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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

High rates of human mobility have brought adherents of various religions into sociable relations

Religion is pluralistic, so let's make sure it stays that way
By Ali Noer Zaman THE DAILY STAR Tuesday, September 04, 2007
One of the much-debated religious issues in Indonesia 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 undermine the idea that a particular religion is supreme and that other religious beliefs are apocryphal. A MUI fatwa 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 (or DDII), represents another view also calling for the abandonment of pluralistic theology. The DDII 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 Koran 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 Koran, and indeed the Koran itself confirms this. The messages of the Koran, the Bible, the New Testament, 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 toward 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 toward 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 given 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, that believe that there are concerted efforts trying to conquer adherents of their faith.
Pluralist theology should be fostered and protected, not abolished. Ali Noer Zaman is a writer on socio-religious issues. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this info. I have added a link to this news in my blog's post @ Multifaith Information Gateway
    Best wishes, Dr. Mohamed Taher