The Importance of Interfaith Dialogue in Islam

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Islam did not only recognize religious diversity, but it also encouraged associating with this diversity. In this context, Islam’s theology of al-Taʿāruf (coming into contact with one another) takes a central position, as maybe understood from Q. 49:13, which highlights one of Islam’s key ways of addressing the question of “prejudice.” The verse reads: “O mankind, We have created you male and a female, and appointed you races (shuʿūb) and tribes (qabāʾil), that you may come to know one another. Surely the noblest of you in the sight of God is the most god-fearing of you. God is All-knowing, All-aware.”

Taken at its face value, the verse does not only delineate the nature of the relation between individual males and females, tribes and nations, in an egalitarian manner, but it also regards establishing contact with those individuals and groups as a divine imperative. Classical commentators often link the revelation of this verse with Prophet Muḥammad’s conquest of Mecca (630 AC). Al-Wāḥidī (d. 1076) related that upon his entering Mecca, Muḥammad instructed Bilāl, a black slave and an early companion of Muḥammad, to call people for prayer. Upon hearing that, some people were troubled by this and named Bilāl “the black crow.” As a response, this verse was revealed teaching the equality of individuals, tribes, and mankind.[1] The key word in this verse is li-taʿārafū (so that you may know one another), carrying the implication that God’s purpose in this diversity is that they may find interest in knowing one another.

It is worth noting that Islam’s recognition of religious diversity does not preclude it from critically engaging non-Islamic religions, constituting what is known today as “principled pluralism,” which maintains four key principles of dialogue: energetic engagement, understanding, strengthened commitment, and dialog.[2] Q. 16:25 urges Muslims to discuss questions of convergence and divergence with wisdom and mannered engagement.

Dr Mohammed Gamal Abdelnour 


[1] Al-Wāḥidī, Asbāb Al-nuzūl, ed. ʿIṣām b. al-Ḥumydān (Dammam: Dār al-Iṣlāḥ, 1992), pp. 394-395.

[2] Michelle Caswell, “On archival pluralism: what religious pluralism (and its critics) can teach us about archives,” Arch Sci (2013) 13:273–292, p. 273.

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