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Georgetown University


An Islamic Perspective

On Pluralism

Mohamed Fathi Osman

Visiting Research Professor

Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding

Occasional Papers Series


An Islamic Perspective on


Mohamed Fathi Osman

Visiting Research Professor

Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding

Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding:

History and International Affairs

Edmud A. Walsh School of Foreign Service

Georgetown University

Washington, D.C. 20057

Mohamed Fathi Osman

Fathi Osman was Visiting Research Professor at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. for the Spring of 1997. His teaching positions include: University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Temple University, Pennsylvania, Princeton University, New Jersey, Imam Muhammad ibn Sa’ud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Al-Azhar in Egypt, and Oran University in Algeria.

Dr. Osman earned his undergraduate degree in Islamic Byzantine Relations at the University of Cairo, Egypt, and his doctoral degree in Islamic Economic and Financial Institution, Princeton University, New Jersey.

Among his publications, Dr. Osman has written: The Islamic Thought and Human Change, An Introduction to the Islamic History, Human rights between the Western Thought and the Islamic Law, On the Political Experience of the Contemporary Islamic Movements, The Muslim World, Issues and Challenges, Jihad: A Legitimate Struggle for Human Rights, Muslim Women in the Family and Society, Shari’a in a Contemporary Society: Islamic Law and Change, and Concepts of the Quran: A Topical Reading of the Divine Revelation.

The Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding

The Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding: History and International Affairs was established in 1993 by Georgetown and the Foundation pour l’Entente entre Chretiens et Musulmans, Geneva, to promote dialogue between the two great religions. The Center focuses on the historical, theological, political and cultural encounter of Islam and Christianity, the Muslim world and the West. Located in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, the Center combines teaching, research and public affairs.

The establishment of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown flows from the role of religion in the contemporary international system. Both Georgetown’s Catholic-Jesuit heritage and its location in Washington have shaped the University’s abiding interest in the study of religion and international affairs. Islam is one of the great spiritual and social forces in the world today; its influence and significance will extend and develop in the twenty-first century. Thus, the study of Islam at Georgetown encompasses its religious content, its cultural significance and role in international affairs as well as the Christian experience in the Muslim World.

The focus of the Center’s activities, both national and international in scope, is achieved through teaching symposia, international conferences and extensive media coverage. Center faculty and visiting faculty offer courses on Islam and the history of Muslim-Christian relations for undergraduate and graduate students at the University. A board array of public affairs activities and publications seek to interpret the interaction of the Muslim world and the West for diverse communities: government, academia, the media, religious communities, and the corporate world.

Table of Contents

Pluralism in a Global Era . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

The Children of Adam . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

The “Human Being” and the “Human Beings” . . . . . . . . 9

Human-Acquired Differences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

In Islamic Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

Legal Implications of Human Dignity . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

Racial and Ethnic Differences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

Religious Differences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

Difference of Opinion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24

No Solution is Reached by Force . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27

In Muslim Civilization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

Within the Muslim Lands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31

Through Participation in World Knowledge

And Civilization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34

In World Commerce . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37

Towards a Muslim Contribution to

Contemporary Global Pluralism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39

Shura and Democracy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

Elections . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44

The Multi-party System, The Opposition . . . . . . . . . . 48

The Legislative Function . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51

Institutional and Public Supervision . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53

Fears Unjustified . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54

Global Pluralism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56

Pluralism, Justice and Moral Commitment . . . . . . . . . 64

Pluralism in a Global Era:

That human beings are all different cannot be argued. Physically and psychologically, no two human beings, however closely related biologically, are exactly the same. In addition to racial and ethnic differences, there are the acquired differences in ideas, knowledge approaches, priorities, and judgment, among many others, that accrue from the surrounding culture.

Religion belongs somewhere between an inherited and an acquired difference, that is, it can be inherited by succeeding generations from an earlier one, or it can develop from a system of beliefs through personal conviction. The fact that religious faith is most commonly inherited collectively rather than developed individually makes the acceptance of religious diversity essential for the well-being of humanity.

A nation-state, even the most harmonious geographic entity, displays diversity in race, ethnicity, and religions, as well as acquired ideological and political notions that reflect natural differences in things and judgment. Since the world is coming closer together as a result of miraculous developments in the technology of transportation and communication, global diversity has become a fact that has to be accepted intellectually and morally, and secured and sanctioned legally, by all groups throughout the world.

Pluralism is the institutional form that acceptance of diversity takes in a particular society or in the world as a whole. It means something more than moral tolerance or passive coexistence. Tolerance is a matter of individual feeling and behavior and co-existence is the mere acceptance of others that does not go beyond absence of conflict. Pluralism, on the one hand, requires organizational and legal measures that secure and sanction equality and develop fraternity among all human beings as individuals or groups, whether there are inborn or acquired. Pluralism, also, requires a serious approach towards understanding the other and constructive cooperation for the betterment of the whole. All human beings should enjoy equal rights and opportunities, and all should fulfill equal obligations as citizens of a nation and of the world. Each group should have the right to organize and develop, to maintain its identity and interests, and each should enjoy equality of rights and obligations in the state and in the world.

Pluralism means that minority groups can participate fully and equally with the majority in the society, yet maintain their particular identity and differences. Is maintained by the state and the law, first national law and eventually international law. Pluralism originally referred only to ethnic and religious differences, but in a democracy ideological and political differences also came to be subsumed under the same term, on the philosophical grounds that there in no single understanding of the truth and thus a variety of beliefs and institutions and communities should exist together and enjoy equal legitimacy. Relations should be constructive, whatever the beliefs of a particular group may be regarding the sole and universal truth. The Encyclopedia Britannica includes under pluralism both natural-born and acquired differences. Its definition is: “Autonomy enjoyed by disparate groups within a society- such groups as religious groups, trade unions, professional organizations or ethnic minorities.” It may be preferable to replace “autonomy” with “the right to maintain a common identity and interests.”

Muslims, like adherents of other religions of the world, have to live with non-Muslims within a given country. Muslim citizens of the country can have their ethnic or doctrinal differences within themselves or with other Muslims in the world. Muslim unity does not require that Muslims form a single state- even the caliphate always comprised different beliefs and ethnicities. Where one lives may be dictated by geographic or economic factors. A nation-state can be considered from the Islamic point of view as an enlarged family or an enlarged neighborhood, each with its on special interests that in no way detract from the universal relations of togetherness and solidarity required by Islam. Divisions into peoples and other groups with common origin, are acknowledged in the Quran (49:13), and nothing is wrong with it so long as such divisions do not hinder universal human relations and cooperation, and are not abused through chauvinistic arrogance and aggression. The Quran indicated that God and his teachings should be put above any allegiance to a particular group or land, and so long as this principle is observed, allegiance to one’s family and other human gatherings and to one’s homeland is recognized (9:24). As Muslims live in larger groups and in lands where they can prosper, they have to live with other religions and sects Moreover, contemporary globalism is creating unavoidable interdependence among all humankind, whatever their natural-born or acquired differences may be.

For a long time consensus was regarded as important because the goal was to achieve uniformity in beliefs and human values. “Aquinas in the Middle Ages,” as Nicholas Rescher writes,

Regarded consensus on fundamentals as a condition assured by God: Kant in the 18th Century, considered it as something rooted in the very nature of Reason; Hegel, in the 19th century, saw it as guaranteed by the spirit of cultivation working through the march of history ever enlarging its hold on human Society; Habermas in the 20th century sees is as inherent in the very nature of Communications as an indispensables social praxis. By contrast, many present-day writers invest social consensus not with confidence, but with hope.

Rescher argues for abandoning consensus as impossible, defending pluralism in cognitive and social theory against dogmatic uniformity, and indicating that in the face of differing views, it is still appropriate to take a committed and definite position. Pluralism should not allow people to fall into the trap of “relativistic indifferentism.” He emphasizes that, if natural and rational diversity cannot escaped, “a sensibly managed social system should be so designed that a general harmony of constructive interaction can prevail despite diversity..[and] that different can be accommodate short of conflict. …. This requires acquiescence in difference … and respect for the autonomy of other.” 1

Given that “the truth is one,” one might think that reaching the truth would automatically produce consensus, but Rescher underlines the problem of connecting the truth to consensus by reversing the question, asking: If we achieve consensus, can we be sure concerning the truth about which the consensus has been achieved? As he rightfully says, “The appeal of a consensus approach to truth is easy to understand. But its workability is something else.” He reaches the conclusion that “consensus is thus no highway to truth, and no substitute for an objective criteriology,” although it may be a useful epistemological instrument. Rescher calls attention to the fact that “the realization of a consensus among inquiries requires extraordinarily unusual conditions - conditions of a special and particular sort which are not in general met in the difficult circumstances of an imperfect world.” Thus,

1 Nicholas Rescher, Pluralism: Against the Demand for Consensus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), PP.1-3.

The empirical basis of our factual knowledge is bound to engender a variety of cognitive positions through the variation of experience here on earth. Accordingly - Rescher emphasizes - the pluralism that a sensible empiricism engenders in the light of such variable experiential conditions is rationally justified. The unavailability of consensus and the inescability of pluralism are realities of the life of reason.

Such an inevitable cognitive pluralism should not, however, be construed as encouraging indifference, nor put the faith of any believer at risk, since “one can certainly combine a relativistic pluralism of possible alternatives with a monistic position regarding ideal rationality and a firm and reasoned commitment to the standards intrinsic of one’s own position.”2

Political pluralism holds that power and authority should not be monopolized by a single group, order, or organization, that all citizens should be allowed to compete legitimately or to cooperate. If pluralism is unavoidably determined in cognitive matters, it is more essential when it comes to natural-born differences. Pluralism in religion recognizes the multiplicity of religious groups, and the rights of belief, expression, assembly, and legitimate activities for every individual, or each religious group and for the group as a whole. Unless human understanding and cooperation supersede both inborn and acquired differences, “holocausts” and “ethnic cleansings” will continue, and on a global scale will breed ceaseless conflict or self-imposed isolation. Multiethnic countries may always face the horrors of civil war, terrorism, or secession, which cripple the country and pressure the whole world. When pluralism becomes a conventional national and universal principle, inborn and acquired differences will enrich the intellectual, moral and material assets of humankind through constructive interactions from al parties.

The divine messages from “the Lord of All-Being” (The Quran 1:1) can be invaluable in conducting their followers toward a universal pluralism. However, because parallel texts in the divine sources may sometimes seem to conflict because they originally responded to different circumstances, the believing masses may fail to understand them in their totality. Instead of making a distinction between the general principle and the particular situation, then may be inclined for individual or collective reasons in given circumstances to adapt chauvinistic and confrontational attitudes. Hermeneutics should be given the responsibility to provide the proper interpretation of God’s message in its totality and protect believers against distorting divine guidance through selectivity and one-sidedness, which would create a false impression of exclusiveness and generate unethical behavior, discrimination, and injustice.

2 Ibid., pp. 45-46, 52, 76-78, 109

The Children of Adam:

The Quran (17:70) states that God honors and confers dignity on all the “Children of Adam,” whatever their inborn and acquired differences may be. Calling all humankind the “Children of Adam” is significant and meaningful, making all human beings descendants of the same original forebears. The Creator who created the species homo sapiens conferred on humankind an abundance of physical, intellectual, spiritual, and moral virtues, and enabled them to benefit from the sustenance He provided in this world in order to develop themselves and the world around them “He has brought you forth from this earth, and has let you settle on it and develop it” (11:16)

The Quran mentions, among God’s favors to the “Children of Adam” that “He has taken them through the land and the sea” (17:70), by which is meant that the universality and movability of these creatures should not be restricted. In another place, the Quran refers to the ships that are enabled by God’s command to sail on the sea which He has made subservient to human beings (45:12), and then refers to all other things and forces that God has made subservient to all humanity “in the heavens and on the earth” (45:13) as parallel to, and an alternative for, the ships mentioned in the previous verse, or as the means for any other benefit. It is the responsibility of the ruling author all over the world, especially those who believe in the Quran, to secure human dignity and divine favor to all human beings. Their physical and intellectual, spiritual and moral merits, their travels and contacts, whatever the means of transportation and communication may be, and the benefits of the good life (17:70) are provided by God and secured by his guidance for all humanity (2:29, 45:13). In return, human beings are responsible for developing their potential, and developing the world resources. Through such correlated and interacting development is human civilization generated.

The “Children of Adam (banu Adam)” are mentioned in the Quran seven times: human being (insane) in the singular form 65 times: “humankind (ins, bashar),” 54 times, and “human beings (nas)” in the plural form 239 times and directly addressed 19 times. “Those who have attained to faith” or “the believers” are mentioned or addressed in singular or plural forms (maaemin, muminun, man amana, alladhin amanu) in other places in the Quran. It is obvious, then, that he Quran is concerned with humankind in its totality, while it deals with or addresses “those who have attained to faith” or “the believers” in the Quran specifically.

In addition to the verse about the favors of God and the dignity conferred on the Children of Adam (17:70), the universal character of humankind is remarked on the Quranic verses that deal with the children of Adam or address them as a whole. The following are some examples:

O Children of Adam! We have brought down to you clothing so as to cover what may not be nice to be exposed of your bodies, and to be an adornment for you as well; but the raiment of God-consciousness and righteousness is the best.” (7:27)

O Children of Adam! Care about your good looking at every place of worship; and eat and drink [freely] but do not waste. Say: who is these to forbid the beauty which God has brought forth for His creatures and the good things from among the means of sustenance [that He has provided for them]. Say: My Lord has forbidden only shameful deeds whether committed openly or secretly, and evil-doing, and illegitimate violation of others’ rights, and associating with God others with no authority given to them by God, and saying about God what you not know. For every people a term has been set [in this world life], and [the end of] their term approaches, they can either delay it by a single moment, no can they hasten it. O Children of Adam! Whenever there come to you conveyors of My messages from amongst you who present my messages to you, those who are conscious of Me and live righteously no fear shall be on them, nor shall they grieve. (7:31-35).

