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Islam and Pluralism ( 7 Aug 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Holy Quran: The Basis for a Civilised, Pluralistic Society

By Sohail Arshad,

One important constituent of faith in Islam is that a Muslim should also have faith in all the earlier prophets and holy books and scriptures revealed to them along with having faith in the holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Islam’s divine book, the holy Quran has forbidden Muslims to speak ill of other religions and their gods and deities. In this way the Quran advocates a multicultural society where the followers of all religions live together and believe in peaceful coexistence.

 In Islamic belief system, God sent Adam and Eve down to the earth and spread the human beings through them. He created human beings in different colour, height and physique. He also created different ethnic and linguistic communities among them because God wanted to save this vast world from uniformity and monotony. A hadith says, ‘God is beautiful and appreciates beauty’. And beauty lies not in uniformity but in variety. He, therefore, created millions of species of animals and plants.

“See you not that Allah sends down water (rain) from the sky, and We produce therewith fruits of varying colours, and among the mountains are streaks white and red, of varying colours and (others) very black. And of men and AdDawab (moving living creatures, beasts, etc.), and cattle, in like manner of various colours. It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah. Verily, Allah is AllMighty, OftForgiving.” (Fatir: 27-28)

Therefore, to save the world from uniformity, God caused communities and ethnicities to differentiate one another. By doing so, God also wanted to test men in various ways.

“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa [i.e. one of the Muttaqun (pious - see V.2:2). Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (Al Hujurat: 13)

In other words, after creating linguistic and ethnic communities and nations among human beings, God says that only pious and the righteous among them would achieve higher status in His eyes and not his lineage, social and financial status. And pious and righteous is one who does justice to other human beings on earth, raises his voice against injustice and oppression and abstains from evil deeds. Tribes and nations are only an identity.

Despite this multiculturalism and variety, the Quran strives to build a peaceful pluralist society by binding the entire humanity together on the following lines:

1)Recognising all the prophets and holy scriptures and respecting all religions

The uniqueness of the character of the Quran lies in the fact that on the one hand it is a model code of conduct for the followers of Islam and on the other, its purpose is to strengthen the bond of humanity by promoting love, harmony and unity among all the religious communities (ummahs). It does not try to prove its superiority by denying the authenticity or existence of other divine books, but rather it holds testimony to them because all the prophets were messengers of God receiving divine revelations from Him. Henceforth, all the prophets from Adam (AS) to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) brought the same religion and the message they brought was the same: Oneness of God and negation of shirk. Therefore, the Quran says that the message it brought is not different from what the previous divine books brought but in fact it is their reiteration, justification and culmination. God says about the Quran:

“And what We have inspired in you (O Muhammad SAW), of the Book (the Quran), it is the (very) truth [that you (Muhammad SAW) and your followers must act on its instructions], confirming that which was (revealed) before it. Verily! Allah is indeed AllAware, and AllSeer of His slaves.” (Fatir: 31)

God says on another occasion:

“And before this was the Scripture of Musa (Moses) as a guide and a mercy. And this is a confirming Book (the Quran) in the Arabic language, to warn those who do wrong, and as glad tidings to the Muhsinun” (good-doers - see V.2:112). (Al Ahqaf: 12)

Yet another verse in the Quran says:

“Then, We gave Musa (Moses) the Book [the Taurat (Torah)], to complete (Our Favour) upon those who would do right, and explaining all things in detail and a guidance and a mercy that they might believe in the meeting with their Lord.” (Al An’am: 154)

Again, the Quran says:

“It is He Who has sent down the Book (the Quran) to you (Muhammad SAW) with truth, confirming what came before it. And he sent down the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel). Aforetime, as a guidance to mankind, And He sent down the criterion [of judgement between right and wrong (this Quran)].” (Al Imran:3-4)

The Quran also testifies to Zaboor, the holy book revealed to Hadhrat Dawood (David)(AS):

“And indeed We have written in Zabur (Psalms) [i.e. all the revealed Holy Books the Taurat (Torah), the Injeel (Gospel), the Quran] after (We have already written in) Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz (the Book, that is in the heaven with Allah), that My righteous slaves shall inherit the land (i.e. the land of Paradise).” (Al Anbya: 105)

