Interfaith Dialogue and Religious Tolerance in Contemporary Islamic Thought: A Comparative Study of Fethullah Gülen and Abdul Karim Soroush

Abstract

Contemporary Muslim scholars hold different positions on religious pluralism and tolerance; some (so-called ‘fundamentalists’) are exclusivist and regard Islam as the only true religion and reject the religious pluralism and tolerance, others (so-called ‘traditionalists’ and ‘modernists’) believe that religious pluralism and tolerance are acceptable in Islam. Traditionalists mainly rely on Islamic concepts and Sufism and generally do not emphasize or explicitly endorse pluralism, preferring to promote only the religious virtue of religious tolerance. The modernists on the other hand use modern Western philosophical theories and explicitly espouse religious pluralism. This article discusses the approaches, sources and arguments of Fethullah Gülen and Abdul Karim Soroush as contemporary Muslim scholars on religious pluralism and tolerance. It concludes that both thinkers emphasize the necessity of peaceful communication with the followers of other religions, as well as with secular groups, and also both use theological and Sufi sources. However there are some differences between them. While Soroush mainly relies on epistemological arguments, Gülen reasons as a pragmatist. Also, Gülen, adhering to the traditional interpretation of Islam, believes in Islam’s superior position. Soroush departs from the traditional interpretation of Islam and admits to the same truth of other religions. Perhaps because of his adherence to the traditional interpretations of religion, Gülen has been more successful than Dr. Soroush in winning a following among people of his own country and around the world. Nevertheless, the practical outcome of both thinkers’ positions is the same and both espouse tolerance and peaceful co-existence with the followers of other religions.

by Dr. Ali Ünsal