God’s guidance about the wise conduct of material and moral behavior in this life provides common ground for all the Children of Adam. Even those who do not believe in God are merely urged not to associate with God others without any supporting evidence from Him and not to say about God what they do not know. Those who believe in God are told to deal with all humanity, to be conscious of Him, and to live righteously, without going into unnecessary detail over differences. The followers of God’s messages would be more inspiring and convincing to the masses, and would bring their hearts and minds together, if they would concisely and clearly address the essence of humanity and provide people with the essence of divine guidance. Those who are not able to believe in God can accept guidance about moral values and ethical behavior. God’s messages do not hold any human being responsible for what is beyond his or her individual ability, but it condemns any one who admits the truth within his or her heart and mind and denies it in public out of arrogance or stubbornness, or for material or social gain: “It is not you that they reject, but it is the messages of God that the evil-doers deliberately deny” (6:33), “And out of arrogance and self-exaltation they deliberately denied them [God’s message], while they acknowledge them in their ownselves; so see what has been the end of the spreaders of corruption” [27:14]. It is injustice, unrighteousness, and immorality that God’s messages condemn, not the mere lack of conviction or the state of being innocently and sincerely unable to believe.

One important Qur’anic verse about the “Children of Adam” mentions the common spiritual compass created by God within everyone, which may be used by each individual according to his or her given circumstances:

And [be aware] when you Lord has brought forth from the children of Adam - from their loins - their offspring, and made them witnesses of their ownselves [asking them]: ‘Am I not you Lord [who has created you and sustained you and is wholly caring about you]? They say, ‘Yea; verily, we do bear witness’. [This has been done] lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: ‘Of this we were unaware’ [7:172]

Accordingly, every individual has his or her own spirituality, which the messages of God address and guide.

The “Human Being” and the “Human Beings”:

When the Quran addresses the “human being” in the singular form, it calls attention to God’s gifts and favors to the individual, such as intellectual and linguistic faculties (55:33, 96:1-5) and physical attributes useful for world development (95:4). But the Quran also stresses human limitations to secure a balanced personality which is protected against the two extremes of arrogance and hopelessness. Among the psychological and intellectual weaknesses of the human being, the Quran mentions impatience, moodiness, instability and inconsistency (e.g., 4:28, 10:12, 11:9-10, 17:67, 83, 39:8, 49, 41:49, 51,42:48, 70:19-20), unfairness and ingratitude (e.g., 14:34, 17:67, 83, 22:66, 33:72, 39:8, 49, 41:51, 42:48, 43:15, 80:17, 89:15-16, 96:6-7, 100:6), human fondness for argument (e.g., 16:4, 18:54, 36:77), haste (e.g. 17:11, 21:37), miserliness (e.g., 17:100) and dismay (70:19). Other verses that deal with the human being refer to his of her origin and creation, difficulties of life, and individual responsibility (e.g., 15:26, 17:13, 23:12-16, 53:38-40, 55:14, 75:36-40, 76:1-2, 82:6-8, 84:6, 86:5-10, 90:4, 96:2)

The human being is led in the Quran to the moral values that common sense supports, such as kindness toward to one’s parents (e.g., 29:8, 31:14, 46:15), and is warned against human weaknesses that can be exploited by Satan (e.g., 12:5, 17:53, 25:29, 59:16). Intellect must be utilized and not neglected. Whatever information comes to the human senses should stimulate thinking about what is know and what can be developed, starting from the food that one eats (e.g., 80:24-31), to the self with its powers and weaknesses. In all this, the Quran deals with the individual of whatever sex or ethnicity or faith or society or class or education, to establish solid ground for communication and interaction.

“Human beings” in the plural are called upon to remain forever aware that they are all equal since they all stem from a single origin, whether they are males or females, and whatever their nation, ethnic origin or tribe may be (e.g., 4:1, 49:13), The diversity of human societies and cultures should lead each to recognize the other and well know one another (49:13), in order to interact and cooperated for mutual benefit and for the well-being of humankind. In this way, diversity enriches human experience and development and becomes a sign of God’s wonderful creation and grace (30:22), not a barrier or a cause a conflict. The Quran repeatedly calls attention to the universe, to all of humankind and other kinds of life, in order to know the real place of the human being in the cosmos and avoid the fatal error of individual or communal egocentrism: “Assuredly the creation of the heavens and the earth is greater [matter] than the creation of human beings, but most human beings do not know” (40:57). Other planets may be populated by living creatures, and an encounter between them and humankind cannot be excluded: “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and whatever living creatures He has dispersed through them; and He is able to gather them together when He wills” (42:29).

Human beings as a whole must learn to cooperate in developing themselves and developing the world around them [11:16], benefiting from the universal resources created for them all by God (2:29, 45:13). The earth and the sea provide food and transportation for humankind without discrimination, and no human barriers to them should be raised (e.g., 2:164, 168, 10:22, 14:32, 16:14-16, 17:70, 25:53, 35:12, 45:12-13). As mentioned before, human beings are urged to think about themselves, about life and living creatures, about the universe, and about all creation they may come across. This thinking may lead them in the end to ask themselves if such laws and order and harmony in all creation can be brought out or maintained without a creator. No belief can be imposed on any human being (2:256), but it is a human responsibility to think, and it is up to all to reach whatever conclusion comes to them so long as it is honestly reached. Only morality matters, and morality is human and universal.

Just as the Quran enlightens the individual about his psychological and intellectual limitations, so it enlightens human beings as a whole about their social limitations. The majority may not necessarily be right and may make mistakes (e.g., 2:243, 5:49, 7:187, 10:60, 92, 11:17, 12:38, 68, 103, 13:1, 16:38, 25:50, 30:6, 8, 30, 34:28, 36, 40:57, 59, 61, 45:26), as a result of mass psychology or pressures or temptations or intimidations delivered from above. The individual is urged to be critical, to look for common errors (34:46), since responsibility is individual in this life and in the life to come (6:94, 164, 17:15, 19:80, 95, 35:18, 39:7, 53:38-41). However, the fallibility of the majority cannot in any way be used as an excuse for autocracy or authoritarianism, since the majority can correct itself more easily than the individual can, and decisions about common matters should be reached collectively (3:159, 42:38). Even spouses have to run the famly through mutual consultation and consent (2:233). Moral and intellectual safeguards have to be followed in discussion, and any decision should be revised as soon as it has been proven wrong.

The Quran, then, provides the common ground for human communication and cooperation. It addresses in general the human being as an individual and collective, raises common human concerns, while it tells Muslims in particular what they must believe and practice. Thus, Islam develops its particularity within a broader base of plurality, whether in a given country among Muslims as a whole.

Human-Acquired Differences:

Since some acquired particularities in human societies result from adopting certain beliefs or views, humankind shows differences that, if they are allowed to grow, are as serious and dangerous a source of conflict as inborn differences.

The Quran indicated the limitations of individual and collectives, showing that consensus on detailed matters is impossible, and different views will always exist among individuals and groups and are inevitable.

And had your Lord so willed, He could surely have made the whole mankind one single community, but He willed it otherwise, and so they continue to differ, [and differences may become serious] save among those on whom your Lord has bestowed His grace [when they follow His guidance about handling their differences]; and for this [test in meeting their differences], He has created them [in this way] … (11:118-119).

God’s grace lies not in the abolition to difference in beliefs and views, nor in changing human nature which He himself has created, but in showing human beings how to handle their differences intellectually and morally and behaviorally. Any particular community of believers can have within itself differences (e.g., 11:110, 41:45), and the Muslim are no exception, so they are shown how to handle their differences (e.g., 3:103-105, 4:59). Differences among the followers of the various messages of God exist; people agree only about worshipping One God:

For each we have appointed a law and a way of life. Had God so willed, He could surely have made you one single community, but [his plan is] to test you in what He has given you. Vie, then, with one another in good deeds. Unto God you will all return, and He will then make truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ. (5:48)

Humankind has it common spirituality and morality (7:172, 91:7-10). The Quran define the good as “what is know by common sense (al-ma’ruf)” and evil as “what is rejected by common sense (al-munkar)” (e.g., 3:104, 110, 114, 7:157, 9:71, 112, 22:41, 31:17). No belief nor view should be imposed by force: “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith” (2:225), “And had your Lord so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith altogether; would you force people against their will to believe?” (10:99, see also 11:28)

People, then, have to handle their differences in this world in the best way they can, leaving the final judgment of what is absolutely right or wrong to God, since there is no way to reach consensus on the truth, as it has been repeatedly emphasized in the Quran (e.g., 2:113, 3:55, 5:48, 6:164, 10:93, 16:92, 124, 22:69, 32:25, 39:3, 46, 45:17). However, in spite of this repeated emphasis, there are always those who like to play God!

Human beings can always discuss their differences in a reasonable way, and still acknowledge their pluralism. In mundane matters, they can settle their differences by reaching a majority for a certain view, but in matters of religion, freedom of faith has to be secured for every human being. An inter-faith dialogue can be conducted to reach a better understanding of “the other” avoiding any hurt or unfair imposition of belief. The Quran teaches that such a dialogue has to be conducted in the most constructive way methodologically and morally (16:125, 29:46). No party should conduct its argument on the premise that it is the only one that represents the whole truth:

And it is that either we or you are on the right path or have clearly gone astray. Say: ‘Neither shall you be called to account for whatever misdeed we may have committed, nor shall we be called for account for whatever you are doing’. Say: ‘Our Lord will bring us all together, then He will lay open the truth between us in justice’ (34:24-26).

Whenever the essential requirements for a fruitful discussion are not met, no dialogue should take place because it can hurt rather than benefit (29:46). Good relations have to be maintained in any case, whether an exchange of views can take place or not. A true believer in God has to avoid the temptation of meeting one wrong with another, since two wrongs do not make a right (e.g., 23:3, 96, 25L72, 28:55, 41:34). Forgiveness and graciousness are repeatedly stressed in the Quran (e.g., 2;178,, 237, 3:134, 159, 4:149, 5:13, 24:22, 7:119, 64:14). Besides, cooperation in what is right and beneficial for all is the best way for building up mutual understanding and confidence (5:2). People instinctively compete, but they ought to compete in doing-good (5:48, 83:26),

Muslim - theologians like other thinkers - discuss whether the truth is one or may vary; the most acceptable view is that, even if the truth is one in its essence and reality, it can be as such known only by God; while it can vary in the external visions of human beings. This explains the statement attributed to Imam Shafi’i that his view is right as he thinks it, but its error is possible, while the other’s views is wrong as he thinks it, but its rightness is also possible. No human attempt is infallible or holy, an human limitations should allow for certain risks and differences in efforts to reach the truth, without sacrificing the faith and decisiveness of a particular group of believers. Pluralism only can allow such particularity and diversity, so long as it secures equal legal rights, mutual acceptance, and constructive moral and practical relations.

Accordingly, no human being can be condemned in matters of belief, unless it can be proved that such a person says different from what he or she really thinks. Only God can know what is beyond human perception. The Quran condemns hypocrisy, but only God who judges and requites it, and the believers - including the Prophet Muhammad himself - have to deal with hypocrites as believers if that is what they say they are, since their real intentions can be known only to God. In practice this theological stand must lead to a pluralistic society.

In Islamic Law:

The general conceptual and moral principles in Islam are regulated and sanctioned by the Islamic Law (Shari’a). Shari’a is widely identified with the religion of Islam even with its very essence, probably because many contemporary Islamic activists concentrate their efforts on establishing Islamic states governed by Shari’a. In presenting their case, they may not sufficiently clarify the general conceptual and moral principles of Islam as the essential foundation for Shari’a.

They may also not make a clear distinction between the various levels of Shari’a requirements - between acts that are obligatory or encouraged, on one side, and acts that are prohibited or discouraged, on the other. Various levels of human requirements within what Shari’a in its totality calls for or turns from have been figured out by the jurists who have characterized these three: “essential,” the “need” and the refinements or “complementary.” Such levels in Islamic law help to determine priorities in particular circumstances. Such ranging must be kept in mind when one considers any rule of the Shari’a in detail. Shari’a laws are meant to prevent harm and remove burdens and sufferings (e.g., 5:6, 22:78), not to cause or add to them. All Islamic law have to be implemented within the abilities of individuals and society, as is repeatedly stressed in the Quran (e.g., 2:233, 286, 6:152, 7:42, 23:62, 65:7). If necessary, a prohibition can even be temporarily suspended, so as to alleviate unbearable hardship (e.g., 2:173, 5:8, 6:119, 145, 16:115).

Securing public interest (maslaha), of which no specific rule is indicated in the divine sources of Shari’a but can be subsumed in its general goals and principle, provide important grounds for new laws that meet the ever-changing circumstances as a practice of ijtihad, since responding to new requirements that arise fulfills the justice and good-doing which are both commanded by God (16:90), as well as any particular goal of Shari’a that may be drawn from the Quran and the Prophet’s traditions (Sunna). Any organizational or legal experience can be adopted to an incorporated into the body of Islamic law to meet any new circumstance for which no particular rule can be found in the Quran and Sunna, so long as it does not contradict the principles of the Quran and Sunna and the goals of the Shari’a. A tradition of the Prophet states: “A believer has to search for wisdom, wherever the believer finds it he [or she] is the most deserving of it” (reported by Tirmidhi). Early Muslims benefited from the Byzantine and Persian administrative and financial precedents in their new universal state and as well as from Greek logic, and available science, mathematics, architecture, and arts in developing their civilization. Muslims could only make their own contribution to civilization after they had absorbed the accumulated contributions of others.

