them in the world not as “other views” which it has to tolerate, but as standing de jure, as truly revealed religions from God. Moreover their legitimate status is neither socio-political, not cultural, nor civilizational, but religious.”12Quran has set basic principles and rules of dialogue in Islam. As Allah says,” And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except in the best way. But say,” We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; our God and you God is one; and it is to Him we submit.”
Islam also believes in peaceful co-existence with other religions. One of the earliest messages of peaceful coexistence given by Prophet Muhammad PBUH to idolaters of Mecca is mentioned in chapter 109 of the Quran:
“Say: o unbelievers! Neither do I worship what you worship; nor do you worship what I worship. Neither am I going to worship what you worship; nor are you going to worship what I worship. To you shall be your religion and to me shall be mine”
Prophets propagated message of Allah in the fairest manner, within the principles and rules of discussion. One of such situations of debates is mentioned in Quran as:
“None can dispute about the signs of Allah but the unbelievers. Let not, and then their strutting about through the land deceives thee! But before them who denied, the people of Noah, and the confederates after them; and every people plotted against their prophet, to seize them, and disputed by means of vanities, therewith to obliterate the truth: but it was I seized them! And how was my Requital!”
Thus it is clear that the debates should be done with full knowledge and experience.
It may be first concluded from the proceeding discussion that, Quran advocates peace, cooperation and dialogue in a pluralistic society. The message of Quran is above the divisions of society in terms of caste, creed, and color. Quran also plays a significant role in the promotion of tolerance and peaceful co-existence among the followers of various religions. The religion of Islam does not prevent Muslims from being kind, merciful, just to non-Muslims in this world. Quran indeed has a universal message of living peacefully in a pluralistic society and celebrating its diversity. The pluralistic message of Islam needs to be propounded and professed to serve as a model to the entire humanity, for peace, cooperation and human endeavor. As Allah say in the Quran,” Thus we have made you an Ummah justly balanced, that you might be witness over the nations… (2:143)”
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