Religious Pluralism: A Challenge for Muslims-A Theological Evaluation

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since the 1970's "pluralism" has become one of the catch words of the new world order in which people of different faiths live together peacefully while maintaining their differences. This term is being hailed as the reality of a world composed of diverse cultures, belief systems, and standards of morality. Parallel to this development in our "global village," where religious and cultural pluralism seem an inescapable reality, we are witnessing the beginning of a new age in our relationship with people of other faiths. Several factors have contributed to this development, including an explosion of knowledge about various religious traditions, developments in the scientific study of religion, and personal contacts between followers of different faiths due to travel opportunities, massive immigration from East to West, and interreligious dialogue meetings. (1) The renowned historian of religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, highlighted this new situation as follows:

The religious life of mankind from now on, if it to be lived at all, will be lived in a context of religious pluralism.

This is true for all of us: not only for 'mankind' in general on an abstract level, but for you and me as individual persons. No longer are people of other persuasions peripheral or distant, the idle curiosities of travellers' tales. The more alert we are, and the more involved in life, the more we are finding that they are our neighbors, our colleagues, our competitors, our fellows. Confucians and Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, are with us not only in the United Nations, but down the street. Increasingly, not only is our civilization's destiny affected by their actions; but we drink coffee with them personally as well. (2)

I. Religious Pluralism in Western Christian Thought

In this context, when we look at the present Christian attitude toward people of other faiths, we can easily see that, both officially and individually, it has undergone fundamental shifts in the last three decades. The former one-way street has become open to two-way traffic, and the one-sided monologues have been supplemented with a readiness to listen and understand. (3) This new age is challenging Christians to ask the following questions concerning the religious status of non-Christians:

If God is the God of all humanity why is the true religion, the right approach to God, confined to a single strand of humanity, so that it has not been available to the great majority of the thousands of millions of human beings who have lived and died from the earliest days until now? If God is the Creator and Father of all, can God have provided true religion only for a chosen minority? (4)

Parallel to this development, the issue of religious pluralism has surfaced as an intellectual and practical response to the religious diversity of our world. This phenomenon has become popular in contemporary Christian theology and philosophy of religion through the writings of such leading Christian thinkers as John Hick, W. Cantwell Smith, Paul F. Knitter, and other like-minded scholars, and a vast amount of literature has grown up around their writings. In fact, the development of religious pluralism as an alternative to religious exclusivism and inclusivism is partially the result of better knowledge of other religions, increasing dialogue, and contact between the followers of different religious traditions. Formal and informal contacts with people of other faiths have led some Christians to ask whether there are other ways of salvation besides the Christian faith. One of the main arguments of the defenders of this phenomenon is that, by coming to know people of other faiths and observing their lives, it has become a fairly common discovery that those faiths are as beneficial as Christianity and that their followers are "no less kindly, honest, thoughtful for others, no less truthful, honourable, loving and compassionate than" Christians. …