Islam and Inter-civilizational Dialogue


  • Shuja ul Haq


Islam in the present day world is finding it difficult to enter into a meaningful dialogue with other civilizations, especially those originated with the Christian and Hindu religious traditions. In an attempt to locate the sources of this problem, the paper seeks the solution through a new reading of the Quran, and the discovery of its methodology and epistemology which has hitherto remained oblivious to its modern Muslim and non-Muslim commentators. The key idea of this epistemology is derived from the pluralist vision of the Quran which in its turn originates from its conception of reality. Presently the ulema, the official representatives of Islam, see the Quran as pre-eminently a book of law, Sharia, with its absolute or unchanging character. This perception of the Quran leads to a dogmatic worldview that inevitably comes into conflict with the people of other civilizations. In this paper we question the prevalent perception to argue that absolute nature of Sharia is derived from the understanding that for the Quran only the non-physical world (alim al-ghaib) is real while the physical world (alim ash-shahada), the world of time and space, which is marked by perpetual change, is reduced to a peripheral sphere. Through a study of the premodern religious traditions, it is argued, first, that religion visualizes a twosphere structure of reality where physical and non-physical spheres or aspects of reality are interwoven in a dialectical relationship and, second, the Quran manifests this relationship perhaps more succinctly than any other text. In the end it is shown that science, after the scientific revolution of the early twentieth century (SReTC), has rediscovered the premodern, two-sphere structure of reality.