Tolerance in Islam

By Siddiiq


In Islam the primary laws are obtained from Al-Qur’aan, the Book which the Muslim believes to the very dept of his soul, is the Word of God, to be followed implicitly.


The secondary laws are derived from the recorded sayings and practices of Muhammad Ur-Rasulullaah (P.b.u.h.), the Messenger or Prophet of God.


The secondary laws cannot, by any manner or means, contradict nor oppose, either in letter or spirit, the primary laws.


In neither case are these laws the rigid proclamations and regulations so beloved of man. Rather, they have the flexibility of guidance which one would expect to find in a Book which is destined to show the way that mankind should behave through the changing circumstances and conditions from the time of its Revelation to the end of time.


In Verse 256 of its 2nd Chapter, the Qur’aan tells us:


“Let there be no compulsion in religion – True Direction is clearly distinct from error…”


Religion is the belief, held by an individual, in the system of behaviour that will best ensure his future existence and that of his progeny and community. This belief cannot be changed by force. How then could compulsion advance a religion which is based upon the transcendent attributes of God, The Creator; Sustainer and Benefactor of mankind?


The Truth of God is clear as light for all to see. Our duty is to be merciful, to have compassion and, above all, understanding, to seek Truth, Knowledge, Justice for all, Beauty; to stand by our promises, to bear true witness, to live steadfastly and openly, remote from all causes of misunderstanding, hate and jealousies between man and man.


This duty is implicit in the expressions “to submit to God alone” and “man is created only to worship God” which forms the core of the relationship between God and the Muslim.


There is no doubt that Islam seeks to establish a world community. A community based upon the Islamic Laws. A community within which there is complete equality among peoples, without distinction between race, class, religion, colour or nationality. A community which allows no compulsion in religious beliefs – every individual being personally responsible to God – although it invites all to take part in the unending struggle between Haqq (truth, righteousness, good) and Batil (evil)… a struggle in which none can remain neutral. Haqq is positive and Batil is negative, there is nothing in between. Neutrality would imply being inert, passive to the negative forces of evil, while denying active support to the forces struggling against evil.


Within the framework of the unending effort to eradicate Batil, the general fundamental policy of Islam as regards non-Muslims is tolerance to the beliefs of other faiths and, in an Islamic State, to guarantee the rights of those who follow them, both in principle and in practice. This follows from the requirement that the Muslim, if he be a true Believer, must approach as closely as he is able to the attributes of the One True God in his lifetime.


Every verse of The Qur’aan Majeed, every action of the true Muslim, is preceded by the words


Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Rahiim”,


which means:


“In (or By) the Name of God, The Compassionate, the Understanding, the Merciful, the Benevolent, the Forgiving.”


It is the desire, as well as the duty, of every true Muslim to strive to emulate these qualities to the very best of his ability. This is perhaps the most important characteristic of the true Muslim.


It is significant that the character of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), so richly recorded in Islamic literature, is the greatest example of these meritorious traits. It is the bounden wish of all Muslims to follow him.


It is, of course, true that there are a number of modern Muslims, mostly those who have, over the past two centuries of colonial rule, and the dominant role of western communications, become westernized, whose behaviour is repugnant to the fundamental precepts of Islam. These nominal Muslims fail to clearly reflect the Way of Life, the Message and the System of the Prophet (S.A.W.).


Nevertheless, history is replete with the records of countless Muslims who have displayed these characteristics to a remarkable degree.


It was Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), who declared that the Muslim State is bound to accept the responsibility of maintaining the right of all non-Muslims living as minorities – even a minority of one – within it, irrespective of their religion, nationality or condition to a peaceful, prosperous and secure life. Provided that they do not exceed the limits of good behaviour and do not ‘make war’ – that is, that they do not oppose or attempt to corrupt the Muslims – such corruption being ‘Batil’.


The Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) soon after arriving in Yathrib, where he set up the first Islamic State in the year 623 A.C., wrote out a number of Charters – which are still in existence – in which he entered into written agreements with each non-Muslim community living there. Six years later he made a similar Charter with the Monks of the Monastery of St. Catherine.


