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Islam and Religious Pluralism


One of the more contemporary problems which religions have tended to face as a criticism and as an outgrowth of contemporary Western liberalism and the desire to escape some of the intolerance of religious bigotry and violence of the past is that religions are often considered to be backwards if they promote any notion of exclusivist salvation claims. This has led to the adoption of several contemporary movements which promote the concept of religious pluralism and perennialism, the concept of universal salvation as a viable alternative understanding of the religious teachings on salvation; often one is judged as being more enlightened based upon their acceptance of the salvation of all and vice versa, others are judged as being too fundamentalist and narrow due to their belief in a more exclusivist understanding of those promised salvation. This paper shall analyse several of the core assumptions promoted by both the more exclusivist in addition to the more inclusivist camps and shall offer several boundaries based upon both traditional Shī‘ī readings of scripture in addition to rational obligations which must be fulfilled by believers vis-a-vis their tradition.

In referring to traditions and the continuation of a worldview, what is meant is the dimension of beliefs, legal norms in addition to ethical and spiritual dimensions. Whilst some may point out that there are areas in which these elements - particularly the legal rulings - have been subject to change, there are of course limits to the differences amongst jurists and it is not possible to find modernist and reformist trends amongst classical jurists within the tradition. What is meant by tradition is the ability to link ourselves as inheritors of those who perpetuate an unbroken chain which links us back to the original followers of the originators and sacred figures, which bind and taught the religious viewpoint which we claim to be following. Where the Perennialist school’s claims to be traditionist falls short of following any tradition is that these traditions hold firm claims about objective reality, and their legal traditions are often in contrast to the perennialist claims of concepts like sacred art and religious pluralism. For example, in order to be a traditional Muslim, it entails one to abhor and reject the concept of the Hypostatic Union which holds that the Prophet Jesus (a) was both fully man and fully God and possessed both natures, where as to be a traditional Catholic Christian holds this as essential doctrine. To be a traditional perennialist would require that we view both views as valid and maintain both to be divine truth claims, something which mandates as a result, the very rejection of both traditions. A lengthier critique of this perspective will follow later in this paper.

Ethical Considerations

In a world where religiously governed societies have traditionally branded heretical and excommunicated many upon the basis of a lack of adherence to orthodoxy, it is necessary to highlight before this paper discusses the theoretical implications, that there is a difference between religious pluralism in salvation and the ability to tolerate and respect the human right to choose their own religious path in this world. One must not conflate between the two discussions and one’s inability to do so is the primary stumbling block which until this point has governed and dominated any ability to have a serious conversation about these issues.

Historical Considerations

With the exception of some readings of several Sufi thinkers, who have their own philosophical assumptions about both the nature of God, revelation and existence itself - one would be extremely hard pressed to find any Muslim thinker who interpreted scripture to be as inclusive as to give a golden pass to those who have followed other religions as to grant the entirety of that religion and its adherence entry unconditionally into paradise. Such modernist readings tend to be an outgrowth of twentieth-century reformations and this ought to be taken into account.

Introduction to the Golden Question of Pluralism

When one considers the question of whether or not Islam is a pluralistic faith which entertains and encourages a belief in the salvation of numerous paths, it is necessary to ask several questions in order to advance the discussion beyond its stereotypical caricatures of both parties and their views. Let us proceed to ask several key questions which should shape the remaining duration of our dialogue with the concept of Islam and religious pluralism. There are numerous questions which could indeed be advanced by all wishing to engage with the conversation, but these are the questions which the current authors find most pertinent:

1) Does scripture allow a harmonised reading which is perennialist? That is to say, would a perennialist reading require an abandonment of tradition in order to accommodate this reading?

2) Are there any rational objections to the concept of religious pluralism and perennialism given the scope of the intellect according to the religion of Islam?

3) What are some of the outcomes of adopting a reading which normalises pluralism which may not have been fully thought through?

Section 1: The Scriptural Case for Religious Pluralism

There are numerous verses of the Qur’an which are often cited in order to justify a religiously pluralistic understanding of salvation. In order to offer a satisfactory engagement of such relevant passages we shall cite them and then assess the relevant interpretational scope of these verses and whether in isolation they actually satisfy the case of religious pluralism.

1. “O humankind, We [God] have created you male and female, and made you into communities and tribes, so that you may know one another. Surely the noblest amongst you in the sight of God is the most God-fearing of you. God is All-knowing and All-Aware” (Qur’an 49:13)

What is to be noted about this particular verse is that despite its pluralistic outlook at the nature of humanity and their general equality, in terms of featuring numerous ethnic groups and two genders, the verse does not actually assist in promoting a pluralistic vision of salvation. The verse is actually silent about the matter and hence those who utilise it as a promise of pluralistic salvation have stretched the text beyond its text and even its context, for nothing about the verse suggests anything about salvation and anything about life after death.

2. “Surely this community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord; so worship me” (Qur’an 21:92).

Even more unique is this usage of 21:92, which by no means affirms plurality in salvation but at best conceptualises the Islamic concept of a community inclusive of those in a covenant with Muslims, but not necessarily adhering to the Islamic faith (as was the case with the Covenant of Medina).

3. “Say: we believe in God and what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, and in what was given to Moses, Jesus, and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between one and another among them and to Him [God] do we submit” (Qur’an, 3:84).

This verse highlights the Qur’anic injunction that believers are to believe in all of the Prophets, and that which was revealed to the Prophets, in fact, as opposed to serving the agenda of those who promote religious pluralism, it actually demonstrates the exact opposite. The Qur’anic polemic against those who belonged to previous communities under the Monotheist Abrahamic message is actually that they ought to believe in all of the Prophets, hence if they were Jews, the Qur’an reasons that they ought to believe in the Prophet Jesus and Muhammad and if they are Christians that they ought to accept Muhammad and not reject him just like others rejected Jesus. The verse is important in reminding the believers that whilst your communities have traditionally rejected Ismail (Ishmael), he ought to be accepted as well.

4. “And if you [Muhammad] are in doubt concerning that which We [God] reveal to you, then question those who read the scripture [that was revealed] before you” (Qur’an 10:94).

It is difficult to see how this verse which is cited by Christian polemicists and Muslim pluralists alike actually demonstrates the case that the entirety of their religion is valid and hence guarantees for them salvation, there are several understandings which could be taken from this verse, namely: a) The Muslims doubted that the Qur’an was from God due to several concepts they were unfamiliar with, therefore the Qur’an addressed them and asked them to refer to the previous communities to observe that such concepts were not new in the Abrahamic revelation (thus affirming that at least part of the scripture amongst the Hijazi Christian and Jewish community at the time of the Prophet was accurate).

b) The Muslims doubted that the Qur’an was from God due to several concepts they were unfamiliar with, therefore the Qur’an addressed them and asked them to refer to the previous communities to observe that such concepts were not new in the Abrahamic revelation (thus affirming that perhaps all of the scripture amongst the Hijazi Christian and Jewish community at the time of the Prophet was accurate)

Note that according to possibility one, it does not necessitate religious pluralism since:

a) Affirming part of the scripture amongst Jews and Christians in the Hijaz does not afford salvation by necessity to Jews and Christians who were practicing a form of Christianity in the Hijaz in the 1st Century of Islam, it merely affirms they had an accurate portion of Scripture.

b) Even if it did affirm that their entire religion was therefore correct then this still would not do anything more than demonstrate that those forms of Judaism and Christianity as practiced in that time and place were accurate.

c) At the very hardest stretch of hermeneutical gymnastics this at best would offer a salvation for those Jews and Christians who do not violate other Qur’anic injunctions of disbelief and not offer a holisitic account of broad religious pluralism outside the boundaries of Abrahamic monotheism, since the verse mentions nothing about other faiths, nor were any other faiths present in the Hijaz when the verse was revealed.

5. “And argue not with the People of the Book unless it be in a way that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say we believe in that which has been revealed to us and to you; and our God and your God is one and unto Him we submit” (Qur’an 29:46).

This verse clearly merely refines the way in which Muslims can argue and dispute with Jews and Christians, it offers nothing more than an affirmation of a major religious commonality namely that we share the same general conception of Allah and submit to the same God generally.

