The term manyness denotes the state of existing in more than one form, kind, or type. Religious manyness therefore refers to the existence of the many religious groups. Topics on religious manyness seek to explain the various religions and the need for the members of these groups to co-exist peacefully in the society (Rita 15). The study of religious manyness aims to instill in learners the need to respect every religion and have harmony in the society. Religious manyness encompasses having a healthy relationship among people of different faith.
In some instance, the term religious manyness is substituted with the term religious pluralism. Pluralism generally means many and members of different religious groups need to learn to accept the existence of other religions parallel to theirs and they must respect the various doctrines of these religions. The must accept the validity of other religions different from the one they belong to. People must only be tolerant towards other religions, must view them as different paths that are also leading to the same God they are worshiping.
The idea of religious manyness has existed for a long time, but in 20th century, people especially those in north America and western Europe started popularizing the idea of various faiths working together and even the creation of interfaith movements that aimed at bringing members of various faiths together to learn and work as one family(Douglas and Thomas 354). The American culture has witnessed a tremendous growth in the area of religious manyness, ardent Christians and Muslims have recognized that Christianity or Islam are not the only paths to God, but there are several others.
Religious manyness is about people of various religious groups agreeing on social issues and sharing values. Many religions believe that sharing with the poor is good and godly, but unless they agree on aspects regarding their different religions then they cannot exists in harmony. This is what manyness would involve, giving credit to the beliefs of other religious groups. Sunni Muslims makes up about 80% of the global Muslim population.
Sunni Islam has its own religious beliefs that distinguish it from other religious groups. The beliefs of Sunni Islam include the sacred narratives, which are mainly the Quran revelations, prophetic missions of various biblical prophets and the story of creation among others (Alan 43). Sunni Islam gives more legitimacy to caliphates institutions and the elections of Uthman, Umar ibi al Khattab and Abu Bakr. The most treasured biography in the Sunni Islam religion is that of prophet Mohammad.th prophet’s biography later become known to many simply as Sira, which played a crucial role towards clarifying and legitimizing the mission of the prophet Mohammad.
Another belief among the Sunni Islamic believers is the belief in divine beings and ultimate reality. The main elements under these believe are the pillars of Islam. They believe in God, the almighty as the only existing divine being. Contrary to Christians who believe that God exists in trinity, Sunni Islam believes that God does not share his divinity, and he does not have co-creators or partners. The angels are not considered divine according to the Sunni Muslims, but they are considered to be in between divinity and humanity.
The existence of sunnism is defined by six articles of faith. These articles are not the same as the five pillars of Islam.(Fred 67) The articles include the belief in angels, oneness of God, a belief in the last judgmental belief in the revealed scriptures, a belief in the prophets and messengers sent to humankind and a belief in predestination. Sunnism states that humans and the universe are part of reality but God is the ultimate reality. By placing God above everything, Sunni Muslims succeeds in separating the ultimate reality of divine God from the reality of the human beings.
The most established theological school among the Sunni Islam is the Asharis. It is a very strict observant of practice and doctrines and have been labeled as traditionalists in many occasions. There are other schools of thoughts that have not been accepted by the Sunni Muslims. One of these rejected schools of thought is the Mutazilis system which applies human reasoning towards the interpretation of the scripture and discerning of the religion (Brian 67). It is however important to note that Asharis have never rejected reason neither did the Mutazilis reject the traditions, and so there is not big complications between the two systems. In their attempt to explain the understanding of the almighty God in the Islamic principles, the Asharis prioritized God’s ultimate reality as an aspect that is beyond human understanding.
Purpose of Existence and Human Nature
Sunni Islam puts more emphasis on the adherence and following the traditions and customs of the prophet Mohammad. The most important aspect of adhering to the practices is to emulate the life of Mohammad in daily activities. This is majorly anchored on the Islamic believe that the prophet was himself an embodiment of good character and that he was sent to earth to teach humankind how to improve on their characters. Sunni Muslims believe that Mohammad is the role model for their rituals, behavior and major aspect in Sunni devotion.
