By Atif Noor Khan
September 13, 2013
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 world today?
Tolerance is a basic principle of Islam. It is a religious moral duty. It does not mean “concession, condescension or indulgence.” It does not mean lack of principles, or lack of seriousness about one’s principles. Sometimes it is said, “People are tolerant of things that they do not care about.” But this is not the case in Islam. Tolerance according to Islam does not mean that we believe that all religions are the same. It does not mean that we do not believe in the supremacy of Islam over other faiths and ideologies. It does not mean that we do not convey the message of Islam to others and do not wish them to become Muslims. The Holy Qur’an speaks about the basic dignity of all human beings. The Holy Prophet (PBUH), spoke about the equality of all human beings, regardless of their race, color, language or ethnic background. Shari‘ah recognizes the rights of all people to life, property, family, honor and conscience. Islam emphasizes the establishment of equality and justice, both of these values cannot be established without some degree of tolerance. Islam recognized from very beginning the principle of freedom of belief or freedom of religion. It said very clearly that it is not allowed to have any coercion in the matters of faith and belief. The Holy Qur’an says, “There is no compulsion in religion.” (Al-Baqura 256)
Muslims do not coerce people they must present the message to them in the most cogent and clearway, invite them to the truth and do their best in presenting and conveying the message of God to humanity, but it is up to people to accept or not to accept. Allah says, “And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord, so whosoever wants let him believe and whosoever wants let him deny.” (An-Nahl 29) The question then comes If Allah gave choice to believe or not to believe, then why did He punish the people of Prophet Nuh, ‘Ad, Thamud, people of Prophet Lut, people of Prophet Shu‘aib and Pharaoh and his followers? Answer is in Holy Qur’an itself. Those people were not punished simply because of their disbelief.
They were punished because they had become oppressors. They committed aggression against the righteous, and stopped others to come to the way of Allah. There were many in the world who denied Allah, but Allah did not punish every one. Ibn Taymiyyah, the outstanding Muslim scholar, said, “The states may live long inspite of their people’s unbelief (Kufr), but they cannot live long when their people become oppressors.” Another question is raised about Jihad. Some people say, “Is it not the duty of Muslims to make Jihad?” But the purpose of Jihad is not to convert people to Islam.
Islam teaches tolerance on all levels individual, groups and states. It should be a political and legal requirement. Tolerance is the mechanism that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), and the rule of law. The Holy Qur’an says very clearly “To every People have We appointed rites and ceremonies which they must follow, let them not then dispute with you on the matter, but do invite (them) to your Lord for you are assuredly on the Right Way. If they do wrangle with you, say, ‘God knows best what it is you are doing.’ ‘God will judge between you on the Day of Judgment concerning the matters in which you differ.’” (Al-Hajj 76-69)