6. “Some of the People of the Book are a nation upstanding: they recite the Signs of God all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in God and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and they hasten to do good works. They are in the ranks of the righteous.” (Qur’an 3:113-114)

This verse at best affirms that it is possible for some non-Muslims from the people of the Book (Jews, Christians and Sabians) who follow the aforementioned Qur’anic injunctions to enter into Paradise, and indeed there are many different divisions of those who call themselves Jews and Christians so it is difficult to pinpoint how inclusive this verse is actually being. On the assumption that it affirms all of those Jews and Christians who do not violate Qur’anic injunctions of disbelief, then the verse still does not allow for the huge generalisation that all religions are saved.

7. “And if they (disbelievers) dispute with you, you tell them that God knows best about what you do. Only God will judge among you on the Day of Resurrection in respect of what you differed” (22:68–9)

The above verse merely defers judgement between the believers and disbelievers to Allah who shall ultimately judge over all of us. This verse being cited is largely irrelevant given that all Muslims - no matter how exclusivist - ultimately believe that every individual will be judged by Allah on the day of Judgement.

8. “On the Day of Judgment, God will most certainly judge among those who believe, and those who became Jews, the Sabaeans, Christians, Magians and those who associate other deities with God. Surely, God watches over everything” (22:17) Again, this verse does not actually justify any form of religious pluralism given that all humans will be judged according to Islamic theology including atheists, does this fact now mean that Atheists should be considered partners in salvation according to Islamic theology?

9. And they say no one shall enter paradise unless he is a Jew or a Christian. Such is their wishful thinking! Say: cite your authority if you speak the truth. Nay, whosoever surrenders his whole being unto God while doing good, his reward is with his Lord: and all such need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve. (2:111-112)

This verse is one of the clearest and strongest verses utilised by religious pluralists to justify their reading of the Qur’an, it is normally unpacked and elaborated upon in the following manner:

a) Jews and Christians were claiming they alone have an exclusive right to salvation and the Qur’an mocks their claim and falsifies it

b) Muslims likewise make a similar claim about exclusive salvation

c) Therefore, they also fall under a violation of Qur’anic principles and are condemned by the Qur’an

In order to understand the folly of this claim it is necessary to understand the following, if person x makes a claim about himself and that claim is false, the falsity of his claim about himself does not entail that whoever else makes that claim is also a liar. Therefore, the verse cannot actually be taken to demonstrate that all religions are promised paradise. At best the verse demonstrates that we as Muslims should not have the audacity to blanket label all individuals as being doomed for the hellfire nor have the audacity to claim for ourselves certain salvation beyond the mercy of Allah.

10. Verily, those who have attained faith in this Divine writ (the Qur'an), as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabeans - all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds - shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. (2:62) and (5:69)

It is interesting to note that this verse has never been understood by Muslims in the early centuries regardless of sect to refer to universal salvation of the all of the above faith groups, however that being said, even if we are to concede that this verse offers a general plurality, one must be careful to note that the above faith groups have numerous different individuals and hence, the ultimate goal of those who try to open the doors of heaven to all Christians and Jews ought to therefore attempt to understand what a Jew, Christian and Sabean are according to the Qur’anic definition. Ultimately, the verse falls short of offering universal salvation to all those religions which fall out of these Abrahamic faiths.

11. And yet before this there was the revelation of Moses, a guide and a (sign of God's) Grace; and this (the Qur'an) is a Divine writ, confirming the truth (of the Torah) in the Arabic tongue, to warn those who are bent on evil doing, and (to bring) a glad tiding to the doers of good; for behold who say, “Our Sustainer is God” and thereafter stand firm (in their faith) -- no fear need they have. And neither shall they grieve: it is they who are destined for paradise, therein to abide as a reward for all that they have done. (46:12-14)

The above verse affirms Allah’s role in revealing scriptures to mankind and therefore the promise of his covenant with all of those who followed his divinely revealed messages, and of course, crucially their attributes. Therefore, the discussion which must be had is, are the contemporary followers of these religions actually still following those divinely revealed scriptures? Do they fall under these definitions and once more if they do, how is this verse being advanced to include more than merely the believers in the Abrahamic faiths?

