By: Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh
Pursuant to the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, murders of three Muslims in America, the killing of alleged terrorists in Belgium and the arrest of others suspected of terrorism in different parts of Western Europe, the discourse of pluralistic societies and multiculturalism or retrogression to mono-cultural hegemony have surfaced once again and have preoccupied policymakers, politicians, political scientists and journalists as well as ordinary people. Some have talked about the “death” of multiculturalism, while others have deemed migrants as a threat to the social cohesion of their countries.
Despite the fact that multiculturalism has no one definition, I assume that it is the cornerstone of any civilised society where diversity is not only “tolerated” but indeed valued and celebrated
I argue that multiculturalism is an inescapable reality that countries have to deal with. It iethre to have a nation-state but you have a “nations-state”. This is to say that it is difficult to have a state with one nation (ethnicity or race) but with different nations (races and ethnicities). The idea of pluralist state also referred to as civil association is based on constitutional norms and institutional structures within which individuals and groups are able to pursue their purpose of choice.
The Madinah Constitution (wathiqat al-madinah) was perhaps the most important early constitutional document that clearly states and recognises a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, pluralist political entity. It also documents a formative political agreement that sanctions peaceful co-existence and recognition of different identities among citizens of the Islamic state under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad.
Multiculturalism or pluralism is central to the Qur’anic teachings. In fact, the Qur’an establishes the legitimacy of plurality and differences and its states :
“And We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth. To each of you We prescribed a law (shirah/shariah and a method (minhaj). Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ” (Al-Ma’idah 5:48).
The above Qur’anic verse (ayah) emphasises the existential reality of diversity and the absolute necessity to protect it and celebrate through the political processes of reaching out and justice in their wider social and political contexts. In fact, the Quranic integrative vision of monotheism (tawhid) points to the fact that the “other” is part of the “I” and the “I” as integral to the “other”! The “Self” and the “other” in the Qur’anic discourse whether male or female; black or white; believer or non-believer are all equally members of the human race.
The Qur’an states: “O people fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer” (Al-Nisa 4:1).
Another important principle as a corollary of tawhid is the idea of the unity of humanity. Repeatedly, the Qur’an has referred to the fact that humankind is of a single parentage. It is diversity in unity. Although we are diverse in colours and races, we are yet combined in unity so far as Creator and creation are concerned.
Thus, unity of humanity and its centrality has been manifested in the call of Islam to the universal fraternity (O people as in many parts of the Qur’an). The Qur’an has called onto the multicultural ethos not in purely theoretical manners, but has related them to its legal system (Shariah) belief system (aqidah) and ethical code (akhlaq).
It is important, in these multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-racial societies, to recognise those who are different, in the social and policy making and formulation. It is significant to manage conflict and achieve co-operation. It is inevitable to have a meaningful and constructive debate and dialogue at individual, regional, cultural and civilisational level. Thus, multiculturalism or plurality is an inevitable fact. What is important though is how to manage it in order to promote human dignity and well-being.
Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh ( PGCert THE, Fellow HEA)
Founder and Managing Director, Timbuktu International Research Centre (TIRC)
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org