It, therefore, becomes clear from the verses quoted above that the holy Quran sincerely holds testimony to all the previously revealed Holy Scriptures and also testifies to the prophethood of all the prophets:

“And indeed We granted to Musa (Moses) and Harun (Aaron) the criterion (of right and wrong), and a shining light [i.e. the Taurat (Torah)] and a Reminder for Al-Muttaqun (the pious - see V.2:2).” (Al Anbya: 48)

“And indeed We bestowed aforetime on Ibrahim (Abraham) his (portion of) guidance, and We were Well-Acquainted with him (as to his Belief in the Oneness of Allah, etc.).” (Al Anbya:51)“

Similarly some other prophets’ names also feature in the Quran on different occasions. All these prophets taught people to keep away from sins, have faith in the oneness of God and abstain from shirk and kufr. Hence the Quran makes it clear that its teachings are not anything new and the religion it has brought is not new; rather it is the high point and culmination of all the religions that existed earlier. That’s why the Quran instructs Muslims to have faith in all the prophets including Moses and Jesus, have faith in the holy Zaboor (Psalms), Tourat (Torah) and Injeel (Gospel) and not to badmouth about them because it has a negative impact on the Quran’s efforts to unite all the ummahs”

“And insult not those whom they (disbelievers) worship besides Allah, lest they insult Allah wrongfully without knowledge.” (Al An’am:108)

The Quran says that every religious community in the world is the ummah of one or the other prophet as God has completed his responsibility by sending forth his message to all the human beings through his 1, 24000 prophets:

“And for every Ummah (a community or a nation), there is a Messenger” (Yunus: 47)

It is, therefore, necessary for the establishment of unity and harmony among different nations of the world that the ummah of one prophet should respect the ummah of another one. The Quran itself sets an example by praising the previous prophets. It mentions Hadhrat Musa (AS) (Moses) and Hadhrat Isa (AS) (Jesus) rather in detail and devotes a full chapter on Mother Mary (Hazrat Maryam AS).

Mention of Jesus and his followers (Christians) in the Quran

The Quran mentions Jesus and his Gospel and the great human qualities of his followers (Christians) in very good words. It says:

“(Remember) when Allah will say (on the Day of Resurrection).”O 'Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary)! Remember My Favour to you and to your mother when I supported you with Ruh-ul-Qudus [Jibrael (Gabriel)] so that you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and when I taught you writing, Al-Hikmah (the power of understanding), the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel); and when you made out of the clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My Permission, and you breathed into it, and it became a bird by My Permission, and you healed those born blind, and the lepers by My Permission, and when you brought forth the dead by My Permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from you (when they resolved to kill you) since you came unto them with clear proofs, and the disbelievers among them said: 'This is nothing but evident magic.' “(Al Maidah: 110)

In the lines above, the Quran very generously mentions the miracles Jesus worked with God’s permission. He, with God’s permission, caused the dead to come to life, gave the blind their sight back and cured the lepers. He even made the image of a bird and breathed life into it to prove God’s powers as the giver and taker of life. But the non-believers refused to have faith. However, the same human traits ---kindness and soft-heartedness --- are found in the followers of Jesus even today. They are known for their charity work across the world. Treating the sick, curing lepers and helping the needy, the poor and the distressed has been their mission. So, the Quran appreciates their kindness and soft-heartedness in clear words.

“Then, We sent after them, Our Messengers, and We sent 'Isa (Jesus) - son of Maryam (Mary), and gave him the Injeel (Gospel). And We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him, compassion and mercy.” (Al Hadid:27)

Similarly, in turn, the Quran expects other religious communities too to recognise and respect Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Quran and Muslims as clear signs of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers are given in Torah and Gospel:

“Muhammad (SAW) is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves. You see them bowing and falling down prostrate (in prayer), seeking Bounty from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure. The mark of them (i.e. of their Faith) is on their faces (foreheads) from the traces of (their) prostration (during prayers). This is their description in the Taurat (Torah) and Injeel.”(Al Fath: 29)

2) Common practices in all the divine religions

The Quran points out that many religious practices and rites like namaz (prayer), roza (fasting), zakat (religious tax), hajj (pilgrimage) and qurbani (animal sacrifice) are common among the ummah of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) among others. As Islam respects and justifies all the previous prophets and their divine scriptures, it has also incorporated practices and rites observed by the followers of other divine religions. These practices and rites can serve as a link among all such religious communities. Several verses in the Quran can be quoted in this regard.

