By Sheikh Abdullah Makwinja
20 June 2013
Tolerance is a basic principle of Islam. It is a religious moral duty. Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, believes in prophets and messengers of God. Unfortunately, the events after the First World War to the present time have created an atmosphere in the Western world where Islam is branded as a religion of terror and where Muslims are generally labelled as terrorists. History books, especially by the Orientalists, like to present the picture of the Muslims as holding the Qur’an in one hand and the sword in another.
Intolerance is on the increase in the world today, causing death, genocide, violence, religious persecution as well as confrontations on different levels.
Sometimes it is racial and ethnic, sometimes it is religious and ideological, other times it is political and social. In every situation it is evil and painful. How can we solve the problem of intolerance? How can we assert our own beliefs and positions without being intolerant to others? How can we bring tolerance into the world today?
So far as Islam is concerned, it is an entirely tolerant religion. Islam desires peace to prevail in the world. The Qur’an calls the way of Islam “the paths of Peace” (5:16).
The state of peace can never prevail in a society if a tolerant attitude is lacking in the people. Tolerance is the only basis for peace; in a society where tolerance is absent, peace likewise will be non-existent. Peace is the religion of the universe.
The dealings of Prophet Muhammad may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, with other religions can best be described in the verse of the Qur’an:
“To you be your religion, to me be mine.”(109:6)
The Arabian Peninsula during the time of the Prophet was a region in which various faiths were present. There were Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, polytheists and others not affiliated with any religion.
When one looks into the life of Prophet Muhammad, one may draw on many examples to portray the high level of tolerance shown to people of other faiths.
In order to understand and judge this tolerance, one must look into the period in which Islam was a formal state, with the specific laws laid down by the Prophet in accordance with the tenets of religion. One can observe many examples of tolerance shown by the Prophet in the thirteen years of his stay in Mecca.
One such beautiful example is when he permitted a visiting Christian delegation to pray in the mosque in Medina.
The genuine Islamic vision has, in fact, let followers of all religions live together peacefully. From the very beginning, the religion of Islam highlighted coexistence of religious groups.
Prophet Muhammad reiterated equality of Muslims and non-Muslims rights when he was ordained as the last messenger of God in Medina.
One of the most important aspects of the human rights discourse is the respect and tolerance which society must show towards the religions of other people; this, of course, includes the issue of freedom of religion.
The late Imam Khomeini, who led the Islamic revolution to revive Islam and spirituality when the world had been plunged into decline of social and moral values, used to emphasise on the importance of respecting each other‘s religion.
It is worth mentioning that the Islamic revolution gained victory at a very sensitive juncture of history at the unchallenged dominance of two superpowers of the East and West, and the antiquation and isolation of religion in the world.
The great leader strongly rejected and condemned any sort of sectarianism and became harbinger of unity among the all Muslims and followers other divine religions.
Imam Khomeini emphasised that all divine religions were revealed from same sources and were too similar in their basic essence and teachings.
He cited several Qur’anic verses to prove his idea that the religions preached by the great prophets such as Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad (peace be upon them all) were identical in their spirit.
He also undertook serious and practical concrete steps to grant religion its real status and bring it out of isolation in the world of materialism and imperialism.
One would probably say for centuries the world has failed to produce a spiritual leader and all-inclusive personality similar to Imam Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
On the occasion of the Christmas, Imam Khomeini would send a message of felicitations to all the Christians all over the world, one of his messages reads;
“The Almighty God’s greetings and salutations to the Holy Christ, son of Mary, the Spirit of God, and the honourable prophet who resuscitated the dead and awakened the drowsy!
Greetings and salutations of the Great God to his dignified mother, Virgin Mary and virtuous saintly woman, who, through the divine breath, offered such a great son to those who were thirsty for divine mercy!
Greetings to the clerics, priests and monks who, through the teachings of Jesus Christ call the rebellious souls to peace!
Greetings to the free nation of Christ, who enjoy the divine teachings of Christ, the Spirit of God!”
Imam Khomeini’s throughout his leadership, paid special attention to issues of human dignity, religious tolerance as well as freedom of religious minorities.
“Barely are all residents of a country of the same religion and race and barely do they speak the same language. A group of people with common culture, language, religion and origin make up the majority of any nation. Smaller groups with their diverse language, race and religion constitute the minority.”
It comes as no surprise therefore that international human rights bodies today continue to derive immense inspiration from the views of Imam Khomeini on peaceful co-existence as they are doing their best to avoid any discrimination against the minorities’ rights.
As one observes, arrangements have been made for peaceful coexistence of different ethnic groups and nations across the whole world, particularly through United Nations forums such the UN Dialogue on Faith and Religious Traditions.
Imam always strongly denounced the blasphemous movements aimed at the religious teachings, symbols and sensitivities. He invited the spiritual leaders of Christianity, Judaism and several other religions and invited them to get united under the flag of monotheism in order to confront the conspiracies of global arrogance.
Moreover, he used to highlight the similarities among religions and called on all the followers and believer of monotheism to unite in a bid to tackle material, social and spiritual pressures and problems confronting the humanity.
In an interview with Dutch Die Welt Grant newspaper in 1978, Imam Khomeini said:
“Any Iranian should enjoy civil rights and there is no difference between Muslim, Jew, Christian or follower of any other religion.”
However, it is worth mentioning that he also took very firm stance against any sacrilegious or blasphemous move aimed at insulting the holy prophets or divine scriptures.
In this aspect experts and pundits believe that Imam Khomeini will always be remembered as the real model for tolerance, spirituality and moral values for coming centuries and generations.
Today it is not surprising that the Islamic Republic of Iran has made tremendous achievements in the socio-cultural sector in the past 34 years.
In the very outset, we should bear in mind that to establish a state based on morals and spirituality was not an easy task, especially when the former regime did not observe religious values.
Therefore, the accomplishment of such goals required exceptional commitment. It is undeniable that the achievements being witnessed by the world in the Islamic Republic of Iran today are a result of the relentless efforts the rich legacy left behind by the leader of the Revolution, Imam Khomeini together with the support of the Iranian people and the Muslim world.
Today almost 24 years after his demise, the oppressed people of the world continue to draw inspiration from the legacy left behind by this rare icon history has ever produced.
Sheikh Abdullah Makwinja is the resident Imam of Fatima Zahra (as) College.