Does Islam Have Room for Moral & Theological Pluralism?

26 December, 2017
Q It seems like with people being afraid of "creeping Shariah" and such, as well as the fact that some places in America and in the UK have huge Muslim populations, it's important to ask the question: does Islam have room for different ideas about what is "moral" or "right", or in other words, pluralism?

Answer

Short Answer: Of course. It’s a myth that Islam is against pluralism. From day one, Islam has always been confident enough to say, “We believe you are wrong, but that does not translate into a policy to deny you the way that you choose to live.” A famous Muslim jurist, for example, argued that when it comes to handling problems in a non-Muslim minority population in a Muslim-majority country, “If they [non-Muslims] don’t seek our adjudication, we don’t do anything. If they do seek our adjudication, we judge them according to their religious law, not ours.”


Asalaamu alaykum and thank you for your question.

At the South Bay Islamic Association‘s 35th Anniversary Banquet in 2015, Dr. Sherman Jackson–the King Faisal Chair of Islamic Thought and Culture, and Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California (USC)–spoke on this topic.

Please see the transcript of his talk below.


Dr. Sherman Jackson: …And while we have no interest in imposing anything on America, we want to contribute to the dominant culture to the extent that there is a place, a welcome place, for God-fearing, practicing Muslims in society.

That Muslims in society who want to practice their religion are not viewed as alien threats, as somehow abnormal, as somehow a contradiction to what it means to be American.

We want to enter into the negotiation with the dominant culture to become a part of what that dominant culture consists of.

And in that context, we make our contribution, everybody else makes their contribution, we negotiate what our society is supposed to be, and hopefully that will come out with Muslims having their place in society, welcomed recognized, honored, and respected, and others have their place.

I think one of the points that we need to really stress to America–and maybe even to some Muslims quite frankly: Islam does not, and never has had, a problem with pluralism.

That is a myth.

And I don’t want to be too controversial. It’s too late?

But let me just give you a glimpse into what I’m talking about.

Because Islam has always been confident enough to say, “We believe you are wrong, but that does not translate into a policy to deny you the way that you choose to live.”

And let me give you a concrete example… you see I’m hesitating right? but it’s too late right?

There was a classical Muslim jurist, I won’t say his name, but he was not known… maybe I should say his name because people think I’m making this up… in fact you can find it in this book it’s called… “The ordinances governing non-muslim communities in a Muslim society.”

So they come to this guy and they say, “We have these Zoroastrians who are practicing this institution of what they call ‘self marriage,’ where a man can marry his mother or his daughter or his sister.”

So they come to the jurist and they say, “What should we do about this? This isn’t a majoritarian Muslim society.”

The jurist gives this two-part answer:

One: (and by the way, this is in the Classical period where Muslims are the power, not only in their society but in the world… they are the ascending civilization)… he gives this answer:

“If they don’t seek our adjudication, we don’t do anything. If they do seek our adjudication, we judge them according to their religious law, not ours.”

And he himself went on to talk about what an anathema, how morally wrong he felt this was [the self-marriage of the Zoroastrians], but that people will have different moral visions from our own, and we don’t have a problem living in a world that’s like that.

Now mind you, not all of the jurists would agree with him; I’m not making that claim.

But even in their disagreement, we see, again, a replication of the value of pluralism.

Muslims don’t have a problem with this, of living in a society where people are not Muslims.

That has never been the case, from day one in Islam. We have never lived in a society that didn’t have non-muslims. Ever.”


Read more…

Is There Religious Tolerance in Islam?

Theology and Ethics of Pluralism (Video)