O mankind! We have created you [all] out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and communities, so that you might come to know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold.
God is AllKnowing, AllAware.
(The Qur’an, 49:13)
From one ancestor He made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and He allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for Him and find Him—though indeed He is not far from each one of us. For ‘in Him we live and move and have our being’.
(Acts of the Apostles, 17.26–28)
The word ‘pluralism’ is used very frequently and very freely these days as a characterisation of the kind of society we live in; but like many words used freely and frequently the more you look at it the less clear it becomes. In this essay I want to distinguish three meanings to the word pluralism, and I want to explore the different reactions which both Christians and Muslims might have to these different senses.
To put it briefly, I believe there is one meaning for the word pluralism which Christians and Muslims ought to be equally worried about; that there is another sense to the word which is approached very differently by the two faiths but which they ought to be discussing more deeply and frequently. And I believe there is a final sense to the word pluralism around which they might agree that there is something to be done and a constructive agenda that lies ahead.
So let me set out what I understand by those three meanings for the word ‘pluralism’.