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Interfaith, Pluralism and Islam


Thursday, August 6, 2009, 7:17 PM

I have spoken on several Interfaith platforms. Recently I spoke in two conferences at New Delhi organized by Interfaith Coalition for Peace and one at Bangalore organized by International Council of Churches, Geneva. In the first I was one of few Muslims in the all-religion gathering and in the latter I was the only Muslim. I spoke without in any way compromising my stand on the established principles of Islam, and yet I could present the most talked about and most admired papers in both. But I feel anguished when I see many Muslims saying things that neither required to be said nor would be acceptable to religious scholars of any religion. If some ideological stand is not acceptable to the scholars of the religions, Interfaith is simply not going to serve any purpose.  The difference in the approach of these Muslims and that of mine is simple: They are trying to change/reinterpret/ adjust Islamic principles in accordance with the demands of Interfaith. I am trying to adjust Interfaith according to the demands of Islam.

It can be seen that most of these Interfaith dialogues are being funded by governments and agencies that seek to dilute, diminish or readjust the role of religions in accordance with their plans, which are directly or indirectly related to the demands of the forces of globalization. These forces want to keep religious scholars busy in fighting or trying to arrive at a common point on the issues that are fundamental to the religion. They want to marginalize religion, weaken the institution of religion and to minimize its role in influencing the world system. Invariably, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists come to these meetings, discuss a few points related to the concept of “Pluralism”, exchange some pleasantries, shake hands and hug and then disperse without arriving at any common agenda about the world. They have been made to believe that religion is the root cause of all the problems in the world; and the infighting between different faiths is responsible for the bloodshed. And poor religious scholars, unable to understand what is boiling in the international area, fall prey to their designs. When I told the Bishops and priests at Bangalore that Westernism and Christianity are two different things, and both Muslims and Christians have often failed to realize this, and when West attacks Islamic countries, Muslims often tend to attack Christians, they all were hugely excited.  When I said that Westernism was as much an enemy of Christianity as that of Islam, and Westernism is an ideology comprising economic fundamentalism, commercialization of human susceptibilities, misuse of science and Technology and domination of Western powers, there was a long round of clapping. When I ended my talk asserting that the time has now come when we should stop keeping on debating the theological issues and must instead focus on the evil of the current worl forming a common agenda, and together we must challenge the forces of evil, chaos and materialism, people there rose in standing ovation. I was in truth overwhelmed by the kind of response I got from Christian priests. I requested them that though the responsibility to challenge the forces should be shared by all the religions, Christians and Muslims should take the lead because together they form about half of the world and have influence over even on other parts as well.  

An interfaith Muslim activist bases his arguments on a seemingly beautiful slogan of “pluralism”. He contends that God wants pluralism in the world, and this is why He has given birth to human beings in different religions and faiths. This line of argument is becoming popular with several Muslim writers recently. Had it been the desire of God to see all humans turn to Islam, they argue, He would not have given birth to most humans as non-Muslims. In favour of this argument, they present the verse of the Qur’an: “If God had so willed He would have made you a single people, but His plan is to test you in what He has given you; so strive as in a race in all virtues.”

I want to point out that though the Qur’an accepts religious plurality yet pluralism is neither the foundation of the Book of Allah nor its ultimate aim. It is at best a permitted position. The ultimate aim of the Qur’an is nothing but the unity of the whole mankind under the umbrella of Islam. Till it is achieved, plurality is tolerable. Even otherwise, this is true for every ideology that it can tolerate but will never promote other ideologies. Even the advocates of pluralism will want the whole society to adopt the ideals of pluralism and would not love the presence of those who do not believe in the ideology of pluralism.

