Sunday, April 8, 2012

Of Tolerance and Pluralism

Problem statement
Last year, I went to a program organized by United Religions Initiative. I am sure most who followed my blog read it.  It was a really good and effective program - their scheme along the program was to sit in group, to share, and to interact, sometimes multimedia presentation. Sharing opinions was really encouraged. Even some Muslimah colleagues of mine, who could barely speak in English before they attended, ended up being brave and courageous enough to speak to others in English. In the program, there were representatives from different countries[Australia, India, Thailand, Philippine, UK and others], cultures and religions[Islam, Christian, Buddha, Bahai, Hindu, Jungle Spirit]. I learned a lot from that program, and I made very good friends. There were some issues, and of course, as a normal person, some issues were meant to be resolved later owing to lack of capacities and means.

There, I was taught that 'tolerance' was a very bad word. The word implies your action is unwilling and forced. 'To put up with'. For example, you hate eating veges. But, you tolerate it, because it is good for your health. In a simple word, tolerance carries a negative luggage, or connotation. So, it is not good, to bring the concept of tolerance into a religious framework. It is like your tolerance is not based by good intention, because you TOLERATE. So we asked, what's the solution? The presenter said, we dissolve the barrier. Anything that stands between us and them, we dissolve. Any differences or any conflicts - are to be dismissed and carry on. The keyword is to ACCEPT others by heart. Even if our religious obligations were in the way. We are told, not to be too extremist. This was when I started to disagree. For other religion, it might be easy. But for Islam, this issue had been carefully fortified. As Syirk, to associate partner to Allah is the biggest sin in Islam. Na'uzubillahi min Zalik. Neither the framework nor technical means had been explained at that time.

My friends and I later continued to gather information. The program was around three to four days if I am not mistaken. We learned, that if anything comes between us and our objective, objective comes first. Their objectives for example are, to promote peace and understanding, to prevent religious-motivated violence, to advocate justice and equality etc. It was a big relief that we had been able to put it in an actual framework, crystal clarity. For example, I was told by a Muslim friend from overseas attending the program, to him, it's okay to touch hands with women, as long as your intention is to introduce them to Islam. And there he was, hugging and poking female colleagues. Another example, when our religious duties were the reason for religious-motivated violence, or not accepting others, our duties should be dismissed. Even if it means to sacrifice our aqidah. Another example, when we were brought to a Gurdwara (Sikh's temple), we saw our friends from other beliefs joined their prayer ritual. In the name of respect and acceptance, they joined together the ritual, as if they agreed to worship other gods than theirs'. Why in the name of respect and acceptance? Because these were the values portrayed in the program. Their concept of acceptance was not to accept differences and work around it, but rather dissolve any differences and pass through once was a closed perimeter; a religion and its principles in this case. In that kind of acceptance, acknowledgement does not exist.

The explanation to this situation is - in order to achieve goals, some things are to be sacrificed. In this context, things that are needed to be sacrificed sometimes are the very foundations of the religion itself. What makes us human? Consciousness, love, conscience, awareness, logic, feelings? The answer may differ, but if we are to shed the essence that makes us human in order to achieve our goals, can we be called human? As the answer to define human sometimes may fall into the category of subjectivity, my religion which is Islam is not like that. What makes Islam is definite, specified and absolute. It had been mentioned by our beloved Prophet Muhammad peace be upon Him, that Islam is built on the 'fives' - Syahadah, Prayers, Zakat, Hajj, and Ramadhan fasting [From Umar Al Khattab, narrated by Muslim and Bukhari]. By definition, these pillars are what made me a Muslim. If I were to violate any one of those pillars, am I able to call myself a Muslim? I tried to understand their situation. It was understandable, their religions weren't like Islam. Islam is a religion - built upon a very solid foundation. The main sources of Islam which are the Quran and Hadith are authentic, abundant, and are studied comprehensively. The historical validity of these sources are proven firm and authentic. Therefore, Islam in terms of principles, technical and knowledge basis had already been clarified and completed by Prophet Muhammad. It's not their fault if they were not aware of my concern regarding this.

