Theorising Diversity & Difference within Muslim Scholarly Traditions

CIMS convention 2021 item 1: Theorising Diversity & Difference within Muslim Scholarly Traditions

2nd-3rd October

Sunni Presentation

Shaykh Umar’s presentation aimed towards presenting a framework upon which scholars of different Muslim persuasions can base their approaches to promote unity as well as meaningful dialogue.

The presentation began by citing Quranic verses that can be interpreted to depict diversity in the divine creation of man.

Subsequently, the presentation elaborated upon how the Maqasid approach allows space for differences in religious opinion within a jurisprudential setting – pointing out how differing social context would allow of a variety of legal applications.

The discourse concluded by problematising the notion of religious ‘tolerance’, as a concept that endures differences of opinion rather than respects and celebrates the diversity of religious thought.

Shia Presentation

Dr. Bhojani’s presentation began by citing verses of the Quran [including (30:22), (49:13) and (5:48)], illustrating how various verses can be thought to be sanctioning, or even celebrating, diversity of thought as a means to gain closeness to Allah. The cited verses, however, can be thought to be speaking to instances of diversity outside of the religious contexts, or then juxtaposing Islam with other faith traditions; and therefore, not necessarily speaking to differences within the Muslim community.

Dr. Bhojani went on to point out the existence of diverse opinions in religious jurisprudence and the unanimous acceptance of the validity of the diversity in that context. Differences in theology are more complex and often less tolerated. The presentation proceeded to suggest the acceptability of diversity in theological standpoints, whilst not detracting from the importance of pursuing the objective truth.
The writings of Al-Ghazali were cited to show his ideas on the definition of “unbelief”, and how it allows space for a diversity of theological positions.

The crux of Dr. Bhojani’s paper expounded upon the theories of Ibn Al-Taymiyya and Mirza Al-Qummi – authorities in Sunnism and Shiism respectively – and their positions on ijtihad when it comes to matters of theological belief. The two named scholars’ allowing ijtihad in matters of faith, implies the existence of uncertainty about some religious tenets. Furthermore, despite both of the named scholar authorising a degree of divergence in theological thought, this did not detract from their assertions on claims of truth.


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