The word “coexistence” in Arabic is derived from the word “life,” wherein life refers to existence and livelihood. Life in the human context requires that all people exist together in one place, in one society, interacting with one another, exchanging interests, and engaging in different types of relationships based on mutual respect and good neighborliness.
Coexistence takes place among individuals and groups that are, in one way or another, different. These people might be born with different characteristics—whether in terms of language, race, color, faith, creed, or sect—but all agree on the desire to live together; they strive to build a society where they might coexist and share the elements of livelihood, with the existence of each member of society depending on the existence of the other members. This exchange of interests means that each party relies on the contributions of all other parties, and no party can live isolated from those who are different or bear different views and opinions. This definition of coexistence applies to individuals, groups, and states, and no one party can take part in coexistence without the participation of the other parties. Coexistence is rather a life practice, a pattern of relationships that involves communication, exchange, and continuous giving, and as such it requires the engagement of all coexisting parties.
Coexistence is a social relationship based on shared interests and a common destiny. Participation in this relationship assumes that everyone is seeking—and must protect—some ultimate interest, and it is thus understood that no single party or group will achieve their interests and objectives if they act in opposition to their partners or infringe their rights. Coexistence is the foundation of society and the state. In the absence of coexistence, the social fabric breaks apart and the state loses its stability, security, and perhaps its very existence.
It stands to reason that coexistence is meant to take place between those who have major or radical differences because those who agree or see themselves as similar tend by default to live together without issues, perhaps not even realizing the ways in which they might differ from others except when they look at them from a personal perspective. Therefore, the idea of coexistence means that a society is composed of human groups with various cultural and social components that contain layers of differences. These differences might be big or small, fundamental or minimal. People might be adherents of the same faith or hail from the same racial group yet speak different languages, or have different cultures, lifestyles, customs, and traditions. In other cases, they might be of the same race yet practice different faiths, or they might adhere to the same faith yet follow different creeds. Only when coexistence is considered a worthy value will all members of society accept living together within a common conceptual framework and coexisting in a way that achieves the public interest and guarantees the stability of the society and state.
Coexistence means accepting diversity while fostering positive relationships among the various social, cultural, and religious groups in society. The concept binds the social and cultural components together and knits them into a stable social structure. Without the idea of coexistence, the social structure remains tense and unstable. This tension will erupt periodically, keeping people constantly on edge as they await the next eruption. If we take a closer look at societies with discrimination and racist crimes, we will find that these crimes reoccur frequently and that the relationships among the various groups in such societies are constantly in a state of tension. That is because the value of coexistence is not instilled within the social culture and has not transformed into a steadfast and stable social tradition.