Will versus Desire of God

Qur’an tells us that God’s Will and Desire are two different things. In Qur’an God has clearly spelled his preferences, which represent His Desire. See the following: And spend of your substance in the cause of God, and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction; but do good; for God loveth those who do good. (2: 195/A) And swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in insolence through the earth; for God loveth not any arrogant boaster. (31: 18/A)

They perform (their) vows, and they fear a Day whose evil flies far and wide. And they feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive,- (saying), “We feed you for the sake of God alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks.” (76: 7-9/A)

By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love; and whatever ye give, of a truth God knoweth it well. (3: 92/A)

Serve God, 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... (4: 36/A)

It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards east or west; but it is righteousness- to      believe in God 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 God-fearing. (2: 177/A)

For in God’s sight are (all) His servants,- (namely), those who say: “Our Lord! we have indeed believed: forgive us, then, our sins, and save us from the agony of the Fire;”- Those who show patience, firmness and self-control; who are true (in word and deed); who worship devoutly; who spend (in the way of God.; and who pray for forgiveness in the early hours of the morning. (3: 15-17/A)

And there is the type of man who gives his life to earn the pleasure of God. And God is full of kindness to (His) devotees. (2: 207/A)

God loveth not that evil should be noised abroad in public speech, except where injustice hath been done; for God is He who heareth and knoweth all things.   (4: 148/A)

Say: the things that my Lord hath indeed forbidden are: shameful deeds, whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason. (7: 33/A)

God loveth not one given to perfidy and crime... (4: 105-107/A)

Those who spend their substance in the cause of God, and follow not up their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with injury,-for them their reward is with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. Kind words and the covering of faults are better than charity followed by injury. God is free of all wants, (2: 262/A)

And obey not (the behests) of the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and heed not their annoyances, but put thy Trust in God. For enough is God as a Disposer of affairs. (33: 48/A)

God loveth not that evil should be noised abroad in public speech, except where injustice hath been done; for God is He who heareth and knoweth all things.   (4: 148/A)

And obey God and His Messenger; and fall into no disputes...(8: 46/A)

For God loveth not any vainglorious boaster,- such persons as are covetous and commend covetousness to men. (57: 23-24/A)

Behold, Luqman said to his son by way of instruction: “O my son! join not in worship (others) with God; for false worship is indeed the highest wrongdoing.” (31: 13/A)

“O my son!”, (said Luqman), “If there be (but) the weight of a mustard-seed and it were (hidden) in a rock, or (anywhere) in the heavens or on earth, God will bring it forth: for God understands the finest   mysteries, (and) is well-acquainted (with them). O my son! establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just, and forbid what is wrong: and bear with patient constancy whatever betide thee; for this is firmness (of purpose) in (the conduct of) affairs. And swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in insolence through the earth; for God loveth not any arrogant boaster. And be moderate in thy pace, and lower thy voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass.” (31: 16-19/A)

Thus God has made clear His desires: that all must follow His Book and His Messenger and must do good deeds and avoid wrong deeds. But still, most of the human beings are engaged in severe forms of wrongdoing. Does this mean that God wants people to be bad? Does He want them to fight one another, be untruthful, dishonest and arrogant? No. If people have fallen to evils this is not because God desires them to be bad but because God has let them do things of their own liking, as part of His plan. His plan was to establish a system in which humans are not physically forced to act in a particular way but they choose by their own will to act rightfully or wrongfully. They are free to establish a system of Lawful and Forbidden for them; they can do this either in accordance with the commands of God or according to their own selfish interests. If they were not free, they would not have been tested. If there were no Devil to mislead them, men and women with real mettle would not have emerged on the scene. When an interviewer or examiner interviews or examines a candidate for a big post, he tests him with the most difficult questions, often through confusing inquiries. The World is like a College, established and run by a Management. The Management creates a system to run the college, which every student has to go through. Students prepare for the examination. If Management had wanted, they would have passed all the students giving them the same marks. But the students pass and fail receiving different grades according to their capabilities and preparation. Management’s desire is to see all students passing with excellence, but their plan is to give students a free hand and then test their mettle through a system of tests.

The creation of a system in the world and letting human beings act out of free will represents God’s Will. God’s Guidance through Messengers and Scriptures represents God’s Desire. Plural society (different faiths, different deities, etc) is the product of God’s Will and not God’s Desire, which seeks the submission of the whole mankind and all the national and international systems to Him. Plural society is what God has allowed; One System and One People are what God wants mankind to achieve. Muslims must learn to bear with Plurality, but must not stop endeavouring to unite the whole mankind under the umbrella of God’s Final System

·       Dr Javed Jamil isExecutive Chairman, International Centre for Applied Islamics &

Chief Editor, “Islam, Muslims & the World”




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