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Islamic Charities and Islamic Humanism in Troubled Times$
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Jonathan Benthall

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781784993085

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781784993085.001.0001

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Confessional cousins and the rest: the structure of Islamic toleration

Confessional cousins and the rest: the structure of Islamic toleration

(p.137) 10 Confessional cousins and the rest: the structure of Islamic toleration
Islamic Charities and Islamic Humanism in Troubled Times

Jonathan Benthall

Manchester University Press

Adducing some insights from cultural anthropology, this Chapter compares and contrasts the histories of the Christian and the Islamic traditions of religious toleration, considering in particular the blurring of the distinction between “People of the Book” and “pagans” or “polytheists”. It argues that each tradition has strengths and weaknesses if we consider them as contributions to a humanism acceptable to people today who subscribe to various religious beliefs or to none. Christendom was guilty historically of worse religious intolerance than Islam, yet it also engendered a humanistic respect for “primitive” belief systems. Islam institutionalized the concept of People of the Book, which gave a qualified recognition to its “confessional cousins”, but it excluded “pagan” cultures unless they agreed to convert. Yet Islam was also capable of flexibility when a small Muslim court in India ruled over a vast non-Muslim population. An extended prefatory note reviews the progress of scholarship since the first publication of this text in Anthropology Today in 2005, and asks whether it is necessary to modify the suggestion that Muslim social scientists are inhibited from choosing to study non-monotheistic cultures. The conclusion reached ten years later is that there are at least some major exceptions.

Keywords:   Cultural anthropology, Christianity, Islam, Tolerance, Pagans, Polytheists, People of the book

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