Lifelong Learning Articles

Beyond Polemics and Pluralism: The Universal Message of the Qur’an

Key words: Qur’aninfo-icon, Islam, Polemics, Pluralism, Exclusivism, Incluvism, Universalism, Particularism, Ibn al-‘Arabi

And they say: None entereth Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian. These are their vain desires. Say: Bring your proof if ye are truthful.

Nay, but whosoever submitteth his purpose to God, and he is virtuous, his reward is with his Lord. No fear shall come upon them, neither shall they griev.

(Surat al-Baqara, 2:111-112)

This passage from the Qur’an demonstrates clearly the spiritual sterility of polemics and the logical absurdity of religious chauvinism. The Qur’an does not allow us to play the game of polemics, it is not possible to claim that only those called ‘Muslims’ go to Heaven; rather, we are called upon to stress heartfelt submission to God, together with virtue in consequence of that submission. In other words, the logic of this riposte to narrow-minded polemics compels us to rise to a higher level of discourse, one which transcends theological perspectives based on sentiment and vanity; or on what the Qur’an refers to in this verse as amani, plural of umniyya, which can be translated as ‘vain desire’ — vain both in the sense of conceited, and in the sense of being ‘in vain’, that is, futile.

This is an edited version of a paper delivered at the Conference: Al-Azharinfo-icon and the West, Bridges of Dialogue, Cairo, 5 January 2009.

This article discusses two verses from the second chapter of the Qr'an, Surat al-Baqara, 2:111-112 in an attempt to demonstrate the spiritual sterility of polemics and the logical absurdity of religious chauvinism.