12. And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelations there are indeed such as (truly) believe in God and that which has been bestowed from on high upon you as well as that which has been bestowed upon them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God's messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer -- for behold God is swift in reckoning! (3; 199)

This final verse which is of the popularly cited verses affirms once more that those who followed these previous revelations and affirm the divine nature of such revelations are also to affirm the Prophet Muhammad’s revelation namely the Qur’an and his Prophethood. Far from offering a proof for inclusive pluralistic salvation, it offers a description of what a loyal believer from the previous covenants ought to look like after the Prophet Muhammad (p) is shown to him.

Scriptural Passages Which Do Not Accord Well with Pluralistic Readings of Scripture

Whilst it was seen that the vast majority of verses cited by the pluralist camp certainly do not affirm the broad category claims that they often make in regards to collective universal salvation, it is necessary to also consider the plethora of references which seem to completely undermine the case of religious pluralistic salvation, because it is unfair for either camp to engage in an atomistic reading of scripture.

1. He who seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he shall be among the losers. [3:85]

2. The [true] religion in Allah’s sight is Islam. [3:19]

The above two verses in the third chapter of the Qur’an are quite clear that Islam is the religion in the eyes of Allah and that it is the truth. Accordingly, this would mean that one ought to follow Islam. If some such as the contemporary academics like Sachedina are to argue that the term Islam is used as a verb here as opposed to a noun namely ‘submission’ is the only true way according to Allah, this still does not accord with the pluralistic reading as according to all, not every religion could ever be classed as submitting to Allah.

3. Say: ‘O Mankind! Truly I am the Messenger of Allah to you all.’ [7:158]

The above verse makes clear that Muhammad b. ‘Abdullah is minimally sent to all as a messenger, therefore the correct way to engage with a messenger is to accept him, of course there are a plethora of factors involved such as individuals not being convinced or being presented with the proofs or even claim of the messenger Muhammad but those are exceptions to the actual rule presented in the verse and shall be discussed, the verse definitely does not accord for those who deny the claims of the Prophet which is a logical necessity for many of the world religions today by affirming claims which the Prophet openly denied.

4. O People of the Scripture, why do you disbelieve in the verses of Allah while you witness [to their truth]? [3:70]

This verse is even clearer that the duty of the People of the book namely Jews and Christians who hear of the Qur’an and are presented its verses are to accept these signs of Allah (hence accepting the Prophet Muhammad); the Qur’an could have easily made clear that they are not rationally obliged or even ethically obliged to as they are to be saved regardless, but such a claim was never made.

5. Those who disbelieved among the People of the Scripture and the polytheists were not to be parted [from misbelief] until there came to them clear evidence [98:1]

This verse highlights the Qur’anic and Islamic ethos clearly, namely ‘The moral reprehension of punishing someone before evidence is established upon them’. The Qur’an of course affirms the rational principle that non-believers will be judged according to their circumstances, some of them are to be excused due to their circumstances, others will be punished for rejecting the truth which was presented to them.

6. And [recall, O People of the Scripture], when Allah took the covenant of the prophets, [saying], "Whatever I give you of the Scripture and wisdom and then there comes to you a messenger confirming what is with you, you [must] believe in him and support him." [Allah] said, "Have you acknowledged and taken upon that My commitment?" They said, "We have acknowledged it." He said, "Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses." [3:81]

Again, the above verse is in contradiction and contrast to the claims made by pluralistic salvation claimants who understand the Qur’an to say that all Jews and Christians will be promised paradise whilst some of them willingly reject our Prophet.

7. And whoever has not believed in Allah and His Messenger - then indeed, We have prepared for the disbelievers a Blaze. [48:13]

Finally, verse 13 of chapter 48 offers another evidence that again those who follow Deistic and Naturalist religions which deny the existence of God in addition to those who hear of the proof for the Prophet Muhammad’s (p) prophethood and yet reject him are destined for something less cozy than Salvation alongside believers.

Rational Arguments for Perennialism and Plurality of Salvation

Some philosophers and thinkers have objected to what they call they arrogance of exclusivist truth claims in an era of globalisation citing the attitude as being problematic and also claiming that it has been the cause of historical oppression and persecution of others. On reality, whilst the latter is hugely unfortunate, the bad behaviour of exclusivists ought not to be seen as proof for the inability to hold exclusivist truth claims, the persecution of others is not a necessary outgrowth of exclusivist theology and perhaps the clearest example of this is that there exists numerous pacifist groups which teach exclusive salvation based theologies throughout the world. As for the claim of it being arrogant and somewhat audacious, this is no more valid than the claim that scientists who provide evidence for new breakthroughs and discoveries in the empirical world are arrogant because they teach an exclusivist understanding of truth or that political views ought not to be valid for they likewise exclude other theories.

