Islamic Humanism: A Foundation for Interreligious Dialogue

By Bardhi, Ismail | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Islamic Humanism: A Foundation for Interreligious Dialogue

Bardhi, Ismail, Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Globalization has brought us today to the situation that we all live in a global village, where information and the speed of communication have almost totally erased the borders of time and space. This is surely a brand new experience for humankind, because it leaves the impression that the world is small and closed and that it is impossible to change the course of events. But, it is precisely here that the need for closer communication, dialogue, and understanding appears.

Partially due to the importance of pluralism for the modern world, and partially due to their own nature, Muslims today are called to enter into a dialogue with the People of the Book, Ehli Kitab, and with those positive movements that are found in the modern world, in order to build a just society in the concrete setting and historical time in which they live. (1) In order for interreligious dialogue to be successful, it must "correspond with reality and should be free from absolute scriptural figurization." (2)

One foundation of this interreligious dialogue (3) with the contemporary world and culture could be Islamic humanism, precisely because of the fact that the notion of humanism is one of the most important and popular themes in the contemporary consciousness. (4) Islamic humanism is an organized system of ideas and perspectives about the human being and his or her role in the world. Although Islamic humanism is a concrete and practical way of understanding (hermeneutics) of the world (worldview), it should not be understood as a model of a sociopolitical system that must be concretized in given historical circumstances.

Humanism, in general, can be understood as every reasonable approach toward created reality, where human beings--mainly because of our ontological structure, our historical significance with our intellectual-spiritual characteristics--have a special place. Such a generalized definition conditionally intends to create the needed breadth of views toward different forms of humanism that can be found in the history of the human society.

By adding "Islamic" we have no intention of discrediting other forms of humanism but wish only to concretize and clearly define the distinction and importance of this kind of humanism, which has been present throughout the history of Islam and has been reflected in Muslims' behavior toward the People of the Book and other minorities. This concrete difference should always be linked in relation to God and the one whom God sent. (5)

The other distinction of Islamic humanism that derives from its worldview is the confirmation that the human being can be fully understood only in existential relation with God, with other persons, and with the created world. This truth makes more relative the anthropocentrism of Islamic humanism and puts it in the place that it should really have. Anthropocentrism here is not conceived as a theory contrary to theocentrism nor as an idea that would in any way reject theocentrism. Likewise, anthropocentrism is not conceived as the absolute domination of the human being in the created world. The human is a being and is a part of the created world, while God is the Creator. This gives a common platform for dialogue with those spiritual groups that criticize the overemphasized role of the human being. (6) According to the Islamic understanding, the human being is not the absolute ruler of the created world but simply God's vicegerent on earth (halifetull-llahi fi-l-erd). (7)

Almost all values that Islamic humanism accepts as its own are general human values, such as freedom, justice, peace, peaceful coexistence in the society, solidarity, tolerance, etc. Although there are some general values universally valuable for all generations, humanism can be understood only in a concrete historical moment and with historical challenges of the given moment and place.

In order to present this idea as best I can, we could mention the Ten Commandments (al-Wasaya al-Ashr or the Decalogue), in the way they are presented in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the Qur'an: (8)

Hebrew Scripture                      Qur'an 
1. … 

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