According to the Islamic scholar, Imam Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, in his introduction to Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari’s book Islam and Religious Pluralism (n.d.), pluralism can be delineated into two meanings: “Social Pluralism” in the sociological sense means a society which consists of a multi-faith or multi-cultural mosaic. “Religious pluralism” in the theological sense means a concept in which all religions are considered to be equally true and valid (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.).
God has brought down diversity and plurality on this Earth – whether that be in the form of languages, gender, culture, tribes, and even religion. In every aspect of the Creation of this world there is purpose to it – thus, the diversity and plurality of life is a purposeful Divine action:
Thus, on a socio-political level, pluralism can work, and is in fact encouraged by God. Socio-political pluralism exists in societies, and can, and does within Muslim-dominated societies. Now, let us turn to the discussion and validity of theological pluralism.
The most famous proponent of religious pluralism is John Hick, whose pluralistic hypothesis claims that each religion in its own way represents an authentic revelation of the Divine world and a fully authentic means of salvation. He believes that all religions are culturally conditioned responses to the same ultimate reality; and, therefore, are equally valid, and salvation is possible through any of them (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.).
Hick uses the famous story of the blind men and the elephant of the Hindu mystics to illustrate his point.
An elephant was brought to a group of blind men who had never encountered such an animal before. One felt a leg and reported that an elephant is a great living pillar. Another felt the trunk and reported that an elephant is a great snake. Another felt a tusk and reported that an elephant is like a sharp ploughshare, and so on. And then they all quarrelled together, each claiming that his own account was the truth and therefore all the others false. In fact, of course, they were all true, but each referring only to one aspect of the total reality and all expressed in very imperfect analogies. (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.)
According to Imam Rizvi, in using the story of the elephant, Hicks has assumed all religious people to be blind and that they lack the ability to know the complete truth (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.). It is at this point in the discussion that we should point out that the scholars of the school of Ahlul Bayt (as) make a distinction between the ability to know the complete truth. The difference lies between the incapable (qāsir) and the negligent (muqassir) who have misplaced convictions despite having access to Islām (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.).
In answer to the blind spot of Hick’s utilization of the story of the elephant and the blind men, Imam Rizvi points to the moral presented by the poet Jalal-ud-Deen Rumi:
Some Hindus have an elephant to show.
No one here has ever seen an elephant.
They bring it at night to a dark room.
One by one, we go in the dark and come out saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk.
“A water-pipe kind of creature.”
Another, the ear.
“A very strong, always moving back and forth, fan-animal.”
Another, the leg.
“I find it still, like a column on a temple.”
Another touches the curved back.
“A leathery throne.”
Another, the cleverest, feels the tusk.
“A rounded sword made of porcelain.”
He’s proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place and understands the whole in that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.
If each of us held a candle there, and if we went in together, we could see it. (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.)
These men were reaching out in the darkness and, therefore, they developed inaccurate descriptions of the elephant; if they had used a candle, they would have seen the truth! In Islām, God does not let a seeker for truth grope in darkness:
What is understood here is that God sent down Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) for a reason – for humans to submit to Islam and the will of God as Muslims (literal translation being “one who submits”), as part of the divine plan in the journey to perfection. What makes Muslims different from the believers of other monotheistic religions is that:
“We believe in Allāh, and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Ibrāhīm, Ismā’īl, Ishāq, Ya`qūb, and the Tribes; and what was given to Mūsā and `Isā and to the prophets from their Lord. We do not make any distinction between (the claim of) any of them, and to Him do we submit. And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter, he shall be one of the losers.”Ale-Imran verses 84-85, p. 61
This passage clearly explains basic beliefs of God’s religion: Among those basic beliefs is the requirement to believe in “what has been revealed to us” (e.g., the Qur’ān that has been revealed to Muslims). “Islam – submission” only follows when one accepts all the prophets and does not differentiate in the truth of any one of them, including Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.).
Imam Rizvi (n.d) further posits, if Judaism and Christianity are concurrently valid paths of submission to God, then why did the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) work so hard to convey his message even to the Jews and the Christians? If they were already on the Right Path, then why did the Prophet (PBUH) feel it important to invite them to Islām?
That being said, it should be noted that there are degrees to salvation and perdition. Whilst being Muslim and submitting to the Will of Allah certainly sets you with the right intention as willed by God, it does not guarantee that you will reach the highest level of heaven or go directly to heaven. Likewise, being a Christian or a Jew does not preclude you from salvation and entering heaven. Everyone will have their own journey on the path towards salvation and rectifying their mistakes in the hereafter.
Ayatullah Mutahhari remarks that, “Felicity and perdition are in accordance with actual and creational conditions, not conventional and man-made conditions,” (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.). Therefore, the conditions in which an atheist or polytheist will or will not reach heaven are based on the conditions and signs placed in their lives, for which they can choose either to accept or reject. However, the mercy and compassion of God cannot be diminished in any of our judgements, as He is the All-Knowing and All-Aware.
Al-Baqarah. (n.d.) In Qur’an (p. 43).
Ale-Imran. (n.d.) In Qur’an (p. 61).
Al-Ma’idah. (n.d.) In Qur’an (p. 116).
Muṭahharī M., & Rizvi, S. M. (n.d.). Islam and religious pluralism. Retrieved from