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The Ethics of Managing Diversity in Islam

"And if your Lord had so willed, He could surely have made mankind one Ummah [nation or community (following one religion only)], but they will not cease to disagree. Except him on whom your Lord has bestowed His Mercy and for that did He create them."(The Holy Qur’an, Chapter Hud, verses 118-119)

The foundations of civilization in Islam include the principle of religious pluralism, which recognizes that non-Muslims can also believe in God and the hereafter, and gain reward for their good deeds. 

"And if your Lord had so willed, He could surely have made mankind one Ummah [nation or community (following one religion only)], but they will not cease to disagree. Except him on whom your Lord has bestowed His Mercy and for that did He create them."(The Holy Qur’an, Chapter Hud, verses 118-119)

1.Diversity as Part of Divine Will

This verse of the Qur’an shows that diversity is a universal and divinely ordained fact of life that is one of the fundamental objectives of Islamic law. Diversity encompasses all aspects of human nature and the nature of life, and is the basis for renewal.

Islam has bestowed human rights on every human being regardless of race, color, language, religion or gender. The Qur’an states, "We have honored the sons of Adam" (Chapter al-Israa, verse 70). This is one of the foundations for recognition of diversity.

Thanks to this diversity, life is renewed, reality is constantly changing and ijtihad (human reasoning) takes place. There is a clear need to understand this diversity in light of a maqasidi (purposeful) approach that takes into account the requirements of our day and age, as well as the needs of different contexts.

Ijtihad in this sense is equivocal and not conclusive because it is carried out by human beings with different views, readings and methodologies. Rather than responding to these differences with violence, we have to ask how Islamic civilizations managed this diversity in the past.

2.Foundations for the Management of Diversity in Islam

Islam recognized diversity and laid the foundations for managing diversity and provisions that prevent its mismanagement. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) presented a practical model for managing diversity through Sahifat al-Madina, essentially a constitution for the first Muslim society.

Sahifat al-Madina contained legal provisions concerning public order, rights and freedoms, and set out the rules for ensuring coexistence between Muslims and other residents of the city who had accepted and committed to the contents of the Sahifa.

The verse of the Qur’an "There shall be no compulsion in religion" (Chapter al-Baqarah, verse 256) makes clear that recognition of diversity is a fundamental premise. This is further emphasized in the verse "Do not transgress. Indeed, Allah does not like transgressors" (Chapter al-Baqarah, verse 190), which makes clear that the use of force is the exception rather than the rule.

In Islam, war is an exceptional circumstance. Thus, Allah says in the Qur’an, "And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also]" (Chapter al-Anfal, verse 61). The killing of non-Muslims is not permissible according to Islamic law. Muslims are only permitted to fight against non-Muslims if they are attacked. Thus, the basis for warfare is self-defense, not fighting against disbelief. Moreover, according to Islamic law, declaring war is the prerogative only of the ruler and not ordinary citizens.

3.Islamic History and Civilization

Islamic history shows us that when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) embarked on his journey from Mecca to the town of Yathrib, which was at that time afflicted by war and strife, he changed its name to al-Madina (the city).

This change was not arbitrary. It sought to achieve the principle of istikhlaf - making human beings vicegerents on earth, whose role is to build, develop, and take care of the earth and everything around them. The values and principles of Islam promote the building of civilization and coexistence based on peace, without any resort to conflict except out of necessity and self-defense.

The principle of istikhlaf is indivisible from the value of freedom, which is complemented by the value of divine bestowal of dignity on humanity as a whole. This is supported by rights, which are granted by God but implemented and applied by humans according to their contexts. Allah states in the Qur’an, "And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills - let him disbelieve’" (Chapter al-Kahf, verse 29).

Allah also says in the Qur’an, "Would you compel the people in order that they become believers?" (Chapter Yunus, verse 99). The Qur’an expresses respect for the distinctiveness of each religious group, "To each among you, We have prescribed a law and a clear way" (Chapter al-Maa'idah, verse 48).

These foundational principles are supported by the principle of religious pluralism, which recognizes that non-Muslims can also believe in God and the hereafter, as well as gain rewards for their good deeds. "Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] - those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness - will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve" (Chapter al-Baqarah, verse 62).

The Holy Qur’an established the principle of pluralism and warned Muslims not to believe that divine mercy is limited to them, "Paradise is not [obtained] by your wishful thinking nor by that of the People of the Scripture [Jews and Christians]. Whoever does a wrong will be recompensed for it, and he will not find besides Allah a protector or a helper" (Chapter an-Nisaa, verse 123).

This opened Islamic civilization to all groups, with whom Muslims debated and interacted, setting specific rules for managing differences, such as the saying: "Do not get angry, do not get anxious and do not judge. Do not turn away while I am conversing with you. Do not allow yourself to interpret a verse according to your own interests unless you also interpret it according to my interests. Give priority to honesty and getting to know others."

4.Guidelines for Managing Diversity

A sound approach to managing diversity should include avoiding the following: anger or excessive zeal in defending one’s opinion, misunderstanding the Qur’anic text, using verbal and physical violence, takfeer (accusing other Muslims of being apostates), accusing others of inventing invalid religious arguments or interpretations, and judging others.

Engaging with the Qur'anic text requires the adoption of a dialectical approach along with a maqasidi (purposeful) approach in order to understand the ultimate purpose of the text.

It is necessary to broaden one’s understanding by clarifying concepts related to the issue of diversity, giving importance to the moral and aesthetic aspects of religion, and embracing a culture of dialogue and acceptance of the other.

It is essential to read jurisprudential and theological texts in light of their historical and cultural contexts so as to allow for engaging with emerging knowledge and scientific developments today.
 

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