These Agreements forbade the followers of Islam, under the most severe penalties, from violating or abusing the rights of non-Muslims, guaranteeing to them the peaceful and secure enjoyment of their lives, and protecting them from all injustices whatsoever. Later, Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) instructed all Muslim provincial governors:


“not to treat unfairly, or force them (their non-Muslim subjects) to discard their beliefs, but to co-operate with them, even assisting them to protect and repair their places of worship, churches, synagogues, temples, monasteries and sanctuaries, or any other matter relating to their religion.”


At the same time, Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) conferred upon all minorities who accepted Muslim suzerainty (Ahl-ul-Zimmah) the ‘judicial autonomy’ which has become a characteristic of legal system of Islam.


Under this system, non-Muslims residing in Muslim State are guaranteed the right of respect for both person and property; freedom of vocation; liberty of thought and worship; and enjoyment of a prosperous and secure life.


After the death of the Prophet (S.A.W.), the Muslims spread throughout the entire civilized world of that time, from India to the Atlantic. The Caliphs who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), constantly reminded the Muslim governors and officials of the precepts of Islam and the requirement that they treat all, Muslim and non-Muslims, with tolerance, justice and fair dealing, in equality and in brotherhood. It was this characteristic of Islam, together with the sincerity and the evident morality of its followers, that was the dominant and over-riding factor in the success which the initially relatively few Muslims had in spreading their beliefs throughout so wide and populous area, an area which they generally controlled for the next six or seven hundred years.


Every colonial power, Greek, Egyptian, Roman, European, dependant upon the force of arms and military might, has lasted for a few years and then crumbled. The Muslims maintained their Nation, spreading knowledge, Civilization and Light for so many centuries, through integration…


“professing a common belief, conquerors and conquered rapidly fused, and from the fusion arose a new civilisation in which the ancient cultures were re-vitalized by the Islamic Spirit… the realm of Islam was the most civilised and progressive in the world… studded with gracious cities, splendid mosques and quiet universities where the wisdom of the ancient world was preserved and appreciated. The Muslim world offered a striking contrast to the Christian West, sunk in the night of the Dark Ages.”


 (this from the pages of “The New World of Islam” by Torthrop Stoddard, the Christian historian, London, 1932).


Islam claims nothing more than the renewal and revival of the eternal Message of God so often repeated by the Prophets (S.A.W.) throughout the ages.


Following in the footsteps of the Prophet (S.A.W.) the world mission of the Muslims today is the establishment of all that is good for the entire humanity and, in consequence, the elimination of all that is evil.


The Mission of Jesus, although limited to the House of Israel, was similar. The polarization of good and evil was the cause of his remark, recorded in Matthew 10/34 that:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. Nay! I have not come to bring peace, but the sword!”


That is, he came to bring CONFLICT – the conflict between good and evil which puts son against father, daughter against mother, brother against brother.


The main purpose of Prophets (A.S.) has been to INVITE people to jointly take part in the struggle against evil. This conflict between good, truth, justice, right conduct and behaviour (Haqq) and evil (Batil – greed, arrogance, oppression, selfishness, untruth, debauchery), is continuous, never-ending and is ordained to be such, as a test for mankind. In this struggle no one can be neutral. Neutrality means refusal to help and support the forces of good. Hence it is the acceptance of evil.


Yet God says:


“If you help God (that is the CAUSE of God, for God needs no help!) then He will help you, and make firm your steps – your life as a struggle against evil becomes your destiny.” (Al-Qur’aan 47:7)


It is vital that those who struggle in the Cause of Allaah possess knowledge of the One True God, (monotheism) and thus Tawhiid. Those who are in conflict with Islam, denying their right to follow the principles of their faith, do so because they deny man’s moral responsibility to a Supreme Being, such are taken by the Muslim as supporters of evil.


On the other hand the Muslim must prove, by actual deeds, the depths of his faith and his readiness for self-sacrifice to enable the aggressors to realize how wrong they have been, so that they may draw closer to the truth.


This seeking the Truth, this moral responsibility to One Supreme Being and the seeker’s inherent understanding that, because there is One Creator of all Creation and because the human soul is, uniquely among creatures, endowed with a little of the Divine Spirit – a Spirit which is destined for eternal life, however different may be its covering, all mankind has equality, only differing in its individual attitude to God.


From this it follows that each individual unit of mankind has an imperative freedom to seek the truth, to follow his beliefs, to practise his religion, to react to his conscience. Denial of this freedom would be a denial of God’s Will to invite His servants to His House.


