Islam: Pluralism and Interfaith Dialogue – A Debate; Part-1
23 Feb, 2007
Following article by Shah Abdul Halim Appeared in News from Bangladesh website.
Islam: Pluralism and Interfaith Dialogue
In the recent past several seminars were organized in the country on interfaith dialogue. These seminars made great contribution in strengthening already existing communal harmony and exposing the hollowness of the propaganda of the interested quarter to malign and defame Bangladesh. These seminars however failed to address the key issues of misperception of the Muslims and non-Muslim alike. Here in this article I shall make an attempt to address some of the texts which hitherto have been misunderstood.
No doubt Islam stands for pluralistic order. Pluralism is the design of Allah. Al Quran states: If it had been your Lord's will, they would all have believed, all who are on the earth. Will you then compel mankind against their will to believe [10:99]? In another verse Al Quran states: To each among you have We prescribed a law and a clear way. If Allah 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 good deeds [5:48].
examination of the texts of these two verses makes it clear that
diversity is the will of Allah. The text of the aforementioned verses
also makes it clear that compulsion in the matter of faith is
forbidden which is also corroborated by another verse of the Quran
which states: Let there be no compulsion in religion [2:256].
A critical look of the text of the verse 5:48 manifests that the purpose of these differences is to test, what we do with the revelations and how we behave with the precepts and teachings of Islam and who strive as in a race in good deeds. Diversity of religions, nations and peoples is a test and the teachings of Islam require that we manage the differences and live a peaceful harmonious life in this world. This is pluralism.
Al Quran states: And did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed be full of mischief [2:251]. In another verse Al Quran states: Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques wherein the name of Allah is mentioned much would surely have been pulled down [22:40].
The teaching of the aforementioned two verses is very significant in the present world context. The ever lasting teachings, the universal dimension of the message of Islam of these two verses are that if there are no differences between people, if power is concentrated in the hands of one group alone, be it one nation or one race the earth would be corrupt because human beings require others to control and limit their irresponsible impulse and behavior for expansion, supremacy and dominance. Verse 22:40 indicates that the scheme of Allah is to protect monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques which establishes pluralistic religious nature of Islam.
is basically a tolerant religion. The difference between peoples,
nations, races and religions may lead to conflict and therefore mans'
responsibility remains in establishing peace and tranquility in the
society. It is important that a balance is established in the society
based on mutual respect, love and compassion rejecting all types of
arrogance, whether it is material or intellectual and establishing
such balance between different nations and communities is possible
only by sharing knowledge about each other.
Al Quran states: O mankind, We created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other [49:13]. Knowing and respecting each other and dialogue and communication is the best way to avoid mistrust and overcome differences.
Establishing harmonious relations between peoples have been repeatedly emphasized in Islam. Al Quran states: Allah forbids you not with regard to those who fight you not for your faith nor drive you out of your homes from dealing kindly and justly with them for Allah loves those who are just [60:8]. In another verse Al Quran states: Invite all to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious [16:125]. In another verse Al Quran states: And dispute you not with the People of the Book except in the best way, unless it be with those of them who do wrong [29:46].
Confusion also exists among scholars and general people alike as to the meaning of the words Kafir, Kuffar, Kafara, Kafaru, Yakfuru which are commonly misunderstood both by Muslims and non-Muslims alike as being disbeliever, infidels or miscreants. But the word has also been used in the Quran in the sense of deny, deniers, denial, denied. Verse 3:28 states: Let the believers (Muslims) not take as allies the deniers (Kafirin) rather than believers. Arabic notion of Kufr or Kafir has often been mistranslated. Etymologically the general meaning of Kafir could be rendered as a denier with a veiled heart, veiled, shut off in their hearts to the extent that they deny the presence of the Creator. The dictionary meaning of Kufr also includes hide and cover up.
Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, the greatest poet-philosopher of Islam, affirmed that Hindus could not be considered as kafirs as they believe in the supremacy of God [Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, Gayatri Mantra, Urdu tr., Introduction quoted in Rafiq Zakaria's Indian Muslims Where have they gone wrong?, Popular Prakashan and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, September 2004, p 246]
But Kafir may also indicate one who denies the evidence of the truth as is apparent in the revelation. Iblis knew the existence of Allah as he spoke to Him, but he refused to obey. Al Quran states: He (Iblis) refused, became proud and was among the deniers (min al kafirin) [ 2:34]. It would be pointless to say that Iblis, who had a dialogue Allah Subhanahu Wa 'Taala, did not believe in Him. This is neither logical nor a consistent translation.
