© Zuber Karim 2008

Principles of Islamic Pluralism: Pluralism

The Qur`ān, Sunnah and Sīrah

By Zuber Karim
27 June 2008

© Zuber Karim 2008. Email: zuberkarim@gp-d.com

© Zuber Karim 2008

INTRODUCTION 1-3 4 4-5 5 5-8 8-9 9 9-10 10 10 11 11 11-12 12 12-13 13-14 15

Harmonisation Programme
Self Harmonisation and Intra Faith Harmonisation Self Harmonisation Intra Faith Harmonisation Inter Faith Harmonisation Inter-Faith Harmonisation through highlighting links with prophets Inter-Faith Harmonisation by mentioning God's gifts to Israelites Harmonisation through agreement Open access and accommodation Policy of inclusion Policy of two-way participation Policy of engagement Freedom of practising one's faith Pluralism with Inter-faith harmonisation and dialogue

Conclusion Bibliography

© Zuber Karim 2008


This essay is about the principles of pluralism from the Qur'ān, Sunnah and Sīrah. These principles are not from the theological or juristic perspective but rather from the social viewpoint. I have focused on the Prophetic pluralism by envisaging it from the Qur'ān as the Prophet is thought to be the embodiment of it, and from Sunnah as he is the Subject of it, and lastly from Sīrah as it provides us with sketches of his life. In recent times, the speed of communication, human ability to travel long distances to diverse communities and contemporary human interactions at all levels have turned the world into one global village. This technological transformation has also created plurality and diversity in communities in almost all spheres of human life. Thus, pluralism has become the method to respond to this newly encountered plurality. Religions are no exception to the response as they play a great role in the development of millions of lives worldwide. Thus, today, Religious Pluralism is a concept that encounters all religions. New challenges, everchanging definitions, and attempts to re-define and re-fine understanding of pluralism in the wider and general context of all religions are prime examples that the concept, in contemporary notion, is both in its infancy and is also challenging, especially, in relation to those religions which have not encountered plurality of faiths. phenomenon within Christianity'.1 Unlike Islam, the Latin Christianity has been less exposed to other faiths and mostly concerned with the sects within, the pagans and the heretics. As for Islam, it was not only exposed to the Coptic, Assyrian, Armenian, Ethiopian Christianity, but also to diverse Judaism, Hinduism, Persian Dualism, Paganism and other faiths. Thus, it was able to acclimatise and model pluralism, by responding to the Other harmoniously in the light of its sacred sources as understood by its scholars of the day. It created a harmonised multi-faith society for centuries. In this context, Gavin's statement is clear in his portrayal of pluralism as being a new phenomenon within Christianity. His statement also provides insight to medieval, monist European Christianity of the Catholic Church, which clearly contrasts with 'pluralist' Islam in the same era. Religious and cultural diversity emanating from mass economic migration and globalisation play a
1 D'Costa, Gavin, 2001, Theology Of Religions, Ed. David F. Ford, p. 627.

Gavin D’Costa puts it, 'Pluralism is almost entirely recent


© Zuber Karim 2008 crucial role in highlighting the importance of Religious Pluralism. However, the understanding of religion by the contemporary theologians of any given religion, coupled with crude understanding of pluralism may give raise to, at best, negative criticism, at worse, its total negation. By adding to mission, the Christian Faith’s historical failure to encounter religious diversity in an inter-married Church-State environment, given, the Church’s ongoing past battles against heretics, atheists, pagans, Jews and Muslims, pluralism proves to be far-more challenging. Arnold Netland observes that 'the issues of pluralism have recently provoked an acute sense of crisis within missiology, raising troubling questions about the nature and even legitimacy of the Christian mission.2 Some violent historical events, such as the barbarism of Crusaders have obscured positive interactions with Judaism and Islam in the medieval past and on the same past, some radical views of other religions were constructed without any of their in-depth, unbiased study. Nonetheless, Crusaders did open the door of awareness of other monotheistic religions. Many cultural, legal, moral spheres of practice were carried to the West by the Crusading hordes. With these positive developments, there still existed the backdrop of misunderstanding about other monotheistic religions that can be sighted in medieval writings. No well-versed historian can deny the fact that the religious minorities including some Christian sects living under the Christian kingdoms have suffered major discriminations throughout history. Hick testifies this fact as thus: 'How do we weight the savage aspects of life in some Eastern and Middle Eastern countries ... -against the Christian persecution of Jews throughout the ages and above all in our country?'3 This reality becomes more vivid if ones goes further back in history to the time of the Prophet. AlBukhārī narrates in his authentic work, Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, the ḥadīth of Abū Sufyān during his encounter with Hercules. This was at a period when Abū Sufyān was a staunch enemy of both Islam and Muslims. He mentions when Hercules visited the Holy Lands, he and his governor sighted a star that told the appearance of the ‘King of the Circumcised’. He inquired about those who circumcised. He was told that Jews practised circumcision. He believed at first that ‘they are not a matter of concern.’ However, he ordered later that they should be killed. While he was engaged in this exercise, he received the news of the advent of Prophet Muhammad
2 Netland, Harold, Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission (Illinois: InterVasity Press, 2001), p. 15. 3 Hick, John, Problems Of Religious Pluralism, p. 85.