Unlike other Muslims denominations, sunnism involves the belief that a good relationship with the prophet would definitely lead to perfection of human character and behavior (David 286). Non- Muslims should understand that even though ardent Muslims believe in creating a relationship with the prophet as a way of showing love and affection to the prophet, he is neither alive nor accessible to human beings. Efforts made by all Muslims in trying to emulate the life and character of prophet Mohammad is regarded as the best way to show of reverence by human beings.
The Quran instructs all Muslims to emulate the life of the prophet because he showed the best character while he was still on earth. The adherence to the traditions is referred to as Sunna. Sunna laws have been coded over time to establish how exactly human beings should emulate the prophet (Douglas and Ruparell 143). This was understandable since Muslims wanted to know how much their lives and daily activities were supposed to mirror those of Mohammad. It was also obvious that nobody would be able to emulate everything the prophet did, especially because he stood out as God’s best creation.
Sunni jurists were given the responsibility of establishing extent to which Muslims should emulate the prophet. These jurists came up with three Sunna categories (David 286). The first Sunna involved worship; fasting rules and how to pray. Another Sunna was manner of dressing; use of extra supplications as Mohammad did but was regarded as a matter of choice. The other category involved actions of the prophet that ordinary believers were not capable of such marriage of four wives at the same time and having revelations from Allah. The last category involved mission of the prophet and was therefore not a requirement for the Muslims to follow and adhere to in order to show their commitment and love to their religion, prophet and God.
Islam and the Religious Manyness
One question that Islamic believers may ask themselves is if Islam is the only way to God. Are there other paths apart from Islam? What about non-Muslims who live good lives and are not involved in the violation of other people’s rights? Do they have space in Paradise as good Islam followers who believe in Allah?
These questions may not have direct answers to some people but discussion on each of them would involve discussion of two main aspects; social pluralism and religious manyness. Social pluralism aims at achieving peace and harmony in the society through respecting of other people’s cultures even if they do not conform to your beliefs. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are referred to as the Abrahamic religions. They both trace their origin to Abraham but only Islam has recognized Christianity and Judaism (Douglas and Ruparell 143). The Christianity does not recognize Mohammad as the messenger and prophet of God, and Judaism refused to recognize Jesus the prophet or the Messiah.
Sunni Islam, just like other Islamic denominations, believes that messengers and prophets were sent by God to protect and guide human beings. Mohammad is regarded as the first prophet and Adam is the first prophet. Islam recognizes 124,000 prophets but only five of them are ranked high in the spiritual hierarchy. These five include; Musa (Moses), Ibrahim (Abraham), Nuh (Noah), Muhammad and Isa (Jesus).
A true Muslims is supposed to believe in all the above mentioned prophets, if he or she singles out any one of the five then he or she is not considered a true Muslim. Any Muslim who refuses to accept Isa (Jesus) as one of the prophets just because he is worshipped by Christians is not considered a Muslim (David 286). It can be said that Islam allows its followers to recognize and respect Judaism and Christianity as other paths that lead to God, but insists that Islam is the right path.
The terms the people of the scripture and the people of the book have been several times by Muslims to refer to the Jewish and Christian communities, and they are the only two communities which Islam have allowed some of its followers to marry from(Peter and Rey). It is important to note that Islam referred to the Christians and Jewish people as the people of the scripture long time ago even when there was no tolerance among various faiths.
Religious manyness is evident in Islam in the readiness of Muslim governments to sign agreements Christian minorities among its citizens (Panicker 243). The great-grandson of Mohammad called Ali Zainul Abidin wrote that
It is the right of the non-Muslims living in a Muslim country that you should accept what Allah has accepted from them and fulfill the responsibilities which Allah has accorded them…..and there must be a barrier keeping you from doing any injustice to them, from depriving them of the protection of Allah and from flaunting the commitments of Allah and his messenger concerning them. Because we have been told that the holy prophet said ‘whosoever does injustice to protected non-Muslims, I will be his enemy (on the day of judgment)’.
