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An essay donated by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Religious pluralism is God's will

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Most college students have at one time or another asked, 'If there is only one God why are there so many religions?' A good question that I as a Rabbi have often been asked.  

This is my answer: The Qur'an declares that Allah could have made all of us monotheists, a single religious community, but (didn't) in order to test us in what each of us have been given.

Qur'an 5:48: 

“If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (God's plan is) to test you in what He has given you: so compete in all virtues as in a race. The goal of you all is to (please) Allah who will show you on judgment day) the truth of the matters in which you dispute.”

This means that religious pluralism is the will of God. Yet for centuries many believers in one God have chided and depreciated each other's religions, and some believers have even resorted to forced conversions, expulsions and inquisitions. Monotheists all pray to the same God, and all prophets of monotheistic faiths are inspired by the same God. 

So how did this intolerance come about, and how can we eliminate religious intolerance from the Abrahamic religions? Greek philosophy, with its requirement that truth must be unchanging and universal, influenced most teachers of sacred scripture during Medieval times to believe that religion was a zero sum game; the more truth I find in your scripture the less truth there is in mine. 

Instead of understanding differing texts as complementary, they made them contradictory and declared the other religion's sacred text to be false.

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If religion is to promote peace in our religiously pluralistic world we must reject the zero sum game ideology and develop the religiously pluralistic teachings that already exist within our sacred scriptures. After all “all prophets are brothers." They have the same father (God) but different mothers (mother tongues, motherlands and unique historical circumstances that account for all the differences in their scriptures). 

“Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all people to Jesus, son of Mary. Prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one."  (Bukhari, Book #55, Hadith #652) Prophets are brothers in faith, having different mothers. Their religion however; is one“.  (Muslim, Book #030, Hadith #5836) 

I am a Reform Rabbi who first became interested in Islam when I studied it at a university (UCLA) 50 years ago.  I have continued my study of Islam off and on for over 50 years and for some time I have  consider myself to be a Reform Rabbi and a Muslim Jew. Actually I am a Muslim Jew i.e. a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi. 

As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham – the first Muslim Jew, and I submit to the commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. 

As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Jewish spiritual leaders should modify Jewish tradition as social and historical circumstances change and develop. I also believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice. 

These are lessons that prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century. In many ways statements in the Qur'an about Orthodox Jewish beliefs and Ahadith relating Muhammad's comments about Orthodox Judaism, and religion in general, prefigure the thinking of Reform Rabbis some 12-13 centuries later. 

I could have written this essay using quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures and the rabbinic literature recorded in the Talmud and the Midrash. I choose to use Qur'an and Hadith to illustrate that all religions, including my own have statements proclaiming and endorsing religious pluralism; as well as statements making claims of religious exclusivity.  

This is the will of God so that we may be tested. Choosing between good and evil is a moral choice that even agnostics and atheists can do. Believers should believe in all God's words (plural), but we are obligated to choose to understand the exclusive statements in the context of the accepting statements. 

This is the will of God so that believers may be tested.

 

Rabbi Maller's web site is: http://rabbimaller.com

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Originally posted: 2013-AUG-04
Latest update: 2013-AUG-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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