IS RELIGIOUS PLURALISM POSSIBLE?

By Saeed Qureshi
Religious Pluralism is a utopia and can never be achieved. Universal Secularism is a possibility and is in vogue in many societies. But the religious pluralism which means belief in all religions at the same time is not possible. All the religions and their denominations cannot be kept in a melting pot so that their beliefs and precepts become one. Such kind of tolerance and coexistence which is the exact or the underlying purpose of the concept of religious pluralism is inconceivable, unless a new generation of humans is born that have no perception of religions based on variant and divergent connections with God or spirits.

In principle and as a motto, religious pluralism can prove to be a blessing for the humanity but it is like wishing for paradise in this world. It is a kind of situation that in reality is unattainable. Religious diversity would remain with the human societies as long these exist and with that the divisions along creed and sectarian lines would also stay. The votaries of religious pluralism have certainly noble motives of creating a common ground for the entire humanity for peace and harmonious cohabitation but this ambition or goal is like moving the Himalayas and creating a flat land in its place.

Logically, in the first instance, it is unthinkable to eliminate the doctrinal and faith – based differences between the sects or relgions. The coexistence between separate religious entities and divergent sects is possible. But to profess that since all faiths lead to god and therefore must be treated true and at par with each other cannot be practically achieved in human society. In paradise, it would be possible but in this world of ours where humans keep prying on each other and where diversity and particularism, of all shades reign, the convergence on the basis of shared faiths would be simply asking for the moon. It has never happened in the known human relgious history. It would remain as a laudable yet wishful ambition. There can be compromise on other issues or disputes, be these political or social but relgious common ground would remain an un-realized dream.

People may believe in one single religion, but it is utterly impossible that the believers of the respective relgions would shun their deep seated prejudices or set aside their staunch beliefs and start reposing faith in all the religions. It would nothing be short of a miracle if the Muslims start accepting Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism as the genuine religions along with their own Islamic faith. Conversely, the Jews and Christians and followers of other faiths can never think of embracing Islamic injunctions and perform them with their own. It means that the Christians would believe in trinity as well as in one god while Muslims would believe in a god split into three parts. This would lead to a sheer paradox. Can Muslim worship idols and Hindus worship an invisible one God? The Monotheism and Polytheism can never be bridged or reconciled, although the adherents might live along with each other practicing their own religious traditions and
rituals. Even to the extent of theoretical believing, it cannot be achieved.

All the religions preach tolerance but in practice, they remain entangled in ideological wars which as the history bears testimony resulted in armed conflicts and horrendous pogroms. The Judaism, the Christians, the Muslims and other religions and denominations teach forbearance and tolerance. But the difference in faith could never be compromised although they lived together in harmony with each other by practicing their own creed and traditions.

Spain under Islamic rule is one shining example where Jews and Christians had an equal status with Muslims. But that was purely a political and social arrangement for peace. It could at best be called as religious and sectarian harmony but not relgious pluralism because the acceptance of other’s faith to be legitimate and divine like their own never took place. The Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and later his efforts to unite the “doctrinally divided Christian church” further polarized Christendom. It was irreconcilably divided into Latin speaking Rome and Greek speaking Constantinople in the East

Actually diversity and not commonality of faiths is a charming manifestation of human society. But even the relgious diversity invariably degenerates into hatred for the people professing parallel faiths. The superficial layer of inter-relgion and inter-sectarian harmony evaporates as soon as the conditions that maintain such harmony no longer exist. In India, Muslims and Hindus lived together for centuries in a spirit of unity and fraternity as followers of distinct relgions and not with a notion of religious pluralism. But with division of the subcontinent into two separate independent states, the Muslims and the Hindus turned against each overnight and killed each other mercilessly.

The Hindu Muslim riots of the last few decades in India and Pakistan underscore the fact that religious entities remain poles apart in matters of faith let alone converge and coalesce on religious tenants. The secularism of the western world is of political nature and does not connote a consensus or fusion of faiths. The Catholicism and Protestantism still remain as two main separate sects as far as their beliefs are concerned. Catholics killed and terribly persecuted the followers of new sects like Waldenses and Albigenses before the advent of Reformation and the Protestants after the Reformation.

In Islamic countries Sunni and Shia relgious rivalry has always remained a threat to the unity and solidarity of their societies. There always runs an incessant sectarian tension and simmering conflict between myriad sects in Islam. Some of the latter day cults such as the Bahai religion is banned in Iran although it was born there in mid nineteenth century. In Pakistan Ahmadi a cotemporary sect of Bahai religion is treated as un-Islamic.

Demagogues and relgious preachers of contending religions push their relgions towards extremism by dubbing the opponents as anti-god and infidels. Interfaith dialogue that is used to portray relgious pluralism in fact carries entirely different meaning. While religious pluralism means acceptance of all faiths and relgions as legitimate, and from one divine origin, the interfaith dialogue is aimed at creating the spirit and climate of tolerance and cohabitation in purely societal context. It doesn’t’ mean tiding over or eliminating the collision and variation of faiths.

If any religion or cult that comes closer to the concept of religious pluralism, is the Bahai faith whose prime aim is to seek the world unity or the universal brotherhood of mankind. Bahai faith incorporates all the relgions in its fold and believes that all religions have a divine origin and were therefore true. The logic given by Bahais to validate the messages of all the founders or fathers of relgions is that God sent all these prophets or messengers to guide mankind through an evolutionary process and this process culminated in its fullest revelation in Bahaullah.