So to apply the term Kafir to Jews and Christians is justified as they do not recognize the Quran as the last revealed book. They deny (Yakfuru) the truth of the message and its Prophet, but this does not mean we call them miscreants in the sense that their faith in God is not recognized, which would be an inaccurate assertion [Tariq Ramadan (Professor of Philosophy at the College of Geneva and Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland), Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, Oxford University Press, New York, 2004, pp 206].
It is apparent that these scholars do not feel it appropriate to call Jews, Christians, Hindus etc. as Kafirs because they do not deny the existence Almighty God. They are of course non-Muslims.
The pluralistic nature of Islam is evident from the fact that the duty of a Muslim is only educating and passing the knowledge of Islam, near and far. Al Quran states: And admonish your nearest kinsmen [26: 214]. The responsibility ends with educating, transmitting and communicating faith. To pass on the message is to call and invite people to the way of Allah. Conversion is something that only Allah can alone accomplish. It is an affair of the heart and does not lie within anyone else's purview and jurisdiction. It is only the prerogative of Allah. This is the real meaning of Litakunu Shuhadaa Ala Al Nass- bear witness to the message before mankind.
pluralistic nature of Islam is further established by its principle of
justice in all circumstances, in relation to Muslims and non-Muslims
alike. Al Quran states: O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah
as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you
make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is
next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all
that you do [5:8]. The principle of justice in Islam constitutes the
fundamental norm after faith in the oneness of Allah (Tawhid).
This principle takes precedence over one's own interest, the interest of relatives, interest of race, interest of nations and so on. If, for example, Muslims are called to participate in a war that is unjust or based solely on the longing for power, conquer land or control of territory or resources and other interests, they should not take part in such a war. Muslims are not allowed to fight for money, wealth or resources, grab power or occupy territory. They must avoid oppressive war.
Muslims cannot participate in unjust war, whatever is the identity or religion of the enemy. Belonging to particular faith does not mean that Muslims are required to accept or support injustice simply because it is committed by another member of the same faith. On the contrary, Muslims, according to the teachings of Islam, are required to oppose and even stop such injustice even if it is committed by another Muslim. Prophet Muhammad said: Help your brother whether he is unjust or the victim of injustice.
One of the companions asked: Messenger of Allah. I understand helping someone who is the victim of injustice, but how should I help one who is unjust? The Prophet replied: Prevent him from being unjust. That is how you will help him [Bukhari. Muslim]. Another Hadith reports Prophet Muhammad said: Whoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hands; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart- and that is the weakest of faith [Muslim quoted in An-Nawawi's Forty Hadith, tr. Ezzedin Ibrahim and Denys Johnson-Davies, Holy Quran Publishing House, Damascus, 1977, p110]
To erase the misgiving from the peoples' mind another issue that need to be addressed in interfaith dialogue is the truth of the claim of killing of 400 to 900 Jews tribesmen of Banu Qurayza in cold blood and later buried in trenches in Medina by Prophet Muhammad for breaking treaty and joining enemy ranks as related by Ibn Ishaq in Sira, the biography of the Prophet. This narration of Ibn Ishaq, as examined and proved hereunder, is a later innovation and challenged by the scholars.
Imam Malik, a contemporary of Ibn Ishaq, denounced Ibn Ishaq as an outright liar [Uyun al-Athar, 1, 2] and imposter [ibid, 1, 16] for transmitting such stories. Tabari, nearly 150 years after Ibn Ishaq, doubted that Prophet dig trenches. Ibn al-Qayyin in Zad al-Ma'ad ignores altogether the crucial question of numbers killed. Ibn Kathir even seems to have general doubt in his mind about the narration of Ibn Ishaq [Tabari, Tarikh, 1, 1499 (where the reference is to al-Waqidi, Maghazi, 11, 513); Zad al-Maad (ed. T. A. Taha, Cairo, 1970), 11, 82; Ibn Kathir, IV, 118]. The attitude of scholars and historians to Ibn Ishaq's version of the story has been either one of complacency, sometimes mingled with uncertainty, or at least in two important cases, one of condemnation and outright rejection.
One of the weakness of the authors of Sira including Ibn Ishaq is that, unlike the compiler of Hadith who applied critical criteria for checking accuracy of the Hadith, they are not meticulous and did not apply the strict rules of traditions, did not provide chain of authorities, did not verify whether the narrators are trustworthy or not and therefore Sira cannot be really taken as absolutely authentic.
The reference of the Quran to this incidence is also very brief: Some you killed, some you took prisoner [33:26]. Scholars are of opinion that the reference of Quran as to the killing can only be those who were actually killed in the fighting.