© Zuber Karim 2008 through the king of al-Ghassān. He inquired from the king about the Prophet and the Arabs as whether they also circumcised. He received the reply in the affirmative. It was for this reason among many that the Jews of the time maintained their hope in the ‘Prophet of the Last Era’ who would come and lead them in fights against their oppressors. This triggered their migration to Madīnah, the city to which the Prophet later migrated. This attitude of the Jewish communities is further elucidated in the Qur’ān during their fierce encounters with the pre-Islamic Arabs: 'And when there comes to them a Scripture from Allah [the Qur’ān], confirming that which is in their possession [the Torah] – though before that they were asking for triumph over those who disbelieved – and when there comes to them that which they know (to be truth), they disbelieve in it. The curse of Allah is on the disbelievers', (2:89). Whenever the defeat was inevitable, the Arabs would be threatened with revenge that would happen after the advent of the Prophet. In his book, Preaching Islam, Thomas Arnold quotes the famous Muslim historian, Ibn Ishāq: 'Now the Jews oft-times suffered at their [Arab’s] hand [before the advent of Islam], and when strife was between them they had ever said to them: 'Soon will a Prophet arise and his time is at hand; him will we follow, and with him slay you with the slaughter of ‘Ād and Iram''.4 The advent of Islam helped these religions to live side-by-side as the reader will learn from the ‘principles’ of pluralism that Islam crafted out in its sacred sources and how it was applied by the Prophet and his successors as spelt out in the Sunnah and Sīrah. After all, it was from these sacred sources that the Muslims rulers created models of pluralism that best-suited their environs and time without disturbing the pluralist skeleton that has existed well before their predecessors. Bernard Lewis confirms this by stating that 'the Arab Muslim rulers of the new empire did not repeat the errors of their predecessors but instead respected the pattern of pluralism that had existed since antiquity'.5 To convey clarity in more orderly fashion, it deemed necessary to interweave the Qur’ān, Sunnah and Sīrah on some of the innovative concepts. This type of meshing, I believe, will not only aid analysis but also create a rich, colourful fabric of understanding and implementing pluralism.

4 Daryābādi, Maulāna Abdul Majīd, Tafsir-ul-Qur'ān, (Lucknow: Academy of Islamic Research and Publications, 1981), pp. 59-60, vol. 1. 5 Lewis, Bernard, The Jews of Islam, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), p. 19.


© Zuber Karim 2008

Harmonisation Programme
One of the Prophet’s missions in Madīnah was to harmonise religious communities in the city. The city dwellers consisted of Arab and Jewish tribes who made alliances with each other and fought one another. Every Arab tribe was allied to a Jewish tribe of its own liking. War and tension, shortlived peace, were all rotating with time. When the Prophet undertook his mission in Madīnah, it was envisaged that this could only be achieved by first stimulating self-harmonisation, then intra-faith harmonisation and later, inter-faith harmonisation.