Islam believes in peaceful co-existence with other religions too even if it does not accord them recognition as it does to Christianity and Judaism. History shows that Muslims have treated the minority Christians and Jews living among them better that Muslims were treated in Europe.
Religious Manyness in Islam
John Hick is remembered one of the main proponent of modern religious manyness. He left the Catholic exclusivist view and formed his own theory. He said that all religions, each in its own way, represented an authentic revelation of divinity and true salvation (Kevin, Kivisto and Swatos 45). He believed that all religions are conditioned responses towards reality and are valid means of salvation. The differences among religions are only their cultural backgrounds.
Hick sought to clarify the conflicts that arise when people try to view religious groups all multiple paths to God. He said that there are three main issues that define the differences observed among various religious groups; on trans-historical facts, on historical facts, on the conceptions of the real. He also stated that any religion that conflicts with others or tries to falsify other religions would be considered mythological
Some Muslim scholars have tried to interpret some parts of the Quran to bring out aspects where it advises Muslims to embrace religious manyness (Chris and Ariarajah 35). The term Islam is therefore to be considered as a verb and not as a noun. As a verb, slam means submission while as a noun it refers to the religion. The scholars therefore point out that Quran is the message from God that requires all Muslims to submit to him, it does not matter whether they submit through Muhammad, Isa, Musa or Ibrahim.
The Main Differences in Islam and Other Religions
Islam requires that humankind submit to God though accepting and obeying his commandments. Muslims are supposed to act on the final commandment is Islam (submission) which was brought by Mohammad. Christians and the Jews have found it hard to submit through Mohammad (Stephen 98). Quran says that the people of the scripture refused to submit to God through this version and are therefore not protected by Allah who had sent Mohammad with the message.
Al –Islam verse in Quran refers to submission to God through Mohammad and not through other prophets. Islamic religion requires that human beings believe in what Allah has revealed to them and Quran is what has been revealed to every Muslim from all corners of the world. The submission only occurs when an individual acknowledge and accepts all the prophets without leaving any one of them.
Muslims gives a clear definition of belief and faith different from both the Christians and Jews. Muslims believe in all prophets and their revelations because if Christians or Jews believe more than them then Allah would rightly guide Jews and Christians and not the Muslims (Rita 376). Muslims view Islam as the right path to God. The evidence pointed out by Muslims is the efforts made by Prophet Mohammad to reach out to Christians and the Jews to submit to Allah. It is said that Mohammad would not have struggled that much if the two religions were already in the right path. All religions are however warned that no religion guarantees a direct entry to salvation. A person’s deeds determine whether he goes to heaven or not. Even though Muslims may regard Islam as the right path to God, tolerance and peaceful co-existence with others is of immense importance.
The modern society has however failed to give attention to Islamic religious manyness. People are supposed to understand Islamic perspective regarding the issue of religious manyness because just like in the perspectives of the Jewish and Christianity, it is very important towards ensuring harmony and peaceful co-existence among human beings. Globalization and mostly polarized world makes it more important to understand the Islamic perspective as well (Douglas and Ruparell 143). As stated earlier, Quran has many aspects in which religious manyness is discussed.
Quran goes further to explain that all human beings came from the same soul but are not created in different ways. The verses in the Quran demonstrate that issue of variations and diversity among humans is something normal and very essential for the existence of humankind. Human actions determine people’s nobility and no human has the right to judge others. Only Allah has the right to judge other people. Quran acknowledges that Allah purposely allowed other religions to exist in the community because he has the power to create only one religion.
A closer look into the life and teachings of the prophet Mohammad gives Islamic stand on manyness of religious groups (Rita 376). Throughout his life, the prophets consistently showed respect and tolerance towards other religious groups. He also dealt and treated his opponents with respect they deserve without looking at them along the religious lines. An example is given of the time when the prophet had some Christian delegations that came from Najran to engage him in a theological debate (Charles 65). The prophet did not only invite the delegation to live in his mosque but also encouraged them to carryout activities of the Christianity religion inside the mosque.