Namaz and zakat

“And mention in the Book (the Quran) Isma'il (Ishmael). Verily! He was true to what he promised, and he was a Messenger, (and) a Prophet. And he used to enjoin on his family and his people As-Salat (the prayers) and the Zakat, and his Lord was pleased with him.” (Maryam: 54-55)

“Indeed Allah took the covenant from the Children of Israel (Jews), and We appointed twelve leaders among them. And Allah said: "I am with you if you perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat) and give Zakat and believe in My Messengers; honour and assist them, and lend to Allah a good loan.(Al Maidah:12)

Animal sacrifice (qurbani)

“And for every nation We have appointed religious ceremonies, that they may mention the Name of Allah over the beast of cattle that He has given them for food.”(Al Haj:34)

Pilgrimage (Haj)

“Our Lord! And make us submissive unto You and of our offspring a nation submissive unto You, and show us our Manasik (all the ceremonies of pilgrimage - Hajj and 'Umrah, etc.), and accept our repentance. Truly, You are the One Who accepts repentance, the Most Merciful.” (Al Baqra: 128)

Roza (fasting)

“O you who believe! Observing As-Saum (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious - see V.2:2).” (Al Baqra: 183)

3)One ummah, different ways of worship

As all the prophets preached the same religion of tauheed (oneness of God), the ummahs of all the prophets were in principle, considered one ummah collectively. Because the prophets were human beings and lived a physical age, they had to die one day. That’s why God sent one prophet after the other to continue the mission of spreading his message. However, God gave every ummah a different way of worship. But men also created differences to give their religions a new shape altogether. The Quran says:

“Mankind were but one community (i.e. on one religion - Islamic Monotheism), then they differed (later)” (Yunus: 19)

It says on another occasion:

 “Truly! This, your Ummah [Shariah or religion (Islamic Monotheism)] is one religion, and I am your Lord, therefore worship Me (Alone). [Tafsir Ibn Kathir] But they have broken up and differed as regards their religion among themselves.” (Al Anbya:93)

Even the Jews, Christians and other Ahl-e-Kitab are Muslims

The religion revealed to Abraham was called the Abrahamic religion and all the divine religions including Islam were called religions of Abraham and their followers were called Muslims. In this sense, according to the Quran, even the Jews and the Christians are Muslims as their prophets, Moses and Christ preached the same religion as Abraham. So, the Quran clearly says:

“O you who believe! Bow down, and prostrate yourselves, and worship your Lord and do good that you may be successful. And strive hard in Allah's Cause as you ought to strive (with sincerity and with all your efforts that His Name should be superior). He has chosen you (to convey His Message of Islamic Monotheism to mankind by inviting them to His religion, Islam), and has not laid upon you in religion any hardship, it is the religion of your father Ibrahim (Abraham) (Islamic Monotheism). It is He (Allah) Who has named you Muslims both before and in this (the Quran)” (Al Haj-77-78)

Righteous people of all the ummah are heaven-bound

Today, the more people are turning away from religion, the greater the bloodshed and violence in the name of religion because they do not realise the true spirit of religion. The followers of one religion believe that only they are on the right path and all the other religions are false and so deserve to go to hell. But contrary to their belief, the holy Quran says that the follower of any Abrahamic religion is righteous in the eyes of God if he obeys the teachings of his prophet, has faith in the unity of God, has faith in the Day of Judgment and abstains from sins. On the one hand, the Quran chides those who believe only in the truth of their own religion and on the other it gives glad tidings to all the righteous persons of every ummah:

“And verily! This religion (of Islamic Monotheism) is one religion, and I am your Lord, so keep your duty to Me. But they (men) have broken their religion among them into sects, each group rejoicing in its belief.”(Al Moominun:52-53)

“Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”(Al Baqra:62)

The Quran reiterates its stand on another occasion:

 Surely, those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah, in His Messenger Muhammad SAW and all that was revealed to him from Allah), those who are the Jews and the Sabians and the Christians, - whosoever believed in Allah and the Last Day, and worked righteousness, on them shall be in no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Al Maidah: 69)

4)There is no compulsion in faith (deen)

One more point on which the Quran lays great stress is that there is no compulsion in matters related to faith. There are many religions in the world whose followers propagate their respective faiths. Islam too asks its followers to spread its message. The Quran has declared Muslims the best ummah because they advise people to do good deeds and abstain from evil ones. There was also a group in the ummah of Moses who would call people towards piety.