Self Harmonisation and Intra-faith Harmonisation. On arrival to Madīnah, scores of people came to see the Prophet. Abdullāh ibn Salām, a Jewish priest, who later embraced Islam, on seeing public interest, also got motivated to see him. His interest in the Prophet can also be attributed to the ‘wait for the appearance of the Prophet’ which was the common attitude in very religious Jewish and Christian communities at that time. Muhammad Ibn Isḥāq narrates from him, ‘When I heard about the Messenger of God, I had already possessed the inside knowledge about him, his description, his name, his time of arrival, thus, I was at Qubā quietly and secretly and waiting for his arrival.6 He also states: 'When I looked at him the first time, I recognised from the honest and trustworthy hallmarks and impressions of his face that he (Muhammad) was truly a Prophet. The first words the Prophet spoke were: ‘Oh People, spread the greeting of Salām (Peace) among you, feed the hungry, tighten your relations with relatives, offer prayers at night while people are sleeping, this all will make you enter Paradise with peace'.7 These words of the Prophet were the first ones to be uttered by him on his entry to Madīnah. There is no doubt about the publicity generated by his arrival, that it compelled Abdullāh ibn Salām, to visit him. His visit also contained an element of curiosity. He examined the face of the Prophet. It was a careful analysis against the sacred knowledge he possessed about virtue, upright character, prophetic life and so on. He concluded that the face of the Prophet said clearly that he was nothing but an appointed Prophet of God. Everyone was eager to see him, to listen from him. There was a degree of enthusiasm. His first words were to be engraved in the hearts of these newly met
6 Kathīr, Ibn, Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah, (Beirut: Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, 2005), p. 221. 7 See al-Tirmīdhī in 'the chapters concerning the [the day] of Resurrection'. He states: 'This hadīth is 'Good' and 'Sound' [authentic]. See also, al-Dāramī in the 'Chapter concerning the virtue of the Nightly Prayers'. See al Ibn Mājah in the 'chapter of what has come about standing at night for prayer'.


© Zuber Karim 2008 communities. Thus, his initial instructions were meant to be geared upon the foundations that would bring a societal change. According to the divine massage, he did not come only to reform the Arabs alone, Jews, Christians and all Mankind were also included in the package, as part and parcel of ‘the Universal Message’. The Prophet’s words teach us two new concepts. One of self-harmonisation and the other of intrafaith harmonisation. In fact, the advice on intra-faith harmonisation has been brought forward, before self-harmonisation where the Prophet tells his audience to spread the greeting of Salām (Peace) between themselves, feed their hungry and tighten their relations of kith and keen, before spending time in self-harmonising the body and soul through nightly prayers.

Self-harmonisation. Man can turn against himself. He can wrong his soul. He can inflict harm on himself. Sometimes, he commits suicide. This is most frequent in societies that are materialistically oriented, a less likely occurrence in religious communities. Islam prohibits these strongly. Suicide was practised before the advent of Islam in Arabia and elsewhere. The suicide rate was high. Islam showed patience, perseverance, seeking divine help through supplication, as a way forward for the hardship-hit. It negated despondency as the Qur'ān puts it: ‘Do not despair of the mercy of God’, (39:53). The Sunnah condemned such action. Thus, the Prophet was also appointed to teach and train the Muslim community on how to self-rectify and purify their inner selves. It was one of the duties of the office of Prophethood and Messengership. This purification has been termed in the Qur'ān as Tazkiyah. The reader can find in the Qur'ān (91:9), where those who purify their souls are praised as those who attained success. The scholars wanted to carry on with this duty too. From the Qur'ān, Sunnah and Sīrah they looked for the components of Tazkiyah. Thus, gradually they were able to create a new field in religious sciences, naming it ‘Ilm alTaṣawwuf or sometimes also known as ‘Ilm al-Iḥsan and ‘Ilm al-Tazkiyah. Nonetheless, as charity begins from home, so does harmony begins from one’s soul. In summary, self harmonisation became an integral part of the Muslim community. Prayers, fasting, pilgrimage, incantations and supplications also contribute in harmonising the self.