Another aspect where the prophet showed recognition of religious manyness was in the famous treaty of Hudaibiya where his approach was highly linked to recognition of religious manyness. He accepted the bitter demands made by the Quraish who had no idea of his priesthood position. In the conquest of Makkah event, the prophet showed religious manyness and humanistic approach when he declared the house of his bitter opponent as a place of peace and asylum, no matter who accepted or rejected Islam. He also granted amnesty to all people who had been conquered.
These examples are just a few instances in the life of Prophet Mohammad that shows that Islam recognizes and respects religious manyness (Douglas and Ruparell 143). These practices and teachings have inspired humanity throughout human civilization history. It would be noticed that since time immemorial, whenever Muslims venture into new grounds or countries and flourish, religious manyness is plays huge significance in those new societies. Religious manyness has also made it possible for other religions to succeed in Islamic nations. The Muslims recognizes these factors and are major supporters of religious manyness in the society.
Baghdad, Cairo and Cordoba are some examples of flourishing cities that owe their status to the acceptance, recognition and respect for the human diversity in faith, backgrounds and regions (Rita 376). The ruling dynasties in these cities used their religious manyness mechanisms to build vibrant and powerful civilizations. The use of technology in the modern society has bridged the gap between various nations, people and religions and in this way it has made communication a lot easier as compared to the past. However, the problem is that the same technology advancement has created tensions among people in the society. This situation therefore requires thorough teachings of Islamic religion, which promotes the ideals of religious manyness in the society.
Some countries such as Pakistan have benefited from a society that upholds religious manyness. The diversity among the citizens of Pakistan forms the strong fabric which holds the country together and in harmony (Rita 376). In some countries however, the diversity in faith and backgrounds have led to polarization and countries should recognize diversities as human reality and learn how to live together peacefully in the society instead of trying to eliminate each other. Admissibility of religious manyness in Islam should be understood by all Muslims and non-Muslims so that people are able to control and manage the existing differences among them.
It is only through this understanding that the religious differences would be transformed into strength of the society and change the society to one where religious differences are not only owned but also celebrated and respected. Practices and teachings of the Islamic faith requires that its followers understand the realities of the world and that they fully understand the approaches and ideals of religious manyness from the Islam perspective because its only by doing so that young Muslims live in harmony with people from other religions and sustain peace in the society.
The misconception that Islam is intolerant and violent is usually fueled by the small section of Muslim believers who carryout miscreant acts on people from other religions (Rita 376). Their action is then unfairly attributed to the teachings and doctrines of the Islamic religion. The violence carried out on the minority groups in Islamic nations is not in line with the practices and teachings of Islam and must not be used to describe the Islamic religion in general.
Religious Manyness in Other Religions
Hinduism is regarded as the religion that recognizes religious manyness more than any other religion. They believe in the existence of many holy books, many paths to heaven and that no single religion represents truth exclusively (Henrik, and Pihlstrom 85). The Hinduism followers believe that the truth is big enough to accommodate all diverse religions. This open acceptance of many paths by Hinduism ahs confused others to see Hinduism as a collection of sects or cults.
In the Christianity religion, many believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. They also believe that Christianity is not the only path to heaven and that other religions are also kinds of paths that one can follow. Christians do not believe in judging others and only God can judge people. Everyone was created by God and everyone is a child of God despite the religious group they ascribe to.
Buddhism is considered as of the most open religion to other religious groups. The followers believe that people should be more accommodative and tolerant towards other religions. The religion is famous for the famous dream of the Buddhist king. In it he saw some blind men trying to identify an elephant (Rita 376). Every man named the elephant according to the part he touched. Some referred to the elephant as a snake just because the held its trunk another one said it was a coconut. This dream was later interpreted to mean the way in which different religions refer to one God by different names and practices.
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