Searching for solutions
After the program ended, I still could not resolve it. I have a situation; I accepted the problem in this context - TOLERANCE. The concept behind this is the reason why any interfaith cooperation is short-lived, impulsive, sometimes dangerous, and often incite religious-motivated violence. That's the case of cooperation, what about people with different beliefs living next door? Around the globe, there are many cases regarding interfaith violence. People with self-centered attitude, imposing forced pressure in the name of religion, making hostile encounter with other beliefs. As far as I am concerned, Alhamdulillah, people around me, and those whom I know, they are friendly and open with people from other beliefs. And these cases of violence rarely happen in my locality. Still, I acknowledged the problem stated by the organizer. I will help and support to heal the world, be it religious, humanity, gender or animal issue.

However, I did not accept the solution they suggested. I disagreed with them. At that time, I believed there must be another way to solve this. I could not find the right solution, or may I say, a proper reasoning to reach the solution I had hoped for. ACCEPTANCE in their definition to me was oblivious, and works one way. And along the way, I searched and read for solutions. Some people will be okay with an end-of-means solution, but for me in this aspect, I am not satisfied with it until I find, know, and understand the accurate framework and reasoning of a solution.

The Quest for Meaning
Alhamdulillah, I found a way. I think it will provide a very good impetus for me to start constructing answers. I am now reading a book, The Quest For Meaning; Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism by Tariq Ramadan. In this book, he made a very good point of view - providing a vantage point for formulating practical solution(s) when dealing with issues of inter-faith and inter-sectarian. He said 'The point is not to integrate systems, values, and cultures with other systems, values and customs, but to determine - in human terms - spaces of intersection where we can meet on equal terms. The intersection of what we have in common, rather than the integration of differences'. This point is undoubtedly beautiful. Although, it requires us, to throw away some archetypes when it comes to rivalry and difference. For us to work together for the betterment of this world, we really need to cooperate at hand with our similarities and deal with differences. We have to digest the attitude 'agree to disagree' and move forward. It is only my opinion, but for us to benefit and function at our optimum level, this concept should be introduced. It's not only should be applied to inter-faith relations, but to Muslim, inter-jama'ah as well.

Say, "O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you - that we will not worship except Allah and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah ." But if they turn away, then say, "Bear witness that we are Muslims [submitting to Him]."  [Ali Imraan : 64]
The concept has already been introduced in the Quran. In this verse, there is a direct command and, from my humble view, an indirect lesson. The direct command was for us to invite Ahlul Kitab to come and talk about our similarity - having Allah as our God. The indirect lesson was for us, to acknowledge, different people comes with different character. Our job is to find the right similarity or common space. We cannot come to an atheist and say to him, 'We are the same. We worship one God'. Instead, if he is a humanitarian activist, we might rather say, 'Hey, you and I. We love peace and justice. Why don't we work together and work it out from this common point?'. If he refuses, we will not force him to accept. But, we will continue to make allies and move on.

Hilful Fudhul
I love to share with you a story, from our Prophet's seerah. The chapter is called Hilful Fudhul. This event happened before Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) prophethood. Once, in Mecca, a Bedouin from Zabid [Zubaid] came to do business. He sold his merchandise to one of the Quraisy chieftains, al 'As ibn Wa'il. Al 'As purchased the whole caravan but paid nothing to the man. Upon this, the man met several leaders around the vicinity to ask for help, but none of them wanted to help. He later went to the crowd, calling out loud noble-hearted and fair-minded men to come to his rescue. Many of them later gathered at Abdullah bin Jud'an's house to form a pact. In the name of Allah, a pact called Hilful Fudhul - all the representatives present made an oath to restore justice, refrain from injustice and to assist the oppressed within Mecca. The members of the covenant later forced Al 'As to return all of the man's belongings. Prophet Muhammad was one of the members, and even after a long time in its prophethood, he still appreciated and satisfied with the pact. Prophet Muhammad even expressed his appreciation :