Intra-Faith Harmonisation. Islam created an intra-harmonised state between those who entered into its fold, irrelevant of their tribal affiliations. Madīnah, once known as Yathrib, was a battle ground for these warring tribes. Now, on the arrival of the Prophet, things had changed. 5

© Zuber Karim 2008 Sympathetic brotherhood was encouraged. The first sermon of the Prophet did not only advise the faithful to attach themselves to the Book, but also insisted to be sympathetic to each other.8 To enhance this brother-based affection and sympathy, greeting with Salām (peace) was promoted. The example of this is given in the ḥadīth of Abdullāh ibn Salām mentioned earlier. Another good example of this, is what the Prophet stated as narrated by al-Tirmīdhī: ‘By Him in Whose hands lies my soul, you shall never enter Paradise until you believe, and you shall not believe until you like each other. Shall I not guide you to an act when you commit it, it will bring love between yourselves: Spread Salām’, (al-Tirmīdhī). Al-Tībī reasons that the Prophet made spreading the greeting of peace as the cause for sympathising with one another and loving each other, which in turn, causes perfection in faith. This also causes harmony and collectivity among the Muslim community, a component that ensures perfection in faith and elevation of the word of Islam.9 The emigrants were paired with the Madīnites to form brothers. This project was termed as Ikhā (to make brothers) or Muwākhāt. It was the initiative of the Prophet. Al-Mubārakpurī describes this Prophetic initiative as ‘unique in the history of the world’.

It was all because of the ‘magnetic

personality of the Holy Prophet’ as Abdullah Yusuf Ali describes it. 1 This did not only dilute tribal tensions, but brought about revolution in thinking. It eradicated racism and tribalism. Muhammad al-Ghazālī philosophises the anti-racial benefit of this, stating that brotherhood-in-faith was holding subordinate every distinction of race and kindred and supporting the Islamic percept: ‘None is superior to the other except on the basis of piety and God-fearing'.12 Abdur Rahmān ibn ‘Auf, a Makkah who migrated to Madīnah can be described as a good example of this. Anas reports that the Prophet established brotherhood between Ibn ‘Auf and Sa’d. Sa’d who was married to two wives, was ready to forsake one by divorce and offer her to his ‘brother’ in marriage. But the ‘brother’ blessed his offer and asked him to guide him to the market instead. 3 This move could

never have been conceived before Islam.

This brotherhood also encompassed inheritance of

wealth14. However, this was a temporary provision until the Qur'ānic Law of Inheritance was revealed which entrusted the rights of inheriting to the demise’s relatives. 5 Now, ‘... Kindred by

8 Kathīr, Ibn, Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah, (Beirut: Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, 2005), p. 222. 9 See Al-Tirmīdhī, Muhammad Ibn 'Isā, Jāmi' al-Tīrmidhī, (Karachi: HM Sa'id Company), p. 98, part 2. 10 Al-Mubārakpurī, Safi-ur-Rahman, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtūm (The Sealed Nectar): Biography of the Noble Prophet, (Riyadh: Maktabah Dar-us-Salam, 1995), p. 188. 11 See Ali, Abdullah Yusuf, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, (Maryland: Amana Corporation, 1992), p.433, n.1239. 12 Al-Ghazālī, Muhammad, Fiqh al-Sīrah, pp. 140-1. 13 Ahmad, Imām, al-Bidāyah, p. 228, vol. III. 14 Hajar, al-Hāfīz Ibn, Fath al-Bārī, p.191, vol. VII. Also see Kandhlāwī, Muhammad Yusuf (1981), The Lives of the Sahabah, (New Dehli: Globe Offset Press), p.480, vol. I. 15 See Ali, Abdullah Yusuf, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, (Maryland: Amana Corporation, 1992), p. 434. n.1245.


© Zuber Karim 2008 blood are more nearer to one another regarding inheritance’, (8:75). Nonetheless, a replacement was made by encouraging ‘brotherly’ assistance in the ever-lasting commanding verse, ‘Help each other in goodness and piety and do not help each other in sin and enmity’, (5:3). Enmity between Muslim ‘brothers’ was shunned. guests to remaining themselves hungry. Brotherliness was encouraged. They