Legal Implications of Equal Human Dignity:

Since God conferred honor and dignity on all the “Children of Adam” (17:70) whatever their differences may be, Islamic law, in its sources in the Quran and Sunna as well as its juristic interpretations and contributions, has regulated the details of the various dimensions of this “honor and dignity.” Muslims have to guarantee freedom of faith and opinion for all people “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith” (2:256), and freedom of expressions: “and let no harm be done in any way to one who writes or witnesses; and if you do such a harm, it is an evil-doing committed by you. So remain conscious of God; He is reaching you and He has full knowledge of everything” (2:282). On the other had, everyone has the obligation to express and not hide what he or she knows to be right and believers in (2:283). The rights of both temporary gathering and permanent organization, whether religious, ethnic, or political, are secured as long as their goals and activities are legitimate and they “cooperate in furthering virtue and righteousness, not in furthering evil and violation of others’ rights” (5:2). It is the responsibility of all believers in God as individuals and groups to enjoin the doing of what is right and to forbid the doing of what is wrong (e.g., 3:104, 114) 3

The sanctity of the human body and personality and the privacy of one’s home and property and protected equally for all, whatever their differences may be. The early agreements and practices of Muslim rulers toward their non-Muslims subjects in the caliphate secured personal and property as well as religious practice, including processions with religious symbols and celebrations of festivals (for which many examples can be found in early sources such as, al-Baladhur [d. 892] and al-Tabari [d.922]). Some later Muslim rulers even participated in the celebration of the non-Muslim festivals in regions such as Egypt.

Human dignity is guaranteed for men and women, adults and children. Both males and females have equal rights to education, and it is the women’s right to choose the fields which is convenient for her; it cannot be imposed on her. Her rights and obligations in the family are perfectly in balance, just as are the balance in the rights and obligations of men. Men have the responsibility mainly for supporting the families for they are fee form the restrictions of pregnancy and delivery and caring for babies, which keep women at home for some time, but women have the right to pursue their education and have a career whenever it is convenient and desirable for them to do so. Family affairs must be run by mutual consultation and (2:233). A woman can lead prayers and can become a judge; she may rule against men, even those who are at the top of society or the state. Men and women are equal partners in the rights of responsibilities in society including politics.4 The Quran explicitly states that in a Muslim society “both males and females are in chare of [or responsible for] one another, enjoying the doing of what is right and forbidding the doing of what is wrong” (9:71).

3 See Fathi Osman, Muslim Women in the Family Society (Los Angeles: Islamic Center for Southern California, 1992)

Pluralism thus begins with a normal society of equal men and women, and the image of a Muslim society as male dominated is the result of social traditions that develop in a particular in a given time and place, and not of the rules of Islam as laid down in the Quran and Sunna. Children, whether boys or girls, have the same right to be raised and cared for physically, morally, and intellectually, and the family, the society, and the state are responsible for securing and defending those children’s rights. Human rights are secured for non-Muslim women equally with Muslims, since all are the “Children of Adam.” According to the Islamic principle governing non-Muslims in an Islamic state, they have the rights and the obligations that the Muslims have. The dignity and rights and responsibilities of the “Children of Adam” should be decided and protected in all the dimensions that are indicated explicitly or implicitly in the Quran and Sunna or that can be drawn from the general goals and principles of Shari’a or from its intellectual mechanisms of analogy, preference, consideration of social interest, and adaptation of experience according to jurisprudential requirements. The human mind has a constructive role in developing Islamic law, not only in textual interpretation but also in producing new laws that fulfill the goals and principles of Shari’a and secure human dignity and rights for all the “Children of Adam” through ever-changing circumstances may be.5

4 This rule is mentioned widely in juristic works, and the prominent Hanafi jurist al-Kasani (d. 1190) mentioned, in his voluminous work al-Bada’ic, a tradition of the Prophet stating that as soon as dhimmis agree to become under the Muslim promise of protection “dhimma” they had to be informed that they would have the rights and obligations of Muslims. (Cairo: 1327-8H., vol. 7p. 100). However, such a tradition cannot be reached in the well know collections of the Prophet’s traditions, but its meaning is accepted by jurists. It was reported that Caliph Ali ibn Talib said “They -- the dhimmis-agreed to the Muslim promise of protection in order that their possessions would be treated equally as Muslims’ possessions, and their lives would be the same as Muslims’ lives. Another prominent Hanafi jurist, al-Sarakhsi ( 1097), stated that the purpose of dhimmis agreement with the Muslims is to make their possessions and rights equal to those of Muslims (Sharh al-Siyar al-Kabir, Hyderabad, India: 1335H., vol. 3 p. 250). Also see Zaydan, Abdul-Karim, Ahkam al-Dhimmiyyin wa al-Must? Beirut: n.d., P. 61-62)

5 See Fathi Osman, Shari’ a in a Contemporary Society (Los Angeles, Calif.: Multi-Media Vera International, 1995).

Racial and Ethnic Differences:

The Quran states that racial and ethnic pluralism must be recognized, and its various components have to know each other well (30:22, 49:13), to pave the way for a constructive exchange of views and experiences and to cooperate in their efforts to develop humankind and the world in which they live together. There is no restriction on inter-marriage, whether between races, ethnicities, or social rank. Even marriage to a slave could be approved, and even encouraged, in certain cases (Quran 2:22, 4:25), a teaching that can lead to continuous improvement in the slave’s situation and probably to the gradual diminution of slavery. According to the Quran, especially the verse 4:25, there should be no sexual relations with a slave male or female out of wedlock, although in practice it was accepted, probably under the influence of sociocultural circumstance, but not by an explicit indication of the Quran.

The non-Arab peoples who were ruled by the Arabs were called mawali, an Arabic word which came to have the pejorative meaning of inferiority because the Umayyads excessive feeling of Arab’s ethnic superiority. In its origin the Arabic world mawla(sg), mawali (pl) could mean “a slave” and “an ally” both before and after Islam. The second Caliph ‘Umar arranged alliances or affiliations between each Arab tribe that participated in the conquests and a group in the conquered lands, so that the former would feel responsible for the latter and care for them;6 a form of tribal administration that the caliph could provide at the early stage of the Islamic universal state. Under the Abbasids, first the Persians, then the Turks became the ruling groups without public or juristic objection. Ibn Khaldun [d.1406], the outstanding historian and social philosopher, merely pointed out that any social group, whatever its ethnic origin, can rule if it is sufficiently numerous and powerful. Successive dynasties of rulers from the Arab tribe Quraysh, or from other tribes or ethnicities in Muslim history, he pointed out, had gained their positions owing to this power, which he called asabiyya.7

The Islamic requirements for being a leader in the state are knowledge, morality, and ability, whoever the person may be. Even a slave can be a judge if he fulfills the requirements for the position according to some juristic opinion.8 Islam recognizes the special relationship of the individual to the homeland as long as it does not lead to an excessive sense of superiority (Quran 9:24). The Quran says that the earth in its totality is created for all people who can move through it freely (e.g., 2:22, 273, 4:94, 97, 99-101, 17:70, 29:36, 67:15). Human feelings towards a certain land and its people are legitimate as representing a wider neighborhood and an extended family. Muslims have always been accustomed to relate themselves to a certain region or city, and some works in the Muslim heritage about the merits, (fada’il) of places, persons…etc. were compiled about a region or city. Territorial distinctiveness on religious grounds, however, is limited to sites where certain houses of worship were established, as the Inviolable House of Worship in Mecca and the House of Worship in Jerusalem (3:96-97, 17:1, 27:91).

6 Al-Baladuri Abu al-Hassan Ahmad ibn Yahya ibn Jabir, Futuh al-Baldan (Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Tijariyya, 1959), p.444.

7 Ibn Khaldun, Abd al-Rahman ibn-Muhammad, al-Muqaddima (Beirut: Bar al-Qalam, 1978), pp.131-135.

8 Ibn Hazam, Abd Muhammad ‘Ali, al-Muhalla, ed. Muhammad Khalil al Harras, (Cairo: al-Iman Press, n.d.), vol. 9 p.525

Religious Differences:

Non-Muslims in an Islamic state have to be treated by Muslims and their authorities with goodness and justice (60:8). Their human dignity and rights as “Children of Adam” should be secured, and they are protected by the Islamic law and state authorities. The document issued by the Prophet Muhammad upon his arrival at Medina, where he became the head of the earliest Islamic state in history after his migration from Mecca, indicated the main components of social structure in that city-state. In addition to the immigrants from Mecca (al-muhajirun) and the supporting tribes of Medina (al-ansar) the Jews are mentioned as a community that has an identity “distant from others.“ The Jews are shared with the Muslim Medinese people the responsibility of defending the new city-state. If the relationship between the Muslims and the Jews in Medina deteriorated for whatever reason, regardless of who was responsible for that deterioration, the principle of pluralism would remain morally and legally valid.

The permanent non-Muslim population of the Islamic state were called dhimmis, an Arabic word which means that they were promised protection in all their rights by the Muslim society and the state authorities. The Quran repeatedly stresses that human differences in faith should by no means cause a conflict; it is only transgression and belligerence that justifies a legitimate self-defense (e.g., 2:190, 60:9). Dhimmis, as previously emphasized have in general the same rights and obligations as Muslims [see note no. 4].

Non-Muslim’s who are temporary residents in an Islamic state also have their dignity and security guarded by Shari’a and the state authorities. Since their request for security while they live among Muslims and under their authorities is the reason for their being temporary residents, they are called by Muslim jurists musta’minun, an Arabic word which means “applicant for security.”

An agreement of mutual security between the Muslims and others in their countries throughout the world has to be assumed if it does not formally exist. It should be based on goodness and justice. A dialogue for a better understanding can be conducted, but when such a dialogue cannot be fair or constructive, it is better to leave it and avoid confrontation (29:46). The Quran says to Muhammad:

…and say: I believe in whatever book God has sent down, and I am commanded to be just in dealing with you. God is our Lord as well as your Lord. To us, shall be accounted our deeds and to you your deeds. Let there be no contention between us and you. God will bring us all together and with Him is all journeys’ end (42:15)

Historical sources (e.g., al-Baladhuri and al Tabari) indicated that non-Muslims paid a head tax (jizya) to the Muslim authorities in return for military protection, as they did not participate in defense, if they did then their jizya was dropped.9 The second Caliph ‘Umar agreed that a Christian tribe, Banu Taghlib would substitute the payment of jizya which they considered a sign of inferiority and subjection with the payment charity dues “sadaqa” in a certain way, while sadaqqa is term for the social welfare dues paid by Muslims.10 Any non-Muslim who lives in an Islamic state and becomes in need receives whatever is required from zakat funds.11 The Muslim leader Khalid ibn al-Walid indicated in his agreement with the people of Hira, who were mainly non-Muslim at the time, that anyone who become old or seriously ill and was thus unable to work, or lost his wealth, was exempted from the payment of jizya, and he and his family would be supported, by the state treasury.12 Non-Muslims should benefit from the economic, developmental, educational, sanitary, social, police and other state services equally with Muslims.

The testimony of a non-Muslim is accepted by the Quran as equal to that of a Muslim before the law. (5:106). The life of a non-Muslim has the same sanctity and protection that a Muslim one has. Once when a Mongal leader took both Muslims and non-Muslims captive in battle, he offered to release the Muslims only. The prominent jurist Ibn Taymiyya [d. 1327] was consulted, and he found that offer unacceptable, he ruled that Muslims had to right until both the Muslim and non-Muslim prisoners or war were released, since the non-Muslims lived under Muslim protection.13

9 Al-Baladhuri, Futugh al-Baldan, pp. 162, 164; al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Uman wa al-Muluk (Cairo: al Husayniyya Press, n.d.), vol. 4 p. 165.

10 Ibid., pp. 185-86

11 Abu Yusef, Yaqub ibn Ibrahim, al-Kharaj (Cairo: al-Salfiyya Press, 1397 H), p. 136.

12 Ibid., pp. 155-56

13 Al-’Azm, Rafiq, ‘Ashhar Mashahir al-Islam (Cairo: Dar al-Fikr al-Arabi, 1972-73), 1: 204-205, quoting Ibn Taymiyya, in al-Risala al-Qubrusiyya.

The Islamic state employs non-Muslims, and any non-Muslim citizen can be an “executive minister (wazir tanfidh)” of the state, according to al-Mawardi [d.1057];14 and historically this actually happened several times.

Muslim jurists, however, did not share the view against any discrimination in the Islamic state or in Muslims’ dealings with others in the world. They sometimes reflected a certain feeling of superiority known among various political powers in the Middle Ages, When they enjoyed material and cultural prominence in the world, the Muslim jurist understood and interpreted the legal sources form a center of power. Even they, however, seem more moderate and reasonable in many cases than their Roman predecessors or other thinkers in contemporary or later times.

As Muslims power declined, later jurists had become captives to the attitudes of their predecessors, since they had closed the door on any new intellectual contribution to the legal field (ijtihad), and were content merely to follow juristic precedent (taqlid). The glories of the past tempt the Muslim juristic mind from keeping up with change. Still, to their credit, they undoubtedly have always recognized pluralism in the Islamic state and in the world, and they have always secured and sanctioned in one way or another the rights of others, although they might not always seem ready to accept their full equality with themselves. The Quranic perspective, as well as many traditions of the Prophet, can well accommodate the recognition in the contemporary world of pluralism. The permanent goals and principles of Shari’a should certainly prevail over the human juristic views influenced by the historical circumstances of time and place.

Justice, genuine understanding, and recognition of other ethnicities and religions and constructive cooperation with them have to go beyond the borders of the Islamic state and become characteristic of its global relations. Muslims should know the others well, and do their best to develop mutual understanding and full and fair cooperation for the betterment of humankind and the world.

14 Al-Mawardi, Abu al-Hassan, Ali ibn Muhammad, al-Akham al-Sultaniyya (Cairo: Maktabat Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, 1973), p.27.

Difference of Opinion:

The Quran requires a general discussion and exchanged of views and serious consultation (Shura) about public concerns before a decision can be reached (3:159, 42:38). Difference of opinion, even dispute is expected (4:59). Muslims have to argue in the best way (16;125), logically and ethically, and their terms of reference should be the values and principles of the Quran and Sunna. Mutual consultation and consent between the spouses should govern family affairs (2:233), in order to develop culture and tradition in the whole society. Children have always to be advised and trained by their parents to express their views about what is right that should be followed and what is wrong that should be opposed (31:17). An expression of opinion is a moral and sometimes legal duty, not only a right (e.g., 2:283, 3:110). In such a climate of free opinion and expression, differences are inevitable, but they have to be handled conceptually and ethically, and not ignored or suppressed. In the end, a decision should be reached and carried out collectively and firmly (3:159).

