On 4th June, 2020, GK published my write-up on “Islam, Religious Pluralism, and Modern Interpretations” and I received a mixed response—both positive and negative—through different mediums for this write-up. While some mentioned that writing on this topic was “need of the hour particularly at a time when things are presented with misunderstandings”, others suggested me to “revisit” the statements and the conclusions I derive from them regarding religious pluralism and Islamic stand thereof. I had argued that “numerous Qur’anic verses offer a distinctly modern perspective on tolerance, pluralism and mutual recognition” and that “based on the interpretations of numerous Qur’anic verses, many modern Muslim scholars advocate pluralism affirming principles of freedom, difference, and coexistence”.
While historically, there are a number of incidents which show conflict between Islam and other civilizations, but the fact is that Islamic Text, Tradition, and History is full of examples which reveal peaceful co-existence, harmony, peaceful relations, mutual cooperation and co-existence of diverse religions and religious groups—from classical to modern eras.
One such example is ‘Charter of Madinah’ (Mithaq-i-Madina) signed in 622 CE, by the Prophet (pbuh) as the head of the Muslims with non-Muslims of Madina. This Charter has been described, in the modern terminology, not only as the “first written constitution” but also the “first Constitution of democracy in the history of constitutional rule” as well. It is also interpreted as the basis of ‘plurality of legal systems’ and a model to be emulated by modern societies and is regarded as a “Social Contract”, an excellent manifestation of the Prophet’s affinity to “democracy and governance by consent”. This Charter helped to eradicate the tribal structures which had been based on blood and kinship and people belonging to “different cultural, ethnical and geographical backgrounds lived together and made social unity”; therefore, the Madinah Charter is considered as “a perfect model of religious coexistence in the world”.
M. Minhaj Niloy (in “Peaceful Religious Coexistence”, Muslim World League Journal, June 2020, p. 30) states that the Charter of Madinah is the greatest example of social coexistence in diverse beliefs” which “was also implemented by the successive rulers of several Muslim territories in the history of the Islamic world. Different types of treaties were established in the Islamic history to ensure peaceful coexistence among the peoples of different tribes and the States. … These sorts of activities established examples in Islamic history to nurture peaceful coexistence. Islamic history evidently demonstrates that Muslims and non-Muslims lived together tranquilly, peacefully in Madinah”. Thus, historically there are evidences to show that Muslims and non-Muslims have maintained peaceful relations and lived in peace and harmony.
Taking insights from this very document, a recent example is the “Charter of Makkah”: a document which was declared in May 2019 in Makkah by Muslim World League in a conference convened between 27-29 May 2019 and was approved by 1200 religious scholars and leaders of who “represented 27 doctrines and sects from 139 countries under the umbrella of Muslim World League”. Moreover, this ‘Charter’ was later awarded ‘King Faisal Prize’ as well.
About this Charter, Saudi Gazette (one of the leading English newspapers of Saudi Arabia) in a news report “Makkah Charter fostering diversity, coexistence” (29th May 2019) described it as a “historic document” which establishes the “values of coexistence among followers of religions, cultures, races and sects in Islamic countries” and is intended to “achieve peace and harmony among various segments of society”. It follows the example of above mentioned Madina Charter, drafted 14 centuries ago by the Prophet (pbuh) to “preserve the diversity of the Islamic nation and its coexistence”. While as The National (Abu Dhabi, UAE) in a news report (dated 30th May, 2020) described that “Makkah Declaration looks to promote tolerance and coexistence”, and while quoting King Salman mentioed that it encourages “the pursuit of moderation and a abalanced understanding of th Quran, which aims to promote the grace and moderation for all of humanity”.
For Sheikh Dr. Muhammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa (Secretary-General of the Muslim World League), this ‘Charter’ expresses the moderate principles and values of Islam that call for civilizational dialogue and communication in face of the ideas of extremism, hatred and civilized clash. Some of the principles mentioned in this ‘Charter’ which highlight the basic, common and pluralistic human values are peace, dialogue, tolerance, equality, mutual co-existence, religious and cultural diversity, and rejects inequality, racial discrimination, extremism, etc. Consisting of 30 clauses/ articles, this ‘Charter’ “offers Muslims around the world guidance on the principles that speak to the true meaning of Islam”. Some of these clauses/ articles/ sections/ passages mentioned in this ‘Charter’ highlighting above-mentioned human values, are quoted verbatim:
- That “All people, regardless of their different ethnicities, races and nationalities, are equal under God” and that “religious and ethnic claims of ‘preference’” are totally rejected (Clauses 1, 2);
- That “Differences among people in their beliefs, cultures and natures are part of God’s will and wisdom”; therefore, “Religious and cultural diversity never justifies conflict. Humanity needs positive, civilized partnerships and effective interaction. Diversity must be a bridge to dialogue, understanding and cooperation for the benefit of all humanity” (3, 4);
- That any religion should not be defined “by the false political practices of those claiming to be adherents” (5);
- That “Civilized cultural dialogue is the most effective way to achieve tolerance and understanding, deepen community ties, and overcome obstacles to coexistence”; therefore, recognizing and respecting the “other’s legitimate rights and right to existence” and putting “aside preconceived prejudices, historical animosities, conspiracy theories and erroneous generalizations” is must (6);
- That all Muslims should work collectively “to prevent destruction and benefit humanity” and make efforts for advancing laws “to deter the promotion of hatred, the instigation of violence and terrorism, or a clash of civilizations, which foster religious and ethnic disputes” (8, 9);
- That combating “terrorism and injustice” and rejecting “exploitation and the violation of human rights” is incumbent on all indivual, which “is neither discriminatory nor partial” (11);
- That an/any “attack on a site of worship is a criminal act” and the world must respond to such attacks with firmness of law, strong political will, and a unified stance against the mindset of terrorism that supports such acts” (23);
- That the “Programs to combat hunger, poverty, disease, ignorance, racial discrimination and environmental destruction require the solidarity of all responsible institutions”, including (non/ inter) governmental organizations and those active in humanitarian services (24); and
- That “an International Forum to promote constructive dialogue among youth inside and outside Muslim communities” be established (28).
In sum, the Makkah Charter is indeed a historic document which establishes, and fosters the values of peace, harmony, mutual/ peaceful concurrence, and ‘dialogue, not clash, among civilzations’. This Charter stands as a clear message not just to the Muslim world but to the global community at large: let’s put aside our differences and embrace religious diversity.
The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC for Women, Pulwama (J&K).