One of the most commonly cited religious theories to justify the claim of pluralistic truth and relativity in truth claims is the analogy often known as Rumi’s elephant which is cited as thus:

A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: "We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable". So, they sought it out, and when they found it, they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said "This being is like a thick snake". For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, "is a wall". Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.

Of course the implications of the story is that all cultures and civilisations will project their own understanding of truth into their narrative and folklore, and whilst they all are contradictory, they are all true for they are but a glimpse of truth and that ultimately they are merely partial relative truths but are not mutually invalid. Stated in other words, the parable essentially is saying: Do not be arrogant and claim absolutist truth, for all truth is relative and like the man who touches the trunk of the elephant in the dark room or like the one who touches the leg, you merely perceive that which has reached you. However, this is likewise problematic, for it is saying this:

Don’t make an absolute truth claim about reality since your perception is limited, therefore don’t be arrogant and claim to see the whole truth

And yet the one making the analogy is themselves making a claim about what objective reality looks like by claiming the ability to see the God’s eye view of human beings and their limited perception, thus they fall prey to the same count of arrogance that they accuse other exclusivist religions of also making.

Other thinkers and particularly in Shī‘ī Islamic discourse pertaining to religious pluralistic salvation and a justification of pluralism have adopted what is known as Perennialism or Traditionalist Wisdom, it is defined by its founder and the mentor of Seyyed Hossein Nasr as follows:

“The central idea of the perennial philosophy is that Divine Truth is one, timeless, and universal, and that the different religions are but different languages expressing that one Truth. The symbol most often used to convey this idea is that of the uncolored light and the many colors of the spectrum which are made visible only when the uncolored light is refracted. In the Renaissance, the term betokened the recognition of the fact that the philosophies of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus incontrovertibly expounded the same truth as lay at the heart of Christianity. Subsequently the meaning of the term was enlarged to cover the metaphysics and mysticisms of all of the great world religions, notably, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.”[1]

Yet there are major issues with such a claim and these issues have been pointed out by prominent philosophers such as Muhammad Legenhausen and others. Given that Professor Legenhausen so comprehensively offers several rational obstacles to the acceptance of Perennialism, we shall cite those given that it’s odds with scripture should already be so manifestly clear. Legenhausen cites the following objections and we shall comment for further elaboration upon each:

The flaws of esoteric religious pluralism may be summed up by listing the following points.

1. Intellectual intuition, even if accepted as a valid way of obtaining knowledge, does not support esoteric pluralism. This is clear, Dr. Legenhausen is demonstrating that rational intuition does not lead to a belief in the Perennial Philosophy and that this is not something which is derived or concluded by most rational minds.

2. Esoteric differences among the religious differences are proportionate to their exoteric differences. Common features among religious traditions may be found by abstracting and generalizing from their exoteric features no less than from their esoteric features. That is to say, even in light of the culturally relativistic teachings of Perennialism which holds that Wisdom was revealed differently for each culture in accordance with its tradition, yet they share the same kernel of truth, even if contradictory - this seems improbable and one finds that the differences that these religious traditions have between them are huge in both the ritualistic practice in addition to their belief codes.

3. Religious pluralists use a question-begging methodology in their reading of religious texts. Religious pluralists are forced to offer a reading of scripture prior to engaging with the text, essentially guilty of the Texan sharpshooter fallacy where one fires the gun and draws targets around where the bullet hits as opposed to actually trying to hit a pre-existing target. Likewise, religious pluralists have preset assumptions about the text and rarely allow scripture to speak for itself.

4. Pluralists gloss over important differences in order to eliminate contradictions. Pluralists will often have to engage in hugely generous dismissals of fundamental differences in order to avoid contradictions in these areas which exist between religions, all in order to claim a common source.

