A Vision of Inclusivity: Islam and the Common Good of Humanity

Third, there are many people in the Muslim world who regard Islam as the unique and exclusive experience of the truth. This genre of Islam is popular among Muslim seminarians and their followers among Muslim masses. Moral progress is achieved insofar as secular morality comes to conform to religious morality. This is the traditional perspective of Islam that recognizes external forms of religious rituals as secure and sufficient means to effect salvation without any need to relate them to moral progress of the individual or the community. Traditional Muslims do not regard interfaith dialogue as an intellectual and sincere endeavor to understand the non-Muslim other. In fact, the majority of them do not believe even in the internal dialogue between different schools of thought and sects among Muslims (for example, between the majority Sunnites and the minority Shi'ites). 

Throughout history the phenomenological integrity of Islamic tradition has remained dependent upon the ways in which scriptural sources were retrieved and manipulated to justify one interpretation or another. One can detect reformist or "return to the fundamental teachings" agendas among various groups stretching from the shores of Atlantic to the areas in Central Asia. Needless to say, whether pursuing reformist or traditionalist agendas, these interpretations impacted the reality of religious diversity in terms of interfaith relations or freedom of religion in Muslim societies. The traditionalist interpretations of Islam have led to religious conflicts in the Muslim world. These interpretations pose the most significant threat to the public forum that aspires to bind persons apart from any religious commitments. The related problem in this traditional discourse is that it disregards the historicism of the normative sources, which leads to many misunderstandings and unjustified accusations about Muslims and their scriptures among non-Muslim powers. It is for this reason that I believe that in order to advance democratic governance in the Muslim world there is a need to sit in dialogue with the third kind of Islam that regards religious considerations as critical in shaping the consensual politics in Muslim societies. 

Historically there has not been any other time than the 21st century for the traditionalist Muslim leaders to do more than pay lip service to human dignity as the sole criterion for respect and tolerance of the cultural and religious ‘other'. Globalization of world economy has led to the intense search for some stronger bond than the existing system of international relations assumed under a world body like the UN. Even the moral commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has fallen short of the actual promotion of the inherency doctrine that undergirds this noble effort to promote the rights of religious or ethnic minorities who continue to labor under various forms of discrimination under national governments. In some ways it is the traditionalist interpretations of Islam that have provided sanctions for the majority Muslim governments to continue to stifle all endeavors toward improving the state of flagrant violations of human rights of all citizens. So far international agencies like the UN have not considered their essential role of bringing the main players -- both political and religious -- to the table to negotiate a better understanding between militant and traditionalist Muslim leadership and those Muslim governments whose claim to political legitimacy is challenged by their own citizens. 

A broader understanding of Muslim political culture is needed to garner the support of Muslim peoples to various forms of democratic participation for their better future. Political constitutionalism is a key element in getting Islam to become a partner to universal notions of democracy, pluralism, and human rights. Muslim political culture is informed by certain religious beliefs about political participation that support or reject a political sphere dominated by the regimes and the traditionalist leadership that has rationalized or legitimized the existing order. There is a correlation between religious and cultural aspects that intersect various forms of political participation in Muslim societies. These aspects have influenced the ways in which Muslims have conceived of their political space and their participation in them. And, although the Muslim world has increasingly blurred the line between religion and politics with major implications for political consciousness and participation in modern times, some sort of functional secularity has always predominated in negotiations about political space independent of religious presuppositions about its management.

The core problem in admitting traditionalist interpretations of Islam as having a legitimate place in the public forum is that various religious considerations of public discussions about political activity -- ranging from individual Muslims on religious grounds publicly condemning such acts as homosexuality or collective Muslim denial of women's right to marry outside the community in accordance with the religious duties in the Shari'a -- deny the public discourse an integrity of its own. This secular presupposition about independent public discourse is founded on the premise of universal reason, which actually excludes making moral and metaphysical claims bearing on political choices in terms understandable only in the context of religious guidance. Traditional Muslim leaders, who exercise enormous influence in the public sphere, have a problem with the position that rejects the right of the people to decide political questions by what they regard as the best reasons rooted in a transcendent sphere of Islamic scriptures. The issue of proper public discourse and choice is of concern for all religious communities who must share a public forum with other religious groups, without insisting on the idea of whole truth connected with their own truth claims. It is in this connection that the religious perspectives of Muslim traditionalists become critical in assessing the future of Islam. 

8/16/2010 4:00:00 AM