But as God Himself says that it is in his scheme of things that he has caused many religions and nations to exist because he wanted to test the devotion of his devotees in different ways. If he had wished, all the human beings would follow one religion. Nobody would deny the existence of God and people would not worship anything and anyone but God. But he has created good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, oppression and justice and light and darkness in order to put the devotees to test of their character. God only expects men to fulfil their responsibilities and duties sincerely and honestly and leave the result and the worry of the guidance of people to Him because giving guidance to people is the prerogative of God alone. Thus the Quran says:

“And had Allah willed, He could have made you (all) one nation, but He sends astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. But you shall certainly be called to account for what you used to do.” (Al Nahl:93)

Do not be a religious policeman: the Quran

Therefore, the Quran preaches us to convey the message of God to the non-believers, the misguided and to those who commit shirk and kufr in a peaceful manner and tactfully because bringing people to the right path is only in the hands of God and so the use of force in this regard may not yield any results rather it may cause acrimony, confrontation and bloodshed which is a big hurdle in the way of the Quran’s proposed pluralistic society. Therefore, the Quran prohibits people to become religious policemen:

“It is not for any person to believe, except by the Leave of Allah, and He will put the wrath on those who are heedless.”(Yunsu: 100)

Another verse says:

“So if they dispute with you, Muhammad, say: "I have submitted myself to Allah (in Islam), and (so have) those who follow me." And say to those who were given the Scripture (Jews and Christians and other ahl-e-Kitab) and to those who are illiterates (Arab pagans): "Do you (also) submit yourselves (to Allah in Islam)?" If they do, they are rightly guided; but if they turn away, your duty is only to convey the Message; and Allah is All-Seer of (His) slaves.”(Al Imran: 20)

On yet another occasion the Quran warns religious fanatics against acting as religious policemen:

“Had Allah willed, they would not have taken others besides Him in worship. And We have not made you a watcher over them nor are you set over them to dispose of their affairs.”(Al An’am:107)

In the same surah, earlier it has said:

“But your people (O Muhammad SAW) have denied it (the Quran) though it is the truth. Say: "I am not responsible for your affairs."(Al An’am:66)

It becomes obvious from the study of the verses quoted above that the Quran is against the use of force in matters of faith. Islam preaches patience, tact and perseverance in the propagation of faith. But unfortunately, the attitude of a section of Muslims today is quite the opposite as they believe in converting people into Muslims by use of force or they consider it a service to their faith to slaughter members of other sects of Islam which is, in fact, completely contrary to the teachings of Islam and in violation of the teachings of the Quran. The Quran says about the Muslim groups believing in violence:

“And when it is said to them: "Make not mischief on the earth," they say: "We are only peacemakers." Verily! They are the ones who make mischief, but they perceive not.”(Al Baqra:11-12)

“"Eat and drink of that which Allah has provided and do not act corruptly, making mischief on the earth."(Al Baqra: 60)

On the one hand, such militant groups have mushroomed among Muslims who have been committing un-Islamic acts like slaughtering of non-Muslims, suicide bombings and forcefully converting people to Islam in the name of propagation of Islam and establishing the rule of Allah and, on the other hand, due to sectarian differences, they have been killing their own Muslim brethren after declaring them kafirs though the latter have faith in Islam and declare themselves Muslim. The Quran predicts horrible punishment for them in the hereafter:

“And those who dispute concerning Allah (His Religion of Islamic Monotheism, with which Muhammad (SAW) has been sent), after it has been accepted (by the people), of no use is their dispute before their Lord, and on them is wrath, and for them will be a severe torment.”(Al Shuraa: 16)

Therefore it is crystal clear that the Quran stresses the need to establish a civilised society based on the principle of peaceful coexistence where people will respect each other’s religion, respect each other’s prophets and propagate and preach their faith not with the use of force and violence but with love, patience, restraint and understanding as the Quran says in one of the most often-quoted verses, ‘Lakum deenakum waleya deen’ (To you your faith, to me mine).

Sohail Arshad is a regular columnist for New

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