Early Muslims had their differences even during the life of the prophet, and every view was fairly heard. When the Prophet died, a public meeting was held to discuss who should succeed him as the state leader. Differences emerged in that meeting, not only among individuals, but among groups of people, such as the Meccan immigrants (al-muhajirun), the Medinese supporters (al-ansar) and some of the Prophet’s family and their loyal followers. Each group tried to see that the new leader of the state came from among themselves. This is the earliest reference to the emergence of political groups or parties in the history of Islam, although not all these particular factions continued to exist. The Quran indicated that the duty of inviting people to what is good, enjoying the doing of what is right, and forbidding the doing of what is wrong can be practiced by a group (3:104). The right of temporary and permanent association and assembly is essential to make every view heard and to enable it to compete with other views and survive.

The early caliphs faced opposition of various kinds, from individuals and groups, spontaneous and organized, peaceful and militant. The first caliph Abu Bakr aroused opposition when he decided to use force against the tribes who refused to pay the social welfare dues zakat after the death of the prophet. He saw this as an act of defiance toward the central authority which could not be tolerated, in contract to ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, the Companion of the Prophet, who when he became caliph and his suggestions were opposed by some Companions had to defend himself through shura before gatherings of prominent Companions and even the public. His idea of introducing a land tax (kharaj), for instance, was strongly opposed since many through that the zakat ought to be the only tax collected by the Islamic authorities. The Caliph had to defend his case in front of and convince ten prominent arbiters.15 His successor, Caliph ‘Uthman, met opposition from eminent Companions of the Prophet, such as ‘Abd-Allah ibn Mas’ud, when he decided that one verified master version of the Quran had to be used by all Muslims, so that oral or written errors could be avoided.

All this opposition that the early Caliphs met was recorded, and no effort was made either by the authorities or by the historians to suppress it, even though it became violent, as for example the argument that ended with the murder of Caliph ‘Uthman.

‘Uthman’s successor, the Prophet’s cousin, Caliph ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, met violent opposition on several fronts. When he was pressured by many of his supporters to accept arbitration between himself and the defiant Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, the governor of Syria, some other supporters split and rebelled against him. They gathered in the mosque where the caliph was speaking, and interrupted him by shouting: “There is no ruling except God’s ruling.” The Caliph responded that what they said was right, but they were using their words for a wrong purpose. However, their opposition would not deprive them of their rights. The mosques would be always open to their gathering whatever opposition they might express, and the Caliph would never initiate the use of force against them. Their rights to the public revenues would always be against them. Their rights to the public revenues would always be maintained for them as long as hey fulfilled their public obligations.16 This is a pioneering statement of the opposition’s rights in the Islamic state. Ironically, violent rebels (khawarij) dominated and one of those whose rights of peaceful opposition the caliph had secured killed him on his way to the mosque!

However essential the principle of shura is in Islamic public law, the early Arab Muslims with their tribal structure and their sociocultural experiences, were unable to develop a mechanism to maintain its enforcement through certain institutions. It was left to the good faith of the ruler, and the vigilance and initiative, and courage of the ruled. Lacking the firm foundation of an institution, openly expressing views against the oppressive rulers could be risky. Individuals could lose even their lives against the ruling power, and violence could develop into chaos with lasting physical and moral wounds on all sides. Thus, after a short life of the shura in Medina under the early caliphs, hereditary dynasties were established by the Umayyads and the Abbasids, as well as by the autonomous or secessionist dynasties that split off from the caliphate. The areas left for differences of opinions were in theology and jurisprudence, since opinions there could be expressed peacefully and among limited audiences, mainly students. The theological views that could generate militancy were those of the Shi’a, believers in the right of the descendants of Caliph ’Ali to rule through their successive generations and the followers of the rebels against that caliph who opposed the established power (Khawarij). Many Shi’a became passive after several defeats, especially after the disappearance of their Twelfth Imam, the Khawarij faction did not survive. The rights of having and expressing a different opinion and the right of association to support it were almost forgotten, until they were revitalized in modern times by thinkers such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani [d.1897] and Muhammad ’Abduh [d.1905]. It was nonetheless a principle essential for maintaining pluralism in all avenues of human life. Unless differences of opinion are given equal chances of expression and are allowed to gather support through a legitimate mechanism and well-organized institution, how can their merits be fairly weighed and decided?

15 Abu Yusuf, al-Kharaj, pp. 26-28

16 Al-Mawardi, al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya, p. 58.

No Solution is Reached by Force:

The Quran teaches that the good son of Adam was the one who said to his brother: “If you stretch out you hand to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand to kill you. I fear God, the Lord of All-being” (5:21). The Islamic law does not allow the authorities to use force against those who express their opposition unless they are transgressors (49:9). Jurists explain such a transgression ought to be met by the use of force. Al-Mawardi [d.1058] the prominent shafi’I jurist, stipulates that no opposition group can be met with force unless they declare their disobedience and isolate themselves from the masses in a certain area. Criticizing or even insulting the ruler cannot justify imprisonment or other punishment, according to the prominent Hanafi Jurist al-sarakhsi [d. 1097], referring to the way Caliph ‘Ali dealt with the Khawariji in the mosque.17 As for a Muslim criticizing Islam or announcing abandonment of the faith, the Quran gives no punishment for apostasy in this life (2:217, 5:54, 47:25). Although it is dominant in the juristic heritage that apostasy from Islam should be punished by the death penalty, several historical and juristic statements support the view that the use of force is meant for group rebellion against the state and not for mere individual expression of opinion. The Prophet faced such circumstances during his last years, and the tradition attributed to him about killing the apostate can be understood as a reaction to those who rebelled against the Islamic state for tribal reasons. The Prophet refused to take any action against the hypocrites who might be undermining the security of the Muslim society and state from within, as long as no concrete evidence of rebellious actions could be adduced. Abu Bakr, who became caliph after the Prophet’s death, faced a tribal rebellion against the state which he decided to meet with force, but he did not deal with cases of individual abandonment of the faith in that way. Al-Mawardi deals with apostasy as something related to war and military actions conducted for the state interest (hurub al-masalih).18 Such a death penalty as a punishment for apostasy is not mentioned in the Quran and contradicts is clear principle “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith” (2:256). Freedom of belief cannot be genuinely secured unless abandoning the faith is unrestricted the same as embracing it is not imposed. However, any opinion has to be expressed in an objective, decent, and non-provocative manner, and should avoid malicious falsehood or scurrilous words or actions. What applies to Islam has to be generalized to any other faith. Criticism of human concepts or opinions must be objective and accurate, and criticism human behavior should be within legal and ethical limits; thus slander is prohibited and punished by Islamic Law (Quran 24: 4, 11-21). Non-Muslims should not be discriminated against or pressured just because some wrongdoing is allegedly attributed to some of them. This was stressed in two events in Cyprus and Mount Lebanon by distinguished jurists including Malik ibn Anas [d. 795]. Al-Awza’I [d. 774], another prominent jurist, told the Abbasid governor in a long letter, “These dhimmis are not slaves but free people protected by the Muslim authorities.”19

17 Ibid., pp. 58; al-Sarakhsi, al-Mabsut (Cairo: Sasi al-Maghrabi Press, n.d.). 10: 125-26.

18 Ibid., p. 55.

As for Muslim relations with others in the word, peace has to be maintained [2:208], and constructive exchange of experiences and cooperation ought to be developed for the benefit of all humankind. The Quran urges Muslims always to observe peace, even if deception is feared (8:61-62). Ethnic and religious differences enrich human knowledge and experience, and the cooperation of various people improve their outcome in both quantity and quality.

The use of force is only allowed to counter aggression and violence (2:190-194, 3:75, 22:39-40). Aggression should be repelled by Muslims, if it is committed against “monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in all of which God’s name is abundantly extolled” (22:40). Muslim should condemn and repel the aggression and violence committed by Muslims themselves until they revert to justice (49:9).

In addition, it is the moral and legal responsibility of Muslims to cooperate with all humankind is securing peace and justice. The Prophet praised a tribal alliance that had been made before Islam to defend anyone who suffered injustice, and said that whenever he might be invited, after his prophet hood, to enter into a sincere alliance for such a purpose, he would agree to join it. The whole world except areas that initiate fighting against the Muslims is juristically assumed to be explicitly or implicitly “ a land of concord.”20 The secession of Muslim land from the Islamic caliphate to enjoy autonomy is accepted by some jurists when certain geographic or political-military circumstances make such a split inevitable, although a universal unity has always been the ideal.21 Practically speaking there were for sometime three contemporary Islamic caliphates: the Abbasid with Baghdad as its capital, the Fatimid with Cairo as is capital, and the Umayyad in Muslim Spain (al-Andalus) with Cordova as its capital.

19 Al-Baladhuri, Futuh al-Buldan, pp. 159-62; 166-67; Ibn Sallam, Abu Ubayd al-Qasim, al-Amwal, Harras Muhammad Khalil ed. (Cairo: Dar al-Fikr, 1975), pp. 221-228.

20 For an elaboration on the legitimate use of force in Islam, see Fathi Osman, Jihad: A Legitimate Struggle for Human Rights (Los Angeles, Calif.: The Islamic Center of Southern California, 1991).

21 Al-Baghdadi, Abd al-Qahir ibn Tahir, Usul al-Din; al-Juwayni, Abd al-Malik ibn Abd Allah (Imam al-Haramayn), Ghiyath al-Umam, texts selected by Yusuf Ibish in Nusus al-Fikr al-Siyasi al-Islami (Beirut: Dar al-Tal’a, 1966), pp. 128, 279.

In Muslim Civilization:

Islamic civilization has reflected in its history the pluralism emphasized in the message of Islam and its laws. The society in any Muslim country consisted of Muslims and non-Muslims belonging to various ethnic groups. Muslims had their theological and juristic differences, and non-Muslims had their theological and religious and sects. The Islamic caliphate represented a universal state, its cities varied in patterns from Greco-Roman on the Mediterranean, to Arabian in Mecca and San’a, to Babylonian in Iraq and Persia, to that of the eastern Muslim lands.22

22 Adam Mez, The Renaissance of Islam, trans. Salhuddin Khuda Bukhsh and D.S. Megalith (London: Luzac & Co., 1937), p. 412

Within the Muslim Lands:

As Grunebaum has stated,

The social order of the Islamic world accommodated Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Both groups lived under the same basic conditions, and the eagerness to assert rank and power affected the Jew and the Christian as it did the Muslim. It would seem that outside the capital, the religious groups lived fairly apart, except for their cooperation in official business. The mores, and even the personal law of the religious communities, differed to a considerable extent, but the fundamental social values were held in common.23

Magians also gained the status of dhimmis, as did Christians and Jews, and later Hindus. Sabians were protected and treated equally. Each of the three first communities had their own communal leader who was called “the king” among the Jews and the Magians and his position was hereditary. The Christian patriarch, was merely as the Jacobite patriarch once stated “A spiritual leader.” These leaders represented their communities before the authorities. The Nestorian Catholics was elected by the church, but his election was confirmed by the Abbasid caliph who issued an investiture for his position, the same as it was done with the Jacobite patriarch. The Jewish leader in Baghdad has a title of Aramaic origin, “Resh Galutha, prince of captivity of exilic.” When he went to the caliph’s palace, he walked in a procession, at the head of which a herald called out: “Make way before our lord the son of David.” Under the Fatimids, the Jewish leader in Cairo was called “the prince of princes.”

Non-Muslims in the Muslim lands practiced their professions and economic activities freely. They were money changers, businessmen, landlords and physicians. Most money changers and dealers in Syria were Jewish, while most physicians and clerks were Christian. Other Jewish earned their living as tailors, dyers, shoemakers and other craftsmen. The Christian leader in Baghdad was the caliph’s physician, and many Jews held positions in his palace. The Fatimid Caliph al-Aziz had a Christian minister and appointed a Jew as a governor of Syria. That important financial, clerical and professional positions in the cities were held by Christians and Jews sometimes led to Muslims jealousy and sometimes to mass protests.

23 Gustave von Grunebaum, Medieval Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), p. 173

Non-Muslims enjoyed freedom of religious practices, and some caliphs might attend their precessions and festivals; as the Muslim people also often did. Public hospitals treated all who were sick equally. Non-Muslims did not have to live in special areas, although each community tended voluntarily to do so. They had their religious courts organized by their leaders, although they could always go to the Muslim judges if they preferred.24

This social pluralism in the Muslim lands did not mean that tension and troubles between Muslims and non-Muslims did not break out form time to time. Muslims who became jealous of a non-Muslim’s wealth or influence might cause trouble, as happens in multi-ethnic or multi-religious societies to this day. Muslim authorities could impose restrictions to appease Muslims or for other reasons. As Grunebaum wrote, “Individual rulers might harm the communities or some prominent members this happened regularly after a period of conspicuous prosperity and political ascendancy but the Muslims themselves were equally exposed to the arbitrary and unrestrained power of the monarch.” In spite if occasional social tension or official pressure, non-Muslims nevertheless as Grunebaum has also pointed out “obtained in every day life conditions of laissez faire.” “There was in the East during the Middle Ages less persecution of nonconformists than in the West, where with the exception of the Jews, sizable religious minorities were as good as nonexistent.” The conclusion he reached was that minorities in the world of Islam “bought their safety at the price of having more or less the status of no influence on taxation nor on foreign policy of the sovereign body to which they belonged. Within this framework, their economic life suffered comparatively little interference.”25 To be fair, most Muslims in the medieval East, and probably today, had little or no say in their taxation nor in other policies either.