It is this basic (fundamental) Islamic concept of allowing all mankind to search for Truth, which demands of the Muslims that non-Muslims residing on the soil of an Islamic State must be given, as their right, autonomy in the observation of their beliefs, always provided that they do not attempt to impose those beliefs on others nor spread corruption in the land.


This right is enshrined in the following excerpts from the the Qur’aan Majeed:


“Upon all who are bent upon denying the Truth and who turn others away from the path of God, We shall heap suffering upon suffering for all the corruption that they have brought. For one Day We shall raise a witness from each community (Nation,

People) against them, from among themselves. And you also, inasmuch as We have given to you step by step from On High, this Divine teaching, to make everything clear, and to provide guidance, grace and good tidings for those who surrender themselves to God.


For behold, God enjoins justice, the doing of good, and generosity towards all one’s fellow men, and He forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason, as well as envy… and be true to your Covenant (the pledge by which you have bound yourself to God) and do not break your word (your personal promises, as well surrendering only to God and His Will.)”


“Be ever steadfast witnesses for God, in Justice and Truth, and never let your hatred of others lead you into the error of not dealing justly and fairly. Be ever Just! That is closest to being Conscious of God! Keep your Duty to God and fear Him. For God is aware of all that you do.” (5:8).


“Tell those who believe, to forgive those who do not hope for the Hereafter (that is, the non-Muslims). It is for God alone to recompense (for good or evil) each according to that which he has earned.”


“If anyone of those who ascribe divinity to other than God, seeks your protection, give him that protection, so that he might hear the Word of God, and then, if he so desires, take him to wherever he may feel secure. (He being free to accept or not to accept the message of the Qur’aan).” (9:6).


“And do not let your hatred of people who would bar you from (exercising) your religious duties (and faith) cause you to agree (transgress the limits of justice and humanity in respect of them) but rather, help one another in furthering virtue and in Consciousness (and Duty towards) of God. But do not help one another in furthering evil and enmity.”


These excerpts have been drawn from Chapters 5, 9 and 45, of the Qur’aan. No one can doubt that these clear and imperative injunctions form the recorded Words of God make it immutably certain that it is the Duty of every Muslim to ensure justice and co-operation in all that is beneficial and good, to non-Muslims. These are the Laws from which the Prophet (S.A.W) and his successors drew when proclaiming the Muslim policy of justice, mercy, humanity, equality, to all non-Muslims within their realm. A policy which, based upon the everlasting quality of the Qur’aan, is unchanging, as applicable now as it was 1,400 years ago.


Inviting all of mankind, whatever their beliefs, to the Truth of the eternal Message of the Qur’aan, is not only the duty of all Muslims, but is one of their most noble tasks.


Let there grow out of you a band inviting all that is good and beneficial, enjoining the doing of that which is right while forbidding the doing of all that is wrong.” (3:104).


“Invite all to the path of your Sustainer, with wisdom and beautiful preaching, arguing only in the most kindly and courteous manner, for it is only your Sustainer Who knows who it is that strays from His path and who it is that is right-guided.” (16:125).


“Let there be no compulsion or coercion in respect of the adoption of faith, for the Right Way is now clearly distinct from (the way of) error.” (2:256).


Hence, if you have to respond (in a controversy) to an argument, respond only to the extent of the attack leveled against you, but it is indeed far better for you if you show patience and forbearance, since God is with those who are patient in adversity. But do not revile those (false deities) whom they call upon instead of the One True God, for indeed, We have made their own beliefs appear good to every community. In time however, He will make them truly understand, for miracles are in the power of God alone.”


In these passages, it is shown conclusively that Muslims must strive hard, in a sincere, courteous, disciplined and sympathetic manner, to invite all mankind to the Way of God. As Abdullah Yusuf Ali comments (The Glorious Qur’aan: Translation and Commentary P-689):


“We must invite all to the Way of God and expound His Universal Will. We must do it with wisdom and discretion, meeting people on their own level of knowledge and experience, which may be very narrow or very wide. Our teaching must be neither dogmatic nor self-regarding, not offensive but gentle, considerate and in such a manner as might attract their attention. Our manner and arguments should not be acrimonious, but modeled on the most courteous and the most gracious example, so that the hearer may say to himself ‘this Muslim is not dealing merely with words, he is not trying to trick me or show how clever he is, but is expounding the faith that is in him, his motive being the love of man and the love of God’”.


From: The Minaret






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