Islam Versus Different Schools: Liberalism and Pluralism
There remains one more important question related to the topic of religious pluralism which will only be touched upon here: its practical implications. One of the major motivations for liberal Christian religious pluralists was to provide the theological groundwork for better relations between Christians and non-Christians. Instead of viewing the non-Christian with contempt as damned, he is seen by the Christian pluralist as in essential agreement with Christianity, for all the major religions are held to differ only in their external aspects. Differences in religion are to be understood on the model of ethnic differences, and relations among the participants in different faith traditions are presumed to take shape within the framework of the liberal state, which proclaims complete religious neutrality while in fact it embodies the values of the dominant strand of main stream Protestant thinking.
In Islamic thought, to the contrary, religious differences are not seen as a matter of personal preference, but as expressions of communal loyalty grounded in spiritual insight and critical evaluation. Those who chose a religion other than Islam are making a mistake, either sinfully or excusably. Since there is no way for us to tell whether or not the mistake is excusable, where good relations with non-Muslims are possible without condoning injustice, the presumption of an honest mistake is morally incumbent upon us. Good relations with non-Muslims are to take place either through agreement contracted by the parties involved, in the case of Muslims and non-Muslims of different countries by observing the courtesy prescribed by Islamic etiquette (adab), or within the framework of Islamic governance, which has traditionally offered semi-autonomous status to the non-Muslin communities living within its jurisdiction who submit to its authority. Due to the force of European arms and the weaknesses of rival Muslin powers, whatever traces of the system of Islamic governance that remained in the nineteenth century, were effectively wiped out and replaced by the system of nation-states. Muslins are only beginning to regain control of their lands, and the first steps toward Islamic governance are being taken, the most prominent such step being the Islamic Revolution of Iran. The system of tribute (jizyah) and protection for semi-autonomous communities of free non-Muslim citizens (ahl al-dhimmah) has not been revived yet, and while it may have been abused in some cases in the past, it holds the promise of greater freedom than that available within the framework of the liberal state.
In Christianity, especially in Protestant Christianity, there is a strong link between salvation and true belief, because it is through faith that one participates in the Redemption, which alone is believed to afford salvation. This link between true belief and salvation survives among Christian proposals for religious pluralism, like those of Wilfred Cantwell Smith and John Hick, in the idea that ultimately the variety of religious beliefs is a matter of surface differences over a fundamentally single faith, which may not even be expressible in human language. If one denies the doctrine of Redemption, and with it the link between faith and salvation which features so prominently in Christian thought, the obvious alternative, at least obvious in a Christian context, is the idea that faith is to be purchased through good works, an idea emphatically denounced by Luther and by the majority of Christian theologians, including Catholics, after him.