Women could reach prominence in society as reporters of the Prophet’s traditions (hadith), scholars who taught at centers of learning, sufis, and physicians. Ibn Sa’d, the prominent Muslim biographer, mentioned many women among his teachers. Many others showed their refined taste and skill in weaving textiles and rugs and in fashion.

24 Mez, Renaissance of Islam, English Tran., pp.34-35, 43-44, 51-52, 418-24; Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (London: Macmillan, 1970) pp. 353-59.

25 Grunebaum, Medieval Islam, p. 180

Writes Grunebaum:

The problem of the relation between coexisting layers of a ‘universal’ and a ‘provincial’ civilization is by no means peculiar to the Islamic world; it is in fact typical of all areas culturally identified with a civilization of a supernational or ‘universal’ outreached. The self identification of a Muslim as ‘nationalistic’ Persian of the Samanid period would appear perfectly legitimate in as much as he would continue to accept the Islamic axioms of monistic theism and prophetism as well as the value judgment which dedicated the life of man to the service of God. It is only within this intellectual – emotional framework that he strives after the political independence of his people and the revival of the cultural glories of the Iranian past. Under the surface of the Muslim identification non end of changes may occur, but, they will hardly ever effect the identification as such.”26

In the Muslim literary heritage, there were works devoted to indicating the merits and advantages (fada’il) of certain Muslim countries and cities. Each ethnicity, region, or religious group contributed to the enriching diversity of Muslim civilization, while still maintaining its uniting influence and its homogeneity. The Arab superiority under the Umayyads disappeared after them, as non-Arabs especially the Persians and then the Turkics attained political and military power thought the Muslim lands.

26 Gustave von Grunebaum, “The Problem: Unity in Diversity,” in Unity and Variety in Muslim Civilization, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), pp. 17,19.

Though Participation in World Knowledge and Civilization:

Writes Atiya,

After the establishment of the Pax Arabica in their ‘empire,’ a period followed in which the Arabs began to except to reap the benefits of the superior civilizations now under their hegemony… When, therefore, we speak of the miracle of Arabic culture, it is essential for us to remember its predominantly synthetic character. This is seen not only in the wider fields of Greek and Persian influence, but equally in regard to the impact of the more localized elements such as Coptic, Syriac, Nestorian and Indian thought and art. Arab culture became the meeting place of the two great ancient streams of thought which had been developing throughout ancient times: the Greek, or if we go deeper into antiquity, the Egyptian and the Greek, on the one side, and the Sumerian, Persian and Indian on the other. The birth of Arab culture took place in the amazing synthesis of the intellectual achievements of the older nations. Yet, it would be an error to limit the Arab contribution to transmission of ancient knowledge. Arab scholars and commentators, showed themselves to be creative and attained extraordinary heights or originality.

The caliphs dispatched special commissions to Constantinople to copy important Greek manuscripts for the purpose of translating them into Arabic. Cases are noted where the ambassadors of the caliphate made stipulations in peace treaties with the Byzantines for ceding certain Greek manuscripts to the Arabs. It may be asserted that al-Ma’mum’s academy in Baghdad was the first real revival of the learned atmosphere of the Alexandrine long extinct Museon. In the course of approximately five centuries (from the latter decades of the eighth to the twelfth), the Arab mind reached incredible heights… (and) we can sense two apogees of Islamic culture, in the East and Baghdad and in the West at Cordava… (That culture had) its impact on world progress in the various departments of the humanities, of exact sciences, of astronomy, medicine, art, and architecture… The impact of Averroes (Ibn Rushd 1126-1198) on the principal thesis of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), in his immortal ‘sumana Thelogica’ seems clear from his discussion on the place of revelation between faith and reason, though St. Thomas deliberately criticized the Muslim thinker… Averroism has reached Aquinas directly through Latin translations... And indirectly through the Latin versions of the works of the great Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) Musa ibn Maymun who had written his original texts in Arabic. It is worthy of note that they Averroist philosophical interpretations, although condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities, were openly commended for student use by the professors of the University of Paris.”27

Such interaction between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious thinking in Western Europe in the Middle Ages is amazing. Ibn Rushd, in contribution, might be reacting to the words of St. John of Damascus (d. ea. 749), who lived in Syria and knew Arabic, regarding the freedom of the human will and against harsh predestinarianism, in spite of his polemics against Islam.28 As Grunebaum has properly emphasized.

Islam’s originally consists exactly in the capacity of adapting the alien inspiration to its needs, of re-creating in in its own garb, and of rejecting the inadaptable… To understand both the mechanics and the spirit of Islamic civilization, it is necessary not only to trace foreign borrowings but to appraise their effectiveness.29

The effectiveness and influence of Muslim civilization was not limited to its peoples, who might naturally be attached to its Islamized or Arabized garb, as Grunebaum has pointed out, but to others as well. Grunebaum himself wrote,

It is curious to observe how Arab prestige rose in Constantinople at the same time that the prestige of Greek science was reaching its peak in Baghdad … Muslim civilization attracted the non-Muslims far beyond the spell usually cast by ideas and habits of a dominating group on groups of lesser standing and influence…; those that did come in contact with Arab thought and Arab manner often responded with reluctant admiration and not infrequently found themselves imitating Muslims ways.30

27 Aziz S. Atiya, Crusade, Commerce and Culture (Bloomington: Indianan University Press, 1962), pp. 210-11, 214-15, 218-19. Atiya is an Eyptian Copt and a prominent historian of the Middle Ages, Especially in the filed of the Crusades.

28 Hitti , History of the Arab Peoples, pp. 245-46; for more details about the influence of John of Damascus on Islamic thinking, see Louis Gardet & George Anawati, Introduction de la Theoligie Musulmane, trans Sobhi al-Salih & Farid Jabr, Falsafat al-Fikr al-Dini bayna al-Islam wa al-Masihiyya (Beirut: Dar al-Ilm lil-Malayin, 2: 32-48)

29 Grunebaum, Medieval Islam, p. 324

Muslim libraries established in mosques, schools, universities and research centers were very rich. In addition, there were numerous private libraries. Through those remarkable institutions, heritage of various civilizations came together. The openness of Muslim civilization to others ideas and its pluralistic synthesis illustrates the point. (Works, including those of Bertrand Russell and George Sarton, may be helpful for those who are interested in such a debate.)

Muslim Sufis played an impressive tone of universality in their philosophy and in spreading their orders as well. Art and architecture represented a significant area for the Muslim openness and identity in the same time. “Their synthetic influence, together with such modifications as benefited the tenets of the new religion.,” states Atiya.

Produced in the end a composite style of art and architecture which became identified as Islamic. They availed themselves of the forms, materials, and technical resources of the varied countries under their sway; and they employed Syrian, Armenian, Egyptian, Byzantine, Iranian and Indian architects and artists, irrespective of religious differences… The result was a staggering achievement in the rise of magnificent cities, palaces, citadels, mosques, mausolea, bridges, aqueducts, and all manner of works of art and technology spreading out from Spain to Indian, and paradoxically bearing the marks of unity and diversity at one and the same time.”31

30 Ibid., pp. 54-56

31 Atiya, Crusade, Commerce and Culture, pp. 234-35

In World Commerce:

Commerce has been always an effective means of establishing interrelations in the world and its effects extend beyond material to cultural exchange. Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians; Arabs, Persians, and Indians among others, were all involved in extensive international trade in the Muslim lands. Baghdad, Basra, Siraf on the Persian Gulf, Cairo and Alexandria on the Mediterranean, Smarqand and Bukhara in Central Asia, and Cordova in al-Aldalus, flourished as commercial centers. Muslim traders reached India and China by sea; they traded in the Byzantine cosmopolitan capital Constantinople, with its mercantile wealth and commercial relations, their caravans went through Africa from Morocco and Sijelmasa. Muslim coins, the gold dinar and the silver dirham rivaled the Byzantine nomisma in international commerce. Recent excavations uncovered hoards of coins from Muslim lands in Russia, Finland, Scandinavia and the Balkans. Jewish merchants came from Provence in France to Muslim lands, and from there they extended their activities to India and China, connecting the West and the East and dealing in the commodities of both. Muslim trades spread through Africa and Asia where commercial centers flourished. Certain forms of money orders and credit documents, in addition to money exchange, facilitated these international transactions, and the traveling merchants were hosted in guest houses attached to local market.32 Travel accounts and geographical works contributed valuable information and knowledge of lands, routes and people which helped Muslim commercial activities and global cultural pluralism as well.33

Can the advantages of pluralism in the Muslim civilization of the past be revived in our era? To do so requires persistent efforts on both sides. The developed countries have to build up a new constructive relationship with the Muslim which can overcome the accumulated legacy of subordination and exploitation form the colonial era. The powerful representatives of this dominant civilization have to prove incontrovertibly in both thought and practices that a real change in attitude has been undergone in this global era from a single model of civilization to a multi-patterned one. Values and principles of material and moral development and progress must be universally accepted, though the approaches and forms can be different.

32 Hitti, History of the Arabs, pp. 343-46; Atiya, Crusade, Commerce and Culture, pp. 166-69: Mez, Renaissance of Islam, pp. 471-81

33 For a concise history of Musim Geographical treaties travel and books Nafis Ahmad, Muslim Contibutions to Geography, (Lahore: Ashraf Publications, n.d.), trans. With additional notes by: Fathi Osman, Juhud al-Muslimin fi al-Jughrafia (Cairo: Dar al-Qalam, 1960)

As for Muslims, they have to go beyond the glories of the past and the unrealistic and impossible static notion that it can be resuscitated, and beyond bitterness over Western aggression to a constructive and dynamic ‘view of the present and the need to maintain the everlasting values that will accrue from contemporary world progress.

Towards A Muslim Contribution to Contemporary Global Pluralism:

The Muslims have the moral and legal principles of pluralism available in their religious sources and heritages, and they have had a long history of practicing pluralism; they can therefore be a constructive and effective contributor to contemporary global pluralism. They have only to overcome a lack of confidence in themselves that derives from years of stagnation and their lack of trust in others that stems from years of humiliation and exploitation.

Relieved of there psychological burdens, they have to act positively both in their own countries and throughout the world. They cannot think merely in terms of repeating their past, for the contemporary would has gone through too radical a change to make repetition of the past either possible of effective. Muslim can obtain their inspiration from religious sources and historical experience, while pushing their actions much further toward contemporary pluralism.

To deal with ethnic differences in single country pluralism can provide the solid conceptual and psychological basis for legal equality in human rights and obligations. Various forms of decentralization, federation, and local autonomy can help as practical mechanisms for maintaining the harmony of the society and the unity and stability of the state. Selection and adjustment can be made according to the given geographic, ethnic, and economic circumstances.

When a certain ethnicity is distributed over more than one country instituting dual citizenship may provide a solution. The Washington Post on March 14, 1995, reported that Ireland’s prime minister John Bruton had suggested a recognition that “within one territory you can have two nationalities (Irish and British) of equal legitimacy, living and sharing the same space and same streets, regardless of to which state they formally belong.” Such a concept can also be considered in other places where ethnic conflict is occurring. However, a conviction and belief in pluralism must be present to secure a firm foundation for whatever solution is reached.

Full democracy is the only system that can secure human rights for each individual and group in a contemporary state whatever their inborn or acquired differences may be, and give them confidence in themselves and in their society. Constructive engagement in world relations to secure peace and justice as solid foundations for world order and to develop universal cooperation among equals for the material and moral development have to replace feelings of superiority over other human groups.

Freedom and equality of all citizens of the state and all human beings in the world represent the cornerstone of democracy. Because direct democracy is difficult or even impossible to achieve in any relatively large and populous country, representation is essential to it. Elections and political parities have provided the mechanism for the representations of the people in directing the main activities of the state, especially the executive and the legislative branches. Democracy stimulated difference, but organizes opposition through a multi-party system and a representative body.

Contrary to what was earlier believed, it is now apparent that even in a democracy the interference of the state in the economic field may sometimes be necessary when difficult problems, such as a severe recession or a serious social disparity or conflict arise. The New Deal in the United States conceived by President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression of the 1930’s was a turning point in this respect. Many Western democracies have since adopted the concept of the welfare state in varying degrees, especially when political parties with socialist leanings are in office.

Socioeconomic development preceded the establishment of democratic institutions in the West, while the reverse has occurred in many developing countries. This makes some coordination essential, since giving priority to economic development over democratization is not favored by many. Moreover, the developing countries may require a release of the individual from the constraints of a primary group (e.g., tribe, ethnic group) before being able to freely exercise democratic choice.

Democracy has at its foundation the support of human rights and responsibilities, individual and collective, political and socioeconomic, intellectual and spiritual, national and universal. Moral relativism or indifference undermines democratic practice. In addition, democracy has to be universal for all humankind: the rich and the poor, the developed and the developing. Exporting tobacco to other countries without a printed warning about the dangers it poses to health on its label, or exporting food, medicine, chemicals or other products to other countries with no expiration date on them, or ignoring the safety precautions or the harm to the environment of certain industries so long as they are established in other countries, and dumping nuclear waste in the open seas, which represent a common property of all humanity, all such actions are not only undemocratic but anti-democratic.

There is no framework available for securing equal rights and responsibilities for all in a contemporary pluralistic society better than a democracy, however, and there is no other framework that makes self-criticism and self-correction possible within the system itself while it is being practiced.

Islam provides general principles for a way of life for the individual, the family, the society, the state, and the world to secure peace, stability, justice, and fruitful relations, but it does not prescribe detailed practical programs, since such detail have to change to fit changes in the human circumstances in different times and places. It allows extensive room for the creativity of the human mind to cope with those changes as they appear, for the human mind is also God’s gift which has to be fully used and developed and should not be restricted or crippled by the other gift of God, which is His guiding message.

