Islam Versus Different Schools: Liberalism and Pluralism
In Farabi's view, which is to a great extent accepted by Ibn Sina, the religions all express a single philosophical truth in different symbols and through these symbols serve to organize society and lead humanity to felicity. Furthermore, each great religion contains, in its corpus of revelations, "sufficient glimpses of pure truth to lead the elect seekers of truth to pursue this truth itself and to be able to allegorically interpret the rest of the symbols." According to Farabi, the spiritual content and background of all religion is identical, since this is universal, but it is equally true that the symbols employed by the religions are not at the same level. Because of this some religions are "nearer to the truth than others, some are more adequate than others in leading humanity to the higher truth, some, again, are more effective than others in gaining the belief of people and becoming the directive force of their lives. Indeed there are religions whose symbolisms are positively harmful."
Like the sufi position on the diversity of religions, nothing in the position of the philosophers contradicts the ideas emphasized by the theologians that in the present age the sole religion prescribed by God for mankind is Islam, that the previously revealed religions have become corrupted, that the beliefs associated with them differ from what was revealed to their prophets, and that Islam is the culmination of all previously revealed religions. Where the `urafa and the filsuf differ is on how to understand the interior (batin) of the revealed religions, through spiritual unveilings or through philosophical argument. What is most notable for its absence is the sort of view advocated by reductive religious pluralism, according to which religions are validated by personal religious experience, that since all the religions express a single interior truth it makes no difference which is followed, and that the common truth of the world's religions in their contemporary forms are sufficient as guides to ultimate felicity. None of these essential elements of reductive religious pluralism would be accepted by the theologian, the sufi or the philosopher.
Now we may return to the options for explaining religious diversity considered by Wainwright: (a) denial of conflict, (b) epistemic inferiority, (c) unreliable means of belief production. With respect to the interior of the revealed religions, Muslims deny that there is any real conflict; but they recognize and insist upon the importance of conflicts among the doctrinal claims issued by the believers in different creeds. So, why do some people fail to accept the truth of Islam? The major reason given in the Qur'an is sin. Pride, contempt, prejudice, stubborn attachment to the `faith of our fathers' and unwillingness to comply with the practical demands of Islam are all mentioned. Others may fail to accept Islam because they lack awareness of its teachings. Yet others may fail to see the truth of the teachings of Islam because that truth has not been made manifest to them for any of various reasons. Perhaps they are so impressed with the truth contained in their own creed that they become attached to its particular embodiment and cannot recognize its more perfect expression in Islam. It is not that they are inferior to Muslims in their cognitive capacities, so that we should call them epistemic inferiors, nor that there is a methodological flaw in the way they generally form beliefs. Consider a group of physicists with different views. They are epistemic peers, and they share the same fundamental methodological principles. But one has insight and is able to formulate the correct theory, while the others continue to plod down dead ends. Perhaps some cases of religious disagreement are like this. One is blessed with insight, and another is blind to it. Sometimes religious difference may turn on the presence of grace. Perhaps it is even possible that God should allow one to think that an incorrect creed is true because the incorrect creed may be better suited to that person's capacity for spiritual advancement. We cannot say. This requires knowledge into the unseen, into how God may extend His grace to His servants to guide them in His ways. But what has been said here should suffice to suggest how one might insist on the truth of Islam and yet be unsatisfied with the ways to explain religious diversity considered by Wainwright.