conceptualised this brotherhood more firmly than that of blood. They would prefer to feed their Muhammad Zakariyyā Kandhālvī exemplifies this by quoting the verse: ‘They prefer others to themselves even though poverty become their lot’, (59:9).16 Though, Muhammad Zakariyyā highlighted part of the verse, the whole, including the unmentioned first part was revealed in praise of the affectionate and hospitable attitude of the Madīnites, al-Ansār, towards the newly arrived brothers, al-Muḥājirūn. The first part, omitted by Kandhālvī goes as thus: ‘And those who were settled in the Home [Madīnah], and adopted the faith before them, they love those who emigrated to them and find not any want in their breasts of what they [ i.e., the emigrants] were given ...’, (59:9). Although the verse addresses -in conjunction with the previous verses- the eligible recipients of war booty, however, it also praises al-Ansār as those who sincerely like al-Muḥajirūn. This was an amazing development compared to their pre-Islamic life. Ja’far’s address to Negus of Abyssinia attests this by depicting their situation before Islam: ‘... We did not make good our obligations to our relatives. The strong among us would thrive at the expense of the weak. Till at last, Allah[God] raised a Prophet for our reformation. His noble descent, up-right conduct, integrity of purpose, and pure life are too well known amongst us ...’.17 This reformation was from incivility to civility, from tension and enmity to harmony, from hatred to affection, it was intra-faith harmonisation at work. This type of intra-faith harmonisation was also encouraged by the Qur'ān, stating that: ‘Verily, believers are brothers. Resolve conflicts between your two brothers’, (49:10). The Sunnah further elucidated it through the following Prophetic statement: 'A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim. He neither treats him unfairly nor does he hand him over [to oppressors]. One who is engaged in fulfilling the need of his ‘brother’, then God is also engaged in fulfilling his need. One who removes hardship from a Muslim, God shall thereby remove from him a hardship among the hardships of the day of Judgement. One who covers the faults of a Muslim, God will cover his fault on the day of Judgement'.18
16 Kandhlāvī, Muhammad Zakariyya, Tablighi Nisab: The Stories Of the Sahabah, (Dewsbury: Anjuman-E-Islahul Muslemeen of UK), p.100. 17 Ibid. p.33. See also Ibn Kāthīr, Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah, (Beirut: Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, 2005), pp. 140-1. 18 Al-Nawawī, Muhammad ibn Sharaf, Riyādh al-Salihīn[Gardens of the Pious], (Karachi: Qadīmī Kutub Khāna, 1989), p. 112, n. 244.


© Zuber Karim 2008 The Prophet uses the word brother twice in this statement. He spells out the rights of this brother. He also mentions the fruits of fulfilling ‘brother’ rights. Those benefits are faith-oriented, stimulant to the faithful. It is a type of brotherhood that needs to be preserved. The Prophet has assimilated the structure of this brotherly bond with a building in which one component fortifies the other. 19 He has also personified the whole community of believers as one person, if his eye is sore, then the whole body reacts to that pain, and if he has headache, the whole body complains the same.20 Thus the Qur'ān and Sunnah laid emphasis on protecting this brotherhood by instructing the Muslims to avoid back-biting, slandering, swearing, spying, planning against, harming, deceiving one another and so on. This instruction was to create a sound mechanism of harmony that stood the changes of time and places. Additionally, through this mutual brotherliness, ‘many obstinate problems were resolved wonderfully and reasonably’.21 Since it was from the Qur'ān and Sunnah, the faithful constructed their lives on these teachings. One could hear the greeting of Salām [peace be upon you] echoing from every corner of Madīnah. Once this mechanism was in place, the faithful community could now interact, transact between themselves harmoniously, and develop itself further.