5. Pluralism conflicts with Islamic teachings, because Islam presents itself as the final and definitive religion for mankind and not as culture bound, while pluralism sees the differences between Islam and other traditions to be due to cultural accidents. That is to say, out of the existing world religions in the traditionalist Perennialist handbook of traditions, at least two - namely Islam and Christianity - have always maintained very exclusivist salvation claims and claims about themselves superseding and abrogating all previous truth claims, therefore they undermine Perennialist philosophy.

6. Islam offers a basically egalitarian social vision, while Traditionalists social differences such as are found in the caste system as manifestations of the hierarchical nature of being. In other words, Islam offers a universal system providing guidelines, such as racial and societal equality, whereas other traditions accepted by Traditionalists do not. A classic example of this is likewise cited by Legenhausen where Martin Lings views the Brahmins and their caste System as being a positive system through which Hindu philosophy was transmitted despite Islam abolishing such notions.

7. Traditionalists use tradition and the intellectual intuition of the principles of sophia perennis as their criteria of evaluation instead of the principles of Islam. This is self-explanatory. Again, this is a case of judging Islam and all religions upon the basis of an external pluralist Philosophy far from utilising the former to govern and shape the latter.

Finally, another point could be added which although is not laid out by Dr. Legenhausen in the same paper, is levelled against religious pluralists of the Perennialist nature in another paper; namely the problem of demarcation.

To state the problem more accurately, it is necessary to visualise religions as a set of common and conflicting truth claims: Islam claims that Jesus is not God, Christianity claims that he is, Islam abolishes the caste system, Hinduism has traditionally promoted it. Surely, if we are to adopt pluralism, we ought to try to make each religion move closer into our frame of discussion and agree on as many claims as possible. However, according to Perennialism, this is not true and hence in his discussion with Professor John Hick, the Christian pluralist thinker of Birmingham University, Seyyed Hossein Nasr far from encouraging Hick’s critical thinking skills and rejection of both the trinity and the concept of God being incarnate in Jesus Christ had a different approach. Seyyed Hossein Nasr rebuked Hick for moving away from his tradition and argued that Hick ought to loyally adhere to believing in the Trinity and the Incarnation of God in Jesus; why would we argue this when the former belief is much closer to Islam? Because it undermines the claim that contemporary Trinitarian Christianity is part of God’s revealed wisdom.

Legenhausen recounts his thoughts on the reasoning of Nasr as follows: “The argument Nasr gives in his discussion with Hick for the God-given character of traditional Christianity, however, is atrocious. With respect to the question of whether Jesus (`a) is the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, he asks rhetorically:

If this was simply a mistake, how could God allow, with His infinite wisdom and justice, one of the major religions of the world within which millions of people have sought their salvation, to be misguided for two thousand years? Was this simply a mistake? If one says that this was all a horrendous mistake for these thousand years, I cannot accept this.”

This additional problem could be referred to as the problem of non-contradiction. It seems in order to promote the truth of Perennialism, these thinkers have to violate the law of non-contradiction which states that two contradictions could never be true at the same time. In essence many pluralists are forced to adopt what is known as Dialetheism.

“A dialetheia is a sentence, A, such that both it and its negation, ¬A, are true (we shall talk of sentences throughout this entry; but one could run the definition in terms of propositions, statements, or whatever one takes as one's favourite truth-bearer: this would make little difference in the context). Assuming the fairly uncontroversial view that falsity just is the truth of negation, it can equally be claimed that a dialetheia is a sentence which is both true and false.

Dialetheism is the view that there are dialetheias. One can define a contradiction as a couple of sentences, one of which is the negation of the other, or as a conjunction of such sentences. Therefore, dialetheism amounts to the claim that there are true contradictions. As such, dialetheism opposes the so-called Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC) (sometimes also called the Law of Contradiction). The Law can, and has been, expressed in various ways, but the simplest and most perspicuous for our purposes is probably the following: for any A, it is impossible for both A and ¬A to be true."[2]

And yet to accept contradictions as being possible within the area of truth would render the human experience of any truth matter unintelligible.

Final Thoughts

One ought not to despair from the concept of exclusivist salvation because one ought to remember that we are unable to judge individuals regardless of what they label themselves as or what they outwardly appear to be, Muslims believe that Allah is the most merciful judge who is aware of all of the obstacles that individuals face in their acceptance or rejection of the truth and more importantly how the truth was portrayed to them. Allah is most certainly concerned with effort and would not allow sincerity and effort to go unrewarded as he states:

“And those who strive hard in Us, certainly We guide them in Our ways” (29:69). The Prophet Muhammad (p) and the Imams (a) have given us numerous principles by which we can say that it is impossible to make blanket judgements on individuals today, unless they are individuals whom the scriptures of Islam have individually condemned by name (whether in Qur’an or authentic aḥādīth).

