May 28, 2013 By Ziad Siddique

A Refuge of Diversity

Ever since Islam rose up against religious persecution in other faiths and became refuge for the oppressed, it has been a targeted creed for despotic as well as fanatic religions, which opposed the very idea of egalitarianism. For them, the idea of Islam was intolerable as it would ruin their power in the following years. The historical background and social conditions in which Islam arose in Arabia put on it the stamp of tolerance. People of Arabia were fragmented before Islam and were devoted to their creedal and tribal affiliations. Internecine feud, pillage and tyranny were pervasive. Despite diverse forms of culture, under the yoke of absurd rites and superstitions the tribes were disposed to abandon their fanatic practices and got rounded up under the roof of Islam and the simple sentence that ‘there is god; but one and only’.

Islam infused in them qualities of tolerance for strange things, freedom from prejudice, faculty of observation and the ability to think. These qualities gave it all together a philosophical outlook. Thus, Islam as such is unalloyed and at the same time capable of accommodating diverse views on the basis of the Quran and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad, both of which revolutionized social relations of Muslims and developed in them capacities of tolerance, sympathy and understanding of others’ habits, views and faiths. The teaching of the Quran that ‘all believers are brothers to each other’, gives Islam a cosmopolitan outlook as well. Therefore, the diversity and pluralism is not unknown to Islam.

It is recommended to read the book Diversity and Pluralism in Islam, keeping in mind the aforesaid scenario.  The book underlines that Islam is not merely a religion full of vague rituals; but indeed a code of conduct, giving equal place to all views. It is compilation of studies by different authorities conducted following the tragedy of 9/11, when Islam was dragged to the debating table as a religion of violence. Since then words and images concerning Islam and the histories, beliefs and practices of Muslims have proliferated globally. Muslims and non-Muslims have regularly contributed to these debates. The articulations and representations on Islam presently in the public sphere hallmark common foundations and exhibit different and divergent views on issues both pedestrian and divine. This complex portrait of a kaleidoscopic and kaleidophonic Islam is not solely a product of modern times but has a long history, observes Zulfikar Hirji, the editor of the book, who is the Associate Professor of Anthropology at York University, Toronto.

With contributions from James W. Allan, John R. Bowen, Patrice C. Brodeur, R. Kevin Jaques, Dominique-Sila Khan, Roman Loimeier, and Roy P. Mottahedeh-noted academics and authors- the book challenges the notion that Muslims everywhere are the same or should be the same. With this background in mind, the seminar series aims not to present the social fact that Muslims are diverse; rather it aims to examine how Muslims frame, address and attend to their own diversity over time and in different contexts.

In the introductory chapter, Hirji succinctly narrates the engagements and debates between the Muslims themselves and non-Muslims post 9/11. It is a contour that divides Islam and the West. The events of 9/11 and in its wake created an ambience of fear in the world, particularly in the West, about Islam and its fellow members and increased the use of ‘Islam is’ and ‘Muslims think’ statements by non- Muslims and Muslims alike, thus reifying perceptions that Islam is a fundamentally revolutionary and violent religion, and that all Muslims are fixated on the destruction of those who do not share their worldview. While debates and conflicts on the above mentioned titles are going on, the editor argues that the book is an attempt to dig out diversity within Islam and the processes by which Muslims discursively construct each other, as well as the socio-cultural tools they employ in doing so.

Ironically, militant actions and theological justification of violence by some Muslims have also made it plain that Muslims do vary in their interpretations of certain aspects of their religion. Indeed, such acts and discourses have precipitated many Muslims into either the repudiation or the support of the actions and views of their co-religionists, says the editor. Whatever postures Muslims have taken, the events of 9/11 and their effects have resulted in varying degrees of introspection. He justifies his views citing the different interpretations of Quran, the emergence of different schools of thought and jurisprudence such as Sufism, Salafism, Wahhabism, Quietist Islam, British Islam, French Islam, American Muslims, Fundamentalist Muslims, Liberal Muslims, Moderate Muslims, Radicalized Muslims and Jihadis besides the fundamental division of Sunni and Shia.

From the charred remains of the twin towers emerged many cynical notions and theses, including the one of Samuel Huntington and a spate of phobias, including the much rampant Islamophibia. The book might be an essential read to understand, or live in for that matter, the turbulent time of ours.

2010, PP282

Posted in: Books