The following is a summary of a statement by Sheikh Uthman Khan, in which he answers the question: How can we advocate for pluralism within Islam? Canadian Islamic scholar Sheikh Uthman Khan, Academic Dean of Critical Loyalty, raises prevailing issues in North American Muslim communities including religious slurs like kafir (unbeliever), and how such accusations and disassociation are an impediment to integration in intra-Muslim affairs, let alone integration within outer communities.
We need inter-religious dialogue and intra-religious dialogue
The big mess that we’re in right now is that we don’t have dialogue, rather we have more debates, and this is also within Islamic scholarship. How many people disassociate with others because they aren’t from the same group or sect? For example, someone studied one particular methodology or school of thought while another person studied a different methodology, school of thought, or even a different institution. In reality, both are Islamic scholars or at the very least educated, but many from one side will choose not to associate with the other because they are not from the same group.
The big problem: Muslims have segregated themselves from others, or from anyone who is seen as not a Muslim
Anyone non-Muslim is often considered “other.” That approach is promoted in many Muslim households and is perhaps born out of culture. When culture dictates a religion, then these biases are bound to be imported in. I find that a huge problem is that many Muslims tend to segregate themselves from everyone who is not a Muslim. It’s a very sectarian mentality. That is why the slurs of kafir (unbeliever) flies around so much in certain groups. Kafir means a non-Muslim. It’s a word that reflects another person being inferior.
Sometimes someone is considered a kafir simply because someone does not like the way they are doing things. Instead of saying, “I don’t agree with the way you understand this theory. I’m questioning the legitimacy behind this particular prophetic narration,” the individual is instead branded a non-believer.
Based on this problem, we can never achieve pluralism. We can never get everyone on the same page if we’re going to consider everyone that’s not us as “other.” If we want pluralism, then we will need to be more inclusive and less restrictive.
We should turn to ethics to advocate for pluralism
Disassociation from people who don’t think exactly like us is a result of indoctrination from a very young age. Sure, Islam and the books of Hadith tell a person how to live and instruct Muslims how to do the smallest things. However, when such acts cause a person to consider others inferior, then it becomes a problem of ethics. And ethics play a huge role in religion.
Many Muslims focus on the details of these rules and forget about the ethics. The question theologians need to answer is: Can a person be considered a Muslim but lack ethics? What defines a Muslim?
What separates Islam from other religions is the beliefs and rituals. Regarding beliefs, I’m referring to belief in one God, in the Prophet Mohammed, and Holy Books, the Angels, the Day of Judgement. That’s what makes you a Muslim. And these are very similar in other religions as well.
The next layer of belief can look toward a Muslim’s rituals such as praying 5 times a day, fasting in the month of Ramadan, giving charity. However, the common point in all religions is ethics, and they are universal. So, not backbiting or slandering someone or harming others, and being ethically good is not necessarily doing something only considered good in Islam, but also doing something good in all religions and the world at large. Looking at these ethics is what will bring everyone together on the same page.
When, in dialogue, a conversation starts with ethics then people are more willing to continue the conversation into other religion specific points. The religion of Islam is simple. It’s your beliefs and rituals. I pray five times a day. That’s my ritual. The ethics are universal in all religions.