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The strengthening of faith through religious diversity

One of the much-debated religious issues in Indonesia as of today is that of pluralism. Its opponents, such as the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), believe that pluralist theology is harmful for Islamic theological foundations, as it would reject the idea that one particular religion reigns supreme and that other religions beliefs are apocryphal. The Council …


One of the much-debated religious issues in Indonesia as of today is that of pluralism. Its opponents, such as the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), believe that pluralist theology is harmful for Islamic theological foundations, as it would reject the idea that one particular religion reigns supreme and that other religions beliefs are apocryphal. The Council s fatwa (religious legal opinion) of 2005, which called for the abolishment of pluralistic theology, alarmed the Muslim community of the danger of pluralist theology. The fatwa did nothing to appease the controversy; it only made the debate fiercer.

Adian Husaini, from the Indonesian Council for Islamic Propagation (Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia, or DDII), represents another view also calling for the abandonment of pluralistic theology. The Council highlights the fear that such theology tends to make Muslims regard Islam as relative, making some fear that Muslims will convert to other religions easily or at least accept and even adopt other religions practices, such as attending common prayer sessions or celebrating other religions holy days.

The plurality of religion is an inevitable fact of humankind. Multiple religions have existed alongside one another throughout history. While recognizing the existence of other faiths, founders of religion and their adherents generally provided guidance on interfaith relations based on their own experiences. Stories of these interactions were usually documented only after years of oral tradition and subject to change. In most holy books, stories of contentious interactions with people of other faiths can be easily misinterpreted or seen as instructive of anti-pluralism.

At present, all such paradigms need to change. High rates of human mobility have brought adherents of various religions into sociable relations within different contexts, such as in the educational or business realms. Multicultural communities are found in the world s big cities. Now with the help of user-friendly information and communication technologies, people have opportunities to get to know others of different faiths through empathy-driven correspondence and dialogue among religions.

For Paul F. Knitter, a Catholic theologian from the United States, different religious teachings and forms of worship can be resources for a dialogue to enrich one s religious experience. Every religion can maintain or deepen its own integrity through encounters with other faiths. Making this materialize, however, requires a shift from the old religious mindset. For example, in Christianity Jesus is divine and the savior of the world. However, in a global context, he is not the only God and savior, because God has also inspired other communities.

Muslims need to apply a similar approach. Muslims should not consider the Quran as the only revelation to hold the absolute religious truth. A human being is merely a limited interpreter, while God is an infinite entity with far more wisdom to impart than the human mind can process. What a human being receives from God is only the reduction of God s Word in the frame of an individual s socio-cultural language, which might be incongruent with that of others . There are revelations other than the Quran, and indeed the Quran itself confirms this. The messages of the Quran, the Bible and the Vedas, among others, are directed in each case to all humankind and are aimed at creating spiritual prosperity and peace for all. In other words, the aim is not the conversion of other believers, as has been the attempt for centuries.

Let conversion become a personal issue, influenced by a person s own social, cultural and individual considerations. Rather than forbidding someone from leaving his or her faith, conversion should be the result of his or her own decision.

According to John Hick, a British theologian and religious philosopher, pluralist theology tries to understand that different faiths are different responses and perceptions of various communities towards the materialization of God. Pluralist theology wants to change the religious view from focusing on one s own tradition to seeing God as the source of all faiths.

Based on this perspective, one would not judge another faith from one s own religious perspective, but from a universal standpoint. This does not require individual believers to abandon the teachings of their respective traditions. What does need to change, however, is the individual s standpoint towards other traditions. Pluralist theology has no intention of undermining the faith of religious adherents; in fact, it seeks to strengthen it.

Through religious diversity, God has shown us that He gives blessings without any preference. Pluralist theology is a gift with which to eliminate discrimination against fellow humans for their religious beliefs. In such a context, every religious believer has the same opportunity to gain salvation. Pluralist theology, therefore, has no relation to the conspiracy theories upheld by certain groups, such as the DDII, which believe that there are concerted efforts trying to conquer adherents of their faith.

Pluralist theology should be fostered and protected, not abolished.

Ali Noer Zamanis a writer on socio-religious issues. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Topics: Wael Ghonim

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