Pluralism in Islam -- Between Scripture and Praxis

Extracts from Article By: Parvez Ahmed


Reference and Figures: 1. The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity Pew Research Center

2. The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society Pew Research Center

Theology and Ethics of Pluralism - Yasir Qadhi & Tariq Ramadan

Egyptian writer Mona Eltahawy in a New York Times article recounted her 2005 encounter with Mohammed Akef, the then spiritual leader of Muslim Brotherhood. When she suggested to Akef that the verses in the Quran regarding women's dress have several interpretations, Akef replied, "...There are no different interpretations. There is just one interpretation."

The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are united in their belief in God and the Prophet Muhammad and are bound together by such religious practices as fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and almsgiving to assist people in need. But they have widely differing views about many other aspects of their faith, including how important religion is to their lives, who counts as a Muslim and what practices are acceptable in Islam, according to a worldwide survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The survey, which involved more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews in over 80 languages – conducted in 39 countries covering nearly 67% of the world Muslim population - , finds that in addition to the widespread conviction that there is only one God and that Muhammad is His Prophet, large percentages of Muslims around the world share other articles of faith, including belief in angels, heaven, hell and fate (or predestination). While there is broad agreement on the core tenets of Islam, however, Muslims across the 39 countries and territories surveyed differ significantly in their levels of religious commitment, openness to multiple interpretations of their faith and acceptance of various sects and movements.

Here are some of the results from that survey:

Nearly 100% declare their faith in God and believe that Muhammad is God’s Prophet and Messenger.

9 out of 10 people give Zakat (obligatory charity).

6 out of 10 people pray 5 times daily.

9 out of 10 people believe in heaven/hell, fate (Qadr) and Angels.

8 out of 10 people believe the Quran is the Word of God.

Attitude of Muslims towards intra-faith pluralism is varied and often elusive:

Nearly 1 in 5 Muslims, do not consider Sufis to be Muslims, with a high mark of 44 percent in Egypt. Such opinions overlook the role played by Sufi orders in the spread of Islam. Equally concerning, nearly 1 in 4 Muslims do not consider Shias as Muslims. Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, tops the charts with 52 percent. However, in three countries where Shias constitute the majority of the population (Azerbaijan, Iraq and Lebanon), on average less than 6 percent of the respondents disregard Shias as Muslims.


Theological doctrines on salvation is an important issue in all religions. How such doctrines are put into practice may dictate attitudes towards interfaith relations. A 2013 Pew survey titled, "The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society" show that:
Support-of Shariah
on average (median) only 18 percent of Muslims believe that people of other faiths may inherit heaven. In Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Malaysia 9 in 10 Muslims believe that "Islam is the one true faith leading to eternal life in heaven." However, in Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Cameroon, Chad, and Mozambique, nearly 4 out of 10 Muslims responded that, "many religions can lead to eternal life in heaven." Among American Muslims ("U.S. Muslims - Views on Religion and Society in a Global Context"), 56 percent believe that many religions can lead to eternal life.

On arguably one of the most important questions that consume people of all faiths there is impressive diversity of opinions. However, the parochial views in major Muslim-majority countries ought to elicit concerns.

Although hardline conservatives often deny the salvific value of other faiths, Muslim scholars Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim noted that while heaven is eternal, hell is not. Al-Ghazali and Ibn Arabi inferred that the mercy of God cannot be held in such low estimation as to conceive that salvation is only attainable by Muslims. Mohammed Hassan Khalil, in his University of Michigan doctoral dissertation, "Muslim Scholarly Discussions on Salvation and the Fate of 'Others'," concludes that given the wide variety of opinions about the salvific fate of people of other faiths, Muslims should avoid one-dimensional answers to questions regarding salvation. Verses such as, "If God had so willed, He would have made you one community,...(5:48)" and "Each community has its own direction to which it turns... (2:148)," suggests that pluralism is an integral part of Quranic values. Abdulaziz Sachedina, professor of Islamic Studies at George Mason University, in his book the " The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism," cites chapter 2 verse 213 to argue about the pluralistic vision of Islam, "Mankind was a single community, then God sent prophets to bring good news and warning, and with them He sent the Scripture with the Truth, to judge between people in their disagreements."

In addition, Kurdish theologian Said Nursi (1877-1960) and author of the Quranic commentary "Risale-i-Nur," asserts that if followers of other faiths perform a genuine worship of God, then "the manifestations of the unseen and the epiphanies of the sprit, revelation and inspiration," are not exclusive to Islam and can be found in other divinely guided faith traditions. Contemporary Turkish scholar, Fethullah Gulen stressed in a Fountain magazine article titled, "The Necessity of Interfaith Dialogue," that Muslims cannot remain prisoners of their history and act out of "political partisanship" while cloaking it in the "garb" of Islam. He noted that Islam made history's greatest ecumenical call by stating in the Quran, "Say, 'People of the Book, let us arrive at a statement that is common to us all...(3:64)." In his view, this verse provides a big tent under which, "followers of revealed religions could end their separation."

The following Map shows the sad situation on the Muslim World


Now, please be honest with yourself and ask yourself “How Muslim/secular are you?