Inter-faith Harmonisation. Whilst studying inter-faith harmonisation, one can find some very strong facts that many scholars of pluralism have failed to mention. The Prophet performed his prayers in Makkah, directing himself to both the Ka’bah and Jerusalem. 22 Here, at arrival at Madīnah, he was made to perform his prayers towards Jerusalem. This had remained the Qiblah of the earlier Prophets of the Children of Israel. The Jews in Madīnah also turned towards it. On the other hand, the Ka’bah has been described as the first house built on earth for the worship of God. It was the Qiblah of Ibrāhīm [Abraham].23 Both are Qiblahs whose purpose is to direct oneself to them in prayer. It creates order and organisation in prayer. Although, the Prophet worshipped towards Jerusalem, he always longed to face the old Qiblah, the Ka’bah. After all, it was the ancient Qiblah, it was the Qiblah of Abraham, the father of Isaac and Ishmael, the grand father of Israel. It was also the Qiblah of Ishmael. It must be stressed that the choosing of Jerusalem as Qiblah was not the Prophet’s decision. It was a divine order.24 Otherwise, he would turn outright,
19 Al-Mubārakpurī, Safi-ur-Rahman, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtūm (The Sealed Nectar): Biography of the Noble Prophet, (Riyadh: Maktabah Dar-us-Salam, 1995), p. 194. 20 Ibid. 2 1 Ibid, p.189. 22 Usmāni, Muftī Shafi', Māriful-Qur'ān, (Karachi: Maktaba-e-Darul-Uloom, 1996), p.376, vol. I . 23 Ibid, p.363, vol. I. 24 Ibid, p364, vol. I.


© Zuber Karim 2008 without the order and consent from God, towards the Ka’bah. This refutes the statement of those who argue that this was an initiative taken by the Prophet himself. The benefit of this was immense. Islam became more exposed to the Jews. Additional benefit was to make the Jews familiarise with Islam and Muslims, and make them more inquisitive about it. In addition, it reassured the universality of Islam and its connection with the Prophets. The Qiblah of Jerusalem remained direction for prayers for sixteen or seventeen months.25

Inter-faith Harmonisation through highlighting the links with the Prophets. Islam’s link has always remained stronger with all the Prophets including the Prophets of Israel, stronger than with the Christianity or Judaism. To believe in them is part of Islamic faith. They must be revered by Muslims. They and their pure lives are mentioned in the Qur'ān. The Prophet is narrated to have described that all Prophets are brothers. The believers have also been placed very close to the prophets. God states: 'Verily, those who are close to Abraham, are those who followed him, and this Prophet and those who believed’, (3:68). When the Prophet came to Madīnah, he found them fasting during the tenth of ‘Āshūrā, [that paralleled the Jewish tenth of Tishrï]. The Prophet asked them why they fasted, they replied that it was in gratitude of God’s deliverance of Moses and Israelites from the pursuit of Pharaoh. On this, the Prophet stated that we are closest to Moses than you [Jews] to him. He fasted on it and ordered the Muslims to fast on it. This closeness is due to following strict monotheism of the prophets and accepting and acting upon the divine commandments without hesitation which parallels the attributes of Moses and other prophets.

Inter-faith harmonisation by mentioning God’s gifts to Israelites. God calls the Children of Israel from the time of the Prophet onwards to reflect upon the bounties that He showered them with and the preference He bestowed them with, to all the Mankind. Though these favours were not for the Jews of the Prophet’s era, but based on the Arabic principle of ‘Ni’matun ‘alā al-ābā ka ni’matin ‘alā al-abnā’ which basically translates as ‘the favours on the predecessors, as benediction, mean also granting favours upon the successors’. Therefore, the Qur'ān innumerates the favours upon ‘them’. The word ‘Yā Banī Isrāīl’ [Oh Children of Israel]26 does not only denote divine respect but also invites affection, in turn aiding them to draw their attention to the divine bounties. The benefits are to reflect upon them, show gratitude to God for them and belief in the
25 Ibid, pp.382-383, vol. I. 26 See the Qur'ān (2:40), (2:47) and (2:122).


© Zuber Karim 2008 divine message. In all, to reform. The Prophets of Israel have also been mentioned in the Qur'ān. Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Moses and Jesus are all mentioned. The Qur'ān goes into finer details about them, far more than those of Torah and Bible to describe them, sometimes their childhood, their adolescence and their mission. Thus, this enables other monotheistic communities to familiarise and harmonise with Islam and Muslims. The example of this familiarisation, is the inquiry by Negus about the Qur'ān. After his listening of its verses in relation to Mary, he concluded, ‘Verily, this message has been emitted from the same lamp as the one Moses brought forth!’.27

Harmonisation through agreement.

