Approaches to Pluralism in Muslim Contexts

Approaches to Pluralism in Muslim Contexts

On May 9, 2003, Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) organised the second in a series of seminars entitled, 'Approaches to Pluralism in Muslim Contexts.' The seminars aim at exploring the concept of pluralism and issues related to it, particularly in the context of Muslim societies.

Participants at the second seminar on 'Approaches to Pluralism in Muslim Context' discuss the concept of pluralism and issues related to it, particularly in the context of Muslim societies.

Approximately 30 participants, including academics and professionals in the UK, attended the seminar. In his welcome address, Dr. Filali-Ansary, Director of AKU-ISMC, articulated the Institute's vision of bringing together scholars from various persuasions to have open and meaningful intellectual encounters. "There is a need for intellectually sound debates that can lead to practical and viable recommendations for promoting pluralism as a value," he said.

The seminar speakers, Professor Jonathan Rée and Professor Ridwan Al-Sayyid​, approached the topic from a philosophical and historical perspective, respectively. Professor Rée, a writer and philosopher based in the UK, examined some of the theoretical constructs underpinning the concept of pluralism. He traced its intellectual genealogy through the works of Locke, Voltaire and Berlin, arguing that pluralism is very hard to distinguish from relativism. He then supported his argument through a historical survey of the notion of tolerance and truth as understood in the Western intellectual tradition, particularly in modern times.

Approaching the topic in an empirical fashion, Professor Al-Sayyid from Beirut, described the trends and movements within the twentieth century Muslim intellectual discourse, grappling with the question of plurality, tolerance and the status of "the other". His presentation provided a glimpse of the dynamism with which Muslims have grappled with the issue of pluralism and how they continue to do so today.

The two presentations were followed by a discussion where participants shared their views about academic institutions and the role of intellectuals in Muslim societies. A discussion ensued about the causes for a lack of creative thought in Muslim contexts and the catalytic role that Muslims in Europe and North America should play in reviving critical and creative thought in societies with majority Muslim populations.​​