Academic journal article Islamic Studies

La Convivencia: The Spirit of Co-Existence in Islam

Academic journal article Islamic Studies

La Convivencia: The Spirit of Co-Existence in Islam

Article excerpt


The tremendous inter-dependence of our era underlines the importance of successfully removing racial, cultural and religious barriers in a manner that nurtures understanding, togetherness, and acceptance. To do so, would be to embrace the ideals of 'peaceful co-existence', 'unity through diversity' and 'inclusion.' Islam, as a religious system, offers such a normative framework for inclusion, within specific parameters. However, notwithstanding its striking history of embracing difference, it has often been unfairly targeted as a source of global dissonance. This article, then, responds to that allegation and substantiates an Islamic ethical alternative for plurality based on the Qur'an and the Prophetic Sayings.


The term 'La Convivencia' describes the period of Moorish rule over the Iberian Peninsula - present-day Portugal, Spain and Sicily - in which Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities positively engaged with one another and exchanged ideas in relative harmony. This historical era impressed upon the world a lasting legacy of civilizational concord. Literally, 'La Convivencia' has been translated as 'living-together' and in Spanish holds exacting sophistication and nuance.1 It incorporates a host of other beliefs, values and ideas that revolve around the embracing inter-play of racial, cultural and religious forces. However, in this essay, it will be used to describe the normative values of mutual acceptance, tolerance and co-existence found in the Qur'an and the Sunnah, and the imperative to manifest it today. By doing so, this essay seeks to elucidate the parameters of co-existence in Islam and, hopefully, build bridges of mutual understanding.

In our global village, a comprehensive understanding of Islam and Judeo- Christo-Islamic relationship is becoming increasingly important.2 Together, these three Abrahamic faiths make up more than half of the world's population. In particular, Islam and Christianity are the world's fastest growing religions. More importantly, these three faith-based communities inherit a commonality in religious foundations, values and interests in the modern world. In that regard, as John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed succinctly state, a better understanding of what makes us similar and what makes us different can enable us to transcend barriers of prejudice and strengthen our sense of togetherness.3 Hence, in this essay, we shall attempt to understand the spirit of co-existence in Islam, firstly by discussing the importance of analyzing this issue-the proverbial 'why?'; secondly, by proceeding to establish a conceptual framework for mutual acceptance and tolerance as premised in Islam-'how?'; and, thirdly, by delineating a normative framework for understanding co-existence in Islam, utilizing the Qur'an and the Sunnah - 'what?'. In conclusion, we will examine, explore and discuss those findings along with their implications for the framework of a better understanding between civilizations.

The dynamics of this topic of 'co-existence in Islam can occur in a threefold manner. First, it can occur in a Muslim context where intolerance may exist in groups with competing Islamic schools of thought. Secondly, it can occur in the interrelationship between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in territorial space where Muslims are in a majority, albeit with a substantial non-Muslim minority, for instance in Malaysia, Nigeria or Lebanon. Thirdly, the issue of co-existence can arise where Muslims, under the leadership of non- Muslims, live as a minority such as in India, but especially where there is a marked racial and cultural diversity such as in Europe and the United States. However, while those specific contextual dynamics exist, it is assumed that the normative values outlined throughout this article are drawn from the basic textual sources of Islam. Moreover, those substantiated values are intended for all times and circumstances. Granted, over time attitudes may change; however, that has more to do with 'why? …

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