Contemporary positions as formulated by Islamic thinkers and activists can be roughly divided into two opposing views: one deeply suspicious of pluralism as menacing Muslim power and unity, the other supporting pluralism as contributing to Muslim strength and creativity. In a kind of political tawhid (the theological doctrine of the oneness of God), the first gives priority to the unity of the community, which figures so prominently in the Qur˒an and sunna of the Prophet. This corresponds to the concept of ijma˓, that is, the consensus of the Muslim community as expressed by its religious scholars in juridical theory (usul al-fiqh) to which modern authors frequently refer when trying to ground their notions in the Islamic tradition. Taken to its extremes, the emphasis on unity can imply the rejection of all divergence of opinions, or any kind of criticism or opposition to the dominant doctrines and practices, which are denounced as fitna, that is, a menace to, and sin against, not just the given sociopolitical system but the divinely ordained order at large. If there is only one truth, and if it can be identified without doubt or mistake, there is no room for free debate, political competition and institutionalized pluralism, for there are only two "parties" (or rather groups or communities): the party of God (hizb allah) and the party of the devil (hizb alshaytan). Political parties represent particularistic interests at the expense of the common good (al-maslaha al-˓amma), dividing and thereby weakening the community.
Quoting a well-known Qur˒anic verse (Sura 49:13) and an equally famous Prophetic saying (hadith) according to which the "diversity of opinion [ikhtilaf] among my community is a blessing," advocates of the alternative view point to the elements of diversity and pluralism in the religious, legal, and historical heritage of the Muslim community (including most notably the different Sunni and Shi˓ite schools of law, sing., madhhab) as one of the very sources of its flowering, resilience, and attractiveness. Even though there is only one truth, there is no guarantee that humans will be able to find it with infallible certainty. Free debate is therefore both legitimate and necessary, and given the conditions of modern mass society, political pluralism may have to be institutionalized in political parties and associations to become effective.
However, there are clear limits to legitimate diversity and pluralism from the Islamic viewpoint: they are defined by God's law and revelation. Debate must fall short of any radical critique of religion, or its dominant interpretations, which is readily denounced as blasphemy, heresy (kufr), or apostasy (ridda). The crucial issues of religious authority and effective power of definition are largely left unaddressed. As long as the religious categories of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, licit and illicit are used to evaluate political opinions and decisions, political pluralism remains confined to what the powers-that-be define as consistent with the public order, which in its turn can be identified with prevalent understandings of religion, custom and morals.
See alsoPluralism: Legal and Ethno-Religious .
Krämer, Gudrun. "Islam and Pluralism." In PoliticalLiberalization and Democratization in the Arab World. Vol. 1, Theoretical Perspectives. Edited by Rex Brynen, Bahgat Korany, and Paul Noble. Boulder. London: Lynne Riener, 1995.
Moussalli, Ahmad S. "Modern Islamic Fundamentalist Discourses on Civil Society, Pluralism and Democracy." In Vol. 1, Civil Society in the Middle East. Edited by Augustus Richard Norton. Leiden: Brill, 1995.