Meanwhile, Islam can be presented to, and dealt with by, a non-Muslim in contemporary pluralism as an ideology, although intellectual understanding naturally does not provide the same moral depth as spiritual conviction and religious commitment, which seeks the acceptance of the Absolute Supreme Being and the reward of eternity. However, freedom and equality for all human beings are, for believers in God, definite consequences of belief in the One who is the only distinct and Supreme Being (e.g., Quran 42:11, 59:23, 112:4). All human beings are equally God’s creatures, and each is only subject to God’s physical and moral laws and equal to any other human being. Caliph ‘Umar said to the Muslim governor of Egypt, whose son had beaten an Egyptian child who had overtaken him in a race: “Since when did you impose slavery on human beings while their mothers bore them free!”

State service (e.g., building and maintaining roads, canals, bridges, markets) and social security were offered by the early caliphate to all people, whatever their sex, ethnicity, or faith might be. The needy among the non-Muslim were supported by the public treasury from zakat revenues. Modern democracy likewise is concerned with socioeconomic justice and offers its services and care to all citizens, while it considers the special circumstances and needs of the deprived. The religious dimension in the Islamic plan of reform does no mean establishing a theocracy. There is no clergy in Islam; any human being who knows the language and the style can understand and interpret God’s message, and no supernatural power can be required or claimed for such work. The Islamic way of life is not totalitarian. It is not overloaded with details that dominate every moment or instruct every human thought and move, nor has it ever claimed to provide a definite prescription for every specific problem that may emerge in any time or place. The ruling authorities cannot monopolize the interpretation f divine guidance or offer new solutions for emerging problems without involving the people. Every adult is eligible to participate in this process.

Shura and Democracy:

Shura means a serious and effective participation is making a decision, and the practices of the Prophet proved that it cannot be merely a formal or ceremonial exercise. The Muslim people and those “who are entrusted with authority form among them by them” (Quran 4:59) are bound by the goals and general principles of the Islamic law that secure human dignity and that sustain and develop all human beings; their life, families and children, minds, freedom of faith, and their private or public possessions. Those who are entrusted with authority by the people are always referred to in the Quran in the plural, which suggests that they form organizational bodies and are not considered as individuals (Quran 4:59, 83)

Differences may naturally emerge within these bodies which are entrusted with authority, or between them and the people or groups among them. The parties at variance are referred to the guidance of God and the Conveyor of His message which may be presented and decided in the most appropriate way, whenever this becomes necessary, by a supreme court.

Democratic mechanisms can provide the practical ways for implementing shura. Islam urges Muslims to adopt all human wisdom, as the Prophet’s tradition reported by Tirmidhi indicates. Among the fundamentals of jurisprudence is a valuable right that states: “Whenever there is a certain means that can lead only to the fulfillment of an obligation, the practice of such a means becomes an obligation in itself.” The outstanding jurist Ibn al-Qayyim has stated that the ways of reaching a given goal are not necessarily limited to what the Quran and Sunna may indicated, and “whenever justice comes forth be any way, there God’s law and command and good acceptance.”34

34 Ibn Qayyim, al Jawziyya, Abu Abd-Allah Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, I’lam al-Muwaqqi’in, (Cairo: al-Myniiriyya Press, n.d.), 4:267-69


The head of a contemporary Muslim state can be elected directly be the people or by the parliamentary representatives of the people, or can be nominated by those representatives as a candidate for or against whom the public then votes. Any procedure can be followed, depending on its merits and the given circumstances, and Islam can accept any that is in the interest of the people. The first four caliphs were chosen in different ways, but in the end they went to the public in the mosque to obtain their approval in the form of bay’a. Bay’a is a mutual pledge from the ruler to follow Shari’a and earn the public’s approval and support through his service, and form the people to support the ruler and advise him.35 In a contemporary democratic procedure, the voting of the electorate and the oath made by the elected head of state take s the place of the original bay’a.

When several candidates contest a position, the public choice is determined by the majority of votes, another democratic mechanism. Even when one candidate for the position is nominated by the parliament or decides to be a candidate, a majority of voters may be required to elect the candidate.

The Quran frequently states most people lack knowledge or moral commitment and may fail to make the right decision (e.g., Quran 5:49, 6:116, 7:187, 10:60, 92, 11:17, 12:40, 68, 103, 13:1, 16:38, 17:89, 25:50, 30:6, 8, 30, 34:28, 36, 37:71, 40:57, 59, 61, 45:26). But, the Quran never teaches that a reliance on a few persons necessarily yields perfect decisions. A majority can make mistakes, but their mistakes are most likely fewer than the mistakes of one of a few. Making mistakes is human; all that is required from human beings is that they make a serious effort to find out what is right and use accumulated knowledge and experience to avoid error were possible. Cooperation in reaching these objectives saves time and energy, and it provides a reasonable chance for mutual correction and for a sensible revision of any decision that proves wrong when in practice. Many precedents can be found in the life of the Prophet and the early caliphs about decisions made according to the majority; even they differed from the leader’s views. When Caliph ‘Umar selected six candidates for the caliphate to succeed him after he was stabbed, he instructed them to follow the caliphate from among themselves who would receive the majority of votes. A Prophet’s tradition urges that individual to yield to greatest number (al-sawad al-a’zam) when there is a serious split (reported by Ibn Hanbal and Ibn Majah).

35 Abu Ya’la Muhammad ibn al-Husayn al-Mutamad, text published in”Ibish ibid, 1966), p. 224.

One may ask: “Isn’t following the Quran and Sunna sufficient and the safest way?” To which one can easily answer, the Quran and Sunna provide the general laws, but the human mind is entrusted with the details sand specifics for coping with the unceasing changes in human society. Human beings know what may be beneficial and fair for a given time and place, and the more people involved in such collective thinking and discretion, the fewer the mistakes made. Terms of reference and guidelines, in addition to procedural and ethical safeguards, reduce human error.

The election of the representatives of a people to a parliamentary body is also based on winning a majority or voters. If the principles of “one person one vote” fail to achieve a fair representation for an ethnic or religious minority or of women, each group can be allotted a certain number of seats in the parliament proportional to their numbers, which may be contested in broader constituencies or in the country as a whole. The parliament is responsible for legislation, as well as for guarding the interest of executive body. Decisions of the parliament and its committees are made by the majority of the voting members. A public referendum on matters of special importance may be decided by the legislature or by a given number of voters through an established procedure. Decisions of the executive body or any of its department or branches are also determined by a majority of voting members.

Voting can be means for choosing the governing boards for workers’ unions, professional and student associations, philanthropic and other organizations, as well as for making decisions on their boards. There is no better way of learning the public’s views and interests than through a vote, in spite of its limitations or abuses. The same is true even of technical decisions among professionals, in schools, factories, companies, or other bodies, and even of reaching decisions in a court of several judges or judge and jury.

The argument that voting means giving the same value to the judgment of the most knowledgeable person and that of the most ignorant one can be answered by saying that the common interest of the people can be determined by any individual of ordinary civic abilities and experience. Campaigns for candidates and laws and the mass media provide valuable information for a serious voter. The judgment of an older experienced person who is uneducated may be more reasonable than that of a young university gradate.

As women are equal to men in their social rights and responsibilities according to the Quran (9:71), and a woman can, according to prominent jurists, be a judge, she is naturally eligible to vote. The Qur’anic verse that makes a male witness equal to two female witnesses for documenting a credit contract is restricted to the special case where a women might not be familiar with such a transacting and its legal requirements “so that if one of them should make a mistake, the other could remind her” (2:282). It is obvious from the Qur’anic text, from the historical context, and from the jurisprudential principle that “legal rule follows its reason: if the reason continues to exists, the legal rule continues to exists; and if the reason ceases to exist, the legal rule follows,” that the verse is not meant to apply to an educated business woman, nor to areas of common interest which do not require specific expertise or knowledge.

Non-Muslims enjoy equal human rights and dignity and are eligible for voting the same as Muslims as soon as they reach the required age and if they have no mental disability. A Muslim majority should have no misgiving about a non-Muslim voting, since votes are taken regarding matters related to common sense, not to a particular faith. In addition, voting would be proportional to the minority population and cannot hurt majority interests or beliefs. The rights to vote should be equally shared by all ethnicities, whether Muslims or not.

Elections require several candidates to choose from, whether such a choice is for the parliament of for a board of a union, association or other organization. Some Muslims against argue such a procedure citing a Prophet’s tradition that disqualifies anyone who asks for a public position (as reported by Ibn Hanbal, al-Bakhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, and al-Nasa’i). According to commentators and jurists, this can be interpreted as a warning against asking for a public position for personal benefit, without considering the responsibilities of the office or the ability of the seeker. Only someone fully aware of what the position entails and having the abilities of fulfill those tasks can seek office by indicating his or her credentials for it, as was done by the Prophets Yusuf (Joseph) and Sulayman (Solomon) (12:55, 38:35). Caliph Umar nominated six candidates, from which one had to be chosen by the majority as a candidate for the caliphate. It goes without saying, that presenting the candidate’s merits and qualifications for the position and criticizing others should follow legal and ethical principles. The requirements for a candidate and what may bar have to be decided in the light of social ideals and circumstances.

Women can be members of parliament, ministers in the government, judges, and military and police officers, according to their merits and credentials, since they share with men the right and responsibility to do what is right and avoid doing what is wrong (9:71). The Quran mentions in Queen of Sheba (27:28-44), with no indication of Qur’anic disapproval of a female head of state. On the contrary, the Quran describes her strong personality an capable leadership. She did not ignore the leading persons in her country when making important decisions, and they respected her wisdom and leadership. The tradition that says the Prophet expected a Persian failure because they had a queen (reported by Ibn Hanbal, al-Bukhari, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa’i) was informative not legislative, and should not be taken out of the context. However, nothing in the tradition indicated that it represented a law of God that must be observed by Muslims; it could simply have been a personal view. The Prophet expressed an opinion that was not meant to be binding as a part of God’s teachings.

Non-Muslims have the rights and the duty to occupy positions in the legislature, the government, and administration, the judiciary, and the military forces. A modern state is ruled by institutions not by individuals, and non-Muslims naturally work within these bodies. The non-Muslims is equal to a Muslim as a witness (5:106), and can be a minister with executive power (wazir tanfidh), according to al-Mawardi, but not a plenipotentiary minister (wazir tafwid) with absolute power. There were non-Muslims ministers an top officials in medieval Muslim states such as Egypt and Andalusia. No single person, even the head of the state, should have absolute power in a modern state, the non-Muslim judge has to apply the same state code of laws, whatever his or her beliefs may be. A non-Muslim can also be included with Muslim judges in a multi-judge court. Areas that are related or close to the faith such as family matters, inheritance, and charity endowments (aqaf), can be assigned to a judge of the litigant’s own faith.

The Multi-party System, The Opposition:

Political parties are essential for democracy, as they help people establish their views about persons and policies. The individual can find himself or herself helpless to oppose those who enjoy governmental authority, especially in a modern state where advanced technology provides a formidable tool for suppressing opponents and influencing public opinion. The multi-party system has proved to be the most if not the only democratic formula, since the one-party system has never produced any real or effective opposition, and such opposition has rarely been able to grow outside the party system through individuals contacting masses directly.

The Quran urges that groups be found to enjoin the doing of what is rights and to forbid of what is wrong (3:104). The word umma in the Quran does not always mean the whole universal body of believers, as if often assumed, but it can merely mean a group of people (e.g., 3:113, 5:66, 6:108, 7:38, 159, 164, 28:23), especially when the word is connected with the preposition “from,” as in the above-mentioned verse 3:104: “And let there be from among you a group (umma) that calls to good and enjoins the doing of what is rights.” The Arabic word “umma” can be used for groups of different sizes, and it is sometimes used in the Quran for the whole Muslim community (e.g., 3:110, 2:113, 21:92, 23:52), but is also used for limited groups (e.g., 5:66, 7:159, 164, 28:23), or even for one leading person who has his followers (16:120).

This does not deny the fundamental unity of the people, since political differences are human and inevitable and should not affect public unity if they are properly handled in an objective and ethical way. As politics often represents an area of human discretion (ijtihad), the Quran assumes that Muslims may face differences and even disputes (4:59), and they are guided to settle them conceptually and morally according to their terms of the Quran and Sunna. Various legitimate human approaches to interpret the divine texts may naturally emerge.

The early Muslims had their conceptual differences from time to time, beginning with the argument about who should become leader after the Prophet’s death. Their political differences were represented in certain groups which openly expressed their views in a public meeting at “al-Saqifa,” a spacious area that had a sort of roof (saqf in Arabic) among the homes of the clan Banu Sa’ida in Medina which was apparently allocated for tribal gatherings. Later, Muslims have had their several theological groups (e.g., the Ahl al-Sunna, al-Shi’a, al-Khawarij) with different political ideas and juristic schools. These differences should not in any way damage public unity.

Accordingly, Muslims can form several Islamic political parties, all of them committed to Islam, but with different concepts or different ways in carrying out their legitimate political activities, or they may have different programs of reform when they rule. Although establishing parties on ethnic grounds or out of personal or family considerations ought not be encouraged from the Islamic point of view. It may be acceptable in given circumstances, however, as a fact of life.

Non-Muslims and secularists whether they are Muslims or not can also have their own political parties to present their views, defend their interests, and guard the human rights and dignity of all the children of Adam, as the Quran teaches. The Quran indicates that all the People of the Book are responsible for enjoining the doing of what is right and forbidding the doing of what is wrong (3:114, 5:78-79).

Women can join any party or form their own. Political fronts and alliances may involve Islamic parities and others in certain circumstances or for certain issues, and various parties can join in coalitions to a government. Diversity in political thinking and practice, against a background of unity, is a fundamental organizational requirement to achieve pluralism. An unreasonable number of parties can reduce the efficiency an effectiveness of governance, however, and create difficulties in gaining a majority in the parliament, in forming a coalition to secure such a majority, when no single party can secure it, and in presenting a strong opposition. This is a challenge for the multi-party system which some democracies face. It should be handled through political prudence and moral responsibility rather than by any legal restrictions arbitrarily decided or executed.

