Islam and Pluralism

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Zakyi Ibrahim

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Abstract

Is religious pluralism possible in Islam? This question is theoretically and
historically easy to answer affirmatively. But in perception seen as reality,
it is anything but simple to answer at all. Contemporary attitudes toward
and portrayals of Muslims confuse the debate even further. Attempts to provide
legitimate answers in a nuanced manner are usually considered apologetics
and thus dismissed. Yet the case must be made that the Islamic
worldview on religion and humanity assumes religious pluralism.
Anybody periodically engaged in interfaith dialogue or public lectures
on Islam must have heard this question by now. While most are genuinely
interested in knowing the true answer, some have already made their minds
up about Islam’s inability to tolerate other religions. Perhaps one of the
effective answers came through Bill Moyers’ 1990 interview with Seyyed
Hossein Nasr.1 That Nasr answered affirmatively with authority and eloquence
cannot be denied; however, that few Americans heard his answer is
confirmed by the persistence of this question twenty years later. Significantly,
that even fewer would have believed him is proven by the troublesome
rhetoric of the current rising Islamophobia.
Moyers’s questions included the following: “By the nature of its theology,
its own principle of unity, … can Islam coexist with [a] non-Muslim
[world]?”; “Do Muslims envision a world dominated by Islam?”; “One does
not see pluralism and tolerance?”; “Can you [Muslims] tolerate [an] infidel?”2
Nasr responded by affirming coexistence, pluralism, and tolerance and rejecting
any notion of Muslim world domination. This editorial analyzes “Islam
and pluralism.” But to understand the Muslims’ response, one must accept
some basic facts: Muslim extremists, who have always existed, do not truly
and legitimately represent Islam by their actions or pronouncement ...

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