The truth of killing of 400 to 900 Jews tribesmen of Banu Qurayza by the Prophet is rejected by scholars as Islam permits punishing only those who are responsible for sedition. To kill such a large number is also opposed to the Islamic sense of justice Al Quran states: No soul shall bear another's burden [35:18]. It is also against the Quranic injunction regarding the prisoner of war. Verse 47:4 states that when the enemy is brought under control, the prisoners are to be treated with generosity (i.e. release the prisoner to freedom without ransom) or ransom is recommended.
Moreover it is unlikely that Banu Qurayza should be slaughtered when other Jewish groups who surrendered before Banu Qurayza and after them were treated leniently and allowed them to go. Indeed Abu Ubayd b.Sallam relates in his Kitab al-Amwal that when Khaybar fall to the Muslims there were among the residents a particular family or clan who had distinguished themselves by excessive rude abuse of the Prophet. Yet the Prophet addressed them in words which are no more than a rebuke [ed. Khalil Muhammad Harras, Cairo, 1388/1968, 241].
This happened after the surrender of Banu Qurayza. If so many hundreds of people had actually been put to death in the market-place of Medina and trenches were dug for the burial, it is strange that there is no trace whatsoever of all that – no sign, no visible mark to point to the place of massacre or burial trenches.
Had this slaughter actually happened jurists would have adopted it as a precedent? In fact exactly the opposite has been the case. The attitude of jurists and their rulings have been more according to the precepts of Islam. Al Quran states: No soul shall bear another's burden [35:18].
Indeed Abu Ubayd b. Sallam relates a very significant incident in his book Kitab al-Amwal which is a book of jurisprudence, not of Sira (biography). He narrated an event of trouble among a group of the People of the Book (Ahal al Kitab) in Lebanon when Abdullah b. Ali was the regional governor.
The governor put down the sedition and ordered the community in question to be moved to elsewhere. Imam al-Awzai, contemporary of Ibn Ishaq, in has capacity as the leading jurist of the time immediately objected to this decision of the governor. His argument was that the episode was not the result of the community's unanimous agreement. He argued that under Islamic Shariah many people cannot be punished for the fault of the few. Islamic Shariah on the contrary stipulates the punishment of the few for the fault of the many.
If Imam al-Awzai had accepted the story of slaughter of Banu Qurayza as related by Ibn Ishaq as true he would have treated it as a precedent and would not have come out with an argument against authority represented by governor Abdullah b. Ali and would have advised the governor to act according to precedent of Banu Qurayza.
The later scholar after scrutiny agreed that it would be reasonable to conclude that a few specific persons of Banu Qurayza tribe as having been put to death, some of whom were described as active in their hostility and were the ones who led the sedition and who were consequently punished – not the whole tribe.
The sources of the story of the killing of Banu Qurayza as related by Ibn Ishaq are extremely doubtful and the details are utterly opposed to the spirit of Islam and the rules of the Quran. Credible authority is lacking and circumstantial evidence does not corroborate and support it. This means that the story is doubtful. In fact Ibn Ishaq quoted as source such persons who were already dead at the time of occurrence of the incident.
The story of killing of Jews in Medina according to some other scholars and historians however has origin in earlier events. Prof. Guillaume is of the opinion that Jews arrived in Medina after Jewish Wars [A. Guillaume, Islam (Harmondsworth, 1956), 10-11]. According to Flavius Josephus, himself a Jew, Alexander, who ruled in Jerusalem before Herod the Great, hung upon crosses 800 Jewish captives and slaughtered their wives and children before their eyes [De bello Judaico, 1, 4, 6]. At Masada the number of those who died at the end was 960 [ibd, VII, 9, 1].
Clearly the similarity of the numbers killed is most striking. This is indeed more than a mere resemblance. The origin of the story of Banu Qurayza, preserved by descendants of Jews who fled south of Arabia after the Jewish Wars, just as Flavius Josephus recorded the same story for the Classical world. A later generation of their descendants superimposed details of the siege of Masada on the story of the siege of Banu Qurayza, perhaps by confusing a tradition of their distant past with one from their less remote history. The mixture provide Ibn Ishaq's story.
Muslims and non-Muslims alike must make sincere efforts to be
acquainted with the true teachings of Islam and authentic history of
Muslim culture and civilization for that can ensure peace and
tranquility in this conflict ridden world. This is also important as
that can alone change the western mindset which is vital to bring an
end of hegemony and unilateralism. Allahu Alam. Allah knows best.
*The writer is the Chairman of Islamic Information Bureau Bangladesh. The author is greatly indebted to W. N. Arafat for using her scholarly research work New Light on the Story of Banu Qurayza and the Jews of Medina, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1976, pp 100-107. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.shahfoundationbd.org
A response by Syed Kamran Mirza
The above titled write up by Mr. Shah Abdul Halim was posted in the January 8, 2007 issue of NFB. With due respect to the author I would like to comment on this important subject which concerns entire civilized world today. Although I have much difficulties in believing most of his assertion about Islam’s so called pluralism I will not critique about everything in this rebuttal.