An opposition is indispensable to a democratic system, and should not raise any suspicion in the Muslim mind. It is needed to scrutinize the practices of the government and to provide an alternative if the party in power loses the confidence of the people. The opposition does not oppose for the sake of mere opposition; it should join in a united front during times of national crisis, and it should praise the government when it does something commendable. Under the early caliphs, opposing the views were known and recorded. They have to be put forth even if they cannot prevail, for their validity and value may later be realized.

The Legislative Function:

Some Muslims argue that since God is the Lawgiver, there should be no legislative body in an Islamic state. In fact, the legislature specifies and establishes the details of the required laws; the Quran and the Sunna provide only general principles and rules. In the case of the Quran and Sunna, different interpretations and jurisprudential views might appear regarding a certain text because of its language or its relation to other relevant texts. It is essential that a certain interpretation or jurisprudential view should be adopted by the state as a law, and what this is to be has to be decided by the legislature, so that the courts are not left to enforce in consisted rules, according to the discretion of each different judge, something about which the well-known writer Ibn al-Muqaffa’ complained in his time.

What is allowed by the Islamic law al-mubah is extensive, and such a limitless number of allowed acts ought to be organized in a certain way: making them mandatory, or forbidden, or optional according to changing circumstances in different times and places. The public interest has also to introduce new laws not specified in the Quran and Sunna, which may be needed under new and different times or places. They must not contradict any other rule in the divine sources, nor the general goals and principles of Shari’a. Many laws required in a modern state to regulate traffic, irrigation, construction, transportation, roads, industry, currency, importing and exporting, public health, education, etc; they have only to be provided according to considerations of public interest or in the light of the general goals and principles of Shari’a. No text in the Quran or the Sunna deals specially with all the emerging human needs until the end of this life. Even the Prophet expected that some cases that may come before a judge would not find a specific solution in the Quran or Sunna, and the judge would then have to use his own discretion and judgment (ijtihad), which is naturally enlightened by the spirit of Shari’a and its general goals and principles. Such a juristic or judicial discretion (ijtihad), may have to be generalized and codified as state law and not left to the individual discretion of the judiciary.

Changing circumstances also influence understanding of a legal text and develop new needs that require new legislation. Applying the goals and general principles of Islamic law to changing the social needs has been called in the Islamic law “the conduct of state policies according to Shari’a (al-siyasa al-shari’iyya). The prominent jurist Ibn al-Qayyim stated that wherever a sign of justice appears there is God’s law and command and good acceptance, since God only sent the conveyors of His messages and brought down His books to secure justice in people’s dealings with one another, and thus any procedure that secures justice should be followed. This outstanding jurist states, “We do not see that a just policy can be different from the comprehensive Shari’a, but it is merely a part of it… since if it is just, it is inseparable from Shari’a.”36

A legislature, then, is a necessary and legitimate institution for a modern Islamic state, and it allows all components of the sociocultural and political pluralism to participate in making state laws. Democracy works within the dominant sociocultural circumstance, and the people will not accept a decision against their beliefs, as long as they are committed to them. As democracies assume that natural law of social contract of human rights supersede any human legislation, a modern Islamic state may always assume in general and with no need for explicit repetition in every case that God’s guidance has supremacy over any legislation. This can be secured by the legal experts in the legislature and the administration, and through educational institutions and the information services of the media, in addition to judicial control of the Supreme Court.

36 See above note n. 34.

Institutional and Public Supervision:

The legislature also watches over the practices of the executive body, look into any complaint or failure, and introduces any necessary legislation for reform. The principle of “checks and balances” organizes state powers and guards the public interest through an organizational and ethical climate of cooperation.

The Quran requires that even God’s guidance has to be clarified to people before one becomes responsible for any deliberate deviation from it (e.g., 4:115, 47:25, 33). Those from among the people who are entrusted with authority by the people have to respond to people’s questions about their practices, while the people have the responsibility to ask the authorities about any of their common concerns and worries (4:86). Mass communication has to be secured, together with its freedom in fulfilling its responsibilities to inform. Legal and ethical safeguards ought not to hinder creativity. If the mass media are within the public sectors and controlled in any way by the government, political parties and candidates for public office should be given equal time to address the voters.

The Supreme Court has judicial control over the legislature and executive in order to secure Shari’a goals and principles and the constitutional provisions and framework (4:59). It and the whole judiciary as well should be independent and protected against any interference or pressure. Courts provide the strongest protection for the rights of the individual and the different components of sociocultural and political pluralism against any violation of their rights, whether from any one against the other, or from the state authorities.

Fears Unjustified:

It is obvious, then, that the modern democratic process can provide a practical mechanism for securing human rights and dignity that are granted by God to all the children of Adam, and for implementing the Shura and actualizing the goals and general principles of Shari’a. Some constitutional clarification about the people’s commitment to God’s guidance and the supremacy of His laws can be made. Serious juristic efforts are needed to distinguish between what is divine and permanently binding and what is human and changeable in the accumulated Islamic legal heritage, and a contemporary Islamic jurisprudence has to be developed that can benefit from the heritage while observing contemporary realities and needs. Among them, pluralism and democracy ought to be major concerns.

Fears of contradiction between human legislations and God’s guidance assume that the majority of Muslim voters have elected a parliamentary majority with is against Islam, that the media and supreme court are collaborating with it, and that such a parliamentary majority will continue forever! The people can always exercise their rights at every election and initiate any legislation through a public referendum when this can be allowed and regulated, and may even withdraw their confidence from any representative through a referendum, also according to a certain procedure. Pitting democracy against Islam is unfair to both, and is very awkward for the non-Muslim components of the pluralistic society as well as for the Muslim secularists or Muslims who may believe that the agenda of an Islamic party or of several Islamic parties is neither clear nor convincing, or its members not capable of running the country. It should not be assumed that Muslims who criticize an Islamic party or leader have turned their backs on Islam, or even on Islamic law and the Islamic state. They have no confidence in the human beings who are raising these slogans and in their capabilities and practices. Non-Muslims may be convinced that Islam provides moral and legal safeguards for justice and equal rights, as the Islamic faith deepens the Muslim commitment to human dignity for al the children of Adam. But they are absolutely justified in expressing their lack of confidence in a political party or a leader. The Muslim have seriously to consider the feeling of the non-Muslim minorities in their countries and secure for them what they require for Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries. Criticism of democracy has actually appeared among those who enjoy its fruits an sincerely wish it more fulfillment and less shortcomings and pitfalls. This should add to its merits. However, democracy does not provide one pattern. A procedural variety exists in genuine democracies throughout the world, from Britain to France to the United States and others. Muslims can always consider their circumstances and needs in designing their democratic system, while they maintain its essentials. They can always benefit from any universal development towards justice, and they should contribute to it through their own experience the best they can. They may develop in their own pattern or brand, which enriches the universal political thinking and practice. Just repeating the self-criticism off the democrats does not provide a better institutionalization of the general Qur’anic principle of “Shura.” They have to benefit from the best available, until they become capable of developing a better alternative for themselves, which would enrich the universal experience as well. If it happens by chance that a Muslim majority in a free election does not want an Islamic state, how can the Muslim conscience accept that such a state may be imposed through undemocratic and oppressive measures?

Democracy protects Islam and Muslims, as well as other components of national and global pluralism, from aggression from above or from below. Opening up democratic channels of expression and assembly prevents social explosions, and would demonstrate that Islam and true Muslims are always represented by reason, and common sense, and moral behavior.

Global Pluralism:

The amazing development of modern technology is transportation and mass communications has made the world if not the universe a village; The conviction of any particular faith that it alone represents the truth, will be only judged by God, according to the intentions and abilities of every human being that He only knows and thus He only can judge. In this world all human beings are equal and have recognize to and know well the others and to cooperate altogether in the various fields on an equal basis. Notions of glory and religious superiority as reflected consciously or unconsciously through the Muslim intellectual heritage might sometimes color the clear and penetrating message of the dignity of all human beings conveyed in the Quran. Besides, Muslims must have confidence in themselves and should not suffer forever from times of inferiority and subjection however bitter their memories may be. Their potential for intellectual and material development provides every opportunity for catching up and taking their rightful place in the contemporary world.

Muslim trade once extended from Spain to China and from Scandinavia to Sub-Saharan Africa; it can be revived. The exchange of knowledge reflected in Muslim translations of various cultural heritages and their own adaptations and creations, and in their contributions to geography and travel literature leaves no place for a constricted notion that divides the world into Dar al-Islam and an “other” part of the world, since Muslims have always dealt in their material and intellectual interactions with the known world in its totality. Contemporary technology has simply made that world and its huge variety of material and intellectual resources more approachable and more easily exchanged.

Muslims have to prove through their thinking and actions that they can continue and advance in range and quality their tradition of pluralism and globalism. They can prove wrong or at least overly pessimistic Bernard Lewis’s views expressed in the Nineteenth Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities or “Western Civilization: View from the East,” and of Samuel P. Huntington in his article on “The Clash of Civilizations” in Foreign Affairs (Summer 1993). Both expended a great deal of energy analyzing an infinite complex of accumulated contradictions between Islam and the West. The Economist rightfully stated about Huntington’s suggested clash,

Past enmities and present bad temper need not be the premises of syllogism that is bound to end: therefore, new war between Islam and the West. These two civilizations have more in common with each other, than either has with the Confucian world or the Hindu one or most of the rest of the Huntington culture collection. The proposition of this survey is that there is no separable reason why Muslims and westerners cannot live peaceably with each other. It will take sensible handling by both sides, and some re-examination by both of their present ideas about the world. In particular, Muslim will need to find a way of adjusting their habits in three specific requirements of modern life ( i.e. coping with a modern economy, accepting the idea of sexual equality, the learning to absorb the principle of democracy). There is no fatal obstacle to this; nothing in the essentials of either civilization to make harmony impossible … The West also has a contribution to make. One part is a matter of being clear eyed about what Europe and America wish to achieve in their relations with Islam. The other is a possible change in the West’s own view of life, a change that would broaden the shared platform of ideas on which these two civilization stand.37

Muslims in the West have encountered a “wider Western view of life” in their dialogue with Christians and Jews. I believe, after the experience of decades of such a dialogue, that Christians and Jews may also realize that Muslim-educated people in the mainstream are more realistic, moderate, and flexible than they might have through. A bridge between Muslims and the West has gradually been built. Reasonable Muslims, Christians, and Jews especially in America, since the massive immigration of educated Muslims in the 1960s, have broadened this bridge, as have the numerous contacts between Western and Muslim businessmen and professionals. Unfortunately, these contacts have not been reflected in policy making on both sides. But attempts at interfaith dialogues have recently multiplied in Europe and America among the clergy, laymen, civil leaders, and scholars. Constructive writings by Christian authors have recently been published in Europe and America. Pope John Paul II expressed his feelings about Islam in “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” edited by Vittorio Messori. A book carrying the imprint of the World Council of Churches by Stuart Brown, The Nearest in Affection: Towards a Christian Understanding of Islam, was published in Geneva.

37 “The Fundamental Fear: Islam and the West,” a survey in The Economist, 6 August 1994.

The Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne, who is the patron of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, gave a lecture at Oxford University on October 27, 1993, which we hope will influence as many Western leaders as possible. The Prince said,

Those days of conquest are over. But even now, our common attitude to Islam suffers because the way we understand it has been hijacked by the extreme and the superficial… Our judgment of Islam has been grossly distorted by the extremes to be the norm. That is a serious mistake. It is like judging the quality of life in Britain by the existence of murder and rape, child abuse and drug addiction. The extremes exist and they must be dealt with. But, when used as a basis to judge a society, they lead to distortion and unfairness… We should also distinguish Islam from the customs of some Islamic states… Remember, if you will, that Islamic countries like Turkey, Egypt and Syria gave women the vote as early as Europe did its women, and much earlier than in Switzerland! In those countries women have long enjoyed equal pay, and the opportunity to play a full working role in their societies. The rights of Muslim women to property and inheritance, to some protection if divorced, and to the conducting of business, were rights prescribed by the Quran fourteen hundred years ago.

We, in the West need also to understand the Islamic world’s view of us… the extent to which many people in the Islamic world genuinely fear our own Western materialism and mass culture as a deadly challenge to their Islamic culture and way of life … We fall into the trap of dreadful arrogance if we confuse ‘modernity’ in other countries with their becoming like us … We need to be careful of that emotive label ‘fundamentalism,’ and distinguish, as Muslims do, between revivalists, who choose to take the practice of their religion most devoutly, and fanatics or extremists. Extremism is no more the monopoly of Islam than it is the monopoly of other religions, including Christianity … Perhaps the fear of Islamic revivalism which colored the 1980s is now beginning to give way in the West to an understanding of the genuine spiritual forces behind this groundswell … Islam can teach us today a way of understanding and living in the world which Christianity itself if the poorer for having lost. At the heart of Islam is it preservation of an integral view of the universe… The West gradually lost this integrated vision of the world with Copernicus and Descartes and the coming of the scientific revolution. A comprehensive philosophy of nature is no longer part of everyday beliefs… The Islamic and Western worlds share problems common to us all: how we adapt to change in our societies, how we help young people who feel alienated from their parents or their society’s values, how we deal with AIDS, drugs and the disintegration of the family… We have to solve these threats to our communities and our lives together.38

In the same direction, Anthony Lake, a national security adviser in the United States, in a recent speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said:

Some have suggested that in the post-cold war world, there is a fundamental divide putting Western liberal democratic traditions against ostensibly opposing civilizations based on Islam and other religious traditions…In the quest for a new ideology to rally against, fundamentalism would replace communism as the West’s designated threat. We strongly disagrees. In the Middle East, as throughout the world, there is indeed a fundamental divide, but the fault line runs not between oppression and responsive governments, between isolation and openness, and between moderation and extremism, and it knows no distinction by race or by creed… This is as true in the Middle East and the Muslim world as it is elsewhere. Our foe is oppression and extremism, whether in religious or secular guise…We also reject the notion that a renewal emphasis on traditional values in the Islamic world must inevitably conflict with the West or with democratic principles. These values of devotion to family and society, to faith and good works are not alien to our own experience. It should come as no surprise that citizens throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa are testing and debating the role of these values in society and government. People in the region, as in the case around the world, are searching for ways to achieve responsive government, guarantee basic human rights, and to guide their daily lives. That so many of them are looking to religion, to Islam, is neither unusual nor unique. This is a universal quest. Islam is not the issue…There should be no doubt: Islamic extremism poses a threat to our nation’s interests…Although the circumstances vary, the phenomenon of extremism around the world flows from common sources - from disillusionment, from a failure to secure basic needs, from dashed hopes for political participation and social justice. Widespread disenchantment breeds an extremism or hatred, violence, and extremism by no means unique to the Middle East or to the Muslim world.39

38 The Prince of Wales, Islam and the West (Oxford: Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, 1993).

Muslims have to respond in harmony with this tone, which we hope will also influence policy-makers.