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ تَوَفٌّاهُمُ الْمَلآئِكَةُ ظٌالِمِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ قٌالُوا فِيمَ كُنتُمْ قٌالُوا كُنٌّا مُسْتَضْعَفِينَ فِي الأَرْضِ قٌالُوا أَلَمْ تَكُنْ أَرْضُ اللٌّهِ وٌاسِعَةً فَتُهٌاجِرُوا فِيهٌا فَأُوْلٌـئِكَ مَأْوٌاهُمْ جَهَنَّمُ وَسٌاءَتْ مَصِيرًا إِلاَّ الْمُسْتَضْعَفِينَ مِنَ الرِّجٌالِ وَالنِّسٌاءِ وَالْوِلْدٌانِ لاٌ يَسْتَطِيعُونَ حِيلَةً وَلاٌ يَهْتَدُونَ سَبِيلاً فَأُوْلٌـئِكَ عَسَى اللٌّهُ أَنْ يَعْفُوَ عَنْهُمْ وَكٌانَ اللٌّهُ عَفُوًّا غَفُورًا

“And those whose souls the Angels take while they are oppressive to themselves; they say, ‘What state were you in?’ They say, ‘We were weak in the land.’ They say, ‘Was not God’s earth wide, that you may migrate in it?’ So the abode of those people is Hell, and evil an abode it is, except the powerless among the men, women, and children who neither have access to any means nor are guided to any way; so perhaps God may pardon them, and God is Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Pardoning.”

In explaining the concept of those who were powerless as mentioned in the above verse, Imam Ṣādiq (a) states:

“They are neither of the believers nor of the unbelievers; they are the ones whose affair is referred to God’s command.”

In a demonstration of the Imams’ tolerance, one finds that even his own companions were confused on this issue and had a far more exclusivist view than the Imams, it is narrated: Zurārah states: “I visited Imam Muhammad Ibn ‘Ali al-Bāqir (as) with my brother Ḥumrān, or with my other brother Bukayr. I said to the Imam, ‘We measure people with a measuring tape: Whoever is a Shī‘a like ourselves, whether among the descendants of ‘Ali or otherwise, we forge a bond of friendship with him (as a Muslim and one who will achieve salvation), and whoever is opposed to our creed, we dissociate from him (as a misguided person and one who will not achieve salvation).’”

The Imam said, “Zurārah! God’s word is more truthful than yours; if what you say is correct, then what about God’s words where He says, ‘Except the powerless among the men, women, and children who find no way out nor find a path?’ What about those who are referred to God’s command? What about those regarding whom God says, ‘They mixed good deeds and other, evil deeds?’ What happened to the people of the heights? Who, then, are the ones whose hearts are to be inclined?”

Ḥammād in his narration of this event from Zurārah, narrates that he said, “At this point the Imam and I began to argue. Both of us raised our voices, such that those outside the house heard us.”

Jammāl Ibn Darrāj narrates from Zurārah in this event that the Imam said, “Zurārah! [God has made it] incumbent upon Himself that He take the misguided (not the unbelievers and deniers) to Heaven.”

The irony which arises as a consequence of pluralistic readings of salvation is that they attempt to accuse others of playing the role of Allah by being exclusivist in the interpretation of salvation while claiming that the honest truth is that Islam is extremely inclusivist, but of individuals, and we hope for them the mercy of Allah, where as it is the inclusivist reading which transgresses this role of being a servant by claiming that wholesale ideologies and religions are guaranteed salvation, despite the fact that Allah has condemned such religions. The difference between the traditional approach is that whilst we condemn some religions as false, we see optimism for individuals and believe in the mercy of our most merciful Lord, whereas the other camp has to dissect all the religion of their Lord to see any mercy in the tradition.

Article reviewed by Sayed Ammar Nakshwani, Sheikh Nuru Mohammed and Islamic Education Team of The World Federation of KSIMC.


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