by Siraj Islam
And We have created above you seven (infinite) paths and We are never unmindful of creation. 23:17
Traditional Muslims are usually uncomfortable with the concepts of spiritual pluralism, though they are often ready to accept some other forms of pluralism: cultural, ethnic, linguistic, social, political etc.
They feel that the Quran rejects spiritual pluralism because, to their interpretation, while there is only one true path (islam of their own version) that leads to God, all other paths (other islams and other religions) mislead by associating with God.
Now, we just observed the deeper meanings of the Quranic words ‘light’ and ‘colours’, and their interrelation. Thus, while the word ‘light’ represents ‘white’ or full colour and implies ‘the Truth’, i.e. the whole truth of the Oneness (24:35), the word ‘colours’ in the Quran implies ‘a truth’s’, which are fragmented, partial expressions of ‘the Truth’ (16:13, 16:69, 30:22, 35:27, 35:27, 35:28, 39:21; cf. 2:69, 2:69; 2:138, 2:138; 23:20).
But when colours imply ‘a truth’s’ (e.g. religions), they are deviations from the white (i.e., the whole truth of the Oneness). They variously contain together with light (24:35) also some darknesses, caused by obstacles, i.e. IDOLS as associates (24:40).
The Quran presents examples of numerous IDOLS worshipped by people (19:81): they include other names besides God’s (19:65, 39:45, 40:12), pagan gods and goddesses (53:19-20, 71:23), statues for veneration (7:138-139), astronomical objects like sun and moon (27:24, 41:37), natural forces and extra-terrestrials (3:80, 17:55-57), dead prophets and saints (2:135-136, 3:64-65, 79-80, 16:20-21, 35:14, 46:5-6), celebrities, cult figures, spiritual leaders and religious scholars (9:31), secondary authorities like hadiths (6:106-115, 7:2-3, 9:31), sects (30:31-32, 42:13-21), ancient images, icons and shrines (35:13-14, 7:194), the Scripture (6:19), golden calf (7:148-150), money, wealth and children (18:42, 7:190), own ego and selfish desire (25:43), uncontrolled libido (24:3), wishful thinking (45:23), destructive urges in psyche (14:22) and so on …
Every IDOL presents as a case of ‘association’ or ‘shirk’ (19:65), the only unforgivable sin in Islam (4:48; cf. 4:116, 39:65, 6:88). But we humans are all inclined to or involved in shirk in one form or other. Can we ever get rid of idols, of these too many cases of ‘only unforgivable sin’?
Evidently, confined to this world of multiplicity, our minds are overcrowded and overwhelmed by numerous IDOLS sculpted by our own imagination. The light of Oneness is constantly shattered into the colours of many by the darknesses of multiplicity.
That is why it is so difficult for our minds to acknowledge God’s oneness without associating with IDOLS (12:106; cf. 39:43-45, 40:12, 39:36). That is why we and our likes throughout the ages have been subconsciously creating so many ‘religions’ out of one single ‘Deen’ (Daena; Dharma).
So, all ‘religions’ (colours, partial truths) are deviations from ‘Deen’ (white, light, Islam). Their light is polluted by IDOLS, the obstacles that have created layers of darkness (24:40; cf. 35:27). Examples are Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, Muhammadanism, Sikhism …
Every religion worships its own IDOLS. And so every religion has its own layers of darkness. Followers of religions including Muhammadans, however, often mutually condemn one another of idolatry, while failing to admit their own idolatry (6:23; 6:148; 16:35).
Yet, observed from a positive standpoint on the other hand, religions are not all that bad. They are facts of life and, at least according to the Quran, their nuances are natural as intended by the Divinity Himself. As devils and evils are designedly created to serve some divine purpose (7:12, 113:2), so are the illusions and illusory idols of religions.
While all religions contain some darkness to various extents, they all contain in their essence also some portion of the universal light. Then it is possible that anyone from any religion, by getting liberated from its darknesses (idols), can eventually go back to the original, uninterrupted light of its core.
And also it is possible that the more one can observe the rainbow of religions the more one can appreciate that original, universal light of ‘Deen’.
The Quran insistently acknowledges this rainbow of spiritual pluralism as it reminds us of the ‘seven (infinite) colours’ of the human mind’s Universe (23:17-20, 32), which is knit with ‘seven (infinite) celestial paths’ (23:17, 51:7-8, 70:3-5).
From a purely Quranic perspective, there are infinite paths that lead to the awareness (marifah) of the Divinity and so towards the ultimate good1 (‘plural paths’, 29:69; cf. 16:9, 18:24, 92:4; cf. 2:62, 2:121, 2:148, 2:286, 3:64, 3:199, 5:16, 5:43-45, 5:46-48, 5:69, 5:77, 6:52, 6:107-108, 6:165, 10:41, 22:17, 22:40, 22:67-69, 29:46, 42:15-16, 49:13, 53:39, 70:3-5).
In other words, though there is only one universal principle of islam, there are infinite paths (‘plural paths of peace’, subul as-salaam, 5:16) to achieve that principle.