Bahai faith primarily is rooted in Shiite branch of Islam that branched off in1844. Bab a forerunner and Bahaullah the actual messenger proclaimed it. They preach universal peace and as such keep away from politics and combatant nature of duties in the army. They spread their relgious creed by socializing and conversing with the community both at group and individual levels.

The second religion that bears the stamp of religious pluralism is Sikhism. It was founded by Guru Nanak in early 16 century. The saint Nanak as he is called wanted to integrate Hinduism and Islam in a new relgion by taking the best of their teachings and precepts. Nanak believed in one invisible God and preached brotherhood of humanity. He symbolized God with a father and the humankind as the family. The belief in one god was taken from Islam while the beliefs in an immortal soul, reincarnation and Karma have been derived from Hinduism. The Sikhism main teachings incorporate spirituality, discipline, courage, unity with god and moral restraint.

these latter day religions, despite being liberal, moderate and relatively easier to practice, have not dislodged or made dents in the centuries old traditional religions that have become part and parcel of the human societies and psyche and are guarded and promoted by a closely-knit and well entrenched systems of clerical hierarchy in each religion. The churches, the synagogues, the mosques and the symbols in the form of sacred buildings, rituals, garments and prayers cannot be wished away and proven as outdated. The multitude of adherents of these religions driven by their hard-to-break traditions and beliefs would rather die than embrace a new religion that is invariably treated as heretic.

It is possible that in the distant future when the human civilizations would wear new apparels and man might soar in the space, the interest, practical involvement and observance of relgions take a back seat. But still that stage would herald a lack or diminishing of interest in the traditional relgions and not a fusion or commonality of faith in all the relgions as ingrained in the doctrine of relgious pluralism. As to when that phase of human civilization would arrive, can be a mere guess.
Posted by Saeed Qureshi, qureshisa2003@yahoo.com, on Mon Dec 22, 2008 6:47 am (PST) at Lawyers-Journalists-Activists@yahoogroups.com

One thought on “IS RELIGIOUS PLURALISM POSSIBLE?”

  1. Religious Pluralism is indeed possible
    Mike Ghouse

    Qureshi writes “Religious Pluralism is an utopia and can never be achieved. Universal Secularism is a possibility and is in vogue in many societies. But the religious pluralism which means belief in all religions at the same time is not possible. All the religions and their denominations cannot be kept in a melting pot so that their beliefs and precepts become one. Such kind of tolerance and coexistence which is the exact or the underlying purpose of the concept of religious pluralism is inconceivable, unless a new generation of humans is born that have no perception of religions based on variant and divergent connections with God or spirits.”

    In the light of the above definition, religious pluralism is not possible.

    However, Pluralism is an attitude of accepting the otherness of other. Indeed, Religions came into being with the intent of embracing one and all. Jesus reached out to the lepers, prostitutes and others who were socially rejected during his times, he set the example and a model to all of us that we cannot ignore one part of the society and have to embrace all. The human wisdom from this example is that if we exclude people on any grounds, it is bound to create a social imbalance and ultimately affects us all and our peace and existence. A balanced society sustains itself for the long haul. You will find these examples in every faith and every culture – to eliminate discrimination against other human. ( I will revise this when I get some time to bring examples from all faith traditions or you are welcome to share it in the comments section)

    A Chapter from Qur’aan addresses the believers (in other systems) in the most dignified way, putting every one on par and without putting anyone down. It is an exceptional example of civil conduct for Muslims to follow. No where in this chapter it claims the faith of Muslim to be superior and other’s to be inferior. It is the recognition of the otherness of other. – http://quraan-today.blogspot.com/2008/07/sura-kafirun-un-believers.html

    Religious pluralism is respecting the divinity of other faiths. It is not elimination or reduction of other faiths. As God is not definable, confinable, limitable or expressable, so he can be appreciated every which way. One has to chisel out the arrogance to get to that point, the very arrogance that breeds conflicts and turns ones language into a missionizing monologue. Arrogance and spirituality are inversely proportional to each other; higher the arrogance (every kind including religious) lower the spirituality – lower the arrogance higher the spirituality. As they say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, I would say, faith is in the heart of the believer.

    No system has ever worked for the mankind in full.

    Religion-wise Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism or any faith will never be accepted by 100% of the population.

    Politically, neither Republicanism, Democracy, federalism, communism, Monarchies, dictatorism, socialism or any other form of governance will ever be in currency for the whole world.

    Economically, neither capitalism, nor communism or socialism will ever be accepted by the whole world.

    God has intentionally created diversity, and wants to test our maturity. Pluralism is not any given form, it is simply an attitude to get along, lean to co-exist and move on with life.

    Several attempts have been made and unmade to forge pluralistic attitudes – notably the first known one was the Madinah pact initiated by Prophet Muhammad for Jews, Muslims, Christiains and others to live their own lives without inteterference. The second one was the governance under King Akbar in India and simultaneously in Spain. India and the US has more or less a pluralistic form of governance at its infancy and with its own flaws.

    I am pleased finally the Arlington Cemetery allowed the Wicca Symbol to go on the head stones of Wiccan soldiers. Despite the hurdles, Pluralism flourishes in India, Indonesia, UK, Egypt and the USA. India has a greater acceptance of Atheist and am glad to see that trend in the US.

    Yes, Religious pluralism is possible, but never with 100% acceptance.

    Mike Ghouse

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