Undoubtedly, sometimes, the Jews were seen upon in

Madīnah. They were supposedly role models for some Madīnan tribes. Against this civilised form, there was an element of incivility. They were not united. They fought with each other. They deported one another. They formed alliances with the Madīnan Arab tribes to fight their own Jewish brethren. This role model did not create a ‘good example’ of them for others. When the Prophet came to Madīnah. He took the initiative of formulating a constitution, historically known as ‘Mithāq al-Madīnah’. This would serve as a basis of civilisation of the communities. It placed the intra-warring Jewish tribes as one Jewish ‘Ummah’. Article 37 of the said document called both Jewish and Muslim communities to cooperate and mutually assist each other.

‘Open access’ and accommodation. The ‘dynamic’ personality of the Prophet granted access to other religious communities to visit him, to consult him and sometimes to judge between them in disputes. The freedom of access and information was so unbound that many Jews and nonbelievers attended the Prophet’s sermons. His robust and sweet personality gave way to the Other to inquire from him, even test his prophethood in the light of the descriptions of the ‘Prophet of Last Era’ found in their scriptures. The accommodating nature of the Prophet may be based on his sublime character praised in the Qur'ān, ‘Verily, you are on the highest standard of morals’, (68:4). He states that I have been sent to accomplish the best of character.

27 Kathīr, Ibn, Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah, (Beirut: Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, 2005), p. 140.


© Zuber Karim 2008 Policy of inclusion. The accommodating nature of the Prophet tells quite a lot about his

‘inclusivity’. God speaks that ‘We have not sent you (oh, Prophet) but as a mercy for the universe’, (21:107). This universality includes all mankind. He was once approached to curse a people. He replied that he was not sent as one who curse people, but he was sent as a mercy. He encouraged Muslims to show kindness to those on earth, stating that those who show mercy are also shown mercy to by the Most Merciful (God), therefore show mercy to those who are on earth, then the One in the Heavens (God), will reciprocate his mercy on you. He made the believers to realise the basics of humanity, stating that all of you are the children of Adam and Adam was created from clay. This inclusion paved the way for the participation of other communities.

Policy of two-way participation. The inclusiveness of the Prophet, contributed to the policy of participation. The Other also participated in the sermons of the Prophet. Among the participants, there would be those Jews who were sincere in their inquiry, there were the learned ones among them as well as illiterate, some of whom accepted Islam and also those among their ignorant who were insincere and posed silly questions in order to cause annoyance and grief to the Prophet. The Prophet always remained gentle and accommodating.

Policy of engagement. The participation gave way to engagement. The Prophet engaged with the communities he came in contact with. He also transacted with them. Al-Bukhārī and Muslim both narrate that the Prophet had bought food from a Jewish man for his family on deferred payment and placed his armour with him as collateral.28 This engagement was both-sided. Al-Nawawī mentions about a learned Jew who stated to his colleague that all the signs of the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad were evident on his face apart from two: ‘His gentleness shall surpass his ignorance and any ignorant attitude against him will only increase him in gentleness.’ This was not possible unless he tested the Prophet himself. So he had a transaction with Prophet on deferred payment. He went to collect the due amount while the Prophet was at a funeral. He came to the Prophet and shouted at him in an abusive manner, in an attempt to test him: ‘I have never heard of Banū Hāshim [the clan of the Prophet] being late payers’. The Prophet displayed his gentlemanliness and smiled. However, this comment was irresistible for ‘Umar to ignore. He asked whether he thought this was an appropriate behaviour against the Prophet and also threatened that he would punish him had he seen a negative reaction on the face of the Prophet. On this the Prophet stated that both he and the
28 Kathīr, Ibn, Al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah, (Beirut: Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, 2005), p. 720.


© Zuber Karim 2008 debtor, the Jew, were expecting something else from ‘Umar, that is, a peaceful resolution of any seeming dispute. This engagement of the Jewish man did not only draw him closer to the Prophet but also allowed him to accept the Muslim faith through his through test of the Prophet. The reader may have also observed the Prophet’s gentle attitude and toleration towards the Other in the face of ‘test’ through aggression.

