By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
The entire polemical corpus of literature written in both Christian and Muslim territories at that time took place against a background of war and strong political tensions. These at times found expressions linguistically in the use of terminology such as Christian/Heathen from a Christian point of view and Dar-ul-Islam (land of belief), Dar-ul-kufr (land of disbelief) and Dar-ul-Harb (land of war) from a Muslim’s point of view. These exclusivist theological terms and dichotomous Islamist worldviews are reflective of the binary division of the world by those employing them to further their political, geographical and expansionist ends.
These ideas were elaborated by Dr Adis Duderija, Lecturer in Islam and Society, in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at Griffith University (Australia) in New Delhi in his recent lecture at Indialogue Foundation. He spoke on Interfaith Dialogue broadly in the world religions and particularly in Islam, tracing its history, acceptability and the debates around it. It was one of Indialogue Foundation’s initiatives to engage academically with research scholars studying in different universities in Delhi. Under Indialogue Lecture Series, one lecture is organised every month by eminent intellectuals and academicians.
In this lecture, Dr Adis Duderija highlighted the importance of religious and socio-political context in understanding the history and the debates pertaining to the nature of interfaith dialogue in Islam. The lecture started with outlining some of the factors that need to be taken into account when attempting to understand how the Qur’an and early Muslim community approached the idea of religious difference and more specifically the question of the relationship between the Religious Self and the Religious Other.
He pointed out that the Qur’anic attitude towards the Religious Other is highly contextual in nature and therefore ambivalent or context-dependent. “For the large part of the “formative period” of the Muslim community in Medina, the climate of conflict, friction and hostility between Muslims,mushrikun, large Jewish tribes, Christians and religious hypocrites (munafiqun) prevailed under which Muslims were constantly concerned about the sheer survival of their community often expressing itself in a reactionary, antagonistic type of identity towards the Religious Other”, he said.
Dr Duderija premised that it is important to highlight the idea that the Qur’anic concept of ‘al-mu’minun’ (believers) is more inclusive than ‘al-muslimun’ (those who submit to God) and that the adherents of other religious traditions can be viewed as ‘al-mu’minun’ according to this Qur’anic trajectory. He adduced substantial amount of evidence in his argument that Qur’anically (some) Jews and Christians qualify as mu’minun as well as muslimun.
He continued by extending his analysis in both pre-modern and modern contexts. He examined the issue of how influential Muslim scholars have approached the issue of Salvation for non-Muslims as example of one important debate informing the nature of interfaith dialogue in Islam. He made substantial references to a number of influential Islamic scholars—both pre-modern and modern—who have approached the question of Salvation of non-Muslims. The prominent among them are: Abu ʿIsa Muhammadb, Harun al-Warraaq, Abu Bakr Muhammad b. al-Tayyib al-Baqillani,Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ibn al-‘Arabi, Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Jalal al-Din Rumi.
Quoting Lamptey’s work on this subject (2011), Dr Duderija averred that the two most influential Islamic proponents of religious pluralism in the pre-modern period are Ibn al-ʿArabi (d. 638/1240) – the Sufi philosopher – and Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 672/1273) – the Persian poet and founder of the Mevlavi Sufi order. “These exemplify the most pluralist tendencies in the pre-modern Islamic historical discourse and do not make ‘Muslimness’ (in the sense of belonging to the historical community of followers of Prophet Muhammad) as a precondition for salvation”, he said.
Highlighting the context of Islamic discourse on Salvation of non-Muslims in the pre-modern period, Dr Duderija explained that the history of Islamic approaches to interreligious dialogue—especially with Christianity—in the pre-modern period was significantly affected by the political and social contexts in which they took place. Thus, he contextualized the relationship between the Muslim Religious Self and the Religious Other in the Qur’an and in history of the early Muslim community.
In the final section of the lecture, Dr Duderija referred to some contemporary Muslim scholars whom he calls “progressive Islamists”, as proponents of religious pluralism and strong critics of the faith-based exclusivism.
In this section, Dr Duderija particularly mentioned the works of the modernist Muslim scholars such as Mahmoud Ayoub, Ibrahim Kalin, Abdul Aziz Sachedina, Abdul Karim Soroush, Ali Asani and Farid Esack. In this context, he made a reference to the contribution of paramount importance rendered by Farid Esack (1997), who wrote: “Traditionalist and conservative scholars have resorted to what can only be described as forced linguistic and exegetical exercises to compel inclusivist texts to produce exclusivist meanings”.
Similarly, Dr. Duderija succinctly quoted Ali Asani, Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures at Harvard University, who argues that religious exclusivist tendency in the works of (pre-modern) Muslim scholars could only be a result of a complete disregard of the revelation’s original historical context on the basis of which “the exclusivist Muslim exegetes have been able to counteract the pluralist ethos that so thoroughly pervades the Quran”.
It was refreshing to note that, for a conceptual clarity of the subject, Dr Duderija often made a very particular and remarkable reference to the work of Professor Ebrahim Moosa, as a major theoretician behind the progressive Muslim thought. The well-acclaimed Islamic academician and thinker, Prof. Moosa addressed the Indialogue audience on “Shaping/Reviving Muslim Ethics in the Pluralistic Societies” on October 30th, 2017 under the same Indialogue Lecture Series (ILS). Traditionally educated in classical Islamic studies in India’s leading madrasas, he has provided the u’lama— religious authorities in Islam— an intellectual space to engage with multiplicity of Islamic perspectives, allowing “progressive” Islam to flourish alongside more neo-traditional outlooks.
In a similar spirit, Dr Duderija quoted the prominent Muslim scholar and public intellectual, Tariq Ramadan, who has the following to say on the idea of religious pluralism in Islam:
“We need to reconcile with an Islamic universality whose essence is pluralistic. The function of its truth, naturally acknowledged by believers, is not to standardize truths and values beyond Islam itself, but to establish correspondences, intersections, bridges.”
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, acquired Diploma in Qur’anic sciences and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. Presently, he is pursuing his PhD in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.