Muslims ought to display the Qur’anic attitude towards humankind by extending the range of their dialogue to reach Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists and other faiths. The Quran (7:172-173) teaches that every human being has his or her spiritual compass, and has been granted dignity by God (17:70). On these common grounds of spirituality, morality, and dignity, all human beings can develop universal relations and maintain global pluralism. It is significant that the Quran calls the good “what is recognized by common sense” (ma’ruf) and evil “what is rejected by common sense” (munkar) (e.g., 2:231, 263, 3:104, 110, 114, 4:5, 8, 114, 7:156, 9:67, 71, 112, 16:90, 22:41, 24:21, 29:45, 31;15, 17, 65:2, 6). According, universal human relations have their moral and spiritual ground, on which the common responsibility of developing the world and the human beings can be constructed: “He brought you forth from the earth and has entrusted you with developing it” (11:61). Al-Bayruni, an outstanding Muslim shcolar of the past, spent years learning Sanskrit so that he might know Hinduism from its sources, and seriously approach its understanding. To be committed to the universality of Islam and to cope with our era of global pluralism, Muslims have to go beyond their bitter memories of history, including the Crusades, colonization, and exploitation, Jewish hostility and Hindu fanaticism. They have to approach Bahaiis and Ahmadiyyas. Let God judge the faith and intentions of each in the afterlife we should maintain our human dignity as a whole and develop relations and cooperate in this life. Nobody is doing the other a favor; we are in the same boat in the same stormy ocean. Muslims cannot ignore each other in this rapprochement they should also bridge the gaps between Sunnis, Shi’is (Zaydis, Ja’faris, Isma’ilis) and Ibadis, and other sects and subdivisions.

39 Anthony Lake, “Islam Verses the West” excerpt from the speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Published in The Minaret, July August 1994.

A moral commitment in every country by the state authorities is needed to guard pluralism internally and universally. Such a moral commitment is essential in regional organizations (e.g., the European Community, the Organization of American States, the League of the Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the Organization of South East Asia, etc,), and the United Nations and its subordinate and affiliated bodies and agencies, so as to protect and nurture universal globalism. Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, reminded the General Assembly of the United Nations on September 14, 1991, during its forth-sixth session,

The world need policing… but are we to have self-appointed policemen, or are we to have a police force that is beholden to the United Nations?… Can our conscience be clear if a whole nation is starved into submission… and the principle victims are the old and the infirm, the pregnant mothers and the newborns?… Should wars be fought or police action be taken by totally destroying recalcitrant nation in order to avoid casualties among the police force?… We condemn chemical warfare, but must we still have nuclear weapons around?… Who determines when a deterrent is need?… [can we be] sure that someone irrational might not become a leader and gain access to the button?…Weapons for defense should be solely for defense. We need weapons only for fighting criminals…we want to remain independent, and to conform to international norms as determined by all nations of the world…The international community is now at the crossroads. We truly have a chance to build a better world through consensus, and use the United Nations as a principle forum and vehicle for achieving our objectives. We cannot afford to miss this historic opportunity.. It must, however, be underlined that a global consensus approach requires tolerance for different ideas and practices inherent in our complex and pluralistic world. Let us then work together as partners in our common endeavor to build a better world.40

As the Malaysian leader said, “We cannot afford to miss this historic opportunity.”

In our era of globalism, humankind has to develop within each country and through the whole world a psychological and structural pluralism that suits such globalism, to avoid in the future the fate of the Jews under the Nazis, Bosnian Muslims at the hands of the Bosnian Serbs, the Chechnyans at the hand of the Russians, and Tutsis at the hands of the Hutus and vice versa in Rwanda, or any other human group that may be suffering tragedy in the contemporary world.

The British historian, Eric Hobsbawn, says of the twentieth century, “The Age of Extremes”, that its wars have been “total wars” against combatants and civilians alike.

The casualties are measured in tens of millions. Civil insurrections in this century, most recently in Rwanda were characterized by indiscriminate internecine slaughters of indescribable cruelty, the victims numbering in hundreds of thousands. How many died in India and Pakistan after World War II, in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Cambodia, in the purges or Kulaks and political unreliable in the 20’s and 30’s in the Soviet Union, in the culling of millions in the China of Mao? The “megadeaths” since 1914, by an estimate of Zbigniew Brezezinski, have totaled 197 million, ‘the equivalent of more than one in ten of the ten world population in 1900, or roughly the entire population of the U.S. in 1970. Terrorism in its many manifestations has become an enduring fact of life on every continent in the part half-century.41

Would we like to see the twenty-first century continue in the same direction, with huge death tools and destruction caused by technological progress?

40 Mahathir Mohammad, address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in its 46th Session, Washington, D.C. (American Muslim Council, 1991)

41 Richard Harwood, “Death in the 20th Century,” Washington Post, 27 April 1995, pt. A, p. 21.

In an era of globalism, a cold war or any other form of conflict fueled by egotism or superiority between countries of the world on ethnic, religious, ideological, or economic grounds would destroy all the parties involved. An international court that implements of the International Declaration of Human Rights and rules on violations of its provisions can guard human dignity all over the world, whatever the inborn or acquired differences may be. Opposition groups and human rights organizations can have an access to a certain body or agency in the United Nations where the concerned government can defend itself. Securing democracy in every country would be more practical, for policing the entire world, especially countries rules undemocratically, would be almost impossible.

There will be difficulties in certain complex areas of international relations, especially between developed and developing countries, such as in exchange of technology, exports and imports, monetary system, loan and investment, and patent rights, but these technical problems can be dealt with using justice and mutual understanding: they are in their nature quite different form racial ethnic, religious or ideological prejudices and conflicts.

It is the responsibility of all the believers in human dignity in general, and whose who believe in God in particular - the Lord of All-being who has granted dignity to all the children of Adam and has entrusted them with developing themselves while they are developing the world to represent divine grace and compassion in their relations. They must remind diverse peoples of their common ground and objectives and their common destiny, and stress the importance of living together and working together in this world, through mutual understanding, and togetherness.

Pluralism, Justice and Moral Commitment:

Global pluralism requires knowledge and understanding among diverse people (Quran 49:113). Mutual appreciation prevents prejudice and helps the maintenance of justice. A moral commitment to justice is fundamental to the success of any legal and institutional mechanism: “Be ever steadfast in upholding justice, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk…Do not follow our desires, lest you swerve from justice (4:135), “and never let hatred of anyone lead you to a deviation from justice. Be just, that is closest to consciousness’ of God” (5:8), Maintaining common understanding and justice should lead to the peace in the world that is essential for cooperation.

Larry Diamond, of the Hoover Institute on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University, wrote in The Globalization of Democracy:

The 1980s, the particularly the final stunning years of that decade, recorded extraordinary progress for democracy around the world. It could even be argued that the decade saw the most widespread diffusion of democratic forms of governance since the inception of the nation state… With some important exceptions and revivals, this progress has continued in 1990s… Democrats around the world have been exhilarated by this widespread democratic progress - what could be called the ‘globalization of democracy’ - in terms of the nearly universal diffusion of popular demands for political freedom, representation, participation and accountability. However, the gross numbers and almost miraculous developments disguise a much more complex and variegated picture.

Mixed signals have been received from the different corners of the world, including “the Middle East, and more particularly the Islamic and largely Arab world stretching from Morocco to Iran.” “The determining factor” in their differences, according to Diamond, “is which interpretation of Islam becomes dominant, and consequently, the degree to which Islam becomes explicitly mobilized as a political force and a political philosophy of government.” “Every year,” as Diamond says,

national borders are rendered increasingly porous, as good, services, people, values, symbols, ideas and technologies pour across them with increasing density and speed. This global trend of intensifying communication and economic integration itself constitutes one of the most powerful long-term impulses for the opening and democratization of political regimes… The only absolute requirement for transition is a commitment to democratization on the part of strategic elites. But this need not stem from any profound moral conviction or conversion; often in the part elites have embraced democracy as a tactical and instrumental choice, because there was no other good way to resolve their internal divisions or to secure their substantive goals. In such circumstances, democratization may precede the deep changes in political culture an destitutions that permit it to endure; these may follow in a “habituation phase” when “both politicians and citizens” come to accept and internalize the new rules and to forge “effective links of party organization.” the importance and highly contingent nature of this process of democratic consolidation raises the issue of “ripeness.” It is one thing to get to democracy. It is quire another - and much more difficult- thing to keep it, to consolidate it, to breathe real life and meaning into it, to make it endure. Many of the countries that have made transitions to democracy in the past decade are in grave political crisis now because democracy is simply not working to deliver the board development progress, honest and decent government, protection of human rights, and political and social tranquility that people want.42

As it has been rightfully pointed out: “In the transformed world of the 1990s, the Third World, in its largest sense, will be the laboratory for developing new political and economic responses to the requirements of the recorded international system.”43 A “shared realization of our common humanity” is emphasized by Peter H. Raven, so that we may feel the necessity for international cooperation in order to

manage the earth for our common benefit. A world in which the annual military budget of all countries combined equals the income of 2.6 billion people in the forth-four poorest nations, or one in which 2,900 times as much money is spent on national military forces as an international peace-keeping efforts, is a world in which it is very difficult to chart the outlines of future survival.44

42 Larry Diamond, “The Globalization of Democracy,” in Robert O. Slater, and Barry M. Schutz, and Stephen R. Dorr, Global Transformation and the Third World (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner; London: Adamantine Press, 1993), pp. 31, 38, 57-59.

43 Slater el al., Global Transformation, p. 2

Socioeconomic justice should be observed in every country and in the world, since “with nations, as with individuals, the wealth of the rich is unjust when it entails the poverty of others.” Emile Brunner, combining wisdom and ethics, declared in 1943 that “many problems depended for their solution on somehow detaching economic life from its too exclusive connection with national political life. The most far-reaching detachment of world economy from power political is one of the most urgent postulates of international justice.”45

Whatever the various implications of the international pluralism and justice may be, the moral responsibility of all human beings with all their inborn and acquired differences as individuals and groups lies in its heart and soul: “Verily, God does not change people’s condition unless they change their inner selves” (13:11). All those who are enlightened with and committed to God’s guidance will, one hopes, do all what they can to support global pluralism.

44 Peter H. Raven, “State of the World, 2000: What We should do to affect it,” in Rushworth M. Kidder, Reinventing the Future: Global Goals for the 21st Century (Cambridge, Mass. And & London, England: The MIT Press, 1989), p.182

45 Julius Stone, Vision of World Order (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), pp. 100-101)

Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding:

History and International Affairs

Executive Committee

Dr. Richard B. Schwartz, Interim Executive Vice President for the Main Campus, Georgetown University

Dr. J. Bryan Hehir, Harvard University, and Chair of the Academic Council

Dr. Walid Khalid, Harvard University, and Vice Chair of the Academic Council

Mr. Basel Aql, Foundation pour l’Entente entre Chretiens et Musulmans, Geneva

Academic Council

Dr. Zafar Ishaq Ansari, Islamic Research Institute, Pakistan

Dr. Osman Bakar, University of Malaya

Dr. Robert Haddad, American University of Beirut, New York

Dr. Yvonne Y. Haddad, University of Massachusetts/Amherst

Dr. J. Bryan Hehir, Harvard University (Chair)

Dr. Walid Khalidi, Harvard University (Vice Chair)

Dr. Ira Lapidus, University of California at Berkeley

Dr. Fedwa Malti-Douglas, Indiana University

Dr. Thomas Michel, S.J., Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Thailand

Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, George Washington University

Dr. Sulayman Nyang, Howard University

Dr. James Piscatori, Council on Foreign Relations, New York and University of Wales

Steering Committee

Dr. John L. Esposito, Director, Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding: History and International Affairs

Dr. Barbara Stowasser, Director, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies

Dr. Anthony Tambasco, Acting Chair, Theology Department

Dr. Jeffrey Von Arx, S.J., Chair, History Department


Foundation pour l’Entente entre Christians et Musulmans, Geneva

Malaysian Resources Corporation - Malaysia Chair of Islam in Southeast Asia.

Sana Sabbagh for Hasib Sabbagh Wing

Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding

History and International Affairs

Center Faculty

Dr. John L. Espositio, Director and Professor

Dr. John O. Voll, Professor of Islamic History

Dr. Amira El-Azhary Sonbol, Assistant Professor of Society, History and Law

Malaysia Chair of Islam in Southeast Asia, Visiting Professor

Visiting Faculty and Fellows

Dr. Aziz al-Azmeh, Visiting Professor

University of Exeter & Institute for Advance Study, Berlin

Dr. Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, Research Associate

Dr. Charles Chartouni, Research Associate

Dr. Yvonne Y. Haddad, Research Associate

University of Massachusetts /Amherst

Dr. Mohamed Aslam Haneef, Fulbright Research Associate

International Islamic University Malaysia

Dr. Roy Mottahedeh, Visiting Professor

Harvard University

Dr. Alamgir M. Serajuddin, Visiting Professor

Chittagong University, Bangladesh

Dr. Jack Shaheen, Visiting Professor

University of Southern Illinois

Dr. Irfan Shahid, Senior Fellow (CMCU)

Omar Professor of Arabic and Islamic Literature Georgetown University


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