By Sheima Salam Sumer
30 January 2017
Many Muslims are familiar with the famous Quranic verse 49:13 that proclaims:
“Mankind! We have created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes, so that you might come to know each other. The noblest of you in God's sight is the one who fears God most. God is All Knowing and All-Aware.”
Not many Muslims, however, connect this verse with a call to inter-religious understanding. However, that is precisely something that can, along with other forms of understanding, be derived from this verse.
In this verse, God is telling us that He created different peoples and tribes so that we may “know” each other. Obviously, different peoples and tribes include people of different religions, too.
God wants us—including people of different religions—to “know” each other because there is benefit in knowing one another.
One such benefit is that learning about the religions of our human family and their adherents promotes peace through understanding. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught that working for peace is better than engaging in voluntary acts of worship:
“Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.” (Source: Bukhari, Muslim)
“Shall I not inform you of something more excellent than fasting, prayer and charity?…It is putting things right between people.” (Source: Sunan of Abu-Dawood)
Learning about other religions and their adherents is also an act of kindness. It shows care and respect. God reminds us to treat people of other faiths with kindness and justice, as long as they are not harming us:
“God does not prohibit you regarding those who do not fight you or drive you out of your homes from dealing kindly and justly with them…” (The Holy Quran 60:8)
Learning about other religions and their adherents can help us materially. It can lead to business relations with people of other faiths. We can provide products that cater to their religious preferences.
Learning about other religions and their adherents can help us psychologically. We feel more connected with the entire human family. We feel less afraid of others because we know more about them. By understanding people who are different than us, we understand ourselves better.
Learning about other religions helps us spiritually. It can open our minds up to topics that we would like to learn about in our own religion. We also learn about the many similarities among the faiths.
Furthermore, all faiths contain spiritual wisdom that we can grow from. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught that “wisdom is the lost property of the believer.”
Abu Huraira reported:
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The wise saying is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it then he has a right to it.” (Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi)
This Hadith is also translated as:
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said, “The statement of wisdom is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it then he is more deserving of it.” (Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi Tirmidhi)
From this Hadith believers can appreciate the value of studying and benefitting from the wisdom found in scriptures other than the Quran too, as long as this wisdom does not contradict Islamic teachings. Learning about other religious scriptures expands our understanding of Truth because most religions originated from true prophets sent by God. The messages of many prophets were distorted by people, which is why the Quran was sent—to clarify right from wrong. Nevertheless, other scriptures still contain some Truth.
Even though many people are eager to learn from other religious communities when it comes to ‘worldly’ matters such as economics, science and technology, they do not display the same such willingness to benefit from the wisdom in other spiritual traditions. This may be due to the materialistic emphasis of our culture, or simply a lack of time. Many Muslims do not even make time to study Islam more deeply.
In the light the Prophetic Hadith above one can gauge that wisdom is not exclusively found within our own religion. The Hadith teaches us that we should not ignore the wisdom/truths in other spiritual traditions. Wisdom is a treasure to be found in all cultures. As God says in the Holy Quran:
“He gives wisdom to whom He wills, and whoever has been given wisdom has certainly been given much good. And none will remember except those of understanding.” (2:269)
Sheima Salam Sumer is a writer and trained counselor. She is the author of How to Be a Happy Muslim Insha'Allah and The Basic Values of Islam”.