لقد شَهِدْتُ فى دار عبدالله بن جُدْعَانَ حَلفًا لو دُعِيتُ بهِ فى الإسلام لَأَجَبْتُ , تحَالفُوا أن يَرُدّوا الفُضُولَ على أهلها وأن لا يُعِزُّ الظالمُ مظلومًا
I had a hand in making such an arrangement in the house of ‘Abdullah Ibn Jud’an to which if I were invited again to help even after the advent of Islam, I would have undoubtedly participated once more. They promised to restore all the rights of the oppressed to the owner so that wrongdoers can not do injustice to the weak. "” [Sirah ibn Hisyam]
Prophet Muhammad's love for good values should be the perfect example for us. In these days where people work together to oppress others, we should do the same. If only, we could put aside and acknowledge our differences, and work together to achieve our goals, this world will be a better place. Aside from working together, as a Muslim, of course it will provide us a better opportunity to present and share Islam to others. It's time for us not to confront others with hostile and cold attitude. We cannot expect people to accept our message of peace, if we are not men of peace ourselves. Islam is a religion in which its constituents are chained by proper logic and reasoning. So, if we want to relay the message of Islam, we should be civilized because the vantage of reasoning comes with the act of civilization and adab. 

Lately, activists [ikhwah & akhawat] have been too preoccupied arguing over petty issues - which jama'ah is the best, the most authentic, the most original, these and that have hidden agenda, racist, cooperate with kuffar and many more. These kind of issues have been already solved by 'Ulama with concrete answers and arguments. No need to cause another upheaval. There are many people out there who are in need of our insight, help, guidance, and company. Help them. 

Could You help me..
Before I end, I have in my mind two questions. If you are able to answer it, or help me to find the answer, do PM me in FB or drop a comment. I would be happy if you do so. 

1. Islam and prophet Muhammad were sent as rahmah lil 'alamin. Blessings. So, I want to ask, related to my post, what kind of rahmah does it mean? Is it rahmah as if in justice, equality and equity, good governance, no corruption, no poverty, no wars and confrontation - blessings that will be enjoyed when Islam at its peak? Or rahmah as in people revert into Islam?

2. In this aspect [ideology, philosophy], I view them as a set that can be divided. For example, liberalism. I view liberalism can be divided into smaller parts. And the way I deal it, is I think we can take good parts to be integrated into our life. I don't take generalization and throw away the whole thing. I think, that philosophy/theory/ideology is a product of human mind. Be it guided or unguided. And I think, there is any grain of truth everywhere anywhere that is waiting to be picked up, by us Muslims. All in all, I don't reject the whole idea until I really know what it is. I see something in socialism, in secularism, in liberalism, and in this post, something beautiful in pluralism. And I don't think it as replacing Islam, no, Islam can never be replaced, at all. But I think, we are in need of tools and somehow, these tools are hidden in those ideologies. So, I want to ask your opinion. Am I in the right way of thinking? 

Clarification - I hate Zionism and Zionists.
Lastly, I want to clarify. It might seem that I'm proposing open-mindedness in this post. Still, take note - there is a huge difference in khilaf between two opinions, and khilaf between opinion and BATIL[in Islam]. I mean, sometimes, it is necessary to confront. I bring one example, Israel is attacking Palestine. And McD is proven to contribute a huge portion of money to Israel. If someone is said, it is khilaf, I should accept it and go on. I will say no. I will respect his choice to eat McD, but I will say, what he does is a batil, a sin, a zulm, a support in the act of oppression. An inconsiderate and selfish action. It is as clear as day, and who cannot even see the reasoning behind it, should question your humanity.

As Che Guevara once said "If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine". Let us be the comrade of Godly values and let us promote peace.
Aiman Azlan's twitter

p/s - baru beli album Maher Zain. Lagu paling best, Paradise. Do listen to it, and talk to your wind. I have my angel beside me.
p/s - any statement regarding other faith, culture, and religion in this post does not mean disrespect. I am deeply sorry if any of those offended any. Do tell if there is any.


  1. I know one person...who shares the same passion as you pasal ni and said something about talking to angel..

    Wonder if its coincidence.


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