Appreciating Knots: An Islamic Approach to Religious Diversity

  • William C. Chittick
Part of the Library of Philosophy and Religion Series book series


As an Islamicist who has frequently taught courses that deal with the beliefs and practices of various religions, I have often been faced with the problem of conflicting truth claims. In trying to find a way to give all sides their due, I have drawn from the resources of my own speciality, paying special attention to the teachings of the most widely influential Muslim thinker of the past seven hundred years, Ibn al-’Arabī (d. 1240), known to his followers as al-Shaykh al-Akbar, ‘The greatest master’. Although usually called a ‘Sufi’, this should not suggest that he is peripheral to the Islamic tradition. Quite the contrary, the epithet implies that he embodies Islamic faith and practice to their fullest.1 In what follows I try to bring out certain features of his perspective that have an immediate and obvious relevance to the theological issues which arise because of religious diversity. What makes this approach ‘Islamic’ is the sources of its basic ideas. The adjective does not imply any privileged status for the religion established by the Qur’ān.


Religious Diversity Islamic Tradition Islamic Faith Divine Attribute Human Embodiment 
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  1. 2.
    For a clear statement of these three fundamental perspectives concerning God - (1) the Essence as unknowable and (2) the Divinity as (a) incomparable and (b) similar - see Ibn al-‘Arabī’s Futūhāt II 257.22, translated in Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al‘Arabī’s Metaphysics of Imagination (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989) p. 172b.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    See SPK, pp. 109–12 and S. Murata, The Too of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992) pp. 49–50, 92.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    Cf. D. Gimaret’s ground-breaking work, Les noms divins en Islam: Exégèse lexicographique et théologique (Paris: les Editions du Cerf, 1988).Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Chittick, ‘“Your Sight Today is Piercing”: Death and the Afterlife in Islam’, in Death and Afterlife: Perspectives of World Religions, edited by H. Obayashi (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992) pp. 125–39Google Scholar

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© The Claremont Graduate School 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • William C. Chittick

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