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Interreligious
Understanding

Interreligious Understanding / Presentation

Islamic renewal

Photo by Hanan Isachar / Alamy Stock Photo

Islamic renewal

Sky is our witness

A moving photo showing Christian, Jewish and Islamic symbols side by side.

Religious harmony is, without doubt, a desirable objective. But it cannot be achieved by attempting to alter people’s beliefs — a policy advocated by more than one scholar in this field. The only way to tackle the problem is to encourage people to show respect for others’ beliefs and to be humanitarian at all times in their dealings with adherents of other religions.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Islam and the future of tolerance – A dialogue

By Roshan Shah

Sam Harris is a well-known American atheist ideologue, while Maajid Nawaz is a former Islamist activist who experienced a major change of heart and mind and is now part of a circle of Muslim reformers committed to combating Islamism, de-radicalising Muslims and promoting reformist Islamic discourses. Recently they held a dialogue between each other that is now in book form. This slim book is a record of a dialogue about issues of immense contemporary concern related to Islam and Muslims.Harris raises thought-provoking questions—such as about terror in the name of Islam and widespread Muslim attitudes towards people of other faiths—while Nawaz, in responding to these issues, acknowledges the immensity of the challenges, points to the possibilities of using Islamic arguments to counter extremism in the name of Islam and reflects on the need to promote secularism, democracy and human rights in Muslim contexts.

The friendly interchange between the two reveal that although their understanding and appreciation of religion may differ markedly on many points, an atheist and a religious reformer can find sufficient common ground to have an engaging and meaningful dialogue—a common commitment to peace, democracy, secularism (understood as separation of religion and state) and justice.Today, issues related to Islam, peace and violence are hotly debated, given the horrific terror that continues to be committed in the name of Islam in large parts of the world. The conversation between Harris and Nawaz focuses mainly on this subject.

Harris argues that contrary to what Muslim reformists claim, Islam is not a religion of peace. Instead, he contends, Muslim extremists “are seeking to implement what is arguably the most honest reading of the faith’s actual doctrine”. Nawaz politely responds to Harris’ allegations about the nature of Islam. Pointing out that the “polarization of this debate between those who insist that Islam is a religion of war and proceed to engage in war for it and those who insist that Islam is a religion of war and proceed to engage in war against it” would lead to an intractable situation; Nawaz helpfully adds that religion and religious texts do not speak for themselves—they need to be interpreted.

“The best way to undermine extremists’ insistence that truth is on their side”, Nawaz tells us, “is to argue that theirs is merely one way of looking at things.” “When you open up like that”, he points out, “you’re definitely saying there is no right answer. And in the absence of a right answer, pluralism is the only option. And pluralism will lead to secularism, and to democracy, and to human rights.” Striking an optimistic note, he adds, “I genuinely believe that if we focus on the pluralistic nature of interpretation and on democracy, human rights, and secularism […] we’ll get to a time of peace and stability in Muslim-majority countries.”

Religious harmony is, without doubt, a desirable objective. But it cannot be achieved by attempting to alter people’s beliefs — a policy advocated by more than one scholar in this field. The only way to tackle the problem is to encourage people to show respect for others’ beliefs and to be humanitarian at all times in their dealings with adherents of other religions.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan