Islam & Coexistence

Plurality is a fact of life. We are different in our makeup, different in our experiences. It is impossible to conceive of a world in which we are all alike. For a person of faith, this plurality is deliberate and not simply an accident. It is part of the Divine plan and its purpose is to get humanity together to collaborate and to live together; not to drive us apart and create divisions. It is an opportunity, not a threat; a  potential, not an impasse. The point is not, however, to force others to believe in what you believe for the very reason that this violates the essence of coexistence.

I believe wholeheartedly that this sentiment is self-evident from Islam’s primary sources (ex. Qur’an 18:29, 6:109, and 2:256), and one of the best summaries of this I found to be the statement of Imām ‘Alī (God give him peace) to his governor of Egypt Malik al-Ashtar, “People are two kinds: your coreligionists, or partners in humanity.” In other words, people are either like you (limited numbers), or partners to solve problems (the majority), not antagonists.

            For effective coexistence to take place along these lines, three components are needed:
    1. Knowledge. We must know a little bit more about one another. We need to know what binds us, but more importantly what separates us as well. An old Arab proverb says “when one is ignorant of something they fight it.” In a world that is ever more connected, it is not acceptable that we claim ignorance of those we live with. This may be easier for minority communities who constantly have to deal with people not like themselves, but it is equally necessary for majority groups as well that need to acknowledge that not everyone is like them.
    2. Relationship. There needs to be some bond between people. Neighbors, co-workers, classmates, teammates, etc. For coexistence to really work at a grassroots level knowledge of others needs to be practical, and not an exercise in reading National Geographic.
    3. Common Action. Both knowledge and relationship should culminate in some sort of action, a team approach that addresses a shared problem. It is not enough that we settle for an occasional meeting or photo-op. Both knowledge and relationship must lead to a common action that all sides take. Only then will real social cohesion take root.
Our existence is flawed and as a result, our world faces many challenges. But these challenges face us all together and, in many cases, equally. Coexistence as defined above is, I believe, the only overarching system that can bind us together as partners in humanity to tackle these issues. There will be detractors to this notion for sure. There are people who want to offer another reality, one filled with anxiety, threat, and conflict. Unfortunately, this is also true within the broader Muslim community. There are those who offer the same false reality and obfuscate the self-evident fact that Islam in its most basic principles advocates coexistence and tolerance. We should, therefore, begin here and address this problem by taking a brave step forward towards an acceptance of plurality.

One thought on “Islam & Coexistence

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.