Muhammad and how these challenges may have affected the Islamic tradition facing pluralism. First, pluralism in Islam is discussed, as outlined in the Qu’ran, and then Mohammad’s trials are discussed, as they relate to the issue of pluralism in Islam. The definition of pluralism used in this paper is “the acceptance of other faiths which approach the same truths as one’s own, rather than the alternative definition “the tolerance of faiths other than one’s own.” The definition, and its relevance to the discussion presented in this paper is also discussed.

What is the attitude of Islam towards pluralism ( one goes by the Qur’anic pronouncements, Islam not only accepts the legitimacy of religious pluralism, but in fact considers pluralism central to its system of beliefs ( are very clear statements to this effect: for example, verse 5:48 ( verse is as follows: “Unto every one of you we have appointed a (different) law and way of life. And if Allah had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but (He willed it otherwise) in order to test you by means of what He has given you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto Allah you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were won’t to differ” (

It was not difficult for Allah to make the whole of mankind one community ( graced us with pluralism, as he saw that this adds richness and variety to life: each community has its own unique way of life, its own customs and tradition, its own law, and these laws or way of life should be such as to ensure growth and enriching of life, however different and unique they might be ( does not want to impose one law on all and creates communities rather than community (

Muslims believe that Allah created different communities on purpose: to try and test human beings in what has been given to them (i.e. different scriptures, laws and ways of life) ( is also central to Muslim belief that a constant test is present: to live in peace and harmony with each other, as this is the will of Allah (

In the last part of this verse, Allah says that unto Him all will return and it is He who “will make you truly understand all that on which you were won’t to differ” ( verse also has another important dimension ( leads to the concept of Wahdat-e-Din i.e., unity of religion ( earlier part of this verse (5:48) says, “And We have revealed to thee the Book with the truth, verifying that which is before it of the Book and a guardian (muhayman) over it” (

This is also very significant pronouncement, that is most modern in its approach ( Qur’an has thus come to stand for what was revealed earlier to different communities through their prophets ( shari’ah, the law and the way of life may be different as we have discussed above, but the essence of all religions – Din – is the same ( religions are based on the revelation from Allah, and the Qur’an has come to be guardian of earlier truth revealed through other scriptures (

This is an inclusive approach, and is vital for acceptance of the “religious other,” and therefore to the acceptance of pluralism (under our definition) in Islam ( laws, and the ways of life may differ and yet din, the divine essence, the divine truth, is the same ( is reflected in all religions, in all spiritual traditions, and Allah says that we humans have no right to reject the ‘other’ as illegitimate, much less, false (

Qur’anic pluralism finds different expressions in different places ( Qur’an does not maintain that there could be only one way of prayer to Allah ( could be more than one (, the Qur’an says: “For each community there is direction in which it turns, so vie with one another in good works” (2:148) (

This verse also, needless to say, lends great support to the basic premise of religious pluralism, by de-emphasising a particular way of prayer and extolling the importance of human conduct and sensitivity to others suffering and ones own steadfastness in the face of calamities and afflictions (

The Qur’an does not take narrow sectarian view, as many theologians tend to do ( view is very broad humanitarian and its emphasis is not on dogmas but on good deeds, and it strongly condemns evil deeds which harms the society and humanity at large ( this respect, also, it makes no distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims (, the Qur’an says in 4:123: “It will not be in accordance with your vain desires nor the vain desires of the people of the Book. Whoever does evil, will be requited for it and will not find for himself besides Allah a friend or a helper” (

The Qur’an is very particular about freedom of conscience, as for Muslims, freedom of conscience is the key to pluralism ( Qur’an clearly states that there is no compulsion in religion (2:256) and maintains that all children of Adam are honourable (17:70) (

The Qur’an lays great stress on unity of humankind ( says in 2:213, “Mankind is a single nation. So Allah raised prophets as bearers of good news and as warners, and He revealed with them the Book with truth, that it might judge between people concerning that in which they differed. And none but the very people who were given it differed about it after clear arguments had come to them, envying one another. So Allah has guided by His will those who believe to the truth about which they differed” (

The theme of oneness of humankind is repeated in the Qur’an in different ways ( are told that all human beings have been “created of a single soul” (4:1); again that they are all descended from the same parents (49:13); still again that they are as it were dwellers in one home, having the same earth as a resting place and the same heaven as a canopy (

Apart from oneness of humankind, the Qur’an also lays stress on racial, linguistic and national identities ( identities are projected as signs of God. “And of His signs,” the Qur’an says, “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colours. Surely there are signs in this for the learned” (30:22) (

Thus, diversity is projected by the Qur’an as a sign of God and hence is to be respected ( identities are the product of national and tribal diversities and play a useful social role ( Qur’an clearly accepts the legitimacy of diversity (

The Qu’ran also makes it clear quite forcefully that all places of worship should be respected and protected, and thus here too religious pluralism is stressed ( Prophet of Islam, when he migrated from Mecca to Medina, found himself in a pluralist situation ( was religious as well as tribal diversity: he not only accepted this diversity, but legitimised it by drawing up an agreement with different religious and tribal groups and accorded them, through this agreement, a dignified existence and rights of their own (

This agreement is known in history of Islam as Misaq-i-Madina ( begins thus:

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate! This is writing of Muhammad the Prophet between the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib (Madina) and those who follow them and are attached to them and who crusade along with them. They are a single community distinct from other people” (

This agreement can be called the constitution of Madina and it was definitely a milestone, which sought to lay the foundation of a new political and religious culture ( is significant to note in this agreement is that all people of all religions in the region together constituted a single community – an Ummah ( agreement was also quite democratic in spirit ( Holy Prophet did not claim to be the ruler of this community ( emigrants (Muhajirs) were, in fact, treated as a clan, and the Prophet was their chief, and there were eight other clans with their chiefs (

If the Constitution is a good evidence at this point, he was only marked off from other clan chiefs on two counts: Firstly, that for the group of believers i.e. Muslims, he was a prophet and whatever was revealed to him was binding on the believers; and that, Secondly, the Constitution states that “whatever there is anything about which you differ, it is to be referred to God and to Muhammad” (

The Qur’an also describes as one of the functions of the prophet as an arbiter, as it says: “And for every nation there is a messenger. So when their messenger comes, the matter is decided between them with…

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