Freedom of practising one’s faith. Lā ikrāha fid-din (there is no compulsion in religion), (2:256). This Qur'ānic legal maxim remained ingrained from the time of the Prophet onward. ‘Umar always presented Islam to his Christian slave called Asbaq. Sometimes he would promise him, had he embraced the faith, he would promote him to a Muslim-specific civil service job. The latter would refuse. On this, ‘Umar would read the above verse to console his refusal.29 Later, Asbaq enter into Islam on his own accord and through his understanding of it, without any external pressure. It is noteworthy mentioning that Islam was at strength at that time. ‘Umar did not abuse that strength by forcefully converting Asbaq. The Prophetic society and that of the early Caliphs promoted the freedom of exercising one’s faith.

Pluralism within Inter-faith harmonisation and dialogue. A positive and constructive response to the plurality of faiths depends on how harmonised the communities are. I f the relations between them are tense, this can culminate hatred, which is the main recipe for violence and instability. Globalisation makes the case for inter-faith harmonisation and dialogue more imperative. The Muslim perspective of pluralism is dependent on the Qur'ān, Sunnah and Sīrah. Flight from these sources does not create a concrete and ordered system of pluralism that the Muslims long for. Muslim Scholars tend to derive their solutions primarily from the two sources, the Qur'ān and Sunnah. This has always been the case. To our amazement, the 'rich' model of pluralism found in both the sources as well as Sīrah does not only indicate how pluralism was active and operative in the Prophet's time, but also points out that this type of pluralism has been scarce in the history of multiplicity of these faiths at any other given time. It serves a good example for the Muslim community to emulate it. Violence and political pressure, resultant from the Other can taint the puritanical picture of the Prophetic pluralism. To preserve and develop that sort of pluralism, it is incumbent on the faith communities to take positive steps of harmonising between themselves and
29 Kathīr, Ibn, Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, (Beirut: Dar al-Qur'ān Al-Karim, 1981), p. 232, vol. 1.


© Zuber Karim 2008 further dialogue between themselves. The Qur'ān (3:64) calls the People of the Book to come to the same platform of monotheistic belief and good terms with the Muslim community.

In generality, it is this type of pluralism that was and is found continually, sometimes continuously, sometimes on-and-off , sometimes partially modelled on the pressures of peoples, times and environs, with the Muslims and their empires. However, the outline of pluralism, derived from the Qur'ān, Sunnah and Sīrah was preserved. Thus Bernard Lewis, through his observation of Muslim history, deduces: 'The Arab Muslim rulers of the new empire did not repeat the errors of their predecessors but instead respected the pattern of pluralism that had existed since antiquity'.30

This respect of the pattern of pluralism was not an exercise of maintaining status quo, since before their conquest there existed no toleration, let alone any notion of pluralism as already highlighted in the introduction. The new ‘pattern’ of pluralism was a Muslim invention itself, based on the aforementioned principles extracted from the Qur'ān, Sunnah and Sīrah. It is important to further develop and systematise these patterns pluralism from their analogous nature to a system, that benefits the academic readers and implementers, given that they are fully engraved in the Qur'ān, Sunnah and Sīrah.

Thus, I have attempted here to systematise pluralism by deriving principles from the sacred sources. I hope that this gives an insight on the type of pluralism Islam brought about. A simple academic question that I would like pose and answer at the same time is: ‘Did this type of pluralism bring about harmony among religious communities in the land of Islam? Yes, it did harmonise the communities, by promoting co-existence, development, and contribution in the whole Muslim society’. Suppressed religious minorities under Latin Christianity including those from other Christian denominations enjoyed peace and harmony under the new Muslim rulers. Looking at the wholeness of the institutionalised Islam of the Muslim empires and non- institutionalised Islam of the merchants, traders, settlers, individuals and populace, these patterns remain consistent throughout. Thus, this poses a serious question against some ignorant contemporaries who have
30 Lewis, Bernard, The Jews of Islam, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), p. 19.


© Zuber Karim 2008 coined the term violent Islam. Is it not that the ‘violence’ from some Muslims reciprocal to some of the atrocities that we have committed against them and their families in the present and near past? Lets look at this with the eye of reason. It completely contradicts the toleration and plurality found with Muslims as testified by Hick, and observed in the books of Muslim history.

Nonetheless, conclusively, Muslims are duty-bound to preserve, develop and adhere to the type of Prophetic Pluralism, enshrined in the Qur'ān, Sunnah and Sīrah.


© Zuber Karim 2008


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© Zuber Karim 2008


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