Session 39: An Investigation of the Relativity of Values and Religious Narratives

Religion as absolute or relative

The questions we are facing now are: Are the points we have tried to prove in our series of discussions credible and plausible for all? Do these points have absolute credibility, or relative credibility, for example, do they only express the views of the speaker or do others have different views in this regard which are consistent with his views? In other words, must every Muslim, especially a Shi‘ah who follows the school of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), accept my arguments in view of the existing evidence and treat them as absolute? Or, can he not accept them on the ground that they only represent a specific viewpoint and on the contrary, there are other viewpoints that might have equal or greater credibility?

Some assert in their speeches and periodicals that these subjects and interpretations are not supposed to be expressed as absolute. They must not even be attributed to Islam. They must only be considered as the viewpoint of the speaker. That is, a speaker must say, “This is my understanding of Islam,” and not present his understanding as the Islamic theory. In similar cases, especially during the past decade some individuals have insisted that one should not consider his understanding as absolute, for there are those who have different interpretations which are in themselves valuable and credible.

Three approaches to the relativity of knowledge

Some serious questions are posed here. What do “absolute” and “relative” essentially mean? What does the statement “So-and-so subject does not have absolute credibility” mean? Does it mean that no knowledge [ma‘rifah] has absolute credibility, or some knowledge has absolute credibility while another does not? In such a case, what is the difference between absolute and relative knowledge? Is relativity of knowledge or relativity of credibility of knowledge confined only to the domain of religious matters? Or, is credibility of subjects discussed in every field of science relative?