Islam and Pluralism

Grand Mosque at Sunset

Since its inception, Islamic theology has acknowledged religious difference. The Medina constitution is a unique example of “pluralistic theocracy” where the Prophet Mohammed and the nascent Islamic community acknowledged in their midst the people of the previous monotheistic revelations (Ahl Al Kitab). This acknowledgement should not be mistaken with the secular understanding of pluralism: it was hierarchical, with limited/little recognition for the space of non-monotheistic religions within the nascent Islamic community. Nevertheless, throughout history, Islam has had lengthy encounters with other religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, given that two-thirds of Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia. The concept of Ahl al-Kitab, and the related ahl al-Dhimma, has therefore been extended to include other groups besides those mentioned. 

Another historic feature of Islamic pluralism is the internal diversity of religious opinions within the Sunni tradition with the continued existence of four major schools of jurisprudence and their recognition of acceptable differences or ikhtilaf. At the same time, Sunni-Shia dynamics have always been a sensitive political issue impacting theologies and practices of negotiating the diversity and plurality inherent within Islam. Nonetheless, most of the scholarly attention has been to consider how reflection within the Islamic tradition deals with interreligious diversity, rather than its intrareligious diversity. This workshop, hosted by the University of Birmingham, was the official launch of a series of workshops to examine these topics. 

This event, part of the Theologies and Practices of Religious Pluralism project, was co-sponsored by Reset Dialogues on Civilizations, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, the University of Birmingham, and the Foundation for Religious Sciences in Bologna and Palermo.


Tuesday, June 14

9:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. | Introductory Remarks

Jocelyne Cesari, University of Birmingham/Georgetown University
Giancarlo Bosetti, ResetDOC 

10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. | Session 1: Theology of Pluralism

Ali-Reza Bhojani, University of Birmingham, "Justice-orientated Approaches to Islam’s Normative Responses to Plurality" 
Adnane Mokrani, Fondazione per le scienze religiose, "Toward an Islamic Theology of Religious Pluralism: Key Concepts and Main Obstacles" 
Shaykh Arif Abdul Hussain (discussant), Al-Mahdi Institute 

12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. | Session 2: Sunni-Shia Dynamics 

Katajun Amirpur, University of Cologne, "Online Accusations of Disbelief and Apostasy in Anti-Shia and Anti-Sunni Slurs: Sectarian and Countersectarian Rhetoric and Keywords on Examples of Websites and Twitter Tweets" 
Jocelyne Cesari (discussant), University of Birmingham 

2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. | Session 3: Women as the Internal Other?

Lena Larsen, University of Oslo, "Women as the Internal Other: Findings From Research on Women-related Fatwas" 
Mohsen Kadivar, Duke University, "Contemporary Gender Discrimination in the Name of Islam" 
Alessia Passarelli (discussant), Fondazione per le scienze religiose 

Wednesday, June 15

10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. | Session 1: The Infidels

Jerusha Tanner Rhodes, Union Theological Seminary, "Beyond Takfir and Supersessionism: The Theo-Ethical Possibilities of Kufr" 
Ebrahim Moosa, Notre Dame University, "Ghazālīan Insights on Scholarly Critique and Freedom of Speech" 
José Casanova (discussant), Georgetown University

1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. | Session 2: The Dhimmi

Yahya Birt, Ayaan Institute, "Muslim Minorities as Ahl al-Dhimma" 
Giancarlo Bosetti (discussant), ResetDOC 

2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. | Conclusion and Next Steps

Jocelyne Cesari, University of Birmingham 
José Casanova, Georgetown University

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