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  • Annäherung an Toleranz: Ausgangspunkte, Kontexte und zeitgenössische Interpretationen des Toleranzbegriffs aus dem schiitischen Islam by Stephan Kokew
  • Oliver Scharbrodt
Annäherung an Toleranz: Ausgangspunkte, Kontexte und zeitgenössische Interpretationen des Toleranzbegriffs aus dem schiitischen Islam, by Stephan Kokew, 2014. Würzburg: Ergon-Verlag, 181pp., €28. isbn: 978-3-95650-067-1 (pbk).

Stephan Kokew’s monograph (which is the published version of his PhD thesis) discusses how contemporary Twelver Shiʿa thinkers and scholars from Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain approach and define the concept of tolerance from an Islamic perspective. The analysis of contemporary case studies from Twelver Shiʿa Islam receives extensive contextualisation by introducing the theological and legal framework in which debates around tolerance and key issues associated with it such as freedom of religion, the legal status of religious minorities, and the question of apostasy occur within Islam more generally and Twelver Shiʿa Islam more specifically. The book also introduces the socio-political contexts in which the chosen Shiʿa scholars and thinkers are embedded and which impacts their particular approaches to defining and justifying tolerance from an Islamic perspective. The particular historical and current positions of Shiʿis in Arab Gulf countries – whether Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Bahrain – and the socio-legal position of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran play a central role in shaping their discursive approaches towards tolerance.

Kokew begins his book with some conceptual clarifications, among them the key term of the book: tolerance. Emphasising its European genesis, the books provides a brief intellectual history of the concept from its roots in Roman philosophy to its secular reading during the Enlightenment. In his discussion of the term, Kokew refers to the distinction made by the German theologian and scholar of religion Gustav Mensching (1901–1978) between ‘formal tolerance’ and ‘substantial tolerance’. While the former describes religious freedom granted by state authorities, the latter articulates not just the mere acceptance of other religions but recognises them as part of the diverse and meaningful [End Page 525] engagement of humanity with the ultimate questions of life. Following from Mensching, Kokew also refers to Rainer Forst and his categorisation of tolerance into four different types: permission (Erlaubnis), co-existence (Koexistenz), respect (Respekt), and appreciation (Wertschätzung) (22). For Forst, what type of tolerance is shown depends on both the justification for tolerance and its components.

In the next section, the book lays out the wider theological and legal Islamic framework in which discursive approaches to the concept of tolerance have occurred. The book thereby provides a general introduction to Islam and the place of Islamic law (shariʿah) in the Islamic tradition as well as to the history and the distinctive features of Twelver Shiʿa Islam. As the authors under discussion attempt to root their justification for tolerance within the Islamic tradition, Kokew provides a brief linguistic analysis of the Arabic and Persian terms that the chosen authors either present as anticipating tolerance within key Islamic texts or use to translate the term ‘tolerance’ into Arabic and Persian; these include virtues like raḥmah (mercy), rifq (benevolence), ʿafw (forgiveness), ṣabr (patience) and ḥilm (leniency) and terms like taḥammul, iḥtimāl, tasāmuḥ, tasāhul, and mudārah which are used in both Arabic and Persian to denote tolerance.

To further complement the wider historical contextualisation of the case studies and their approaches to tolerance, the book discusses how classical and contemporary Shiʿa exegetes of the Qurʾan approach the question of freedom of religion. The book thereby juxtaposes classical commentaries by scholars such as ʿAlī ibn Ibrāhīm al-Qummī (d. 939), Muḥammad ibn Ḥasan al-Ṭūsī (d. 1067), or Muḥsin Fayḍ al-Kāshānī (d. 1680) with modern exegetical works on the Qurʾan by Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabātabāʾī (d. 1981), Muḥammad Ḥusayn Faḍlallāh (d. 2010) and Nāṣer Makārem Shīrāzī (b. 1926). The comparison focusses on Qurʾanic verses crucial in embedding freedom of religion in Islam such as 2:256 (‘There is no compulsion in religion…’) or 109:6 (‘You have your religion, and I have my religion...


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