I will simply ask Mr. Halim to answer the following:
Quranic verses used by Mr. Halim:
“No doubt Islam stands for pluralistic order. Pluralism is the design of Allah. Al Quran states: If it had been your Lord's will, they would all have believed, all who are on the earth. Will you then compel mankind against their will to believe [10:99]? In another verse Al Quran states: To each among you have We prescribed a law and a clear way. If Allah 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 good deeds [5:48]. An examination of the texts of these two verses makes it clear that diversity is the will of Allah. The text of the aforementioned verses also makes it clear that compulsion in the matter of faith is forbidden which is also corroborated by another verse of the Quran which states: Let there be no Compulsion in religion [2:256]. Verse 22:40 indicates that the scheme of Allah is to protect monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques which establishes pluralistic religious nature of Islam.”
Quranic verses cited by me:
Quran-9:28- “O ye who believe! Truly the Pagans are unclean; so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque.”
Quran-9:73- “O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell,- an evil refuge indeed.”
Quran-98:6--إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ وَالْمُشْرِكِينَ فِي نَارِ جَهَنَّمَ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا أُوْلَئِكَ هُمْ شَرُّ الْبَرِيَّةِ
“Verily, those who disbelieve (in the religion of Islâm, the Qur’ân and Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)) from among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) and Al-Mushrikûn will abide in the Fire of Hell. They are the worst of creatures.”
Quran-98:7— إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ أُوْلَئِكَ هُمْ خَيْرُ الْبَرِيَّةِ
“Verily, those who believe [in the Oneness of Allâh, and in His Messenger Muhammad (Peace be upon him)) including all obligations ordered by Islâm] and do righteous good deeds, they are the best of creatures.”
Quran-3:85- “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost (All spiritual good).”
Quran-5:51- “O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors. They are but friends and protectors to each other…..”
Quran-8:39- “And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere”
Quran-9:29- “Fight those who believe neither in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth (Islam), even if they are of the People of the Book (Christians and Jews), until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
Quran-47:4: “If you meet those who are infidels or non-believers, you cut their heads off and tie things around their necks, start a war and God will give victory and those who will die in the war fighting God will not forget their acts.”
Quran-4:89- “They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them,” [Punishment for apostate is death].
Quran-9:111- “Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth, through the Law, the Gospel, and the Qur’an.” [Perfect verse for suicide bombers].
Quran-2:216- “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you.”
Quran-8:12- “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.”
Quran-9:5- “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem.”
Quran-9:39- “Unless ye go forth, (for Jihad) He will punish you with a grievous penalty, and put others in your place; but Him ye would not harm in the least.”
Honorable readers can read above two groups of Quranic verses which are dangerously contradictory to each other. Fact of the matter is, both the verses mentioned by Mr. Halim and by me are from the same Holy Quran which is read and revered by hundreds of millions of Muslims around the globe. My humble questions to Mr. Halim are:
a) Do you think those verses that I have cited above are also from the same holy Quran?
b) Do you think after reading those verses (cited by me) those pukka Muslims (Mullah, Moulavi, Madrassha students and teachers and young brainwashed muslims) should respect un-believers and people of any other religions?
c) Do you really believe that Muslims can set an example of pluralism?
d) How could you justify these above verses yet you claim “Islam is basically a
I do not deny that in Qur’an, there are a few (rare) good and tolerant verses, but nobody can deny that there are many intolerant verses do exist in Qur’an. The verses (mentioned above) are also in the same Quran? Those Jihadi Muslims do not take teachings from those (a few) rare verse, but they take their teaching from the hundreds of hateful verses and many more hateful sahi hadiths readily available. Most of all, when we can find hundreds of Quranic verses and sahi hadiths, clearly talking about fight/wars, inciting disciples to fight, kill and torture the non-believers—how in the world one can claim “Islam is a religion of tolerance”?
When Allah Himself teaching devout Muslims that Pagans are “unclean” (9:28); non-believers are the “worst creatures” (98:6); and abode of non-believers are in the hell fire—how in the world Mr. Halim can possibly claim that “Islam is a religion of pluralism”?
Fact of the matter is the religion Islam is not only a religion of intolerance; rather it is the religion of isolation. Almost 100% of Islamic nations and Muslim majority countries today are having their minority populations either rapidly shrinking or even evaporating in numbers. Not only that—Muslims are unable to integrate as the immigrant in the host countries around the world indicating that Muslims by nature do not believe in Pluralism.
1. The Holy Qur’an, Translated by A. Yousuf Ali, Published by Amana Corporation, Brentwood, Maryland, 1983