EAST LANSING, Mich. â€” Since Sept. 11, it has become increasingly common to hear about Muslims who condemn all non-Muslims â€“ or â€œinfidelsâ€ â€“ to hell, but this has never been a foundation of Islamic thought, argues a Michigan State University professor who recently published a first-of-its-kind book on non-Muslim salvation.
At the same time, some Western writers believe condemnation and dehumanization of non-Muslims make it easier for Muslims to justify acts of terrorism, said Mohammad Khalil, assistant professor of religious studies.
â€œThere is a widespread assumption that weâ€™re in the midst of a clash of civilizations involving the Muslim world and the West, and some think this is partly the result of an Islamic belief that only Muslims can ever be saved,â€ Khalil said. â€œMy research is relevant in post-9/11 discourse because it challenges this assumption.â€
Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with 1.56 billion Muslims.
Khalilâ€™s book, â€œIslam and the Fate of Others: The Salvation Question,â€ explores medieval and modern discussions of the fate of non-Muslims, he said.
In researching for the book, Khalil found four of Islamâ€™s most influential scholars believed most of humanity will eventually be saved. He also found that exclusivism â€“ the belief that only Muslims will be saved â€“ was historically unpopular among Muslim theologians.
So what happened?
Khalil points to the widely available works of prominent 20th- and 21st-century thinkers who spoke only of the salvation of Muslims, without clearly qualifying their statements. These thinkers have been a major influence on a variety of adherents, from liberals to extremists like Osama bin Laden, he said.
According to Khalil, while itâ€™s easy to remember the images of some Muslims celebrating in the streets on 9/11, what many donâ€™t know is that even prominent clerics who said they hate America disapproved of the attacks â€“ and were open to the possibility that God may save both the Muslim and non-Muslim victims.
Khalil hopes his book can be used to educate non-Muslims and Muslims alike. But the most important educational experience is getting to know one another, he said.
â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s a coincidence this book was written in the U.S. by a Muslim who is surrounded by people of other faiths,â€ Khalil said. â€œThe more interconnected we become the more likely we are to recognize our shared values and the less likely we are to think a clash of civilizations is inevitable.â€