So we are left with a very interesting view of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition; one which may greatly change its interactions with other religious traditions in the current day. If monotheist worship of Yahweh in Israel started after Moses, it would seem that previous Biblical and Qur'anic figures such as Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph were all polytheist. Since these figures are all revered as primordial Muslims in the Qur'an, the surprising conclusion is that the definition of "Muslim" has changed over the millennia, along with the definition of God itself. In spite of apparently believing in a polytheist religion that Muslims today would not even recognize, the Qur'an has no reservations of the high status of Abraham.Very interesting. I wonder what kind of reaction he'll get. It sounds like the opening of what could be a very constructive discussion.Say: No, but follow the religion of Abraham, the upright (Qur'an 2:135)The unwavering Qur'anic support of Abraham is very significant for modern day Muslims. If we accept the historical evidence that Abraham was polytheist, then we have found grounds for a more pluralistic view of Islam in the many verses praising him. This is very relevant in the context of South Asia, for example, where fundamentalist Muslim leaders routinely criticize Hinduism for being polytheist.
More generally, given the historical evidence that even Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheism has evolved from very different religious ideas, it becomes harder to criticize any other religion for not being monotheist. This enables us to develop a Qur'anic theology based on genuine respect and appreciation for other religions as divinely-inspired, regardless of how different they may seem. The following verses are relevant:>And for every nation there is a messenger (Qur'an 10:47)The above seems to imply that the variety of religious faiths that we see in the world may all be part of a larger divine scheme of things. How do we know that all of these are not simply the "sacred rites" appointed to different nations, each corresponding to various divinely-approved "traced-out ways" (shir'at in Arabic, with a similar etymology as shari'ah)? They may seem different and strange to us, but so would Abraham's Canaanite polytheism. And the Qur'an is very positive about Abraham; so it becomes impossible for us to criticize any religion based on doctrine. As the above makes clear, the only way left to criticize any religion is based on the "good works" of its followers. From this viewpoint, Islam does not become merely tolerant of other religions, but actually appreciative of them.
To every nation We appointed sacred rites which they are to perform. (Qur'an 22:67)
And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it... For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto Allah ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ. (Qur'an 5:48)
An interesting consequence of this discussion is that over their disparate histories, the Judeo-Christian Muslim tradition winds up looking a lot like Hinduism. Both started out thousands of years ago with polytheism and moved towards monotheism. In Israel that happened millennia ago, with the absorption of El and Baal into the figure of Yahweh. In India it happened about a century ago with the Brahmo Samaj (as a result of which, the poems and songs of the Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore are sufficiently monotheist to be used as hymns in Christian churches in Bangladesh).
Zeeshan Hasan is also one of the bloggers at ProgressiveIslam.Org. And he has more essays (which I have not read) posted at liberalislam.net.
UPDATE (24 September): So far the comments to the article are unsympathetic.